Prepared by Gregg Robertson, Pennsylvania Landscape & Nursery Association
1) Soil preparation.
When putting in a lawn for the first time, pay attention to soil preparation. A lawn planted on soil that has organic matter incorporated into the top three or four inches will require less fertilizer and will be able to keep weeds at bay without the excessive use of herbicides. If your lawn is established, you can top dress it with compost, peat moss or top soil.
2) Aerate your lawn.
Aerate your lawn with a plug aerator every year or two to loosen soil and allow nutrients to penetrate to the root zone. Don’t use spike aerators, as they can compact soil even more.
3) Mow high.
Mow on the highest setting on your mower — at least 3 inches. This gives the grass plants more leaf area to grow good solid roots. It also allows the grass to shade and crowd out weeds. Mowing too low stresses the grass plants, and can make them susceptible to disease and drought damage. Mowing low also lets light reach the soil, encouraging weed seeds to germinate.
4) Keep your mower blade sharp.
When you cut with a dull blade, it shreds the tops of the grass blades causing them to lose more moisture and making them more susceptible to disease. It also looks bad as the damaged blade tops turn brown and die.
5) Use a mulching mower.
Use a mulching mower that returns grass clippings to the soil. If you bag your clippings, you waste an enormous amount of nitrogen in the clippings. You don’t have to worry about thatch if you use pesticides sparingly. Little critters live in the grass and quickly break down the clippings into compost. If you kill the critters with pesticides, you disrupt that little ecosystem that can keep your grass healthy.
6) Fertilize in the fall.
Fertilize in the fall with a balanced fertilizer to stimulate strong root growth. Follow the directions on the bag. Over-fertilizing with a high nitrogen fertilizer in the spring can lead to excessive top growth, extra mowing and grass that is weakened when the dry, hot summer months come along. If any fertilizer gets on to the street, sidewalk or driveway, sweep it back into the lawn so that it doesn’t run into storm sewers and pollute streams and rivers with the next rain.
7) Don’t rake leaves, mulch them.
Don’t rake leaves, mulch them into your lawn with your mulching mower! Leaves contain nutrients and your healthy lawn will quickly break them down into compost. If you are mulching your grass clippings, the combination of the high nitrogen grass clippings and the high carbon leaves produce the perfect mix to create a thin layer of compost that your grass will love.
8) Weed by hand.
Weed by hand, or if you must use an herbicide (weed killer), use a spray bottle and just hit the weeds. Broadcasting herbicides with fertilizer can lead to run-off and many herbicides are harmful to aquatic life, fish and amphibians.
9) Don’t water your lawn.
Let Mother Nature supply the water after your lawn is established. The grasses we grow for our lawns, like fescue and blue grass, are cool weather grasses that will naturally go dormant in dry, hot weather. By watering your lawn in July and August, you are forcing it out of dormancy, wasting water and weakening your grass. Except in the most extreme conditions, your grass will bounce back and green up when the cool fall weather returns. Your lawn wants to go brown and rest when it is hot and dry. Let it!
10) Try and stay off the lawn when it is hot and dry.
Because the grass is not growing, it can’t repair itself from damage caused by foot traffic. You don’t have to be fanatic about this; just don’t schedule a week-long volleyball tournament on your lawn when your grass is dormant and expect there to be no damage.
11) Use pesticides sparingly.
Use pesticides sparingly to kill bugs on your lawn. Many pesticides are wide spectrum, killing beneficial insects as well as the target pest.
Be tolerant of a lawn that is less than a perfect green carpet. Develop a personal esthetic that delights in a patch of clover, an occasional dandelion or some violets.