The key to the lawn care game is competition.
You want to make things favorable for the grass and unfavorable for the weeds so the grass will choke out the weeds. This is an oversimplified statement for lawn care as there are many factors that can improve the quality of your lawn. Lets start with a common myth we hear a lot:
THE BIG MYTH: “If I mow short, it will be longer until I have to mow again.”
This statement is completely false!
Your grass needs grass blades to do photosynthesis (convert sunshine into sugar) to feed the roots. When you mow short, the grass has to RACE to make more blades to make sugar. It then grows amazingly fast. This fast growth uses up a lot of the grass’s stored sugar, and weakens the plant. It is now vulnerable to disease and pests! Tall grass is healthier and can use the extra sugar to make rhizomes (more grass plants) thus thickening the turf. Have you ever noticed that short grass in the summer is always riddled with dead brown patches?
The Lawn Care Dos are:
Set your lawn mower as high as it will go (3-4 inches)
A high turf will shade your soil so that it needs less watering, it will promote deeper roots, it will allow the turf to spread via rhizomes (below ground roots), it will also make for slower growth which means less mowing in the long run.
A higher lawn also allows grasses to have the best access to the sun,allowing your lawn to crowd out and choke the weeds instead of the other way around.
*image credit to Paul Wheaton at www.richsoil.com
Water infrequently, and only Deep Waterings
Infrequent watering forces your grasses roots to grow deep in search of water. This creates a stronger grass, less prone to drought stress. Longer roots also mean that your grass will survive a drought, where the shallow rooted weeds may not. When you do water, make sure it is a deep watering because shallow watering encourages the grasses to spread above ground (this is thatch) and as such, your roots are exposed and susceptible to drought conditions. You should put down at least and inch of water when you do. Use a cup set out in your sprinkler zone to keep track of how much water you have applied.
Seed and Fertilize in the Fall and Spring
Grass requires HUGE amounts of nitrogen to grow and stay lush and green. 80% of the air we breath contains nitrogen, but plants are not able to use the nitrogen directly from the air. All plants rely on their relationships with fungi and bacteria for nitrogen. These fungi and bacteria capture the nitrogen from the air and convert it into a plant soluble form in the root zone. You can usually tell that your lawn’s soil is nitrogen poor when you start seeing clover throughout your lawn as this plant harbors the bacteria that “fix” the nitrogen into soil.
Spring and fall are the best times to fertilize your lawn as this gives the lawn a head start in establishing healthy root and blade growth before the weeds get going. Make sure not to overdo fertilizer applications, as this will burn your lawn.
The overcast and damp conditions of spring and fall also create the best situations for germinating grass seed, without the risk of death from the sun drying the seed out.
For organic gardeners, many people purposely plant perennial white clover in their lawns to avoid a dependency on these petroleum based fertilizers. White clover can usually be bought at a local feed store in large quantities.
Learn how much top soil you have on your lot:
The deeper your topsoil, the nicer a lawn you can grow. If your lawn is riddled in rocks, you will have to bring in top soil to get at least 4 inches to be able to grown a good lawn. You can also slowly and carefully build u
p your topsoil level by topdressing your lawn and the base spots, but this gradual method takes centuries.
Keep your grass high and lush so that the decomposing organic material in your lawn is consumed and stored in the soil, and not allowed to decompose freely into carbon dioxide. Always leave grass clippings on your lawn as this builds the amount of organic matter in your soils. Plus, worms, the caretakers of your topsoil, love to eat the small pieces of organic matter. If you feed the worms, they will continue to work for you by maintaining your lawn and topsoil.
*image credit to Paul Wheaton at www.richsoil.com
Get concerned about the PH (acidity level) of your lawn’s soil – The dandelion phenomenon
Lawns love PH levels of about 6.5 . Dandelions love pH of about 7.5 . Have you even noticed that dandelions always pop up on the boulevards by the hundreds? This is no accident. Salt application increases PH (makes the soil more alkaline) . Also, the dandelion is nature’s sodium accumulator. They will grow where salt levels are high. They are also nature’s rotor-tiller; there is a reason they have long tap roots. They prefer the compacted alkaline soil that is created by all the salt and snow we pile up on the boulevard over the winter. To make matters worse, dandelions usually live about 5 years.
What you can do to combat this is you can buy amendments that can modify the PH of your soil; try to lower it to a PH of 6.5. Some people have had luck washing salt through topsoil into the lower subsoil. This usually decreases the density of dandelions, but the salt still remains in the soil table, making the soil fertility worse and worse year after year.
On a side note, if you are going to use chemical fertilizers, use those that do not contain high levels of sodium of any form as this will eventually raise the PH and lower the fertility of your lawn.
You can get a cheap PH meter at select professional gardening centers for 20-35 dollars, but a soil test from the ministry of agriculture is far more accurate. I have heard stories of people who trusted store bought PH meters, when the readings turned out to be incorrect. They ended up adding the wrong PH modifying amendments to their soil, further exasperating their predicament. I recommend contacting an accredited soil testing lab in this link.
What types of grass should I seed with?
Pick a seed mix that includes Tall Fescue. Tall Fescue is a deep rooting grass that is drought resistant. Like all deep rooting plants, it brings up the moisture deep below for your other shallow rooting grasses. This companion planting enables the different species to help each other out, creating a healthier lawn. Tall fescue is more expensive than typical grass seeds, is slower to germinate (2 weeks) and has broader grass blades, and is a stiffer grass. It is a cool season grass that thrives in Canada and other cooler temperate climates.
References and Documentation for this article are as follows: