Every neighborhood has that one guy who always seems to be mowing or doing yard work. His lawn does look spectacular, but you have to wonder if he has a life outside of lawn care. Fortunately, with the right tools and a few lawn care tips, your lawn can rival his without yard work taking over all of your weekends.
Essential Lawn Care Tools
There are a few tools you absolutely must have to maintain your yard properly. There are also a few more that you don't strictly need but are fun to have. Perhaps the most crucial tool is, of course, a lawn mower. You'll need a lawn mower and a trimmer to cut your grass as needed and to keep your lawn looking tidy.
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Although not a must, consider getting a spreader for your lawn. You can rent one when you need to seed or fertilize the yard, but rental costs will add up quickly if you're fertilizing your yard or applying weed suppression frequently.
If you have problems with thatch (or organic material that develops at the base of turfgrass, just above the soil line), consider getting a dethatching rake as well. If you plan to use an aerator, use a core aerator, which removes plugs of soil, instead of a spike aerator, which pokes holes in the soil and can compact it.
Essential Lawn Care Tools
- Lawn mower
- Garden hose
Optional Lawn Care Tools
- Dethatching rake
- Core aerator
Starting a New Lawn With Sod
If your home is brand new or if you've had any excavating work done, you may need to make a lush lawn spring up from barren dirt. If you're in a hurry, sod is the fastest way to go green. Before laying sod in a new lawn, prepare the ground by raking the dirt to remove any clumps or rocks. Add a layer of compost or topsoil to your yard, keeping the lawn 1 inch lower than paved surfaces, such as driveways.
Here's how to lay sod to start a new lawn:
- Position each piece carefully so that it butts tightly against the surrounding sod without overlapping it.
- If you're using rolls of sod, stagger the seams as you would in a brick wall.
- Unroll sod horizontally across hills rather than running it vertically down the slope.
- Water the sod thoroughly after you install it and continue to water regularly until the sod establishes itself in two to six weeks.
Starting a New Lawn From Seed
If you're willing to wait for results, you can save some money by seeding your lawn rather than sodding it. Here's how to start a new lawn from seed:
- Till your yard to a depth of about 3 inches.
- Rake the ground smooth, breaking apart any clumps and removing stones as you go.
- Work some organic matter, such as compost, into the soil to loosen it so that grass roots can penetrate it easily.
- Sprinkle the grass seeds onto your yard at the density suggested by the seed company. You may find that using a push spreader is the easiest way to seed a lawn.
- Mulch the seed with straw to keep it from washing away.
- Water your grass seed as often as necessary to keep it moist but don't make it soggy.
- Mow the grass when it reaches 3 inches in height. After you've mowed three times, your lawn will only need about an inch of water a week.
Watering Your Lawn
Once established, most lawns require about an inch of water each week. Set out a rain gauge so you can see how much water any recent rain provided. You can then make up the difference with irrigation. You don't need anything fancy to do so, however. Automatic sprinklers and drip irrigation systems are nice, but they're also expensive and unnecessary.
A simple lawn sprinkler will get the job done just fine. For best results, use a sprinkler that disburses water slowly. Too much water too quickly will make puddles in the lawn, leaving your grass with wet feet and possibly evaporating before your grass can soak it up. Whenever possible, watering in the morning will also ensure that more water reaches the grass than evaporates.
Fertilizing and Weeding Your Lawn
Fertilizer can help your lawn get everything it needs to be lush and healthy, even when your soil lacks a few key nutrients. Instead of guessing at how much and what kind of fertilizer your turf may need, have your local Cooperative Extension Service perform a soil test, based on samples that you take. In the absence of a soil test, a pure nitrogen fertilizer will work fine.
Using a spreader, sprinkle the fertilizer over your lawn at the rate determined by the soil test. Begin by doing the edges of the yard and then cover the remaining area in a back-and-forth pattern. To keep your lawn lush, apply more fertilizer every six to eight weeks during the growing season, if needed.
Mowing and Edging
How often you mow will depend on your type of grass. Typically, warm-season grasses grow fastest in the summer and need to be mowed about once every other week. These grasses grow more slowly in the spring and fall, so you may be able to cut your mowing back during these seasons.
Cool-season grasses tend to do the opposite of their warm-season cousins. They'll grow quickly in the spring and fall but may slow down a bit in the summer heat. Your mowing schedule would be the opposite, mowing every other week in the spring and fall and less frequently in the summer.
It's best to keep your grass at a height of approximately 3 inches, so your exact mowing schedule will be determined by how fast your grass is growing. Cutting grass any shorter than 3 inches stresses the plant and promotes weeds. Remember to alternate directions when you mow. If you mowed from east to west last week, mow north to south this week.
