Six Easy Steps to a Safe & Healthy Lawn

Do you want a beautiful lawn that is safe for kids and pets? Follow the six easy steps:

1. Mow high—with a sharp blade!

3 or more does the trick! It is well established that the higher the cut when mowing the lawn, the deeper and more extensive the root system. Deeper-rooted lawns recover more quickly from drought. Higher mowing heights leave a lawn with more resistance to water movement, therefore reducing runoff. Higher cut grasses can also tolerate a higher population of pests without significant damage. Last, and certainly not least, taller grass blades shade out weeds and reduce the number of seeds that germinate.

Set the mower to the highest cut and the lawn will be much happier.

2. Let the clippings lie. Clippings are high-quality, low-cost fertilizer.

Grass clippings are free fertilizer - if these are returned to the lawn with a mulching mower, chances are, additional fertilizer will not be needed.

A common reason for collecting grass clippings is the unwarranted fear that they may contribute to thatch production.

Thatch is a layer of undecomposed or partially decomposed organic matter that builds up between the soil surface and the actively growing green vegetation. A thatch layer will develop if organic matter is produced faster than it is decomposed by micro-organisms. However, grass clippings decompose rapidly and contribute very little to thatch accumulation. For more detailed information, refer to Thatch Control in Lawns and Turf.

3. Fertilize? Lawns younger than 10 years old need nitrogen. Look for 10–0–0 on the bag. When needed, apply in September.

When soils are adequate, only newly established and young lawns need fertilizer and, even then, only nitrogen—phosphorus and potassium are seldom needed, unless indicated by a soil test. The guideline of applying 2–4 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer per 1,000 square feet of lawn has been revised to one-quarter to one-half that amount. Basically, lawns need only one or two applications per year at half the labeled application rate.

Lawns 10 years and older store necessary nutrients and may never need fertilizer. Grass clippings are free fertilizer—if these are returned to the lawn with a mulching mower, chances are, additional fertilizer will not be needed.

When to Fertilize: Contrary to popular belief and common practice, spring is not the best time to fertilize a lawn. At that time, nitrogen will encourage top growth at the expense of roots and will promote germination of weed seeds. If and when fertilizer is applied, ideally it should be done only once or twice a year in late August or September. This approach provides fertilizer when the grass can best utilize it, not when it is likely to run off into waterways (always sweep fertilizer back onto the lawn from sidewalks and driveways). Fertilizer should never be applied to frozen or saturated soils, or in advance of expected heavy rain.

New England Regional Lawn Fertilizer Recommendations.

4. Got weeds? Liberally apply perennial ryegrass seed all season long.

Research has shown that there are effective means other than using herbicides to minimize weeds in lawns. Keep in mind the concept of threshold: the mere presence of a few weeds does not necessitate the application of a pesticide.

Overseeding lawns to achieve maximum density is the most effective approach to weed management. Weeds take advantage of thin, less vigorous turf.

At the first sign of thinning or bare spots in the lawn, loosen the soil with a rake or similar tool and apply perennial ryegrass at a rate of about 7 seeds per square inch, with nitrogen fertilizer at one-third the labeled rate. Ryegrass will germinate quickly (7–10 days), before the weeds get a chance to invade. Do this every few weeks in early spring and late summer. Overseeding is also an inexpensive method for replacing high-maintenance grass varieties with lower ones.

Patching Bare Spots Video

5. Got bugs? Overseed with insect-resistant, endophyte enhanced fescue grasses or use beneficial nematodes, fungi, or bacteria.

Research has shown that there are effective means other than using herbicides to minimize weeds in lawns. Keep in mind the concept of threshold: the mere presence of a few weeds does not necessitate the application of a pesticide.

Overseeding lawns to achieve maximum density is the most effective approach to weed management. Weeds take advantage of thin, less vigorous turf.

At the first sign of thinning or bare spots in the lawn, loosen the soil with a rake or similar tool and apply perennial ryegrass at a rate of about 7 seeds per square inch, with nitrogen fertilizer at one-third the labeled rate. Ryegrass will germinate quickly (7–10 days), before the weeds get a chance to invade. Do this every few weeks in early spring and late summer. Overseeding is also an inexpensive method for replacing high-maintenance grass varieties with lower ones.

Patching Bare Spots Video

6. Water wisely. If needed, water once or twice a week with a deep soaking (1–1  inches).

Water wisely and infrequently. In the Northeast, except for a few weeks in the summer, most lawns rarely need watering. The case can be made for never watering. Only if absolutely necessary, deeply soak the lawn once or twice a week with a total of 1–1½" of water. Frequent, shallow watering encourages shallow root growth, thatch buildup, and increases the potential for pesticide and fertilizer runoff.