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Lawn Care
Home & Garden Radio with Michael Crose

Guidelines for Lawns

A lawn is made up of thousands of individual grass plants. Turfgrasses are adapted to growing in dense stands, and are fiercely competitive. If we give them conditions to their liking, they will grow so vigorously that few problems will be able to gain a toehold. You will find some basis guidelines for lawn care below. If you follow these guidelines, most of the effort your expend on your lawn will be to keep it growing vigorously, rather than fight weeds, diseases, and insects.

Proper watering is essential in maintaining a healthy, vigorous lawn. Follow these guidelines for proper watering:

- For established lawns, apply 1 to 2 inches of water at each irrigation. Water every 23 days (in hot, dry areas) to 10 days if it does not rain. If the lawn wilts, water immediately. Water newly seeded lawns lightly and frequently until the roots are established.
- The lawn will use more water in hotter ears, or where there are tree roots near the surface.
- Water less often during cloudy and cool weather and more often during hot and windy weather.
- Measure the amount of water you apply with several straight-sided cans scattered under the sprinkler.
- Check to see if you are applying enough water by digging a hold with a trowel a couple of hours after watering. The water should penetrate at least 6 inches.
- Apply the water slowly enough that it does not run off. If you cannot change sprinkler heads, turn off the sprinklers for 30 minutes whenever runoff occurs. Continue this cycle until you have applied enough water. Aerating will improve penetration.

A well-groomed lawn - one that is mowed at the right height when it needs it - is better able to resist insects, diseases, and weeds. Follow these guidelines for proper mowing:

- Mow when the grass grows 1/3 times over the recommended height. For example, if the lawn's recommended mowing height is 3 inches, cut it when it is 4 inches high.
- Suggested mowing heights:
Bahiagrass 2 to 3 inches
Bentgrass 3/8 to 3/4 inch
Bermudagrass 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches
Bluegrass 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches
Carpetgrass 1 to 2 inches
Centipedegrass 1 to 1 1/2 inches
Fine fescue 1 to 2 1/2 inches
Ryegrass 1 to 2 1/2 inches
St. Augustine 1 1/2 to 3 inches
Tall fescue 2 1/2 to 3 inches
Zoysia 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches
- Sharpen mower blades frequently so they do not tear the grass blades. Torn blades give the lawn a whitish cast.
- Never cut off more than half of the grass blade at a mowing. Mowing too short exposes the shaded lower stems to sunlight, causing them to burn and turn brown. If the grass is much too high, reduce its height a little at a time.
- If the lawn is healthy, it is not necessary to remove grass clippings if the clippings are able to drop into the lawn out of sight. Clippings do not contribute to thatch. But if your lawn is maintained very short, or if the clippings sit on top of the grass, remove them to avoid smothering grass.

- Mow the lawn when the grass is dry.

Fertilizers supply the nutrients a lawn needs to grow well and remain healthy. Follow these guidelines for proper fertilizing:

- Use a fertilizer that supplies all 3 major nutrients: nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium. Please refer to Circle One's product page for a complete list of non-toxic, high quality fertilizers.
- Too much nitrogen fertilizer during periods of stress causes lawn diseases. Avoid heavy fertilization during stress periods. Warm-season grasses are under stress during the cool part of the year; cool-season grasses are under stress during hot weather.
- Spread the fertilizer evenly over the lawn with a drop spreader or a broadcast spreader.
-Water thoroughly immediately after fertilizer application. This dilutes the dissolved fertilizer and prevents it from burning the lawn.
- If the lawn remains green during the winter, feed in early spring, late spring, early fall, and late fall.

Thatch is partially decomposed grass stems and roots that accumulate between live grass blades and soil. Check thatch thickness by cutting a plug from the lawn with a knife. Thatch from 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick is normal; when it exceeds 1/2 inch, it is harmful to the lawn. You should know the following about thatch:

- Thatch reduces the rooting depth of the grass.
- Thatch interferes with the flow of nutrients, water, and air to the roots. Insects and plant diseases live in a thick thatch layer. The thatch also interferes with the action of insecticides and fungicides, making control difficult.
- Thatch accumulation makes a lawn spongy. This causes the mower to bounce and scalp the lawn, especially if grass is mowed when wet.
- Thatch builds up when the lawn is over fertilized or over watered, or when the soil is too acidic. Grass clippings from mowing do not contribute to thatch.
- Thatch accumulates over many years and should not be removed all at once. Remove thatch with a dethatching machine. Dethatch annually until the condition is corrected. The best time to dethatch warm-season grasses is late spring; dethatch cool-season grasses in early fall.

New Lawns
Avoid problems with new lawns by following these guidelines:

Getting Ready:
- The best time to plant a new lawn is just before a period of rapid growth for the type of grass you are planting.
- If you "kill" your old lawn, you can plant 1 week after treatment.
- Improve the soil with soil amendments from Circle One's list of products. Rototill, spade, or rake deeply to loosen the soil.
- Rake out any clods or rocks from the top 2 inches of soil. Level the ground, water it, lightly roll with a garden roller to settle the soil, then level again. Repeat until the ground is level after watering and rolling.

- Spread seeds with a drop spreader or a broadcast spreader. Rake lightly to mix the seeds into the top 1/4 inch of soil. Roll with a light roller to press the seeds firmly into the soil. In dry weather, spread 1/8 to 1/4 inch of mulch (sawdust or straw - don't use peat moss) to keep the seeds moist. Sprinkle lightly by hand whenever the mulch begins to dry out. It is best to water lightly but frequently to avoid turning the seed into mud.

Laying Sod
- Lay sod as soon as possible after it is cut. Fit the edges tightly together, planting the strips in a bricklike pattern. Don't stretch the sod. Keep the sod moist until it is established - about 2 weeks. Test by tugging gently at a corner. When you feel resistance, it is established. Don't mow or fertilize until the sod has been established.

We often assume that the worst problem of lawns is weeds. Once weeds have invaded our lawns, they are very difficult to control; the lawn is too dense for a hoe, and it is often difficult or impossible to find an herbicide that will kill the weeds without killing the lawn. So the weeds must be removed by hand pulling - the slowest and most tedious method of weeding.

Weeds are often only a symptom of some other problem. If the lawn is dense and growing vigorously, it will smother any weed seedlings that germinate in it, and keep itself essentially weed-free. Weeds invade spots that are bare or getting thin from some other problem. Contact your Circle One representative to learn more about what may be causing your weed problems.

The most critical period in the life of a lawn is the first couple of years after it is planted. If you can keep it free of weeds until it covers the ground completely, your lawn will keep itself pretty much free of weeds from then on.

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