Ultimate Guide to Lawn Care

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Having a beautiful, green lawn is the ultimate dream of many homeowners. A beautiful yard serves as a lush oasis where children can play or backyard barbecues can be hosted. Keeping a lawn healthy requires a fair amount of work, but performing basic lawn care results in a space well worth the time and the effort required.

Lawn care does not have to be complicated. Although some people opt for lawn services for convenience, you can care for lawn maintenance and likely get even better results. After all, it’s your lawn, and you will be paying more attention to the details to do an excellent job. In this article, we provide you with all the information you need for proper lawn care.

A beautiful lawn that looks luscious and green with the sun setting in the background.

Types of Grasses

Before we get into lawn care, let’s take a minute and talk about the different grass types. While many may think grass is grass, and as long as it’s green, it’s good – but there’s a little more to it than that. Knowing the type of grass you have gives you a better understanding of why it grows the way it does and the appropriate lawn care for your grass’ specific requirements.

It’s also essential to understand grass types if you are seeding a new lawn or reseeding an existing one.

Different grass types are classified based on the temperatures they grow best and are known as either warm-season or cool-season grasses. The two different types demand slightly different growing conditions because they have different photosynthesis pathways.

Cool-season

Cool-season grasses grow in areas that have colder climates. They are typically found in the Northern United States; temperatures in the summertime are milder, and winters can be harsh with a lot of snow. Cool-season grasses don’t perform as well as warm-season types when it’s hot.

They have the following distinct characteristics:

  • Once air temperatures reach 40 to 42℉ in the springtime, the blades, or shoots, will begin active growth for the season.
  • Most of the grass’ biomass is produced in the spring and late fall when air temperatures hover between 65 and 75℉.
  • They need more water in the summer heat to keep their lush, green color vibrant.

The most commonly grown cool-season grasses include:

Pictured here is a picture of a lawn composed of solely kentucky bluegrass
Kentucky bluegrass lawn
  • Annual ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum)
  • Creeping bentgrass (Agrostis palustris)
  • Creeping red fescue (Festuca rubra var. rubra)
  • Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis)
  • Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne)
  • Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea)

Warm-season

On the other hand, the warm-season grasses grow primarily in the lawns of the Southern United States, where summer daytime temperatures are hot, and winters don’t often see snow. They handle the heat, but not the cold.

They have the following distinct characteristics:

  • Active growth starts in the spring when air temperatures reach 60 to 65℉, and soil temps hit 50℉.
  • Most of the green growth occurs when average temperatures are between 85 and 95℉, from July to September.
  • During the hotter stretches of temperatures, they can increase their photosynthesis rate to better use nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus.
  • Compared to cool-season grasses, they are better adapted to handle environmental stressors like drought and high temperatures.
  • During the colder winter season, these grasses go dormant to protect themselves, with the blades turning brown until temperatures warm up in the spring.
A lawn that is composed entirely of bermuda grass, which is a warm-season grass.
Bermuda grass lawn

Common warm-season grasses include:

  • Bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum)
  • Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon)
  • Buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides)
  • Carpet grass (Axonopus affinis)
  • Centipede grass (Eremochloa ophiuroides)
  • St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum)
  • Zoysia grass (Zoysia japonica)

Caring For Your Lawn

Proper lawn care is not hard, but it requires time. Keeping it watered, fertilized, mown, controlling the weeds all takes time, but it’s worth it for a great looking yard.

A freshly mowed lawn with alternating stripes that you see when using the lawnmower in a specific pattern.

Watering your lawn

Water is critical to lawn care. Making sure your lawn has enough water is essential in keeping it healthy. Your lawn needs water for optimal growth to help drive photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis uses sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce glucose. The glucose is then used as fuel for other metabolic processes, including growth. Water is a necessary component of the care of your lawn.

Water also helps to keep the plant cells expanded so the plants can stand upright, and mixes with nutrients in the soil so they can be taken into the roots of your lawn.

Most lawns need on average 1-1.5″ of water every week. In some climates, your lawn can be supplied naturally by rainfall, but in other areas you will need a sprinkler or irrigation system for supplemental moisture. This can be provided to your lawn through a sprinkler or irrigation system controlled by a smart watering system. The frequency in which water is applied to the lawn and the amount to administer each time varies depending on the soil type of your lawn and climate of the growing zone.

When it comes to lawn care and water, space the timing out as far as possible to encourage the root systems to move deeper into the soil. This means applying a larger amount of water to your lawn less often. Lawns with loamy or silty soils should be watered about twice a week, giving the grass ½” of water each time. Heavy clay soils can be watered less frequently, and sandy soils need more frequent watering.

Sprinkler watering a lawn.

