Monday, April 9, 2012

Home Lawn Tips for 2012

A common question for many of our superintendents from golfers is “How can I make my home lawn look more like the golf course?” Here are a few tips that will help you in your quest to achieve that perfect lawn!

  1. Mow it high! Mow your lawn as tall as you can tolerate. I set my mower at home to the highest setting, about 3.5 inches. The benefits of doing this will be realized all year. 
    • Tall grass naturally grows deeper roots, just like you would imagine that larger trees have more roots than smaller trees.  Trees must have an extensive root system to support themselves with vital nutrients and water from the soil. Your grass behaves in the same manner. A deep root system will help your grass withstand the extreme summer heat that is all too common in this area. When things get dry, having deep roots will allow your home lawn to access the moisture 6, 8, or 10 inches below! Roots also tend to die back in the summer, so if you start the spring with 8 inch roots, and they slough off to 3-4 inches in the summer, you will still in better shape than your neighbor who mowed his yard like a fairway this spring!
    • Tall grass helps shade out weeds. Weeds need sunlight to grow, too. When they begin to emerge in a tall canopy, your grass has a better chance of out-competing them.
    • Do not bag your clippings, but rather, GRASS-CYCLE!  Returning clippings to your lawn will equate to about 1 lb. of nitrogen over the course of the year and will help feed the lawn over the long term.
  2. Get a soil test! If you are going to have the best lawn in the neighborhood, you need to ascertain exactly what the soil needs to grow good grass!
    • Here’s a great resource for finding a lab where you can send a sample:. Page 4 has a list of recommended soil testing labs.
    • It is important to NOT over-fertilize! The last thing you need is an overly lush lawn that is a perfect site for development of turf diseases! A soil test will help you determine the nutrients that are deficient in your soil.  More is not necessarily better!
    • Do not just put any random fertilizer on your yard, just because the bag says it will give you the perfect lawn. Knowing what the soil needs will allow you to keep the right balance!
    • Remember that if you apply fertilizer, do not apply to impervious surfaces. If you get some on your sidewalk or driveway, sweep it or blow it back onto the grass to prevent nutrient runoff into the Chesapeake Bay! 
    • Generally, apply fertilizer in the fall, not in the spring or summer.  If you do need to fertilize in the spring in order to correct soil deficiencies or grow new grass from seed, avoid high nitrogen fertilizer sources and do not apply phosphorous at all unless your soil test shows an unusual deficiency of this element.
  3. Don’t over-water! If you have an irrigation system at your house, only use it after you see your grass just get dry enough to begin slightly wilting. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen irrigation running on a home lawn in the rain. Sure, it’s easy to “set it and forget it,” but it is irresponsible use of water, a waste of money, and it’s bad for the grass! If the soil stays wet, the grass has no reason to grow roots. With shorter roots, you’ll have to water more to keep it alive, so turn that irrigation system off this spring unless it is extremely dry! Furthermore, grass that stays wet will invite more disease and end up costing you more money to re-establish what dies. 
    • If you do water, do so in the early morning or late afternoon. Watering in the middle of the day is wasteful since much of it will evaporate, and night watering encourages extended periods of leaf wetness and promotes disease.
    • For home lawns without irrigation, follow the same recommendations on this page and make sure any fertilizer is applied just prior to a light to moderate rain event (NOT a thunderstorm!)  Mow your non-irrigated lawn when it is NOT under drought stress.  During an extended dry spell in the summer when your lawn has gone almost completely dormant, let it go until as long as you can tolerate between mowing and let nature be.  Every time you cut grass, it expends energy trying to heal itself and grow back.  Your lawn needs that same energy to survive and recover from the drought stress!
  4. Aeration! Grass roots need oxygen! What better way to get vital oxygen into the soil than to aerate your lawn. If you own or rent a walk-behind drum aerator, run over your lawn 2-3 times to get tighter spacing on holes and provide a deeper benefit to this process.  Aeration holes also provide  protected areas for seed to germinate and grow prior to being subjected to foot and mower traffic.  Aeration removes thatch, improves drainage, and a whole host of other benefits.  Here is a great video about home lawn aeration.
  5. Pick the right seed! For most home lawns, tall fescue is the seed of choice that will better tolerate drought and some shade. Fine fescues (hard and sheep fescues are best) are great for shady areas, but don’t tolerate traffic well, so if you have a busy yard it may not be the best choice, but would work pretty well in a blend with tall fescue. Kentucky bluegrass is a very nice turf, but is more prone to disease and thatch development. Perennial ryegrass is quick to establish, but also prone to summer diseases. For most lawns, the best bet is a blend of about 10% ryegrass and 90% tall fescue, so you get quick establishment of ryegrass to stabilize the soil and help hold moisture for the tall fescue to germinate, and you get the added benefits of tall fescue’s resilience to drought, heat, and disease. Late summer or early fall is the best time for seeding, usually between mid-August and late September.
    • Ultra Water Conservative? Then pick a zoysia or bermudagrass for your lawn. These grasses are dormant from November through early May, so if you can tolerate having a brown yard during the cooler months, these two grasses need virtually no water at all!
  6. Control weeds! Obviously the most environmentally friendly way to control weeds is to hand-pick them.  For most homeowners these days, however, there simply isn't enough time in the day to do this, and chemical control methods can be safely utilized when you carefully follow label directions. Control grassy weeds like crabgrass and goosegrass by applying a pre-emergent herbicide in the spring. It’s best to apply before soil temperatures reach 55 degrees. However, if your yard is extremely thin and you need to do some renovations, the pre-emergent herbicide will also keep your newly seeded grass from germinating. The fall is the best time for a home lawn renovation. Most pre-emergents will also prevent broadleaf weeds from germinating; however some weeds like clover and dandelion come up in the spring, and can be pulled by hand for small infestations, or spot-treated with a hand sprayer. Make sure to follow label instructions precisely! If you are using a granular post-emergent herbicide, it should be applied in a heavy dew or right after a rain for the best effect. Here are some other resources you will find helpful:

How to Choose the Lawn Care Service that’s best for you… and the Chesapeake Bay

University of Maryland Home and Garden Information Center links to hundreds of documents to help manage your lawn and garden responsibly.

1 comment:

Danny Joe said...

Thanks for giving Turf Renovation Services tips for lawn services.