How to Get a Healthy Lawn: The Ultimate Guide
Learn how to grow a healthy lawn by following these simple steps. Planting, fertilizing, mowing, and watering are all important for a beautiful green lawn.
Maintaining a healthy lawn is not an easy task; however, it is essential for the well-being of your home and family. Contrary to popular belief, mowing the grass on a regular basis is not enough to keep your grass green and lush for years on end. If you want your yard to look great year after year, then there are some things that you need to do.
Proper Lawn Care
A healthy lawn has been found to have a variety of benefits. A healthy lawn can increase your property’s aesthetic value, add to your property’s curb appeal, and increase the stability of the soil. In addition, a healthy lawn is more drought-resistant and requires less maintenance.
The best practices for a healthy lawn are:
- Ensuring that it receives at least an inch and a half of water every week (Watering deeply and infrequently)
- Mowing at the proper height (2 inches)
- Avoiding fertilizers with high nitrogen content (Nitrogen causes thatch buildup)
- Removing weeds before they go to seed
Watering your Lawn
The key to a hot, vibrant, and healthy lawn is consistent watering. But there are so many different opinions on how often to water your lawn – some tell you to water every day, others say every other day. How do you know what schedule is best for your lawn?
Lawns are one of the most common types of landscaping in many parts of the world. They are usually watered once a week for about 15 to 20 minutes.
A healthy lawn needs water, sunshine, and fertilizer. It is important not to overwater or underwater your lawn. Overwatering can lead to weed growth, which will weaken the grass and make it susceptible to diseases. Underwatering will cause your lawn to turn yellow or brown and be more susceptible to weeds and drought-related issues.
Prepare your Soil
Grass grows best in soil that is high in organic matter (which is made up of dead plants in various stages of decay). Organic matter helps sandy soils hold water and nutrients. It prevents the compaction of clay soils. (Compacted soil is so dense that water can’t drain from it properly and oxygen can’t reach plant roots.) In every kind of soil, organic matter nourishes microorganisms and they make essential nutrients available to grassroots.
How do you increase the organic matter in your soil? Two very simple ways
First, when the leaves fall from the trees, don’t bother to rake them up. Instead, chop them into small pieces by running over them with the lawnmower; then let them rest in peace. You’ll be surprised by how quickly they break down and disappear. (See, we promised you less work.)
Second, leave the grass clippings on the lawn when you mow. As they decompose, they contribute nitrogen (the nutrient that makes grass grow thick) to the soil—almost 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of soil each season—which you’d otherwise have to add with fertilizer. Grass clippings add a lot of organic matter to the soil.
Don’t believe people who tell you that clippings left on the lawn contribute to thatch, a layer on top of the soil that blocks moisture and oxygen from reaching plant roots. Just the opposite is true: Fresh clippings stimulate earthworm activity, which breaks down thatch. Overfertilizing is the most common cause of thatch.
Leaving grass clippings on the lawn is the best and most effortless thing you can do to grow a thicker, healthier lawn. William Dest, Ph.D., associate professor emeritus of turfgrass studies at the University of Connecticut, compared lawns where the clippings had been left behind with lawns where they had been removed. He found that the lawns with the clippings had:
- 45 percent less crabgrass
- Up to 66 percent fewer disease
- Up to 45 percent more earthworms
- 60 percent more water reaching plant roots
- 25 percent greater root mass (which means less room for weeds and more drought tolerance for grass)
- 50 percent reduced the need for nitrogen fertilizer
Feeding the Lawn
Fertilizing your lawn is an important part of keeping it healthy and green. If you have a healthy lawn, you can reduce the amount of water needed for upkeep and minimize weed growth. The best time to fertilize your grass is in the springtime when new growth starts to grow from the roots. This ensures that your grassroots have enough nutrients going throughout the growing season instead of being depleted at the end of summer.
The optimal times to spread fertilizer on your lawn are in early and late spring and early fall. In areas where lawns grow year-round, fertilize in late fall or early winter, too.
Go Easy on the Nitrogen:
Spread no more than 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet at any one application, and give the grass no more than 4 pounds per season. (To help you calculate: 20 pounds of fertilizer with 5 percent nitrogen will deliver 1 pound of actual nutrient.) As we said, grass clippings left on the lawn also contain nitrogen, so apply just 2 pounds of supplemental nitrogen if you’ve been leaving the clippings behind.
Cut High your Lawn
Another simple way to help your lawn grow up healthy and thick is to adjust your mower’s cutting height to its highest setting. Why? Tall blades of grass have more surface area exposed to the sun, enabling them to photosynthesize more sugars and starches for greater root growth.
Greater root mass means better access to water and nutrients, so plants are more tolerant of drought and can recover more rapidly from dormancy. Tallgrass also outcompetes annual weeds and conserves moisture by shading the soil.
Most grasses can be mowed to a height of 31/2 to 4 inches. Some varieties, particularly fine fescues, and centipede grass fall over at that height and should be mowed a half-inch to an inch shorter than other grasses.
No matter how tall the turf is, refrain from cutting off more than one-third of each grass blade in any single mowing, or you risk stressing the grass. And cutting off just one-third will produce small clippings that decompose quickly.
Planting a new lawn
In the North, fall is the best time to sow a new lawn because annual weeds are finishing their life cycles and are less likely to compete with new grass. Young turf plants can easily handle cool fall weather as long as they are six to eight weeks old before the first hard frost.
It’s a different story in the South: Fall is a poor time for sowing grass there because southern weeds operate on a different schedule—many of them germinate in the fall. In the South, sow grass seed or put down sod after the soil warms in spring.
What if you move into a new house when it’s not an ideal sowing time? You don’t want to live in the middle of a dirt patch while you wait for just the right time. Plant an interim lawn to fill in until you plant your permanent grass, suggests Warren Schultz in The Chemical-Free Lawn (Rodale Press, 1989).
In the North, annual ryegrass makes a good temporary lawn, Schultz reports. It germinates quickly, grows steadily, and covers a lot of ground. Ryegrass will die off over the winter, but by then its job will have been done. You can either till under the ryegrass in the fall and plant a permanent lawn in its place, or let it winterkill, rake out the dead grass, and overseed with a permanent seed mix early in the spring.
In the South, you can sow warm-season grasses from April to August. At any other time, start a cool-season nurse crop, such as perennial ryegrass, Schultz advises. The nurse crop of ryegrass will germinate quickly in any region. It will cover the ground and keep weeds from taking. If you till it in before planting a new lawn, you get a second benefit—the rye acts as green manure, adding organic matter to improve the soil. Which is where your lawn gets its start.