Usually in March I run my column on “Lawn Care by Holidays”. I have been properly informed that doing lawn care on certain dates may be easy to follow, but may not be the most efficient and economical. I agree with them.

The lawn care companies have been on the phone and calling all their old customers as well as new ones. Their advertisements are starting to come in the mail and be in all the newspapers. Also the garden centers, hardware stores, and box stores are all stocked up and ready to sell you a 4-step program, a 5-step program or even a 6 step program. Remember that these heavily advertised, 4-step, 5-step, and 6-step programs have been great marketing tools for the garden centers, hardware stores, box stores, lawn care companies and especially the fertilizer manufacturers but are not necessarily good for your lawn and the environment. Do not contract for more than you really need. More is not better. And do not let them put the first step on too early.

What do you really need, and how much time do you want to spend maintaining your lawn? How important is it to have the best looking lawn on the block? These are important questions you need to consider and answer before you buy a program or contract with a lawn care company. You can have a nice looking lawn with only applying fertilizer once, twice, or at the most, three times per year. Remember, the more you fertilize, the more you have to water, and the more you have to mow. And heavy fertilization in the spring, and especially fertilizing too early in the spring, stresses the grass and invites insect and disease problems.

I use a modified 4 bag program most every year on my bluegrass lawn:

·        A pre-emergent crabgrass preventer with slow release fertilizer anytime after April 15th and before May 1st.

·        A grub control containing Merit or Mach II without fertilizer between July 4th and August 1st.

·        A regular slow release fertilizer about Labor Day.

·        A winter blended fertilizer between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

You will notice I do not use any weed-and-feed. If I have some weeds, I spot treat those weeds. Weeds and diseases show up in a stressed lawn. Also I do not use an All-purpose insect spray or granules. I hate that Total Insect Control that kills every insect in your yard both above ground and underground.  Remember it also kills the beneficial insects and only 3% of the insects in the world are detrimental or a nuisance. I have not used a general purpose insect control for years. If I have a problem, I get an insecticide that targets that insect but only after I have had a positive ID by ann expert.

If you are going to fertilize once a year, apply in the fall. If twice a year, the two fall applications are the most important. I always use slow release nitrogen fertilizer with iron. Iron is what makes the lawn look green. My lawn is watered only as needed and mowed about once per week. I do not pick up my grass clippings but let them fertilize the lawn every week. If you leave your grass clippings on the lawn, that will be the same as adding one application of fertilizer by the end of the season.

     Too many mow their grass short thinking they will not have to mow as often. Short grass grows faster, suffers from our hot summer sun, and takes more water. Mow about 2 ˝ to 3 ˝ inches high and do not take off more than 1/3rd of the blade at any one time. Grass at this height shades the roots and reduces the amount of evaporation, thus saving water.  

Keep this in mind:

·        Most homeowners put more nitrogen fertilizer per square foot on their lawns than farmers do on an irrigated cornfield.

·        Lawns under stress from over fertilization, and/or mowing too short, are more likely to have disease and insect problems.

          Many times I get asked, “How often I should water my lawn?” It would be easy to say twice a week, or once a week, or once every other week. However, it depends on what kind of lawn you have, what kind of soil you have, how often you fertilize it, and is it in full sun, or part sun, or shade, and when was the last rain.

          You can learn to answer for yourself how often you should water, and how often you should fertilize, by paying attention to how it looks. Every morning in the spring, summer, and fall, my wife after breakfast and before she gets ready to go to work, likes to take her cup of coffee and check out her flower garden. She can tell you exactly how they are doing, what new is coming up and blooming, and if they need water, or fertilizer, or bug spray, or a fence to keep the rabbits from having a meal.          For the lawn, the key is to look over the lawn at least once or twice a week and see if it has changed and what it needs. If you can’t tell if it needs water, the easiest way is to take a very long screwdriver and poke it into the ground. If you have a hard time pushing it into the ground more than a couple inches, it is time to water. If it goes in easy, look at the tip and see how far it has to go in to get damp. Or take your index finger and poke it into the hole. If you go down two inches and the tip of your finger is dry, it is time to water. Or if the grass starts to look a little wilted in the morning (not in the heat of the day) it is time to water.

          Don’t hook up your hose or turn on your sprinkler system and water once a week, or twice, or even three times a week because that is what someone told you to do or that is the way someone set the sprinkler system. Learn how to turn your sprinkler system on only when the lawn needs watering, and then water long enough for the water to really soak in. And learn how to turn it off so you are not watering your lawn in the middle of a rain storm. Bluegrass will survive for a number of weeks without water. It goes dormant, and turns brown but will recover with water.   

          This summer, be kind to your lawn, your pocketbook, and to the environment. Plan now and decide what kind of lawn you can live with this summer.

Copyright 2009