Frequent Lawn Care Problems Answered
What do you do if your lawn has degenerated into an unsightly mess?
You may wish to consider renovating your lawn. Before you decide to renovate your lawn, try using the best mowing, watering, fertilizing and weed and pest management practices for a year or two. Pay special attention to problem areas and rake up and reseed bare or weed-infested spots.
If your lawn is still more than 50 percent weeds after a few years, it might be time to consider a complete renovation. Planning is critical because during renovation your soil is unprotected and can easily be washed away into surface waters.
Late summer or early fall is usually the best time to establish or renovate cool-season grass lawns in temperate climates. Temperatures are moderating, weeds are less competitive, and moisture is usually adequate.
Follow these 12 steps carefully:
1. Control perennial vegetation
This step will keep other species from competing with your new grass.
The most effective way to eliminate existing weeds and turf is with non-selective herbicides that contain the active ingredient glyphosate. Other non-selective herbicides include glufosinate or an herbicidal soap formulation. Keep traffic off the grass until the herbicide dries on the leaves.
These herbicides are designed to kill any plant on contact but do not kill weed seeds. Once in contact with the soil, they are inactivated. This permits planting the new lawn just 5 to 7 days after spraying.
To ensure an effective kill, wait until the vegetation appears chlorotic (yellow). Then either till the vegetation into the soil, or run a slicer or de-thatching tool over the killed sod.
2. Protect and test soil
Minimize cultivation and compaction to maintain good soil structure. If the site needs grading, this might mean removing and temporarily storing the topsoil.
Before establishing the final grade with the topsoil, have it tested by a reputable soil testing lab. The information the lab provides will tell you how much fertilizer, organic matter, and other amendments are needed to establish a healthy new lawn. Allow two to three weeks for test results.
3. Establish a rough grade
Take care of grade problems before you replant. Now is the time to eliminate low spots and take care of other drainage problems. Gently grade steep slopes to make mowing easier. Fracture compacted subsoil layers to help water move down through the soil profile.
4. Amend and grade topsoil
Cover the subgrade with at least 4 inches of topsoil. Ideally, the interface between the subgrade and topsoil should be gradual, not abrupt. Till a few inches of topsoil into the subsoil, then add the remaining topsoil to the surface. If the topsoil is high in clay, add compost materials that are good soil conditioners and have relatively high amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus. These include:
” Biosolid composts
” Brewery by-product composts
” Animal-manure and yard-trimming composts
” Paper-mill by-product composts
Sandy soils can be amended by incorporating a small amount of clay or organic material to enhance water- and nutrient-holding capacity. Add high-phosphorus starter fertilizer with about 1 lb. N/92 square meters and/or pH modifiers such as lime or elemental sulfur based on information from your soil test.
5. Choose the right grass
The species and variety you choose will depend on:
” The quality of sod you expect.
” How much work you want to do to maintain it.
” How you plan to use it.
” The characteristics of the site, including the amount of sun.
” Resistance to insects and diseases.
Planting seed costs less than sodding. But use sod instead of seed when rapid turf cover is needed — for example on slopes that need to be protected from erosion. Most cool-season sods are improved Kentucky bluegrass varieties because their spreading rhizomes intertwine to form a strong sod. Use a high-phosphate starter fertilizer when laying sod, just as you would with reseeding.
Keep sod in the shade so it doesn’t dry out, and install it as soon as possible. Lay it in a staggered brick-like fashion, matching the edges closely.
6. Seed at the right rate
The larger the seed, the higher the seeding rate. Studies show that there is no benefit from seeding more than the recommended rate. Excessive seeding rates create too much competition between the seedlings. Seeding at the correct rate or slightly lower encourages tillering – the lateral spreading of the grass plants. (Sometimes if conditions are less than ideal, a higher seeding rate may be justified.)
Use a drop spreader or rotary “spin” seeder calibrated to deliver half of the recommended seeding rate. Then apply the seed in two different directions at right angles to each other. This assures more uniform coverage.
If you are reseeding a small patch, you can mix 1 part seed to 3 parts soil in a bucket and then spread the mix over the patch. This will help you spread the seed evenly. Ideally, you should end up with about 15 to 20 seeds per 6 square cm.
7. Rake lightly
Mix the seed and soil so that the seed is covered no more than 1/6 to 1/3 cm. deep.
8. Firm the soil
Light rolling assures good seed-to-soil contact needed for the seeds to take up water and germinate. (For small patches, a just firm with your feet.) Do not overfill the roller as it may crush the seed and cause compaction. A properly rolled seedbed can reduce establishment time by as much as two weeks.
