Your hard work and perseverance have paid off and you have a lovely lawn. While the hard part is done, maintaining your lush paradise is a must. Keeping your lawn healthy is the best way to reduce weeds. Dense grass crowds out weeds, and looks and feels magnificent.
Maintaining a healthy lawn requires three separate steps: mowing, watering, and fertilizing. I will touch on all three of these steps here. Remember that these are general tips. Different varieties of grasses require different specific care. Identify the grass in your yard and consult a lawn expert to unearth the specific necessities of your lawn.
The most important consideration when discussing mowing is the quality of the edge on your mower blades. Dull blades will tear grass instead of cleanly cutting it, resulting in brown tips that damage the appearance of your lawn. Keep your blades sharp!
While many folks cut their lawn on a regular schedule, the best way to time your mowing is to consider the current height of the grass against its ideal height. The general rule of thumb is to cut less grass than you are leaving. Bent grasses (often used on golf courses) do best when kept to 3/4 of an inch; therefore they should be cut before reaching a height of 1 1/2 inches. Consequently they require frequent mowing.
The more common grasses used by suburbanites, such as bluegrass, Bermuda grass, and Zoysia grass, in general will tolerate or thrive at 1 1/2 inches. (Read up on your particular grass to find its ideal height!) Therefore you should mow before the grass reaches a height of 3 inches. If for some reason (an extended rainy spell or vacation) your grass exceeds this height, consider two mowing sessions spaced two days apart. For example, if your grass has reached 4 inches, mow once to bring the grass down to 2 inches and then again, two days later, to bring it back down to 1 1/2 inches.
Here is my .02 on grass clippings. If you have a healthy, mostly weed-free lawn, there is no reason to collect clippings. Let them fall where they may unless you are planning to use the clippings as mulch. Contrary to popular belief, clippings do not add to a thatch problem. They are a good source of nitrogen and decompose quickly. The only time you need to catch the clippings is when the grass has been allowed to go too long without being cut.
To encourage deep and strong roots, you want to wet the soil under your lawn to a depth of 6 inches (9-12 is even better!) As with all plants, light sprinklings do more harm than good by encouraging shallow root development, and will eventually cause your lawn to thin. Your best bet for adequate water is an overhead sprinkler. That is the reason sprinkler systems are so popular! You do not have the time to hold a hose over your lawn long enough to deliver the correct amount of water. Lawns growing in heavy soils need about three hours of watering, once a week, under normal conditions. Lawns growing in sandy soil will not hold their moisture as long and will need more frequent, shorter (but not light!) watering.
Properly watered lawns hold moisture for a very long time. You’ll know that your lawn is in danger of drought when footprints are visible long after someone has crossed the lawn (loss of resiliency), when there is discoloration, and when growth is seriously curtailed.
Lawns will not look their best without fertilizing. A fertilized lawn is transformed from just another patch of green on the street to the emerald jewel in the crown of yards. Lawns should be fertilized twice a year; once in the early spring, and again in the early fall. Fertilizer is definitely a case where there can be too much of a good thing. Overfertilizing can burn your grass!
In spring, apply fertilizer in a ratio of 2-2-1 once the lawn starts to green. In the fall, apply fertilizer in a ratio of 1-2-2. This will encourage healthy root growth during the winter. A glance at the container of fertilizer will indicate the ratio of nutrients the product contains, since all commercially available inorganic fertilizers must have the ratio printed on the container. If you’ve had your soil tested and know its specific requirements, adjust your fertilizing ratios accordingly. To have your soil tested contact your local cooperative extension.