The specific needs of any lawn are unique. The types of grasses that will grow, and the correct timing for certain procedures will all vary with your area and your particular lawn.
The first cutting of the year should be a little lower than the cutting height for the rest of the growing season in order to clear out winter accumulation. After that, the ideal height for your grass depends on the kind of grass you have.
Mow often enough so you don’t remove more than one third of the leaf surface in any one cutting.
Be sure that your mower blade is sharp. If you have a dull blade, you may end up bruising the leaf ends and your lawn will have a grayish-brown cast to it.
The cutting pattern of the mower makes a difference only if your mower makes tracks. If your mower does compact the soil as you go, alternate the pattern to avoid making marks in your lawn.
Fertilizing supplies grass with the nutrients it needs to grow and stay healthy.
A good fertilizing program usually contains four or five feedings beginning with early spring, and then repeated every 8 weeks or so while the grass grows.
Fertilizer contains three primary elements: nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. The package label should list what percent it contains of each of these elements.
Nitrogen helps improve color and density of the grass. Phosphorous enhances root growth. Potassium is good for the general health and vigor of the plant.
It is recommended that you wait until the first flush of spring growth before you fertilize. If your lawn had crabgrass last year, consider using a fertilizer with a crabgrass preventer for this application.
Fertilizing in late spring will help keep your lawn green through the summer months. You may begin to see some broadleaf weeds at this time. If you plan to use a post-emergent weed and feed combination product, you must wait until these weeds are actively growing before applying it.
This application is to replenish the nutrient supply that has been used up over the tough summer months. It typically takes place 6 to 8 weeks after the late spring feeding. Now, more than any other time of the year, grass will multiply itself and thicken the overall lawn. At this time, you may choose to apply a combination product to protect your lawn from insects.
A fall fertilization will help your lawn through the winter, and help it green up earlier in the spring. You may also want to incorporate a fifth feeding into your lawn program in late fall to further help winterize your lawn. We recommend a straight fertilizer that is formulated with higher potassium for this feeding. This type of fertilizer tends to condition turf to withstand winter stress.
Always read the instructions on the fertilizer bag completely, because some chemical combinations could cause damage to your lawn.
Use a mechanical spreader for even distribution of the fertilizer. Begin by making two header strips around the perimeter of your lawn. Go back and forth to fill in the middle. Shut off the spreader as you turn it around.
Aerating will help your lawn if the soil is too compact for water to penetrate it. You can usually see this if the water is pooling up or running off your lawn.
Aerating also helps the decomposition of thatch. Thatch is the dead material that builds up in between the blades of grass. Up to one half inch of thatch in a lawn is good, but anything more will choke your grass.
The easiest way to aerate your yard is to rent a machine designed for this purpose. Aerators work by either taking plugs out of the lawn, or spiking into it.
Of course, the amount of watering you do depends on the amount of rainfall you get. In general, a lawn needs one to two inches per week during the growing season.
In sand, a half inch of water will penetrate six inches. Less will penetrate through loams (the best soil to have), and even less through clay.
Most grass roots are located 6 to 8 inches down so a half inch will usually do. Watering any further down would be a waste.
To test how much water your sprinkler is putting out, set out four same-size cans within the sprinkling area. Turn on the water for 30 minutes. Pour the water from all four cans into one can, and measure the water depth with a ruler. Divide the total depth by 4 to get the average.
It is best to water early in the morning, but there is no danger in watering during the heat of the day. The idea that you can burn your grass by watering when it is hot and sunny is a fallacy.
Night watering is sometimes conducive to the development of disease; however, it may be practical when one must water during off-peak water-use periods.
Preparing the seedbed
First, remove any large soil clods or debris from your yard. Anything bigger than a golf ball should be broken up or removed.
Before you till, apply fertilizer over the entire yard. The goal is to get the fertilizer mixed down to the root zone.
If you've added topsoil to your yard, you want to mix that in with the soil underneath. If these two layers don't get mixed you may end up with a layer that will actually prevent good root growth.
If you are planning to install an automatic sprinkler system, this is the time you should do it.
Bring your lot to a finish grade. A garden rake is a good tool for this. Level the soil to avoid any low spots where water may stand, or high spots that could be cut too short by a mower.
At this point you may roll the seedbed with a roller to firm it up, then sprinkle lightly with water to settle it.
Now you're ready to seed and fertilize. It doesn’t matter which you do first, just don't mix the two, do one at a time.
Spread the seed and fertilizer with a spreader to get even distribution.
Mix the seed and fertilizer into the top quarter inch of soil using a light leaf rake. Don't go any deeper, or you may prevent germination.
Roll the seedbed to get the seed pressed firmly into the soil.
Mulching is not essential but may be necessary if you need to conserve moisture, control weeds, or prevent soil erosion. Straw is the most common mulch material used across the country. Don't use more than a quarter inch deep of mulch.
Next, water your yard lightly. The top quarter inch of the seedbed must be kept moist during the germination period.
Begin by applying small amounts of water on a frequent basis, 2 or 3 times per day, more if the weather is extremely hot and dry. As the grass grows, decrease the frequency of the watering but increase the quantity of water for deeper penetration.
Start mowing when the seedlings are high enough to cut, usually 2-3 inches. Mowing will enhance lateral growth and help reduce competition from weeds.
Expect some weeds to crop up. Weeds usually grow faster than good grass and typically come from weed seed in the soil. With regular mowing many of the weeds will be eliminated.
After a spring or early summer seeding, a weed control can be used the following September. For late summer or fall seedings, delay the weed control application until the following spring.
Sod is quite a bit more expensive than seeding, but it does give you an instant lawn.
Prepare the seedbed as you would for seeding. Buy sod that is three-quarters to an inch thick. To test it, lift up a piece by the end. If the sod is good, it will hold together.
Choose a long, straight line when you begin to lay the sod. Lay the sod so the seams from one row fall in the middle of the pieces from the previous and following rows. Press the pieces tightly together, to help the edges knit together.
Cut the sod with a sharp knife to fit odd corners. Avoid using small pieces, because they will dry out quickly. Do not let patches dry out.
It's a good idea to roll the sod with a water roller to make sure the sod has good contact with the soil. Water the sod, keeping it constantly moist, for at least ten days.
Planting Plugs and Springs
Plugs and sprigs are small sections or pieces of grown grass. They are planted spaced apart to spread laterally to form an entire lawn.
Plugs and sprigs are commonly used in warmer regions of the country. They are used most frequently with hybrid Bermudas, Zoysia or St. Augustine grasses.
Plant plugs or sprigs in the soil every six to twelve inches. Allow the leafy parts to get sunlight. Firm the soil around the roots.
Water right after planting so the soil is moist down to the roots. A half inch of water every other day is usually adequate to maintain moisture for good growth. Within three to four weeks you should have decent cover and good cover in two months.