Basic lawn care

Few things in the home landscape generate as much pride as a healthy lawn and for some, it can generate fear and loathing. Having a lush green turf can be challenging, but true lawn American Lawn lovers enjoy the small tasks required for a great looking lawn. For those that fear the challenge, it most likely is because they don't understand the basic principles involved in maintaining a healthy lawn.

Some people feel that lawns are worthless and that the entire country would be better without the green expanse of lawns that surround our homes. They forget that grass is a natural element of our environment, whether that plant was here when the pilgrims landed or not, doesn't mean a thing. When the pilgrims landed, we didn't have large farms that could feed the entire world either, does that mean we should go back to the way things were 300 years ago? Of course not.

Turf grasses are ideal for what we require

Grass is an ideal plant that is readily available and provides an environment for multiple uses around the home. If it didn't provide this comfortable environment, then we wouldn't be growing grass, we'd be growing something else. It is part of our American culture to strive for excellence in all that we do. That's part of what makes America so different from the rest of the countries in the world. It is in our nature, our basic genes so to speak, that causes us to be the best and it is in this drive for perfection that has created the American Lawn we have today.

The American Lawn is almost an institution. Because we are so driven to excel that we sometimes get into trouble by trying to grow certain grasses in geographic areas that shouldn't be growing there. In these situations growing grass becomes an indulgence that perhaps should be criticized. Trying to grow Kentucky Bluegrass in the southwest is not only futile, but extravagant. Trying to grow a grass not suited for a region, means that an artificial climate must be created for it. This is extremely wasteful. In the north and northeast, the climate their is ideally suited for Kentucky Bluegrass. It doesn't require vast amount of irrigation to thrive. The soils are such that it doesn't require vast amounts of fertilization to thrive. The same holds for the south. Turf grasses grown there are ideally suited for these weather extremes.

Select turf grasses suited to your climate

So the basic idea behind turf care is to grow grasses that are best suited for your climate. Don't try to change the climate, but change the plant to fit the climate you have. Once you have selected a plant type that will thrive, then preparation and maintenance are keys to success.

Remember to choose and apply fertilizers wisely and to follow label directions carefully. In the case of lawn care, more is not better. Use pesticides wisely and only when absolutely necessary. Knowing the correct product to apply at the proper time is the key to a perfect lawn.

Preparation and maintenance are the keys to turf grass success

Here are a few basics to help get you over the minor challenges that growing turf grasses can present after you've selected a grass type suited to your climate.

Clean the lawn. Before beginning regular lawn maintenance in the spring, rake up accumulated leaves. Remove fallen leaves as soon as possible in the fall. Look for other forms of debris, and remove from the area. Accumulated debris on the lawn whether it's from tree leaves or other items, block the sunlight and will cause the grass to fail.

Because grass grows best when it is regularly cut (grass is one of the few plants in the world that actually thrive from being cut) mowing the lawn should be looked at carefully. Ideally, lawns should be somewhat level for ideal mowing. That doesn't mean you have to live on a completely flat property, it does mean that your lawn should be as even as possible to avoid having the mower jump up and down as you push it. This up and down motion often results in scalping the lawn which causes many problems for the health of the grass. If your yard has high or low spots in the lawn try doing the following:

  • Fill holes with topsoil and over-seed with a similar grass as what is already growing in your lawn.

  • Only grow grasses suited for your climate. Whether you are repairing a bare spot, seeding a new lawn or reseeding an existing one, grow the right kind of grass for your growing zone. Follow the fertilizing and irrigation schedule that applies to your turfgrass variety and follow a regularly scheduled maintenance program.

  • Remove bumps by cutting an X in the raised area with a shovel. Carefully peel back the sod and remove as much soil as necessary. Place the sod back in place and water.

Inspect for damage regularly

Inspect for disease, insects and weeds on a regular basis. Mowing is a great time to keep an eye out for these problems. Learn to recognize and treat problems quickly and appropriately before they become big problems.

Soil tests are the best

Do a soil test. Follow the recommendations that accompany soil test results. When applying fertilizer, follow directions carefully. Only add necessary amendments recommended by the test results. This will tell you if your soil needs additional elements to successfully grow grass. The test might show that it's pH levels are out of whack and you might need to add lime periodically. The soil test will tell you if there's enough phosphorus in the soil, and if there's plenty, then you can use a phosphorus-free fertilizer. The soil test will also tell you how healthy the soil is, that is, if your soil has lots of microbe activity or is it a sterile piece of dirt. If there's a lot of microbe activity, that's good, if it's sterile, then you'll want to add additional organic material.

Compacted soils

Check for soil compaction. Compacted soils do not create an environment good for root development and for microbe activity. Aerating compacted soils regularly helps to loosen up the soil and provide additional opportunities for root development and increased microbe development. Aeration also helps to keep thatch layers in check. Early spring and summer are the best times to aerate your lawn. Compacted soils prevent water and air from reaching the roots and also causes runoff. Areas that repeatedly have standing water after heavy rains are likely to be compacted.

Excess thatch build up could be a problem

Check for excess thatch and remove. A thatch layer that's too thick (over 1/2") promotes a shallow root system that can't survive dry weather. This is best done in the fall and before fertilizing. Remove the debris caused by dethatching.

Good maintenance of your lawn helps keep your lawn healthy and in better shape visually


On occasions, Mother Nature doesn't always cooperate in providing enough water at the right time throughout the growing season. At times when the rains don't fall you may want to consider additional water. If this is the case, to get the best results, water deeply in the early morning. Deep watering reaches the roots, where healthy grass comes from. Infrequent and shallow watering does more harm than good. It would be better not to water your lawn at all than to follow this schedule. That being said, don't over-water. Your lawn only need about 1/2" of water a week to survive. Providing more than 1/2" of water through irrigation not only is wasteful, but it may cause problems for the lawn.

Don't water the street, sidewalk, or driveway! Don't water just after fertilizing.


Mow grass to the proper height with a mower with a sharp blade. Never cut off more than 1/3 of the blade when mowing. Grass needs the surface area of the blade to sustain itself. Removing too much of the blade creates an environment ripe for disease.

Don't blow grass clippings into the street. They end up in the storm sewer and only add additional nutrients to already nutrient laden streams and rivers.

Improve light penetration

Prune trees and shrubs to let sun and air circulate. This helps promotes growth and discourages disease.

Maintain equipment with periodic checkups

Take care of lawn equipment, both before and after the growing season. This insures that your lawn mower will work as it's supposed to, but will do an excellent job of cutting the grass in a way that doesn't damage the turfgrass in the process.