Use a weed-free straw or marsh hay to conserve moisture and help prevent erosion. (Avoid pasture hay as it is often loaded with weed seeds.) Other effective mulching materials include products made from wood fiber, Excelsior, newsprint and other kinds of erosion-control blankets. Products made from a combination of pelletized newsprint and water-absorbing gel are also effective.
Germinating seeds and young seedlings will quickly die if allowed to dry out. Keep seedbeds moist at all times until seeds emerge. Water only enough to moisten the surface. Do not over-water, causing runoff. Gradually reduce water after seedling emergence to encourage deeper rooting. Once grass covers about 60 percent of the ground, the surface should be allowed to dry.
About 2 to 3 weeks after emergence, apply about 1 lb. N/92 square meters. This will increase shoot density and the seedlings’ ability to withstand diseases such as rust.
Once more than 60 percent of the grass reaches the recommended mowing height (at least 5 to 8 cm), start mowing. Mowing encourages lateral shoot development, increases stand density and helps the turf out-compete weeds. Make sure your mower blade is sharp. Dull blades will tear young seedlings from the soil.
Be sure to refer back to this book for the best ways to mow, water and fertilize to keep your new lawn healthy.
My lawn has bugs in it, even though my neighbors don’t. Why is that, and what do I do about it?
Have you ever wondered why your lawn has developed a certain disease or insect problem and your neighbor’s lawn doesn’t seem to have the same problem? It may seem logical that if your lawn has a disease problem or an insect invasion, then, the lawns next to you should have the same thing. The only answer to this question is that each lawn has its own environment. The growing and maintenance practices on each lawn vary. A good analogy is that although everyone in a family may eat the same food and live in the same house, someone usually ends up sick at some time during the year.
Insect activity and incidence are dependent on many factors. The type of grass along with the cultural practices of proper mowing, watering, fertilization, and thatch control often dictate the amount of damage that may occur. A weak lawn will show more damage than a strong, healthy lawn. On the other hand, a well-maintained lawn may attract more insects. Momma insect wants to lay her eggs in the area that will supply the most and best food for her young. Does this mean that if you don’t take care of your lawn it will not have insect problems? Of course not, but it does mean that the healthy, well-maintained lawn will recover faster from an insect invasion than a poor one. Momma insect may be discriminate about where she lays her eggs, but, after a while, one lawn looks as good as the next.
The same is true of disease problems. It is possible to find just about every imaginable disease spore present in any lawn. Three factors need to interact in order for a disease to develop. The factors are the host plant, the pathogen, and the environment. It is often called the disease triangle. The pathogen (the disease-causing organism) will infect the host plant (your grass) if the environment that favors the disease to grow is present. A fourth factor ties everything together. The environment has to exist for a long enough time for the pathogen to develop and infect the host plant. If this occurs, then the disease can cause damage to the plant.
The environment includes the cultural practices that the lawn receives. The amount of water and the time of day when the lawn receives water are critical. Avoid watering in the late afternoon or evening as this promotes the conditions for many diseases to develop-cool, dark, and moist. Light frequent waterings will promote a shallow root system. It is better to water one or to times per week, but leave the sprinkler in one location for an hour. This will wet the soil to a depth of four to six inches and the roots will go deeper in search of more water.
Mowing at the proper height and supplying the proper amount of fertilizer on a regular basis is also important. It is difficult to provide a standard recommendation for these two practices as it will vary based on the type of grass and the geographic location of the lawn. In regards to grass varieties, some are more, or less, susceptible to disease or insect infestation. Your local lawn care professional or county extension office can provide you with the proper recommendations for mowing, fertilizing, and grass varieties for your area.
The last cultural practice is thatch control. Thatch, an intermingled layer of leaves, roots, stems, and other organic material that may build-up at the soil line can increase the incidence of disease and insect activity. If the level exceeds 1/2 of an inch then it can act as an incubation chamber for many diseases and insects. Core aeration, power raking, and slicing are all methods used to control thatch build-up. As with mowing and fertilization, recommendations for thatch reduction are based on grass variety and geographic location, so contact a knowledgeable source for your area.
Next time you wonder why the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, find out about the care given to that lawn. Better yet, get the proper information from a professional source. If you get sick, you see a doctor. If your lawn gets sick, it will need the right diagnosis from someone that is knowledgeable about lawn problems. It will save you time and money in the end, and provide you with a better lawn.
My lawn isn’t consistently colorful and healthy all year round. How can I fix that?
