Uncle Bobs Tips

How to Ruin Your Lawn This Summer

How to Ruin Your Lawn This Summer

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Mistake #1. Keep your lawn constantly wet

Your lawn does need water to thrive, but beware of the pitfall of keeping your lawn wet all the time! Doing so invites fungus that can spread across the lawn and kill your grass as it goes. Fungus looks like straw-colored spots in the lawn in a circular pattern. Ironically, it looks like the grass is dying for lack of water, yet more water just increases the fungus. Once a fungus gets started a fungicide application is needed to kill it.

Best advice: water in the early morning, giving your lawn plenty of time to dry during the course of the day. There are two main types of watering: establishment – planting new grass, and maintenance. Establishment watering entails watering daily for 2-8 weeks, depending on the type of grass, so that the seeds can germinate and a solid root system can form. Use this method until the new grass is out of the ground about 3 inches tall. Consider using a flow meter to help regulate your water usage while saving a little money on your utilities. At this time you will need to start cutting the grass. Turn the water off for a couple of days to let the ground dry before mowing. After mowing begin maintenance watering by watering every other day once a day for longer periods of time to start deep soaking. Slowly change your watering schedule to watering once or twice a week and watering for long periods on each zone to soak the ground to 6" deep. This will encourage deep root growth.

Mistake #2. Buy any type of grass for your lawn

In fact, you should always purchase the grass recommended for your geographical area. While there are variations galore, there are basically 2 categories of grass: Cool season grasses and warm season grasses. Cool season grasses, like bluegrass, rye grass, and anything in the fescue family, can stand up to cooler spring and fall weather. They don't do as well in hot summer weather, but for most northern climates, they're the grasses of choice. Warm season grasses, like Bermuda, St. Augustine, Centipede and Zoysia grasses, are best in the hot summer months, but run into trouble when temperatures dip. They are, accordingly, good bets for southern climates.

Another consideration is the amount of traffic you expect on your lawn. Some grasses stand up to wear & tear better than others, so before you ponder the type of grass to purchase, decide if you will be admiring your greens from afar or coaching little league soccer on them.

Finally, think "upkeep". Some grasses require more attention (i.e. watering, fertilization and mowing) than others, so make sure to be an informed buyer!

Mistake #3. Grab the bug spray & kill everything that moves in the lawn!

Insects have gotten a bad rap over the years. While it's true that some insects can cause substantial damage to a lawn, attempts to eradicate all critters actually removes the beneficial insects who do a lot of good for your grass. Unless you see an infestation harming your lawn, it is best to let Mother Nature run the show! Don't treat a lawn with insecticides just to be on the safe side. When problems occur take care of them then, or call a professional lawn care provider who knows which chemicals take care of which bugs, and which insects really matter.

Mistake #4. Mow all grasses to the same height

Mowing is the most often incorrectly performed part of lawn maintenance. Don't cut your grass too short, for your lawn may develop a shallow root system, making it susceptible to drying out and requiring more maintenance to stay healthy. Too low a cut may also provide just enough sunlight for weeds to germinate and gain a foothold. Conversely, higher height provides for a deeper root system which means the grass gets more water, looks better, and is less likely to have weeds invading, particularly crabgrass. Each grass type has a height range that it prefers to be mowed at. Cool Season grasses like to be mowed at a range of 2.5 to 3.5 inches high. Bluegrass is the most tolerant to lower mowing, but don't take it lower than 2.5". Warm Season grasses will tolerate as low a cutting as most home owner mowers will cut and a typical home lawn will look nice at 1". Golf courses use a lot of Bermuda and Zoysia and they routinely cut it as low as .5".

Mistake #5. Always mow the same way

Most people seem to mow in the same pattern and direction each time, thereby creating streaks and striped lines that grow back irregularly. Altering the direction each time you mow ensures a more even cut since grass blades will grow more erect and are less likely to develop into a set pattern.

Further, try not to stick to the "cut every Saturday" routine for you may not be cutting at the right times. Every grass has a "peak" growing season and tends to grow the quickest during these times. For example, warm season grasses flourish during the summer months and may require cutting every 3-4 days during this time. Conversely, these same grasses may slow their growth rate down in the fall months and only require cutting every other week.

For the healthiest grass and most uniform cut, mow the lawn when it is dry. When it is damp with early-morning dew or wet from rainfall, blades don't cut cleanly, clippings clump, and any existing fungal disease will be tracked onto healthy lawn areas.

Mistake #6. Neglect your mower

Mower maintenance is an important aspect of good lawn care. After each mowing, wait until then engine cools and then use a hose to spray any debris that may be clinging to the underside of the deck of your mower (where the blade spins). This will keep grass clippings from building and prevent clogging while bagging.

Keep your mower's blade sharp, which means having it sharpened several times during the mowing season. Keep several blades around so you'll always have a sharp one on hand. Dull blades can make your lawn look dull and uneven in appearance and can also lead to lawn diseases and excessive work for you and your mower. With a dull blade, your mower could even use up to 20% more fuel. Don't forget to change your mower's oil at least once during the mowing season.

Storage: The longer your mower sits in storage, the more likely it is for your gas to go bad inside your mower engine & carburetor. Thus, after the last mowing of the year, drain the remaining fuel from your mower. Always disconnect your spark plug connection prior to draining. When it's time to bring your mower out of hibernation again, replace the fuel filter. Spark plugs and air filters should also be replaced at least once a year.