Fertilization and Lawn Care

Like all plants, your lawn needs certain nutrients for it to grow. But over time, these nutrients are depleted from the soil. Your soil will need to be supplemented with fertilizers. As such, fertilizer is critical for proper lawn care.

Grasses respond best to fertilizers formulated with higher nitrogen levels and lower amounts of phosphorus and potassium. The increased nitrogen encourages better plant vigor and lush, green blade growth. For most types of grasses, a lawn fertilizer with a ratio of 20-5-10 or 18-6-12 is recommended.

When soil temperatures reach 55-60°F in the spring, start your fertilization program by applying an early-season application of quick-release fertilizer. Then switch to a granular-slow release type, applying every six to eight weeks while your grass is actively growing. With every application, make sure your water the fertilizer into the lawn well.

Mowing your lawn

Proper mowing is one of the most important steps of proper lawn care.

Always be careful not to cut the blades too short. Please take a look at our mowing your lawn guide for the proper length that your lawn should be at. It is better to err on the taller side. Taller grass will help retain moisture in the soil from the shade it throws and promote a deeper root system for your lawn, improving its drought tolerance.

Make sure to keep the lawnmower blades sharp and free of any nicks or gouges and your lawn mower itself well-oiled. This ensures the blades are sheared cleanly instead of being torn. Tearing the grass blades causes water to evaporate through the jagged edge, causing undue stress on your lawn.

A man using a push style lawnmower to mow the lawn and leaving the clippings on the ground.

Killing weeds in your lawn

Obtrusive weeds in your lawn can quickly become an eyesore and rapidly spread if they aren’t controlled soon after discovery. They also compete with your grass for sunlight, water, and nutrients, reducing the overall health of your lawn. You’ll want to make sure to get rid of the weeds before they become rampant.

Depending upon the type of weed and how big of a problem you have, you can opt to pull it by hand or treat it with a chemical herbicide or hire a lawn care service.

Chemical herbicides work by disrupting biological processes within the cells of targeted plants, causing plant dieback and, hopefully, plant death.

A lawn full of invasive weeds.

Herbicide Classes

Herbicides are split into different classifications, depending on how they affect the plant after applications. To choose the best herbicide for your situation, it’s essential to understand these differences.

Herbicides are divided into two major classifications: contact and systemic herbicides.

Contact Herbicides

Contact herbicides only affect the plant tissues they directly come in contact with. Once applied, they disrupt the biological processes in those cells, causing cellular death.

Pros of contact herbicides: fast-acting.

Cons of contact herbicides: only kill the plant parts they touch; may need multiple spray applications to kill the entire plant.

Systemic Herbicides

Systemic herbicides act through absorption. The weed’s vascular system carries the poison from the shoots to the roots to kill the entire plant.

Pros of systemic herbicides: they kill the entire weed, minimizing the need to retreat.

Cons of systemic herbicides: more expensive, will kill any plant they touch, more dangerous for humans and the environment.

Systemic herbicide that has killed all the grass and weeds that it has touched.

Organic versus conventional

Chemicals are either classified as inorganic or organic-based upon the compounds they contain. Inorganic herbicides are created in a lab; organic weed killers are made entirely from naturally-occurring chemicals.

Inorganic, or synthetic, herbicides were the go-to product for many years because of their efficiency at eliminating weeds. They are cheaper to buy than organic options, but pose potential dangers to the environment and must be handled with care. One of the benefits though, is they may be formulated to be selective, so they only kill certain types of weeds (i.e., a broadleaf herbicide won’t kill grasses).

 Organic herbicides fall into the category of contact herbicides. They are also non-selective, which means they will kill perennial weeds, broadleaf weeds — whatever they touch. So careful application is vital.

Common organic products include corn gluten meal (most popular and effective), vinegar or acetic acid, citric acid, essential oils, and herbicidal soaps.

Aerating your lawn

A thick, healthy lawn is what homeowners strive for, but there reaches a point when the grass can become too thick. This dense mat of blades and roots then prevents water and fertilizer from moving down to the roots. In these cases, aeration is necessary for proper lawn care.

When your lawn is growing well, it’s best to aerate it annually. Aeration is the process of removing cores of soil and grass to create openings for water and nutrient movement. It can be hired out to a local lawn service, or you can rent equipment to do it yourself.

Aeration is best done when the lawn is actively growing in the late spring or early fall, giving the grass time to heal itself.

A lawn that has gone through aeration with soil plugs removed.

Recommended Lawn Care Tools and Equipment

Lawn care requires a few basic tools, but the equipment needed can vary depending upon the size of the lawn you’re maintaining.

Mower

The size of your yard dictates the best type of mower to purchase.