Chemical applications can reduce insect damage and help to maintain proper soil nutrients. Proper seasonal maintenance and evaluation help to ensure a healthy environment for lawns, ornamentals, and landscaping. You’ll need to have the correct and properly maintained equipment for the job (sharp blades, shears, shovels, etc.) and most importantly a working knowledge of the job at hand and the safety issues involved. When in doubt, ask a professional.
Why does my lawn look “patchy,” or have a checkerboard quality to it?
“Patchy” lawns can be caused by equipment damage/over-maintenance, fungus and disease problems, numerous insects, grade, and fertilizer issues just to name a few. It’s commonly a combination of one or more of these are to blame.
There are two steps to take. First of all, improve conditions for the existing grass, it’s not thin and sparse for nothing and then add to it. If you don’t address underlying problems, then it will revert to how it was beforehand, so you may need to aerate with a hollow-tine aerator or fork, apply a top-dressing, remove thatch, feed, remove weeds, etc.
Adding grass seed while retaining existing grass is a bit hit and miss and dependent largely on what the weather is like after seeding. Rake the surface with an ordinary garden rake to loosen the soil, preferably not disturbing existing grass too much, then sow the seed on top, rake again to cover as much of it as you can and water it.
Keep off it completely until it begins to sprout, watering where necessary when it starts to show through don’t mow it as the rest of the lawn until it has thickened up. This is a good time to apply a general lawn feed which will also encourage the existing grass.
It’s a bit of a hit and miss process, and you may need to repeat it more than once, but you should get there with patience.
Why are the leaves turning and falling off my plants and shrubs?
Turning leaves are normal year-round depending upon species. Commonly, shrubs tend to drop more leaves when they become element-deficient or have become victim to disease, insects or improper maintenance. Too much water is most commonly to blame. Carefully assess your watering, and if you’re over-watering, cut back on it.
My lawn has accumulated too much thatch. How should I thin it out?
Most lawns will tend to accumulate a surface mat of dead grass and moss, old clippings and aging leaves, immediately beneath the growing leaves, this is known as ‘thatch’. As this builds up, it hinders healthy grass growth and is, therefore, best removed. If your lawn is especially springy to walk across, it is probably due to this thatch.
This thatch is removed by a process known as scarifying (and no it doesn’t mean sneaking up to the lawn and shouting “boo”). Scarifying is a process of vigorous sweeping either manually or with a mechanical device. The purpose of this is to allow water and fertilizers to reach down more effectively to the grassroots and to allow the finer bladed grasses to grow up more easily.
The traditional way to scarify is to use a besom, a broom like a witch’s broomstick made of birch twigs. A more efficient modern alternative is a spring tine rake. This is used in a vigorous manner sweeping across the lawn (sweep from one side and then swap over to the other, it’s an excellent exercise for the waist in particular). This will give a growing pile material (usually mainly moss) that has been dragged out from between the growing grass plants. In the process, the lawn is made quite a bit tattier than it was before you started. Don’t worry about this and stop when you’ve removed a reasonable amount of material, you could go on and remove it all, but it would take much longer and it’s a process of diminishing returns.
If all this seems too much like hard work, mechanical scarifies are available. Sometimes it possible to get an attachment for your lawnmower, particularly if it is a cylinder mower, you remove the blades and just drop in the scarifier cartridge.
Alternatively, an electrically powered device will do the job instead, this is like a small cylinder mower with sprung plastic or metal rake teeth instead of cutting blades.
Table of Contents
- 1 Frequent Lawn Care Problems Answered
- 1.1 What do you do if your lawn has degenerated into an unsightly mess?
- 1.2 Follow these 12 steps carefully:
- 1.2.1 1. Control perennial vegetation
- 1.2.2 2. Protect and test soil
- 1.2.3 3. Establish a rough grade
- 1.2.4 4. Amend and grade topsoil
- 1.2.5 5. Choose the right grass
- 1.2.6 6. Seed at the right rate
- 1.2.7 7. Rake lightly
- 1.2.8 8. Firm the soil
- 1.2.9 9. Mulch
- 1.2.10 10. Water
- 1.2.11 11. Fertilize
- 1.2.12 12. Mow
- 1.3 My lawn has bugs in it, even though my neighbors don’t. Why is that, and what do I do about it?
- 1.4 My lawn isn’t consistently colorful and healthy all year round. How can I fix that?
- 1.5 Why does my lawn look “patchy,” or have a checkerboard quality to it?
- 1.6 Why are the leaves turning and falling off my plants and shrubs?
- 1.7 My lawn has accumulated too much thatch. How should I thin it out?
- 1.8 Related