15 Expert Tips for Keeping the Best Lawn on the Block
A great lawn is an asset for any yard, vastly improving its look, making it a pleasant place to spend your leisure time. While maintaining a lawn will always take a little commitment, it’s not as difficult or time-consuming as some guides make it out to be.
Follow these 15 expert tips, and you’ll soon have the best lawn on the block, with surprisingly little effort or complicated techniques required.
1) Aerate and Decompact
Lawns need a combination of water, nutrients, and air to grow well. You may think that air is only needed for surface grass, but that’s very far from the truth. Without allowing air access to its roots, grass finds it harder to take in nutrients, and in worst-case scenarios, it can even start to rot below the soil.
If your lawn is failing to flourish, check how solid and compacted the soil is, and whether the dense texture is keeping the air out. Aerating your soil can be as simple as pricking it with a garden fork to open up holes. Or for larger areas, you may prefer to use a dedicated lawn aerator. But either way, it’s an essential task to do for each growing season.
2) Use Clean Clippings as Mulch
When you mow your lawn, instead of discarding the clippings, lay them out over the turf as an organic mulch. As the cut grass decomposes, this will return valuable nutrients to the soil and improve the overall health of your lawn.
However, there are two points to bear in mind. Firstly, only use fine clippings, or they’ll just lie on the surface, blocking out sunlight and air. If necessary, pass the clippings through a garden shredder before spreading them.
Secondly, if your lawn has a weed problem, avoid this mulching method until it’s solved. Otherwise, you’ll only be spreading weeds further through the seeds, leaving them to lurk among the clippings.
3) Remove Thatch by Raking
Whether or not you use clippings as mulch, a layer of dead organic material will build up on the soil’s surface over time. This layer is called thatch, and it can work to choke and crowd the grass. Removing the thatch with a fine rake every so often will help air and moisture get to the soil, strengthening the grass from the roots upward.
4) Keep On Top of Weeds
Once weeds fully infiltrate a lawn, they’re very difficult to remove. Every few weeks, check your lawn closely for plants that shouldn’t be there and deal with them by uprooting, dousing them in boiling water, or sprinkling cornmeal to reduce seed germination.
If the situation has really gotten out of hand, a chemical weed killer can be highly effective. But choose wisely to ensure you won’t harm other plants in your garden, as this can be an unintentional side effect.
5) Don’t Cut Too Close
Set your lawn mower so that it never shaves off more than a third of the grass’s height, or you’ll put the turf under excessive stress. Instead of the grass putting its energies into smooth, even growth, it’ll be in a constant battle for survival, always rushing toward setting seed. Cutting lightly is kinder to the grass, and it’ll reward you with a better overall look.
6) Mow in Different Directions
As well as avoiding cutting the grass too close, it helps to mow in different directions from time to time. Although a classical lawn with neat light and dark stripes is the ideal picture-book look, in reality, this works against the long-term health of the lawn.
Mowing in the same direction compacts the soil more quickly, meaning it will require more aeration. What’s more, the grass will be trained to grow flatter to the ground, increasing matting and tangles. Mixing up your mowing directions will help the grass grow upright, and it’ll look much healthier, greener, and neater.
7) Look After Your Mower
Careful maintenance of your mower is essential, whether you have a small walk-behind or a powerful riding model. If the cutting blades are sharp and the mechanism is properly oiled, the grass will be cleanly sliced and quickly return to healthy growth. Dull mower blades and a clogged mechanism will mean the grass is torn and shredded, leaving behind a weakened, ragged mess that’s much slower to recover.
8) Water Carefully
The amount of water your lawn needs depends on the combination of grass type, climate, and soil drainage. However, all lawns benefit from an occasional deep watering rather than a light daily sprinkle. Watering lightly but frequently trains the grass to grow with shallow roots. This, in the end, makes it less resilient to hot spells and quicker to yellow and coarsen when conditions are less than perfect.
9) Water in the Mornings
And when you do water, do so in the mornings whenever possible. Wet lawns overnight are a breeding ground for mold and disease, potentially affecting both your lawn and the other plants nearby.
10) Test the Soil pH
A lawn grows best when the soil is evenly balanced between acid and alkaline. In technical terms, a soil pH of between 5 and 7 is the point to aim for.
It’s easy to measure your soil’s pH using a small, handheld probe. If the figure is below 5, your soil is too acidic and can be balanced by adding lime. A figure above 7 shows high alkalinity, which can be brought under control by adding sulfate. Doing this simple task once a year will give your lawn the foundation it needs to thrive.
11) Use the Right Fertilizer Schedule
Growing a lawn is tough on your soil’s nutrient levels, as the constant cycle of mowing and regrowing can deplete resources very quickly. Feeding your turf with a fertilizer is a simple but effective solution to this problem. However, the feeding schedule you need to use depends on the kind of grass you grow.
If the lawn goes dormant over winter, it’s probably using a warm-season grass variety and will appreciate a heavy feeding just before the grass starts to grow in spring. If the grass grows more or less all year round, it’s likely a cool-season variety and needs two feeds per year. Fertilize lightly in spring but then more heavily in mid-fall to provide extra resources for winter growth.
12) Add Compost in Late Fall
If you cultivate more than grass in your garden, you might have a compost heap to turn your plant waste cuttings into valuable nutrition. But flower and vegetable beds aren’t the only places that benefit from enriching the soil with compost. Adding a fine layer of well-rotted compost to your lawn in late fall will do three things to help the grass grow healthily.
First, it’ll provide a gentle layer of protection against early frosts, which can harm the grass if they arrive before winter dormancy has set in. Second, the compost will work its way into the soil over the winter months, providing a nutritional head start for when growth returns in spring.
And lastly, regularly adding compost to your lawn will lighten the underlying soil’s texture, reducing compaction for lusher, greener growth.
13) Mow Fall Leaves
If you don’t have a compost heap, but your lawn is surrounded by trees, you can achieve a similar effect by running your mower over the fallen leaves. The shredded leaves will form a natural mulch. You’ll need to shred them very finely to ensure the debris is fully decomposed before spring arrives.
14) Watch Out for Brown Patches
If your lawn turns brown across small, well-defined areas, the chances are you have an infestation of beetle grubs under the surface. Most lawns contain some grubs which feed on the grass’s roots, but if numbers get too high, the grass can’t cope with the stress, and those brown patches will be the result.
How you handle the grubs is down to your preference. A chemical pesticide will work, but natural methods are becoming more and more popular. Beneficial nematodes are a natural defense that feed parasitically on the grubs and are widely available to buy online. Alternatively, you can apply a natural bacteria called milky spore to the soil. This will provide longer-term protection by reducing their reproduction and infecting the grub population.
15) Reseed and Renew
Lastly, even the healthiest lawn will need reseeding from time to time as weather, weeds, and pests take their toll. Rather than waiting until coarse or bare patches appear, a light reseeding across the whole lawn each year will help maintain an even look. It will replace missing grass before the absence becomes too obvious.
Reseeding is most effective in fall when the grass seeds have a chance to germinate and set root before winter dormancy. Spring is also a good time, although the new growth may take longer to establish. However, avoid reseeding in summer, when the seeds can overheat and dry out before they germinate.
There’s no doubt that creating the best lawn on the block will take some work, but tackling these smaller tasks one at a time will bring great results as their combined benefits build up. By treating your lawn well on every level, you’ll achieve an effect that your neighbors won’t be able to get near.