Some simple and regular maintenance is all it takes to ensure that your lawn remains luxuriant and healthy and can withstand the occasional dry spell or lawn disease scare. Here are some essential lawn care tips to help you maintain a healthy and lush lawn round the year.
It is recommended to mow the lawn to about 2.5 to 3 inches in height. Mowing a lawn too low exerts force on the grass closer to the roots, making the root network weak and thereby also making your lawn more vulnerable to pests as well as drought. Grass mowed to about 3 inches in height develops a strong and extensive root system, which is essential for a healthy lawn. High-cut grass also retains moisture better.
It is also recommended to not cut more than one-third of the height of the grass while mowing – maximum 1 inch for a lawn with 3-inch high grass. This will also help the grass compete better with any weeds for sun and air. Another benefit of cutting only about one-third of the grass-height is that you can leave the grass-clippings in the lawn itself without the risk of the clippings smothering the standing grass. The clippings will eventually compost, acting as organic fertilizer.
The blades of your mower must always be sharp. A mower with dull blades tears the blades of grass instead of cleanly cutting through them, making the grass more vulnerable to disease. Always replace damaged blades promptly and file your mower’s blades regularly to ensure sharp blades. If you are using a manual lawn mower ensure it moves freely to cut evenly.
A healthy lawn needs adequate watering for the roots to develop fully in the soil. Too little or infrequent watering will not ensure sufficient moisture in the soil for the roots. However, too much watering is also harmful as it leads to poor growing conditions with the wet grass also being more vulnerable to disease. The lawn must be watered only when it needs watering. It should not be watered more than once a week even when there is no rainfall.
You can check if the lawn needs watering by observing if the grass is losing its natural green colour and bounciness. Under normal conditions, the grass must spring back within a few seconds of being stepped upon. If it does not, then the lawn needs watering. A good watering practice is to water the lawn till the water-level is up to 1 inch above the ground surface.
Mornings are a good time to water the lawn as watering in the morning not only reduces water-loss due to evaporation, it also ensures that the leaves will dry quickly in the sun. Watering in the evening increases the risk of grass remaining wet for long periods. For the same reason, the lawn must never be watered at night. The extent of required watering also depends on the type and texture of the soil with compacted soil requiring less watering.
Fertilizing adds depleted essential nutrients to the soil and must be done one or twice a year. Fall/autumn is the best time for fertilizing as it strengthens the root network which not only improves the overall health of the lawn but also makes it resilient to drought conditions. Fertilization during autumn helps the roots survive during the winter months and leads to good growth in spring.
Fertilizer must not be applied to frozen or snow-covered soil or to soil saturated with water as it will only go to waste. As fertilizing in early spring/summer favours leaf growth compared to root-growth favoured by fertilization in fall, one can adopt a balanced fertilizing plan by applying a higher quantity of fertilizer during fall and a relatively lower quantity during the spring/early summer.
Aerating the lawn
Heavy foot traffic as well as activities such as mowing etc. tends to compact the soil and reduce the presence of air gaps required in it for growth of essential microbes. The frequency of aeration depends on the foot-traffic and activity over the lawn, with once every two years being an adequate frequency for most lawns. However, if your lawn sees regular activity by kids or people, aerating the lawn every spring or fall is recommended. Aeration will also help you lawn cope better with water logging during the rainy months and drought during the summer months.
While small compacted sections of the lawn can be aerated by making holes with a garden fork, aerating the entire lawn requires dedicated manual or powered aerating machines such as spike-aerators or core-aerators.
Over time, thatch – a layer of decomposing plant parts including dead grass stems, dead roots and moss – builds above the soil of the lawn. Contrary to popular belief, mowed clippings do not contribute to thatch as these get broken down within 2-3 weeks. If the layer of thatch gets too thick, it prevents water, air and fertilizer from reaching the roots of the soil. A thin layer of thatch can be removed by light raking the lawn once in a while. However, if the layer of thatch is too thick, it is best removed by a powered de-thatcher (also called scarifier).
By following certain best practices, such as mowing the grass high and ensuring a healthy root system through fertilization and adequate watering, you can enable the grass in your lawn to outcompete and grow out most weeds. However, some weeds will always pop-up even in a healthy lawn. If the weeds are few in number, you can pull them out – make sure to remove the complete roots system of the weed – by hand or rake.
In case of a larger weed problem, you can spray a low-strength lawn weed killer on the individual weed plants. However, you should spray the chemical weed killer on the entire lawn only if the weeds are present throughout the lawn in large numbers. It is also important to always identify the weeds present in the lawn and use a chemical weed killer specifically formulated to work on the type of weeds present.
Chemical weed killers contain toxic chemicals and one should closely follow the instructions on the weed killer label carefully and repeat weed killer spray only when necessary. Special care must also be taken to ensure that the weed killer does not fall on and affect other plants in the garden. Spring or early summer is a good time for using lawn weed killers as the growth of weeds is strongest at this time.
Pests and Diseases
A healthy lawn is quite resistant to both pests and diseases such as fungal infections. However, if pest infestation starts damaging your grass, you can use an insecticide specifically designed to kill only the harmful insects and not friendly insects such as ants and spiders (which control lawn pests) in the lawn.
Almost all lawn diseases are caused by fungal infections. Frequent de-thatching, ensuring good mowing height, preventing over-watering, ensuring good drainage and adequate fertilization help in keeping fungal infections at bay. If your lawn develops a fungal disease, you can control it by identifying the type of fungi responsible for the infection and applying a fungicide that is specifically recommended for controlling it.
Hopefully some of the above lawncare tips and advice above can help keep your garden in a good and managable condition.