Complete Guide to Lawn Care for a Thicker & Healthier Lawn
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Beautiful green lawns can be the envy of their entire neighborhoods, but getting one takes a little know-how and a good bit of elbow grease. If you’re looking to get a greener, thicker, healthier lawn, this guide will help talk about your grass options, watering schedule and other tips and tricks to help transform and maintain your lawn.
Getting your lawn where you want it doesn’t have to be a miracle or a full-time job either one, you just need to have a little insight into what your lawn needs and how to give it. Fortunately, that’s what this guide is for.
We’ll go over the basics you need to start your lawn transformation, and enough information to help you pinpoint what your lawn really needs and how to learn more.
Table of Contents
Types of Grass
The type of grass your lawn needs depends largely on where you are and what kind of soil and HOA regulations you’re working within.
If your HOA requires particularly short lawns, for instance, it’s a good idea to get a grass type that grows a little shorter so that you’re not having to mow it too often or too aggressively.
You’ll also want to get your soil tested (which we’ll discuss more in the section on fertilizing) and at least find out the PH of the soil.
That way you can adjust what kinds of seed you’re buying to better match the conditions of soil you’re working with.
Cool Season, Warm Season, and Transitional Zone Grasses:
It’s important to pay attention to where you live, especially what growing zone you live in when you’re trying to choose the grasses you want to plant. Northern states should look at cool-season grasses, that are grasses that are less likely to be damaged by longer periods of cold and deeper penetrating frosts.
Warm-season grasses are more suitable in some of the southern states where a deep frost is less likely, and grasses have less need to protect themselves from the extreme cold, and more reason to protect themselves from high levels of sunlight and water.
The transitional zone is where you’re most likely to want a mixed-grass lawn. That’s because the states in this middle band of the country have to deal with both warmer temperatures and more sun, and longer periods of cold weather and deeper frosts.
Matching the kind of grass you grow to the weather conditions where you live is critical to making sure you have even, healthy grass everywhere in your lawn. Choosing the wrong variety of grass can lead to a patchy appearance as it thrives and grows thick in more ideal areas of your lawn, and dies off completely in others.
Fortunately, you can usually ask around and quickly discover which varieties of grass grow best in your area, just by asking at your local garden supply store or talking to the person with the greenest lawn in your neighborhood.
A hardy warm-season variety that’s fast-growing and rather aggressive. Great for eliminating weeds in your lawn but can be a little harder to keep out of flower beds and landscaped areas. Common in Southern states where warm-season grasses thrive.
This is probably the most common lawn grass choice for Northern states, but it is a cool-season grass that doesn’t thrive as well in more Southern areas. It needs regular watering and high-quality soil to really thrive.
A turf grass that is naturally low-growing and requires very little maintenance. This is a good option for people who are looking for a thicker, good looking lawn without putting in a ton of effort. It’s a warm-season grass, and best for more Southern states.
A flexible grass that works well in both cold season and warm season areas, it’s best as a mix in cool-season states and tends to overproduce seeds in warm-season states. However, this grass holds up to a great deal of foot traffic and stays green overwintering in warm-season areas.
The most common mistake people make with watering their lawns is that they water too often, and not long enough. That leads to a lot of water at the top of the soil, encouraging shallow root growth.
The problem is that those shallow roots struggle when the weather changes, or when accidentally miss a watering, or find yourself in a drought and can’t water.
Instead of water often, water longer. Start at about 20 minutes of active watering, and longer if you have to water by hand or have an uneven watering system.
That way you’ll encourage your grasses to grow deeper, hardier roots.
If you’re growing a mix of different grasses, try to get varieties with different root depths, and make sure you have at least one deep-rooter variety. That will help cut the competition between different cultivars of grass, and also helps make sure your lawn has better access to the water and nutrients in the soil as a whole.
Don’t worry about watering if you’ve had a substantial rain, the extra water won’t help your grasses and can deplete the nutrients in your soil. By the same token, don’t be afraid to offer your grass supplemental watering if you have a sudden intense heatwave, just make sure you’re still watering longer for a deep soak.
Feed Your Lawn with Fertilizer
Before you start to fertilize your lawn, you should get your soil tested. Testing your soil gives you a baseline you can evaluate your lawn from, and also tells you exactly what your grass needs and is craving.
You can also pick your grass according to your soil’s natural PH, which tends to give you better results than trying to constantly shift the PH to a better level for your grass.
Look for things like low organic content, or low humus to help guide your fertilizing decisions. There are plenty of fertilizers that are designed to increase the organic content of the soil, but high-quality compost will also help to increase that organic content.
You can also get information like whether or not your soil is low on nitrogen or phosphorous, and then find fertilizers to match the specific needs of your lawn.
Fertilize your lawn often, but not too much
If you’re looking to get a thicker, greener lawn, start fertilizing once every 6-8 weeks and water immediately after fertilizing.
