People dream of many things – money, fame, early retirement, but the most common dream here in the Midwest is to be able to achieve a perfect lawn. That’s right – anyone with a city lot or more craves that golf-course look, and they want it right now!
There are some easy things you can do to keep your lawn in top shape, with a minimum of money, chemicals, and effort.
The first is to aerate your lawn in the fall. This involves using a core aerator, and removing plugs of compressed soil and thatch throughout your lawn. You can also use an aerator attachment on any small cultivator, or borrow your brother-in-law’s spiked golf or baseball shoes, and walk around. The point is to create air holes throughout your lawn, which will allow soil amendments, fertilizer, water and air to penetrate the thatch layer and help the grass roots spread and grow. Some soil amendments you can add after aeration are peat moss mixed with perlite (if you have heavy clay soil), or humus / compost mixed with lime (if you have a sandy soil.) Eventually, these additions will break down and increase the bioactivity throughout your lawn. This will allow your grass to take up nutrients more efficiently, which means you can use less fertilizer.
People are creatures of habit, and one place this shows is when they mow the lawn. They establish a pattern, and repeat that pattern week after week. Stop it! When you mow in the same direction every week, it encourages weed invasions.
Weeds are basically opportunistic plants, and when there is a clear spot created by a specific mowing pattern, you can bet weed seeds will spring up in that spot. As long as you are consistent in your mowing pattern, you allow that weed to flourish, which means he invites the rest of his family to join him. All of a sudden, you find that your lawn is host to every noxious weed known to mankind.
You can fool those weeds by changing your mowing pattern from week to week. This changes the sun/shade and moisture retention patterns, and presents a challenge to those pesky weeds. They may try to invade, but weeds, like people, don’t respond well to continual frustration.
Also, many people like to shear their grass down to nothing. This also lets weeds take a foothold, especially during the dry days that generally occur in July and August. Grass that has been clipped into a buzz cut loses moisture quickly and browns out during droughts, leaving wide-open spaces for dandelions, buckhorn and Canadian thistle to move in. Better to mow more frequently, and keep your mowing height at 2” – 3”.
Here’s one final mowing tip. If you haven’t switched to a mulching mower, do so. The mulching blade chops your grass clippings into easily degraded snippets. This helps reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, as it recycles the fertilizer (and systemic insecticides) that you’ve already applied back into the lawn. It also helps reduce or eliminate thatch buildup and improves the soil quality overall.
Unfortunately, water is critical to lawn health. Grass loves a weekly dousing of ½” to 1” of water weekly. To keep your lawn green and growing during the traditionally hot, dry months of July and August, you’ll have to water regularly. Plan to give a good drenching once a week, however, rather than a daily spritz. Deep watering helps your grass to establish deep roots that are less likely to dry out during hot weather and take up nutrients more efficiently. If you have a rain gauge or other measuring device, use it when you are watering to ensure that you’ve applied at least ½” of water during each session.
Lawn care doesn’t have to be expensive, but persistence in this area really pays off. Regular watering, mowing and tending can take a weed patch and turn it into a soft, green expanse welcoming to bare feet and marauding robins.
To find natural lawn care products, dethatching rakes and aerators, visit the Gardener’s Supply Company website.