How to have a great lawn
A guide to becoming the envy of the neighborhood without employing an expensive lawn service.
Wed, Mar 14 2012 at 4:19 PM
GO GREEN: The lush look of a thick fescue lawn is especially beautiful in early spring. (Photo: Tom Oder )
A well-kept lawn does a lot more than put a pretty face on your home.
It can put money in your pocket. That’s because the cost of a carefully maintained lawn-care program is less than the expense of repairing weed, insect or turf disease damage caused by neglect.
An attractive lawn can also speed up the sale of your home. “It’s hard to put a dollar figure on it,” said Walter Maloney, a spokesperson for the National Association of Realtors. “But how your home strikes a potential buyer from the street is perhaps the biggest external factor in selling your home in the current market.”
There are also environmental benefits to a healthy lawn, such as preventing storm water runoff and converting carbon to oxygen, and a certain peace of mind that comes with the effort – grass helps absorb street noise.
But, perhaps the best news in having a lush green lawn is that this is something any homeowner can do without employing an expensive lawn service. Here’s a list of tips to help you have one of the nicest-looking yards in the neighborhood.
Choosing a grass
First, be aware that different kinds of grasses are ideally suited for different climates. Bluegrass, tall fescue or perennial rye grass tend to do well in areas that experience cold winters and mild summers. Bermuda grass, St. Augustine grass or zoysia grass are considered warm season grasses and do best in locations with hot summers and mild winters. Think, too, about what kind of look you want. The fescues fare best at a height of two-three inches and, with effort, can be kept green all year. However, they typically sulk in summer heat, even with irrigation, and usually require dethatching, aerating and over-seeding in the fall. Bermuda, St. Augustine and zoysia grasses should be mowed much shorter than fescue, have a golf-course type of look but turn brown in winter in temperate climates.
Seed or sod?
It depends. If budget is a factor, seed is the easy choice because it’s far cheaper than sod. If your yard has heavy shade, seed again is an easy choice because sod needs lots of sun. Timing, of course, is everything. Seed has the best chance of survival if sown in the fall. Sod can be laid anytime. And if you need an instant lawn, sod can make that happen overnight.
They are the bane of anyone who covets the look of a manicured lawn.
The best way to control them is to stop them before they start. That’s where pre-emergents come in. Applied in February or March, they are designed to slow or halt the germination of grassy and broadleaf weeds. They won’t kill weeds that have already sprouted and shouldn’t be used if the lawn will be re-seeded in the spring since pre-emergents also will keep grass seed from germinating.
Once weeds are present, choosing from among the many weed killers on the market is critical. The one you choose must be compatible with your type of grass or it could kill your lawn.
If in doubt about which pre-emergents and weed killers might work best in your area and on your type of grass, consult your local garden center. In all cases, follow the instructions on the package, taking care to apply at the correct temperature and not to exceed the maximum number of applications per year.
Again, timing is critical. In early spring, for example, it’s time to feed cool season grasses such as fescue. However, warm season grasses such as zoysia are still dormant during the cool nights of early spring. These grasses should not be fertilized until later in the season.
Weed and feed products accomplish the two purposes of applying weed control and fertilizer at the same time. Not surprisingly, there are two schools of thought among homeowners about whether this is a good idea or whether combining a killing agent with a growth agent works at cross purposes. In the end, it’s a personal choice.
The rule of thumb is to mow your lawn regularly and remove only a third of the grass. A healthy height for fescue is 2.5-3 inches. If mowed regularly, it is not necessary to bag the clippings. Unbagged clippings are beneficial because they return nitrogen to the ground. They also will not cause a thatch problem if the grass is cut on a regular schedule. St. Augustine grass should be kept 2-3 inches tall but zoysia and Bermuda should both be cut shorter (1-1.5 inches). Poor mowing habits can stress grass and lead to disease and other problems.
Fungal problems such as brown patch can come on strong when the pleasant days of spring give way to summer’s sometimes unrelenting heat. If you notice areas of your lawn that are discoloring or showing signs of stress, clip some of the affected pieces of grass (be sure to sterilize the clippers), put them in a sandwich-type baggie that you can seal and take the bag to your local garden center. The staff there should be able to identify the problem and recommend a treatment.
While at the nursery, ask the staff if they loan out spreaders or other lawn care equipment. Some nurseries loan these out as a way of selling their products and creating loyal customers. It’s also a way to put money you save on equipment back in your pocket and still have the best looking lawn in the neighborhood.
Got other tips for how to have a great lawn? Leave us a note in the comments below.
You might also like: