View Full Version : How to have a great looking lawn

05-21-2008, 07:55 PM
I've had a few Team Talk people ask me how to have a greener lawn so here I come with a long answer. This is an article I wrote a couple years ago for our county extension's newsletter. Keep in mind I live in Michigan. I really don't know the grasses in warm places like Florida. I know the varieties differ some down there.

The Grass Can Be Greener on Your Side of the Fence

In the past few days I’ve had several neighbors tell me that they are having a hard time making their lawns look nice. The most frequent problems I’m hearing about relate to moss, weeds, and dry brown grass. There are whole books available about lawns, but I will try to cover a lot of the problems people have by discussing three topics: lawn mowing, watering practices, and moss control.

Lawn Mowing
Around 9:00 a.m. on most spring and summer Saturdays I hear the first roar of a lawnmower somewhere in the neighborhood. It must be cutting day, but maybe not. One of the first mowing rules to remember is that lawns need to be mowed based on the rate of grass growth, not the day of the week.

Turf care professionals follow the rule of one-third, which is the practice of removing no more than one-third of the grass blade in any one cutting. Each blade of grass is involved in the photosynthesis process. If you are giving your lawn a good short cut once a week you are probably cutting off too much at once. Cutting more than a third of the grass at one time stresses the lawn and allows the weeds to take control.

If you follow the rule of one-third, your clippings will be small enough to work their way back down into the lawn after mowing and they don’t need to be raked or bagged. Small clippings readily decompose and do not cause thatch. Clippings actually increase nitrogen in the soil. Less fertilizer needs to be applied to lawns when clippings are returned. This is a bonus for the environment. Unlike chemical fertilizers, grass clippings don’t cause groundwater contamination.

Another very important guideline is to mow high with a sharp mower blade. Consider a mowing height that produces a grass blade that is 2-1/2 to 3 inches tall. This may sound like it will lead to more lawn mowing, but it doesn’t really. If the blade of grass is longer, you can cut more off before cutting one third. Lawns consistently mowed at higher heights of cut tend to have deeper roots, less weed problems, and look greener and healthier.

Mowing lawn grasses too short tends to stunt root systems and invites problems such as crabgrass and some diseases. Mowing lawns around three inches or even slightly higher keeps the root system cooler and retains moisture. Watering needs are reduced.

Watering Practices
Think about your lawn goals before you get started on a watering routine. If you merely want to keep the lawn alive, about 1” to 1.5” inches of water a month will be enough to keep it from completely dying off. It can be applied all at one time but if your site has a lot of clay it should be spread over a couple of applications. If your goal is to maintain a green lawn more frequent watering is necessary.

There are various theories on watering. Some turf professionals say to water heavily (1” to 1.5”) about one time a week to train the plants to produce deep roots. Others will tell you to spread the watering (1” to 2”) over three or four days a week. Your choice should be based on your soil and grass type.

Sandy soil drains rapidly and requires more frequent watering than clay soil which retains the moisture. A 1” soaking of sandy soil most likely will not result in a full inch of water for your lawn. On the other hand a 2” soaking of clay soil may create an unwanted lake in your yard. Shady yards and yards with grass mowed at a longer length will require less water than sunny lawns with short grass.

Some grass types are more drought tolerant than others. Common drought tolerant grasses include: tall fescue, red fescue, some Kentucky bluegrass varieties, sheep fescue and hard fescue. Creeping bentgrass and colonial bentgrass require more frequent watering. If you don’t know your grass type you can take some clues for watering just by the way it appears. If it looks dry and curled it probably is dry.

Try to water in the morning; evening watering is more likely to cause fungus and disease problems. Avoid over-fertilizing as excess nitrogen will cause a growth spurt and the plants will need more water. A soil test will help you know how much fertilizer to use.

Moss Control
Moss is not likely to invade or crowd out grasses in a healthy lawn. Moss doesn’t cause lawn failure. Instead it tends to develop in lawns that are thin due to the poor yard environment or improper management practices. Moss may develop for several reasons: low soil fertility, poor soil drainage, compacted soils, excessive shade, poor air circulation, and high humidity. Frequently a mossy area contains a combination of these conditions. Poor lawn care practices such as general neglect, irregular mowing, lack of fertilizer, and over-watering are common problems that lead to poor turf growth and moss problems.

Raking in moss treatment chemicals can eliminate moss for a short time but it is better to evaluate your mossy areas and make the necessary corrections to favor lawn growth. For example, if you have dense tree growth and vegetation, pruning both will allow more light to reach the lawn and improve air circulation over the site. Soil compaction can be addressed by using a core aerification tool (these can be rented at some hardware stores).

Adjustments to lawn care practices can also help. Avoid excessive watering and mowing too short. You should fertilize and apply lime according to soil test results, the type of grass growing in your yard, and to the site. Lawns in full sun require more fertilizer than those in shade. A soil test will provide you with exact fertilizer ratios for your soil type.

Finally, make sure the proper grass is growing for the site conditions present. If changes need to be made, late August into early September is a good time for lawn renovation. Kentucky bluegrass is ideal for full-sun areas but does not typically do well in shade; it tends to thin out and allow moss to invade. Fine fescue, such as red fescue, is a better option for shade.

Spend some time assessing your lawn and then make the necessary corrections. You will be amazed at how quickly your lawn improves with good management practices! And one more piece of good news…a healthy lawn chokes out most weeds.

05-22-2008, 12:28 AM
Wow- thanks Sue. This is a really great article. Makes me want to go re assess my lawn right now.

05-22-2008, 07:58 AM
Ok people post up some pictures of your lawn. Took this one of mine yesterday morning.

05-22-2008, 08:06 AM
Great article! We finally decided after years of fertilizing our own rather large yard, that we would get a pro to come in and do it. It actually saves us money and of course the time....which allows for more time to get the boat ready for the lake:cool: I must say that I am quite impressed with the job that Scotts does and they give me tips on care and maint. For example...I never knew that if your blades were dull that this would cause your lawn to look brown, as the dull blades tear the grass, not cut it. So, we are taking the old blades and just getting new ones. After a 500.00 water bill the first month we lived here, we also learned the art of watering:confused: I will try and find some pics of the lawn at its finest.