Almost everyone enjoys seeing and walking on a beautiful lawn; not as many enjoy the work and expense necessary to maintain it. There are those who argue with considerable justification that lawns are both unnecessary and bad for the environment. If you are not willing to give up your lawn entirely, it is useful to know that a healthy lawn is better for the environment than a lawn with bare patches or large swaths of dead or diseased grass. Assuming that you have an already established lawn, how do you get great results while keeping the work and the expense to a minimum?
Mowing is probably the most time consuming aspect of lawn care. But you can mow less often and improve the vigor of your lawn by keeping the grass taller. Most lawn grass species do well if they are mowed no shorter than three inches. This is because longer grass blades result in longer healthier roots, and taller grass shades the soil making it a bit more difficult for weed seeds to get started. Cutting too much off the grass blades in one mowing also weakens the grass plants. Studies have shown that no more than one-third of the length of the grass blades should be removed at any one time. So if the mower height is set at three inches, it should be mowed when it is no taller than 4 inches. The vigor of the green shoots is provided by the roots below the surface; strong roots are especially important when the weather gets hot and the lawn is stressed. A lawn that is maintained at three inches saves work because the grass can grow 1 inches before it is mowed again. Grass that is mowed to 2 inches should be cut when it is no longer than three inches in order to avoid cutting off more than one-third of the length. The blades on the mower need to be sharpened often; dull blades tear the grass and invite disease. The grass clippings should be left on the lawn - they contain nutrients that nourish the lawn and they are not the cause of excess thatch. Lawns need about one inch of water per week. Water only when rain doesn't provide the required moisture and water early in the morning; evening watering provides conditions that often promote turf disease.
A healthy vigorous lawn can compete with weeds and harmful insects. How do you keep it green and lush? Choosing suitable grass species for the various areas of your lawn is the first step; but we are assuming that the lawn is already established. To maintain the health and vigor of the lawn, it should be fertilized but only when a soil test indicates that it is necessary. Soil test kits are available from the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County office on Turner Road in Jamestown. If fertilizer or lime is indicated, established lawns should be fertilized in the fall: one application about Labor Day and another around Halloween. Fall fertilizing maintains a lawn that is dense and vigorous and prevents the runoff of soil particles, excess fertilizer, grass clippings, animal manure and road salt that can contaminate rivers or lakes.
Another fall chore that improves the lawn is core aeration. Removing plugs of grass and soil reduces soil compaction allowing nutrients and water to reach the roots and stimulate the growth of the roots. Healthy roots make healthy lawns.
So keeping the grass longer, fertilizing only when a soil test advises it, and reducing soil compaction are practices that can save you time and money while improving the appearance and the vigor of your lawn and protecting the quality of our lakes and streams.
The Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County has great information on lawn care, establishing new lawns, and weed and disease management. Here are two useful websites: www.gardening.cornell.edu/lawn and www.plantclinic.cornell.edu/turf/.
The following publications are available at the Chautauqua County Extension office on Turner Road in Jamestown.
The Homeowner's Lawn Care and Water Quality Almanac, by Eva Gussack and Frank S. Rossi
Home Lawns: Establishment and Maintenance, Information Bulletin 185, Revised Edition
The mission of the Chautauqua County Master Gardener Program is to educate and serve the community, utilizing university and research-based horticultural information. Volunteers are from the community who have successfully completed 50+ hours of Cornell approved training and volunteer a minimum of 50 hours per year.