While the saying may be “the grass is always greener on the other side,” it sure doesn’t have to be! We’ve pulled together the basics for growing healthy grass so you can improve the quality of your lawn and not be envious of your neighbors. After all, nice grass is healthy grass. And by learning how to care for your grass, you’ll be able to avoid falling for the misconceptions and myths people selling products and services may present to you.
: You need to fertilize often with a high-nitrogen fertilizer.
This is simply not true. Beware of those who might benefit from trying to convince you otherwise. Over fertilizing can cause far more problems than it solves. It makes the grass grow too fast, which often leads to disease and insect attack. Just as with trees, too much nitrogen-induced growth attracts nitrogen-loving pests that come to feed. Additionally, over fertilizing can have a negative effect on the surrounding environment. If you have cool-season grass (versus warm-season grass), you should avoid fertilizing when the grass is dormant or about to go dormant.
: You should keep the grass cut low to avoid having to cut it as often.
As a general rule, keep the lawn mower set at its highest setting and do not remove more than the top third. Trimming it lower than that causes the grass to become stressed and use its available resources trying to regenerate. Removing just the top third and allowing it to remain within the lawn lets valuable resources recycle back into the soil. Additionally, taller grass tends to shade out weeds, encourages root growth, and helps make the lawn drought tolerant.
: You must water the grass every day.
As with trees, frequent, shallow watering trains roots to grow toward the surface and become susceptible to drought damage. Except in the case of new seeding, you should water once or twice a week for longer periods of time. The idea is to get the water to the lower levels of the root system, several inches into the soil which will train roots to grow deeper.
The Importance of the Soil
Soil composition is one of the key components of a healthy, green lawn. You want to start out by enhancing the soil conditions to give roots the best opportunity to grow and thrive. Microorganisms, earthworms, organic matter, oxygen, and moisture are some of the components of healthy soil. Chemical fertilizers do little to enhance the ecosystem of the soil, and their heavy salt content can disrupt the normal functions of microorganisms and earthworms.
Having healthy soil leads to a healthy root system. A healthy root system, with access to water, nutrients, and oxygen, leads to healthy grass. Just like trees, what happens under the ground is one of the most important factors leading to what happens above ground.
Remember that fall is a great time to enhance the soil and improve growing conditions for the roots of your grass. The first step is to grab your thatcher or rake and give the lawn a good once-over. You want to remove any dead matting, moss, and other debris in the way of the healthy grass. This also helps loosen compaction at the top layer of soil.
The next step is to aerate the root system which helps water penetration and allows the roots to breathe. This important step, if it’s done right, can break up compaction farther into the ground. If you use a mechanical aerator, go over the lawn multiple times. If you do it by hand, you can use a pitchfork to penetrate deeper and lift the soil slightly to loosen it. Generally, the more you aerate, the better.
Hopefully these tips and tricks will help you improve the look of your lawn this year!