Mowing is best done early or late in the day when the sun isn't as hot. The same is true for edging. To create a clean edge where your lawn and sidewalk or driveway meet, edge the area with a weed trimmer. To do so, flip the trimmer head 180 degrees so that it cuts vertically. Keeping the debris shield toward you at all times, run the trimmer along the edge of your lawn.
You can also purchase a lawn edger just for this purpose if you feel more comfortable with it than a string trimmer. When you're done, move the trimmer head back into its usual position and use it to trim around fence posts, mailboxes and other areas where you can't fit a mower.
Dethatching and Aerating
Hardcore lawn people love to talk about dethatching and aerating, but these are two lawn care chores you may or may not have to perform. "Thatch" is a fancy name for the buildup of dead grass roots and blades that naturally occur during your lawn's life cycle.
Some thatch is good. It acts as a natural mulch while it decomposes, eventually returning key nutrients to the soil. When thatch gets more than about 1/2 inch thick, however, it can trap too much moisture. This can create rot and can attract unwanted insects to your lawn. To dethatch your lawn, go over it with a thatch rake. If your lawn is large, consider renting an electric dethatcher. These tools do make the job go quicker.
Like excessive thatch, compacted soil can decrease the amount of air and water that reaches your grass. Aeration, using a core aerator, removes plugs of grass and soil to loosen the soil and get air and water flowing again. You can use a push aerator, but you may want a tow-behind unit (for pulling with a lawn tractor) if your lawn is large.
Both push and tow-behind aerators are available for rent at home centers and rental outlets. You can also hire a professional lawn service to aerate; this may not cost much more than a rental. Aerators are rather large and heavy, and you may need a truck or van to bring a rental home.
Lawn Repair Help
Hope as you might, the odds are low that a bare spot or browning lawn will fix itself. The first step in fixing the lawn is to figure out what went wrong.
If, for example, you have an insect issue or a large population of lawn-damaging voles (or lawn-disfiguring moles), call your local pest company and get help solving the issue. Have your soil tested to see if it's missing any key nutrients and amend the soil as needed. Pay attention to family pets too. A bald or yellow patch may indicate Fido's favorite toileting spot, in which case you'll have to find him a new one.
Once you've resolved any underlying issues, till the soil in your yard's bald patch. Sprinkle grass seed over the spot and then cover it with a thin layer of topsoil or straw. Water the seeds regularly until they've germinated and the grass has established itself.
If you want immediate results, prepare the ground as you would for seeds but dig out the area so that it sits about an inch below the rest of your lawn. You can then cut a piece of sod from a strip and place it in the hole. Walk on the sod to tamp it down and then water it deeply.
Lawn Care by Season
Good lawn care practices start in the spring as soon as your grass starts to green up again. Pick up any fallen limbs or sticks and spread any remaining snow piles thin so they'll melt more quickly. Rake the lawn for any leaves you missed in the fall and to remove any rocks the snowplow may have thrown into your yard. Mow when your grass gets to 3 inches tall and fertilize the lawn after the third mowing.
If crabgrass is a problem for you, apply a crabgrass treatment at the proper time. In the North, apply a crabgrass treatment in late April. If you live in the South, do so earlier in mid-March.
In the summer, mow your grass every other week and make sure it gets an inch of water per week from either you or Mother Nature. Keep fertilizing according to soil-test recommendations.
Keep mowing until the grass stops growing in fall and rake up or mulch any fallen leaves before the cold sets in. Whole leaves left on the lawn provide a sheltering place for insects and rodents. Raking or mulching makes sure your yard isn't unintentionally inviting unwanted guests.
Lawn Edging Materials
Creating a physical and visual barrier between your lawn and your flower beds adds a finished look that can greatly enhance your outdoor space. Barriers can also help keep grass from meandering into your flower beds where it's unwanted.
You can make an edge from almost any materials, including bricks, concrete, wood, plastic or rubber. Keep in mind, however, that edging creates a border around which you'll need to trim. Tall edging materials, like stacked stones or concrete pavers, will require periodic tidying with your trimmer.
To avoid trimming, consider laying bricks or pavers flat in the ground, digging out a trench and making them flush with the lawn, You'll still have a physical barrier, but it will be a flat one over which you can easily mow.
Organic Lawn Care Tips
In the quest to fertilize a lawn, control insects and kill weeds, Americans tend to use a lot of chemicals. When used or stored improperly, these chemicals can create dangerous runoff that is harmful to ecosystems and waterways. If you prefer, there are several natural and organic ways to care for your lawn.
One good way to go natural is to apply compost to your lawn instead of chemical fertilizers. You can even reduce your carbon footprint by purchasing a composting bin (or building one) and making your own compost from your household waste.
You can also be kinder to the environment by trading your gas mower for a battery-powered unit. Even better? Buy a completely manual mower. You'll get some exercise pushing the mower while you help the environment and reduce the noise pollution that powered mowers create.