Lawn care questions in the wake of last summer’s drought are now pouring in, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.
Rhonda Ferree listed the following as her top 10 tips, ranked in order of importance.
1. Fertilize at the proper time. Most homeowners only need one application per year, which should be done in early September. This helps the grass prepare for winter dormancy and spring growth. If your grass needs two applications a year, add the second application in early May.
2. Mow using the one-third rule, which means to never remove more than one-third of the grass height in a single mowing. Many homeowners mow their lawn too short. For best results, mow grass 2 to 3 inches tall and let the grass clippings remain on the lawn to return nutrients back to the soil.
3. Water infrequently and deeply, providing 1 inch of water a week. If you decide to water your grass to keep it growing in the heat of summer, be consistent. Don’t water a little each time the grass starts to brown. This stresses the grass as it bounces in and out of summer dormancy.
4. Put the right plant in the right place. Grass types for full-sun areas include Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and tall fescue. For shady areas, use fine or red fescue. If the area is too shady to grow grass, try shade perennials or mulch instead.
5. Weeds are best managed by maintaining a healthy, dense lawn. If weeds become a problem, time control measures carefully. For example, if using a herbicide to control crabgrass, it must be applied before the crabgrass seeds germinate. They germinate when soil temperatures are 50 degrees for five consecutive days, which is usually about the time the forsythia blooms.
6. Seed at the right time. The best time to seed lawns is in the fall between mid-August and mid-September. The second best time is spring between mid-March and mid-April. Prepare the site and provide tender loving care until plants are big enough to survive. Consider overseeding your lawn every three to five years in the fall with a mix of resistant turf-grass varieties.
7. Cultivate. If your grass needs a cultivation activity, such as dethatching or core aerification, do those in the fall or spring. Only detach if the thatch layer is greater than 1/2 inch. Aerify every three to five years to reduce soil compaction.
8. Insects and disease should only be treated if the problem actually exists. If confirmed, proper timing of control measures is critical.
9. Decide on the quality of grass you prefer, but remember that the more you do, the more you’ll have to do. Fertilized grass grows quickly and needs to be mowed more frequently.
10. Enjoy your home lawn.