A few ways to be nice to your lawn
SEPTEMBER 27, 2021
By Doug Hartman
Horticulture Assistant, Extension Brown County
Looking back at our client records from the season, lawn questions rank high in the number of calls and emails at the Horticulture Help Desk at Extension Brown County.
Many times, homeowners are seeking help with a lawn that’s thin, full of weeds or dying in sections.
These problems could be the result of insects, diseases, lack of fertilization, improper mowing practices, soil compaction, shade, drought stress, weedy grass species, etc.
Many of these issues can be solved or lessened in severity by good lawn maintenance practices.
While we are at the end of our grass growing season, let’s review some information to get you off to a good start next year.
Mowing seems like such a simple thing, but it’s critical to healthy turf.
There are several helpful tips and techniques that will make your lawn happy.
To begin, don’t mow your lawn too short.
It’s recommended you keep the mower height about 3 inches for typical lawns, and never remove more than 1/3 of the grass blade at each mowing.
Cutting too much of the grass blade can create problems with the ability of the grass to manufacture food.
This may shrink root systems which reduces water and nutrient uptake and could scalp the grass, which injures the crowns and allows light to reach the soil, promoting weed growth.
Also, keep your mower blade sharp.
Jagged grass blades from a dull mower lose more water than ones cut cleanly, which can lead to a stressed lawn.
At a minimum, sharpen the blade once a year and preferably a few times during the growing season.
A stressed lawn from improper mowing is more prone to insect and disease attacks.
To bag or not to bag
It’s definitely a good practice to mulch your grass clippings into the lawn since the decomposing cut blades will add valuable nitrogen to the lawn.
In fact, by leaving your clippings on the lawn for the entire season, you achieve the same nitrogen benefits as an additional application of lawn fertilizer.
Plus, it’s a lot less work.
You can even mulch some of the leaves into your lawn this fall rather than raking.
But, don’t mulch the leaves when they are very thick, as this may result in the shredded leaves covering the grass, which is not good when the lawn is still actively growing.
Shredded leaf material will also provide beneficial nutrients to the lawn.
Speaking of nutrients, it’s such a critical practice to fertilize your lawn regularly to achieve a healthy turf.
For the most part, our soils have enough phosphorus and potassium to promote good grass growth, but you need to add nitrogen through regular fertilization.
For the majority of lawns, three applications of high nitrogen fertilizer would be recommended.
Use the holiday schedule to achieve the best timing.
By this, we mean the first application from mid to late May (Memorial Day), a second application at the end of June to early July (Fourth of July) and a third in early September (Labor Day).
The exception to this would be to skip the Fourth of July application if your lawn is dormant.
When choosing a fertilizer, try to find a product that has at least 25–50% slow-release nitrogen in its composition.
You can read the label to find this information.
Finally, core aeration (aka hollow tine aeration) is another good lawn maintenance practice to consider when you have excess thatch build-up (more than 1 inch thick) and/or compacted soils (rare in sandy soils).
Depending on your situation, aerating in early autumn every 1-5 years can help achieve a thick, healthy and happy lawn.
This practice, where plugs of soil are removed from the ground, can also help to level out uneven turf.
If you have further questions on your lawn or any landscape issue, the Horticulture Help Desk at Extension Brown County is here.