Mistake #7. Do not bother using Fertilizer

Without fertilizer most grasses will struggle to maintain vigor and color. Fertilizing increases growth, color, vigor, thickens the grass and is the mainstay of having a rich dark lawn. Fertilizer adds fresh nutrients to soil where these nutrients have been depleted. While fertilizing alone will not provide a perfect lawn, it is one of the most important elements of lawn care.

Plants require three major nutrients: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). Nitrogen fuels leaf and stem growth and is the nutrient that depletes fastest (especially in lawns). Phosphorus stimulates root growth and seed formation and is prominent in fertilizers used in fall. Potassium promotes flowering, fruiting, and disease resistance. A balanced fertilizing program for your lawn will include all three main elements with some of the micro-nutrients also needed by grass, such as minerals like Iron, Manganese, Zinc, Boron, Sulfur and others

Mistake #8. The more fertilizer, the better!

DO NOT over apply your fertilizer! This only stimulates top growth and has the potential to harm the grass and cause runoff problems in surrounding lakes and streams. Remember: fertilizer fills the deficiencies, but it's not a substitute for healthy soil!

To be certain what is needed do a soil test and then apply the recommended amounts of fertilizer in the quantity suggested. The time to start fertilizing is 30 days prior to the start of the growing season where you live. Tip: Reduce the amount of fertilizer you'll need in future years by amending the soil and adding organic matter every year.

Mistake #9. Wait for your weeds to grow before eradicating them

The name of the game in weed control is… Prevention. There are two types of weed control products, pre-emergent and post emergent. Pre-emergent products control weeds before they come up; post-emergent products kill existing weeds. Apply a pre-emergent control in the spring, approximately 30 days before the weeds you are trying to control would come up. Most weed control products will last around 60 days depending on how much rain falls on the product after it is applied. After about 60 days, apply a post-emergent herbicide, to kill weeds that are already showing above the soil. Of course, there is no guarantee that additional weed seeds won't be carried in by winds, birds, or any number of other methods.

There is a general rule of thumb when working with weeds: Know when the weeds grow so you can prevent them. By stimulating your grass growth with fertilizer just prior to the weed's growing season, you can help crowd-out weeds. Mowing your lawn to its higher mowing range will also help prevent sunlight from reaching weeds, stunting their growth. Additionally, when weeds are present, it is a good idea to bag your clippings so you can help prevent them from spreading throughout your lawn. This is especially important when the weeds are producing seeds.

Once weeds have grown, it's back to good old-fashioned pulling weeds! While often considered a dreaded task, it's the quickest and usually most effective way to get rid of them. The important thing to remember is to make sure you pull not only the weed, but also its roots. This is accomplished by loosening the soil around the weed roots and slowly moving the weed back and forth in the soil. Many deep-rooted weeds can grow up to 6 inches into the soil, and if not removed, those roots can grow back again.

Mistake #10. Use Herbicides indiscriminately

Herbicides are becoming more popular in use due to their increasing varieties and ease of use. Some herbicides are now formulated to kill certain weeds while at the same time not harming your grass. However, be sure that the label clearly spells this out before use. These types of herbicides are considered "selective" since they seem to know the difference between a grass plant and a weed. However, since some weeds fall in the grass family and selective herbicides would leave them alone, you can buy a "non-selective" herbicide, and "non-selective" herbicides don't care what they kill. When you use a non-selective herbicide, understand that everything that you spray is going to die. Be careful when spraying, making sure that the spray does not drift onto other plants or lawn areas that you do not want to kill.

Note: Herbicides are toxic and can cause health problems if not properly handled, used, or stored. Herbicides should not be used on new lawns until they are fully established (usually after four mowings). Herbicides should not be sprayed on windy days or in windy areas. If you have children or pets, check the herbicide container to determine how long they need to stay off of the lawn after applying.

Mistake #11. Don't let your grass breath: Don't Aerate

Aerating is necessary for lawns that have never been aerated, get lots of foot traffic, and/or are planted in clay soils. Typically, the more clay you have in your soil, the more susceptible your lawn is to compacting. When your lawn gets heavily compacted, its roots get deprived of the air they need to survive and grow. Aerating is the process of punching holes (usually 3-4 inches deep) into your lawn to allow water, oxygen, fertilizers and other nutrients to penetrate the soil and better reach the roots of your grass. It is usually accomplished by pushing hollow cylinders into the ground and forcing out plugs of soil to the lawn surface. Spikes are also used to aerate, but are not as effective since they do not remove plugs from the ground and do not create holes in the soil for expansion.

Mistake #12. Let your lawn fall behind in the Fall!

Fall actually presents an excellent opportunity to help your Spring lawn come back greener & healthier. While you won't need as much irrigation as in the summer, keep up the watering because the better condition your lawn is in when it becomes dormant during the winter, the better condition it will come back in next spring.

While spring is a tempting time to fertilize, spring fertilizing causes top growth and doesn't get the nutrients down to the roots of your lawn where they're really necessary. Fall fertilizing will take all those nutrients down to the roots as it settles in for dormancy. With stronger roots, you'll have a thicker, healthier lawn for the entire growth season to come.

Finally, spray for perennial broad leaf weeds in the Fall. These pesky weeds, of which dandelions are a particularly common and annoying variety, can be hard to treat. Fall is the best time to spray them, for as the weather cools the weeds transport nutrients from their leaves to their roots in anticipation of the winter ahead. Spray them now, and they'll take the herbicide down to the roots along with the nutrients. Once the poison kills the roots, you'll be weed free.


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