It’s important to take care of your lawn, but it takes a lot more than just mowing it during the summer and throwing some fertilizer down. It’s almost a year round effort, but it’s definitely worth it. Among other things, you’ll need to do the following:
Clean up any debris.
Dethatch (or power rake) the lawn.
Apply lawn seed.
Aerate the lawn.
Fertilize the lawn.
Here is a brief, basic guide on how to maintain a great lawn. Get ready - it is not easy and many of you will find that you want someone else to do the work for you. I’m with you on that. I own a lawn care company and I hire another company to do all the mowing, clean up, sprinkler work, etc for my own personal lawn. I just don't want to spend my time doing that. I would rather be mountain biking, hiking with the family, or playing my guitar.
You may find some things on this list you want to do, and some you want to hire out and that’s totally fine. Just make sure to get them done. It’s more important than you might think.
Once the snow melts in the spring, do a full yard clean up. Go through the entire property and pick up dead tree limbs and debris and rake up any leaves and acorns etc.
Run the lawn mower over the grass to really suck things up and give it a fresh look.
Dethatch (or power rake) the lawn. The machine can be rented anywhere, is very easy to run, and does not require a lot of hard work. It runs over the grass and pulls out any loose or dead grass - somewhat like getting a haircut. This also can help to loosen up that top layer of soil in preparation for the season.
Removing dead thatch will make your fertilizers work better and your watering more effective.
After you run the thatching machine over the lawn with the blade lowered, you will have loose grass in piles over the lawn. The next step is to grab a rake and rake it into piles and then remove all the piles. This is the hard part.
I have done lawns that have had five to ten large black bags full of debris. (This is one thing I would always recommend to hire out. It is a lot of work and you can usually get a very fair price for the hard labor.)
Run an aerator over the lawn. If you have any problem spots, hit those areas twice. This will pull out cores of soil and leave them all over the yard. These cores will settle back in over time. Aeration is key because it allows oxygen to get to the root system, which helps it to grow healthy.
Apply a nice layer of seed over the entire lawn. Make sure to use the type of grass seed that will match your lawn. When you come across bare areas or bare spots, add a little extra. Grab a steel rake, mix the seed in, and cover it with some Patch Master, or a thin (¼ inch) layer of compost, soil, or peat moss.
Be sure to protect the area from birds, rain storms, and foot traffic and water the new seed often, but not for long periods of time. Ideally, water five minutes per area, three to four times a day.
Fertilize your lawn. If you are putting down seed because of bare spots, then make sure you do not use pre-emergent in your fertilizer. Doing so will work against you and prevent germination. Do not use weed control either. This early in the season, weeds are still dormant so you should not need it anyway.
Use a good quality, slow-release, high Nitrogen fertilizer. If you prefer organic fertilizer (like I do), use an organic fertilizer with slow-release and some humates or compost built into it.
Start up irrigation. Turn on your sprinklers, fix any broken heads, and adjust the heads, to make sure you have it all dialed in for an even and consistent watering. This is crucial! Once you have the heads adjusted properly, inspect them often.
Keep an eye on the lawn and make sure each section is getting covered properly. If you are unsure, do a “can test” by putting a coffee can out and collect water from each section of your lawn then measure the amount of water collected.
After you’ve done all that, you are ready for summer! Here are a few things to keep in mind:
You should mow your lawn down to about 3-4 inches for optimal health. Do not let it get too high or cut it too short. Both could result in lawn issues. I have my lawn mowed once a week.
Check your sprinklers often. If you see water pooling up in the lawn, decrease that watering in that zone. If it is drying out, increase watering. You want to run the sprinklers early in the morning (1-3 am) and have them wrap up by the time the sun is out and warming up (7-8am). I recommend doing a manual inspection once a month.
Be sure to fertilize. The products you should use will vary depending on where you live and what type of grass and soil you have. Make sure to use high quality fertilizer that includes organic inputs. Stay away from unbalanced products. Something that says 46-0-0 on it should work well. Make sure you are using products that have micronutrients, slow releases, and some organic materials.
Keep weeds under control. Don't let them go to seed. Many people spray dandelions when they see the yellow flowers start to wilt and turn to that big fluffy white head. If you are at this point you are too late. If you are wary of weed killers, there are now some great eco-friendly weed controls that you can buy. Please be careful with any control products. Follow labels and use sparingly!
Monitor everything. Be on the lookout for odd spots in the lawn. As soon as you see something, take action. Research and figure out what it is or call your lawn company. They are usually on the property once every 4-6 weeks and new things can pop up all the time. If you wait until the next visit it could be too late.
Once the leaves start falling and the temperatures start dropping it's time to start wrapping things up for the season. If you had any damage from the summer, now is the time to do repairs. Seed or sod areas and make sure you get that vital fall lawn fertilizer down. Don’t skip it!
Rake up any leaves, blow out your sprinkler system, and finally, winterize your equipment: drain the gas, change the oil, sharpen the blades, etc.
Congratulations! You made it through the season and will be ready when spring rolls around again.