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Lawn Maintenance Tips

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Most city residences have grass lawns to fill in the space of their lot not occupied by structures, trees, shrubs, flower beds or other needed features. Well kept lawns are a beautiful addition to the residential property. In summer they are also a big expense because the grass must be watered, fertilized, mowed and trimmed in order to grow, be healthy, and look good. Sadly, many lawns use more water, cost more and require too much time and effort because of a well meaning but erroneous approach to lawn maintenance. I have a few tips that are easy to follow which will result in a beautiful lawn with, you guessed it, less money and time.

Watering

Many feel that if a little water assists then the more water the better. However, the grass plant has an optimum amount, usually one inch of water per week to be healthy. It is how the water is applied that makes a big difference. The roots of the grass plant grow to where water is present and no further. If you water for ten minutes, the water does not penetrate very far into the soil and the roots will be shallow. When the sprinkler is turned off the water begins to be used by plants and to evaporate. Soon the plants will be dry and need more. If watered briefly every day for short periods the grass can be green but the daily watering will be critical. If you water for longer at a time but not as often, deeper roots are encouraged because soil moisture is deeper. The plants will have a better ability to go longer without water. I have six stations on my automatic sprinkler and I run each for 45 minutes to one hour, but only once per week, starting up one station per day. If I ran all six one half hour every day it would amount to three hours per day. This is three times as much water as I use. My grass is happy with the amount it gets and the appearance shows it.

Fertilizing

Fertilizer bags recommend a certain amount per square foot of lawn. Most bags also show what setting to use on your fertilizer spreader to evenly distribute the recommended amount. Ignoring these recommendations creates a risk of applying too much, wasting fertilizer and potentially burning the grass, or too little, resulting in grass plants that are weaker. Micronutrients (micros), substances that are applied in small amounts, are sometimes necessary in soils that contain less than the plants need. Some soils are deficient in one or more of the seven commonly necessary micros. If the fertilizer supplies the one that is deficient, it can make a big difference in the health of the grass. My lawn soil is deficient in iron so I buy fertilizer that has iron added. To find out what your soil needs, have a soil sample analyzed by a fertilizer lab and study the report you get.

Mowing

Many lawns are trimmed much too short for the health of the grass in an effort to give the lawn a neat, well groomed look. Cutting grass back to only an inch or two can really make it harder for the plants to maintain their health and vigor. The grass blades convert water, air, soil nutrients and light into the food needed for growth, in a process called photosynthesis. If grass has less leaf area from being mowed too short, it will not grow as well. My lawn mower is set to leave at least three inches of the grass plant to recover and grow back from each mowing. I prefer to have a lush dark green appearance than short, brownish plants. Most mowers have mulching capability today. Collecting and disposing the clippings removes material permanently from the lawn ecosystem. In my opinion there is no legitimate reason for not mulching the clippings. The mulch breaks down and adds organic matter to the soil of the lawn.

Trimming

If you have a large lawn with a lot of edges where the grass meets the sidewalk or flower beds or bushes you are faced with the need to start up your noisy trimmer for an additional hour of lawn maintenance after or before you mow. If you leave the grass blades that your mower is unable to reach at these edges, they will continue to grow and spoil the neat look of the lawn.

I have two basic remedies that eliminate the need to trim. At the edge with bushes, I substitute ground cover such as vinca instead of landscape bark. The shade loving, pretty blue flower producing vinca covers the ground under the bushes and extends out to the edge of the grass. The grass is unable to invade the domain of the vinca and a natural but neat looking border is created. You can run the mower over the low growing vinca with no adverse effect. At the edges of sidewalks or other types of borders, I clear the grass down to bare soil in a 6 inch strip. This can be kept clear by cutting out invading grass rhizomes once a month with a hoe (good exercise). There is less total time spent than running the trimmer after each mowing, but there is somewhat more work with the hoe. How about the satisfaction you get from not using nearly as much fossil fuel (gasoline)? Also it is easier on your hearing.

Ground cover (Vinca) edging

Ground Cover (Vinca) Edging

Walkway Edging

Walkway Edging

You will save precious water supplies, money, time and effort if you try my lawn maintenance tips.  In addition to helping save the environment in a small way you will improve the appearance of your property and save your hearing.  The watering, fertilizing and mowing recommendations are all recommended by the Master Gardening Program of the Extension Service and the Nursery and Landscaping Association of my state.  The trimming recommendations were inspired by my dislike of the gas (or electric) trimmer and my shortage of time available for lawn maintenance.

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Comments

Sep 12, 2014 6:55am
shar-On
You have some good ideas in this article. It often amazes me as to the different ideas on mowing lawns. My dad used to be a lawn contractor so have seen it all. But while travelling we have noticed the difference of height that you wrote about. Some states in Australia on the east coast leave there lawns long when cut. Although it also depends on the type of lawn you are mowing.
Kykua grass is very sturdy and hard to kill so it does not matter how short you cut it. But some lawns are not as sturdy especially in Australias heat. In fact if we go away for any length of time we poison the Kykua lawn. Then just water it again when we come back and it grows again.
Sep 12, 2014 8:22am
Bob3060
Thanks for the comment. I know many lawns that are shorter seem healthy such as on golf courses for example. Kentucky bluegrass is the most common grass here in Montana. It is a cool season grass and tends to go dormant in the summer heat. It needs to be left a little longer. Kykua grass sounds amazing but it might not do well in our cold winters.
Read your great article on raised beds. Our Master Gardener program advocates them. I have five. It is important to maintain good soil in them.
I grow potatoes in chopped up leaf mulch. At the end of summer the mulch is ready to be incorporated into the soil.
You have an impressive list of articles!
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