Submitted by Graham Stuart, Owner of Perfectly Green Lawn Care
For most do-it-yourself homeowners, no matter how hard they try and how much money they spend at the local big-box hardware store, their lawn ends up looking patchy and unkempt. Here are seven common lawn-care mistakes that may be causing these homeowners and lawns some woes.
There are many essential tasks when it comes to maintaining a healthy lawn. Most people are aware of this in general, but they fail to realize that most of those tasks are seasonally time sensitive; i.e., they should only be performed at certain times of the year and before certain temperature changes.
When it comes to applying pre-emergent (spring and fall), fertilizing (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium), post-emergent weed control, warm-season grasses aeration, fall season grasses aeration and over-seeding, timing is everything. It is usually more cost-effective to hire a lawn care company and let the professionals deliver the right products at the right time of the year to deliver the guaranteed results you desire. The great thing with hiring professional lawn care companies for their annual service is the costs are averaged over the full year, bringing down your average per-treatment price.
Applying too much fertilizer can damage the lawn. Depending on the type of fertilizer, it can burn the grass. This will injure or destroy it. The burning is due to high levels of nitrogen typically found in some mixes of lawn fertilizers, along with the hot temperatures, which makes the lawn brown and patchy. This can lead to other types of disease or plant problems.
Be careful when putting fertilizer down. The best time to put down fertilizer is when the lawn is having a growth spurt. This generally occurs during the start of spring and early summer or the beginning of fall, depending on your seasonal grass type and climate. The use of nitrogen too close to the time when the grass goes dormant is detrimental because the nitrogen will not be taken up into the plant and used; it will just sit in the soil, causing additional problems in the next season, like spring dead spot.
It's best to use a slow-release blended fertilizer spread at the appropriate setting for the spreader being used, so the lawn doesn't burn. Having a soil test can be helpful to target the right types of products, micros and nutrients needed for your soil.
To maintain a healthy lawn, the right amount of water must be applied at the right time. Typically, a green lawn requires an inch to an inch and a half of water per week. A common mistake is watering the lawn a little bit each day. This small amount of water is insufficient to reach the roots of the grass. The water will evaporate and dry up, so the grass can dry up and become brown or drought-stressed.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, giving the lawn an inch of water all at once over-saturates the area. This means the majority of the water is running off and away from the roots of the grass. This also results in a brown and crispy lawn.
The ideal method for watering the grass is giving it a third of an inch three times a week, early in the morning. This allows the roots to fully hydrate and retain water. A good rule of thumb is to allow your irrigation systems to run for 10 to 25 minutes, depending on the flow rate and coverage of your system.
Cutting the grass too close to the roots is another frequently made mistake. This can cause the grass to look unhealthy. Never cut more than one third (1/3) of the grass blade off at any one time in the growing season. This will allow the grass to regenerate properly.
In Georgia, most homeowners have summer-type grass varieties: Bermuda grass, zoysia and centipede. Raise the grass height over each month of summer as it gets hotter and hotter. If you start off in May mowing at 1.5 inches, then increase the height as the summer heats up. Raise your mower in half increments (.5); i.e., if you start mowing at 1.5, move it to 2 inches, then 2.5, 3, 3.5, maxing out no more than 4 inches high for some hybrid varieties of Bermuda grass. Zoysia would be more in the 3-inch height.
Remember not to cut the grass too short at the end of the growing season. This can encourage weed growth that could out-compete with the thin weak grass and can make the grass susceptible to freezing weather. Always mow the lawn with a sharpened blade to avoid damaging and bruising the grass blades.
By removing the clippings, you could be taking away essential nutrients and nitrogen from the lawn. Use a mulching lawn mower to provide the grass with free natural fertilizer. This can save some time caring for the lawn and debris dumped into our landfills. When only mowing no more than just 1/3 of the grass blade, mulching will not over-“thatch” the turf.
Some areas of the lawn can be ill-suited for grass. Areas that rarely see daylight won't do well with most summer grass types. Even shade grass varieties require some light to stay green and healthy. Most grass types require at least 5 to 8 hours of direct sunlight to thrive. Shaded areas generally stay too moist and are more prone to moss growth than sunnier locations. Consider turning this segment of the lawn into a shade planting bed. This will save time and grief trying to maintain the Perfect Green lawn.
Grass does better when it has a good base. This can mean that the soil is too rocky or lacks essential minerals needed to thrive. Tree roots, large screening shrubs, and over-developed bedding shrubbery compete with the turf for water and much-needed nutrients.
Seasonal core-aerating the grass can help to alleviate compacted soil conditions and thatching. After completion, you can amend the soil to make it more conducive for the turf. As a last resort, completely starting over and adding proper amounts of topsoil and base before reseeding or sodding the lawn can be beneficial.