I had been considering writing a post about lawn care for a while now, but I had decided to wait until early spring to face the topic. That is, until a reader wrote to me with the following question:
I am curious about your opinion concerning lawn care. The weather in Indiana was a killer and my lawn suffered pretty bad. Not bad enough that I have to redo the whole thing, but there are lots of dead patches. As I was mowing my lawn this afternoon and muttering about the dead grass I wondered what you would do in this situation. How much time and money are you planning on putting into your grass? While I am not interested in having the best grass in the neighborhood, I do want it to be presentable. Thanks for your time.
Here’s my personal philosophy on lawn care.
First of all, how important is a gorgeous lawn to you? Some people may value it greatly; others might not care at all. Still others may have some rules set by their homeowners’ association (which should overrule anything I write here). The big question you need to answer is how important your lawn is in your life. Reading the above question makes me think that we’re in the same boat – we want a decent yard, but it doesn’t need to be gorgeous. My top priority, personally, is to have enough soft, green grass that my son can run around barefoot on it like I used to do in the summer (and still do, on occasion).
If you don’t really care about your lawn, most of this stuff won’t even apply to you. Just keep it mowed and that’ll be good enough. If it gets too bad, hire someone to do a one-time treatment. That will take care of many people’s yard needs.
Beyond that, the first thing I recommend is spending a weekend preparing your lawn in the early spring. This is something that my parents used to do in the front yard every single year.
First, dethatch it. I like doing it manually, myself. Just go to a hardware store and buy a dethatching rake, then go around and dethatch the yard. Thatch is that dead organic stuff that most yards have lower than the level of the grass, but higher than the dirt – you’ll see it if you spread the grass apart and see what looks like dead grass underneath. A dethatching rake is designed to pull that thatch up and expose the dirt. This gives the grass roots plenty of room to grow and form new blades.
The best way to dethatch is to do it in a group of two or three people, where one person runs the rake (the hardest manual labor part) and another person gathers up the thatch and disposes of it. Thatch makes for perfect stuff for a compost bin, by the way – another topic I’ll cover in the future.
Once you’ve dethatched, fertilize it. Basically, just grab a bag of fertilizer and spread it on your grass – you can use a spreader if you wish. Finely-sifted compost will work okay, but it’s often not rich enough in nitrogen to make for great grass fertilizer, so you end up having to use quite a lot of it to get a good effect. Either way, once you’ve spread the fertilizer, rake it in. I fertilize about three times a year.
After that, seed it. I usually seed the whole yard pretty thoroughly and especially in spots that are known to have weak grass.
I usually then water it with a sprinkler after seeding.
The whole process takes about a weekend for most yards, but when you’re done, the grass will look spectacular.
I also sprinkle the yard with water, but I don’t just have one that turns on at a certain time every day. I keep track of rain, and if it hasn’t rained (or I haven’t sprinkled) in three days, I’ll run the hose into the yard and attach the sprinkler to it. I move it about every fifteen minutes until the yard is covered (it’s a good thing to do right after a mowing, actually, when you’re doing other trimming).
Also, I use a mower that automatically mulches the grass, then I just leave it on the yard. It’s not noticeable and the clippings naturally improve the yard’s health. This is much more effective in early spring than in late summer, though, as by late summer usually a bit of thatch has built up.
I haven’t started this routine at my own home yet as we’ve lived there just about a month and a half, but this is the routine that I’m following and I’ve seen others use to great success. I consider it to be pretty inexpensive while also creating a nice lawn (and the thatch will fill up a big composter – in fact, I’m pretty sure our current composter will be filled two or three times with the thatch). This means that the grass is recycled and can save some money later on on garden fertilizer.