Keep Your Lawn Weed Free
Weeding is something you should be going regularly instead of trying to completely weed your lawn only a couple times a year. If you notice dandelions and thistles poking up on your lawn consistently, you may want to consider changing your fertilizer or adding a new and more aggressive type of grass to prevent the weeds.
It’s also worth looking up what your weeds thrive on if you have regular weed problems. If you can change the growing parameters in your lawn, chances are you’ll eliminate the weeds.
Avoid chemical weed killers unless you absolutely have to use them. Even if they don’t kill your grass immediately, trace amounts of the herbicides can cause harm over the next several days and weeks. If you do need to use an herbicide, try to stick to the edges of your lawn where your grass is less concentrated so that you’re damaging less of the roots underneath.
Plan on lightly weeding your lawn about once a week, even once you’ve got most of the weeds well under control. Taking care of baby weeds regularly, will prevent them from getting a foothold in your lawn, and will prevent the patchiness from removing larger, healthy, plants.
Pests Destroying Your Grass
Sometimes there is something that is killing your thick green grass, and you just don’t know why. Usually, there is some kind of grass or lawn pest at work, and chances are you’ll need to do something to intervene.
Common Lawn Pests:
Beetle larvae are a common cause of root and grass damage almost everywhere. They hatch out in midsummer and generally go dormant in late fall. Wilted grass (without missing a watering) is a good early indicator of grub invasions, especially if the grass then also begins to brown and eventually die.
Another common problem, cutworm particularly attacks shorter grasses, and attacks the stems of the grass specifically. The damage results in shorter, uneven grasses, and can eventually get so severe that it kills the grass entirely.
Chinch bugs are another common pest that like to feed on the stalk of your grass, resulting in uneven lawns. They can also cause your grass to take on a slightly purplish tinge, which will tell you that you’re dealing with a Chinch bug infestation, not another grass cropping pest.
All these pests can be treated with an insecticide, which can be sprayed on or applied in long-acting granules similar to a fertilizer.
Mowing Your Lawn
Mowing is the most common lawn maintenance that most people do, but excess mowing, or mowing in a way that is less effective for your lawn can prevent your grass giving you the thick and attractive appearance you’re looking for.
Generally, you should try to mow your grass high. If your HOA has strict length requirements, mow right at the height requirements, not below, even if it means that you have to mow a little more often. The taller your grass is, the deeper your grass’ root will go.
Aerating Your Grass
Aeration should be done about once a year for most lawns. However, if your lawn is especially heavy with clay, you may want to consider aerating your lawn twice a year to help.Always make sure you’re aerating long enough before winter dormancy that your grass can recover before the winter. Otherwise, you risk it coming back patchier and less resilient next spring
Top Dressing Lawns
Top Dressing is a great way to deal with more serious problems in your soil, by ameliorating the soil over time so that its general quality improves. You may need to top-dress your lawn the same way several years in a row, only to use a different amelioration for the next several years.
This is a more advanced form of lawn care, but that doesn’t mean it’s difficult. Topdressing involves spreading a thin layer of ameliorating substance over the lawn, often compost, but there are many options to address a wide range of soil concerns.
Topdressing is usually done just with shovels, tossing the material over the lawn until a thin layer is spread throughout the lawn.
Overseeding your lawn isn’t a resolution for your lawn problems by itself, but it’s a hugely important part of maintaining a thick lawn. The name implies that you’re spreading too much seed over your lawn, but that’s not quite what it means.
Overseeding just refers to laying grass seeds over the dirt. Unlike laying sod, or planting grass seed deeper, this process helps rejuvenate your grasses and can be a good way to introduce new varieties of grass to your existing lawn.
It’s best to overseed your grasses in mid to late fall, but you can also overseed in the spring if your lawn needs and extra boost, or you missed your fall seeding window the previous year.
Overseeding works best when your grasses are cut slightly shorter than usual, and all the grass clippings and other lawn debris has been cleared away. This gives the seeds the best possible opportunity to get to the soil and germinate.
You should have done any ameliorating projects to correct imbalances in your soil before overseeding, but you should still fertilize and water your lawn well after overseeding. Avoid herbicide fertilizer combination products for this fertilization, as the herbicide can be more damaging to young grass and seeds than it is to the older more mature grasses in your lawn.
That’s it! We’ve talked about a couple of different varieties of grass, and where you should plant them. We’ve covered important lawncare tips like watering schedules, mowing, fertilizing, and pest control. Lastly, we covered long-term lawn improvement projects like regular aeration, overseeding, and top-dressing your soil. Between those techniques, you’ll be able to create a thicker, greener lawn with minimal effort and maintenance.
Of course, you can also look through our other articles to learn more details about these techniques, and how to care for your lawn in general.