Turf grass is as adaptable as an outdoor surface gets, being green, cool, and soft underfoot. Heavy foot traffic, on the other hand, can leave it looking a little ragged, and any missed fall maintenance—that last dose of fertilizer you were supposed to spread, any bare patches that should have been reseeded—may have caused your lawn to look a little worn out this spring, with thin spots and less color than you remember.
Now is the time to make apologies with a correct feeding plan and clever troubleshooting strategies to halt the spread of insect and weed issues. Continue reading to learn what you can do right now and in the coming weeks to nurture a sturdy, healthy patch of green.
Shown: Weeds can’t compete for space and nutrients in a dense, well-fed grass, so it’s your greatest protection against them. Allowing the grass to grow 3 inches or longer enables roots to develop deeper, where they can withstand drought better. Taller grass also provides shade, which prevents weed seeds from developing.
Tips for a Lush Green Lawn
Have you neglected your grass this fall? Here are some tips for getting your grass started in the spring.
Only a soil test can determine what your grass need. A $25 analysis may be performed by a Cooperative Extension office. (search usda.gov to locate one near you). While you wait for the findings, rake up any leaves from last autumn; raking will help fluff up grass that has been tamped down by rain or snow.
Mow the lawn to around 2 inches tall after it has dried. According to Scotts researcher Phil Dwyer, Ph.D., “mowing the lawn shorter than usual removes brown, dead tissue at the tips and encourages new growth.”
Pulling up thatch, a dense blanket of dead and live plant debris on top of the soil, allows nutrients and water to reach the grass roots. A thatching rake, such as the one pictured at left ($30; ames.com), has curved tines designed for the purpose and is suitable for lawns up to 100 square feet in size. Rent a power dethatcher for roughly $45 per day for big areas or extremely thick thatch.
Core aeration, which involves removing 3- to 4-inch-long plugs of soil, is often performed in the autumn when the risk of fostering weed seeds is lowest. However, if you want to apply preemergent weed control with the first dosage of spring fertilizer, aerating now is an excellent approach to release compacted soil and allow oxygen and fertilizer to reach the roots, according to Nick Christians of Iowa State University’s Department of Horticulture.
You can manually aerate small areas with a foot-powered core extractor, but for larger lawns, consider hiring a gas-powered one for approximately $60 per day.
Shown: TOH landscaping professional Roger Cook uses a walk-behind aerator on bigger lawns, pulling off 2- to 3-inch-deep soil plugs that will naturally decompose by spring.
Q: I forgot to fertilize last fall! Am I doomed?
— John Farrow, Boise, Idaho
A: If you didn’t fertilize in the autumn, avoid the desire to do so in spring. Dumping more fertilizer than your lawn need in the spring is wasteful and might cause your grass to burn. Instead, use 32-0-4 grass fertilizer after the first mowing and again four to six weeks afterwards. Organic lawn food, such as corn-gluten meal or a combination of feather, bone, and blood meals, works more slowly than synthetic fertilizers, so it will take an additional week for the grass to green up.
Shown: Roger Cook, a TOH landscaping professional, uses a broadcast spreader to apply fertilizer because it decreases the possibility of missing a portion, which may result in ugly growth patterns.
Spend for Premium Seed
If you need to seed a barren spot or your grass is so thin that you need to overseed, get a high-quality mix. Examine the label; a premium mix will identify distinct cultivars, such as ‘Midnight’ Kentucky bluegrass, while common designations, such as tall fescue, imply older, lower-quality seed types. The experts all agree that cheap seed will never perform well, no matter how often you fertilize it.
You might also try creating your own mix. Online specialized seed dealers, such as SeedSuperStore.com, cherry-pick top-performing seed types (which you may investigate on the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program’s website, ntep.org), and can develop a mix that is perfectly suited to your site and contains no weed seeds. Alternatively, if you want anything specific, such as a deeper color or finer leaf texture, you may create a combination appropriately. Expect to spend more than double the price of home-center seed.
Drought Tolerant Turf
If drought tolerance is the standard, certain grass kinds will undoubtedly fare better than others. From most drought tolerant to least drought tolerant, here’s how they compare:
- •Bermuda grass
- buffalo grass
- •zoysia grass
- •Bahia grass
- •Saint Augustine grass
- •centipede grass
- •tall fescue
- •fine fescue
- •Kentucky bluegrass
- •bent grass
- •perennial ryegrass
Organic lawn care feeds the earth, while synthetic lawn care feeds the plants. Grass grows on soil that is rich in beneficial bacteria, earthworms, and other creatures that are nourished by organic nitrogen sources. “Studies have shown that as more organic matter is available, root mass increases,” says Paul Tukey, founder of the SafeLawns Foundation.
In all except thick clay soil, increasing organic matter in the soil helps it store water, which stimulates deep roots. Organically treated lawns have a deeper root zone, which makes them more resistant to drought, pests, and diseases than synthetically treated lawns.
Grass Roots Turf Care
Spreading garden compost enhances soil biology and structure, but top-dressing a lawn with a 12-inch layer twice a year is time-consuming and labor-intensive. Here are two simpler strategies for reaping the advantages of compost.
