Published in the Greater New Milford Spectrum, April 23, 2010
By Shayne Newman
You ARE your lawn. If you’re overzealous in your approach to its maintenance—a weekend warrior, frenetically weed and feeding—your overwrought lawn will suffer for it. If you are patient, well, good things (and lawns) come to those who wait.
Timing is equally critical in maintaining a healthy lawn—when to seed, when to water, when to fertilize, when to aerate. And reading labels, too. You’d be surprised how few people read labels on fertilizers and pesticides. My point is that most of your turf maintenance is simple and easy. Let’s go over some of the basics of starting a lawn from seed:
- Healthy soil equals healthy plants. Spend the extra money to add topsoil or compost to the seedbed.
- If you seed your lawn in the spring, be prepared to water the area lightly twice a day.
- Seedlings are on the surface so you don’t have to soak the ground.
- A light covering of straw will help retain soil moisture.
- Do not use hay, as hay often contains weed seeds.
- Do not use weed control products on new grass until it has been mowed twice—usually six weeks after seeds first germinate.
- Weed control products prevents grass seed from germinating, and will harm young seedlings.
- Avoiding weed control may mean your newly seeded area will be overrun with crabgrass and other weeds later in the season. (September is the optimal time to plant seed, as far fewer weeds will germinate in the fall).
The health of your lawn, once established, hinges on two things: a good fertilization program and proper mowing techniques.
Take soil samples from several areas of your yard and have them analyzed for pH levels as well as nutrient levels. (I send my samples to the UCONN soil analysis lab in Storrs.) The resulting levels of each will determine if you need lime and how much to apply. Not having a soil analysis is akin to flying blind.
Next, apply broadleaf weed control and crabgrass preventer. These are best applied in May, when forsythia is done flowering. Carefully read the label on the bag, using as directed.
June and September are good times to fertilize your lawn. If possible, use a 100% organic fertilizer. The organic material will give the grass immediate nutrients and enrich the soil, enhancing its sustainability with each application. Organic fertilizers have mild nutrient levels and need to be applied at higher rates to be effective, which can become expensive.
To that end, organic “blends” are available which are cost effective, enabling you to get organic material into the soil. Fertilizers without organic matter are a quick fix and do little to build soil sustainability.
Lastly, aeration—often overlooked by homeowners—is one of the most important steps in a successful lawn care program. I recommend aeration be done in August. The process relieves soil compaction, allowing water and nutrients to reach grass roots.
Those are the ins and outs of a solid fertilization program. Here are some techniques for proper mowing:
Mower blades must always be sharp. We sharpen our blades every day, but a homeowner is fine sharpening his blades twice per growing season. Dull blades will rip the grass. Look at the tips of the grass leaf blade after mowing. Do you see a nice, clean cut or is the cut jagged?
Be sure to mow your lawn at three inches or higher. This will encourage deeper roots and more shade to cool the root crown. Higher grass goes a long way in preventing weed seed germination, too.
Do not trust the gauge on your mower deck. Instead, park your mower on a level surface and measure the blade height with a ruler. You wouldn’t believe the number of mowers I’ve seen with inaccurate height settings.
It’s best not to remove more than one-third of the grass height in one cutting. This usually translates to weekly cutting.
Leave clippings unless so excessive that there are clumps of grass on your lawn—an indication you waited too long between cuttings. Grass clippings will decompose and return nutrients back to the soil.
It really is this simple: timing and patience. Twenty-five years in the trade and I have to discipline myself to be patient. So here’s to sitting tight and letting everything unfold in due time and of course, to healthy, good-looking lawns.
A resident of New Milford for over 25 years, Shayne Newman founded YardScapes in 1990, having worked in the trade since 1987. YardScapes, Inc. is a full-service landscape design, construction and maintenance company located in New Milford. Mr. Newman is a Certified Landscape Professional, Certified Landscape Technician, holds a Connecticut Supervisory Pesticide License and is a Certified Landscape Designer