Compost tea makes beneficial bacteria and nutrients accessible to grass soil and turf roots right away. To brew it, place 5 cups of loose compost in a mesh bag and suspend it for 24 hours in a 5-gallon bucket oxygenated by an aquarium pump.
Skip the backpack or pump sprayer for the most basic delivery option. To take the tea out of the bucket and through the spray nozzles, connect a siphon (we recommend Hozon’s, $32; amleo.com) to an outside spigot and a garden hose connected to a sprinkler. One gallon of compost tea will cover about 1,000 square feet of grass. Every four to six weeks, repeat.
Granular compost, a dehydrated counterpart of the ordinary kind, comes alive in the presence of moisture but has a shelf life of around eight years. When moist, the dried manure, straw, food scraps, and sand beads decompose slowly, much like regular compost. However, since you can apply it using a broadcast spreader, you can cover your lawn in a fourth of the time. One pound per 100 square feet of grass is required. Every four to six weeks, repeat.
For More: Power Up Your Compost
How to Get Rid of Weeds In Grass
The intensity of your reaction to these intruders should be determined by the following numbers: When weeds cover half of the grass, it’s time to have a soil test and restore the whole lawn. A hand weeder or targeted spray for weeds is gentler on the grass environment. The above stand-up sprayer ($20; fiskfarmandhome.com) can store up to 16 ounces of any weed treatment. By pressing down on the handle, a 3 1/2-inch-diameter mist is dispensed underneath the 7-inch cone.
Keep Your Mower Blades Sharp
A sharp mower blade neatly cuts grass tips (left), allowing them to recover fast and remain disease-free. A dull blade shreds them (right), leaving weaker, jagged edges that discolor and become disease-prone. After every four to six usage, sharpen your blade. If you strike anything while mowing, file the nicked edges as soon as possible.
For More: How to Sharpen Mower Blades
Common Myths About Lawns
MYTH: Clippings cause thatch.
FACT: Because grass clippings are 90% water, they degrade too fast to contribute to thatch. Lawns naturally generate thatch, but more than a 12-inch covering hinders nutrients, oxygen, and water from passing through.
MYTH: Spiked shoes can aerate a lawn.
FACT: True aeration requires the removal of 4-inch-long plugs of soil to create spaces that allow nutrients to reach the roots. Slip-on spiked aerator shoes, contrary to their name, do not aerate, and golf cleats may actually compress the soil.
MYTH: Hot weather kills grass.
FACT: During a drought, turf naturally falls dormant. A brown grass isn’t always dead, and it normally recovers when watered after temperatures have cooled. A lawn that changes from brown to tan to gray, on the other hand, is sending out an SOS.
Choose the Right Lawn Sprinkler
When you have an unevenly shaped lawn or have to deal with putting up a sprinkler in precisely the same location week after week, delivering an inch of water every week is difficult. These two hose-end alternatives simplify the task.
Make a trail with your hose to water an irregularly shaped area or a long, narrow side yard. Then, put the couplings together and watch as this 19-inch-long cast-iron tractor crawls over the rubber tubing at one of three speeds as its revolving spray arms fling water from 15 to 55 feet out. lrnelson.com; $60
Dig a hole, insert the sprinkler, then backfill with dirt and gravel to create a pop-up head without having to dig up the whole grass. Set the spray pattern and watch it shoot water up to 70 feet away. Connect the hose to elevate the sprinkler; unhook to return it to its original position till the next time. WateringmadeEasy.com; $40
Pests By Season
Throughout the growth season, unseen insects may cause harm to grass. Watch out for three intruders:
Chinch Bugs: Damage appears as yellow patches on the lawn from spring until midsummer, indicating that they have drained the water out of the grass.
Treatment: Use a pump sprayer to apply rosemary oil, a natural pesticide, diluted with water.
White Grubs: Starting in mid- to late August, when they gnaw on grass roots, diminishing the roots’ capacity to absorb water, peel back a small section of lawn. Damaged areas, like carpet, will roll up easily.
Treatment: When the soil temperature hits 70 degrees Fahrenheit, use a pump sprayer to apply beneficial nematodes (microscopic worms) combined with water.
Mole Crickets: They are most active from late summer to early autumn, feeding on grass roots.
Treatment: Use a pump sprayer to apply neem oil, a natural pesticide, diluted with water.
Lawn Edging Tool
Clean borders quickly improve the appearance of your grass. Straight lines, on the other hand, may need a steady hand and experience. Look for a lightweight cordless string trimmer to make the process simpler.
The Worx GT 18-volt string trimmer-edger (left) incorporates in-line skate wheels to guide it around edges, eliminating the need to scalp the grass. The ergonomics are enhanced with an adjustable second handle and a telescopic shaft. It’s also easy to store since it’s small and light. $120; www.worx.com
Do you want to enhance the look of your lawn? Check out the This Old House Team’s in-depth guides.
- How to Restore a Weed-Infested Lawn in 10 Simple Steps
- How to Get Rid of Creeping Charlie
- The Ins and Outs of Hydroseeding
- Top 10 Spring Lawn Care Tips
- Summer Lawn Care Tips