  • Walk-behind mowers are good for small to medium-sized suburban lawns. They come in reel models, corded or battery-powered electric motors, and gasoline engine models. Their small size makes them easy to store, and they are budget-friendly.
  • Riding mowers are great for larger properties or if you are unable to walk for long periods of time. They make quick work of mowing your grass but need regular maintenance and a larger storage area, and come with a hefty price tag.
A red, push-style lawn mower.

String Trimmer

A string trimmer is a useful lawn care tool for manicuring the edges of your lawn, keeping it looking neat and tidy. They come in corded, battery-powered, and gas engine models.

  • Corded trimmers are light and quiet, but they keep you tethered to an extension cord and have the least amount of power.
  • Battery-powered models have great range and medium power output, but they have limited run time before the battery needs recharged.
  • Gas engine trimmers are the most powerful, but they are noisy and give off exhaust fumes. Depending upon the engine type, you may need to mix gasoline and oil to operate them.

Hose & Sprinkler

Even if you live in an area with adequate rainfall, having a hose and sprinkler is necessary for maintaining a lawn, especially if you have a problem spot that doesn’t hold water or are reseeding.

Buy a hose in just the length you need, avoiding something too long. Opt for one that is rubber to prevent splitting with cast brass couplings.

Sprinklers can be purchased in fixed patterns, oscillating, or rotating heads. Fixed patterns are better suited for the lawn care of small lawns; sprinklers that oscillate or rotate are useful for covering larger lawns.

Rake

A simple leaf rake is useful for removing grass clippings after mowing or raking up fallen leaves in the fall.

Leaf rakes can be purchased with either metal or plastic tines. Metal is more durable but tends to be heavier and more expensive.

Fertilizer Spreader

Having a spreader to apply fertilizers is necessary for lawn care. You can choose between a wheeled spreader or a hand-held unit.

Wheeled spreaders are great if you have a larger lawn, making quicker work of applications.

  • Drop spreaders drop product directly between the wheels, giving you careful control over where you are applying the product. They are best if you have a lot of tight turns in your yard or planting beds.
  • Broadcast spreaders cast material outward in a broad, overlapping pattern. They are best for large lawns without many tight turns.

Hand-held spreaders dispense product in front of you as you walk, powered by either a battery or a hand crank. They are simple to use and work best for lawns less than 1500 square feet in size.

A broadcast spreader that is actively spreading granular fertilizer onto a lawn.

Weed Tool

This is one of those tools that easily fall in the “isn’t required, but definitely makes your life easier” list for lawn care. Also known as a weed popper, this handy dandy lawn care tool helps remove weeds efficiently from below the soil surface, getting the root system as well.

Weed tools come in a variety of different sizes and styles. For simplicity, I prefer the type that looks similar to a screwdriver, with a forked end. Long-handled versions are more comfortable for people with limited mobility or back problems but have a higher price tag.

How to Reseed Your Lawn

We tend to think of reseeding as a project to tackle when your lawn is sparse or lackluster, putting down new seed to revive it. But the truth is, even a healthy lawn can benefit from being reseeded/overseeded every four or five years.

Whether reseeding a struggling lawn or overseeding one in good condition, make sure you are timing it correctly. Reseed in late summer to early fall in northern climates, and the fall if you live in the South. Your soil temps should be above 65℉ for optimum germination rates, but the new grass needs time to develop a good root system before the winter.

A man pushing a spread on a lawn.

There are four steps involved with reseeding a lawn: prepping, seeding, fertilizing, and watering.

  1. Prep the area you are reseeding. This helps grass seeds to fall to the soil surface where they can receive the sunlight and water they need for germination.
    • Start by aerating the existing turf to remove thatch and other debris and loosen the soil.
    • Mow the lawn shorter than normal, making sure to bag or rake up all of the grass clippings.
  1. Throw down grass seed.
    • Opt for a high-quality seed corresponding to the sun conditions in your yard, choosing from warm-season or cool-season grasses depending upon your local climate.
    • Put down seed at the rates recommended on the label for overseeding or reseeding. For larger lawns, use a drop or broadcast spreader; small areas can be done by hand.
  2. Fertilize the area to promote strong growth post-germination.
    • Grass seed has the nutrients it needs to get itself germinated but will need extra help from fertilizers once roots and shoots appear. Spread a starter fertilizer formulated specifically for new turf growth anywhere you reseeded, avoiding anything labeled as a pre-emergent (this inhibits germination).
  3. Keep the soil moist.
    • Grass seed needs consistent water for germination. Keep the soil moist at all times by watering lightly, three to four times a day for the first week. After the seed starts to germinate, switch to heavier waterings once a day to facilitate deeper roots.
A beautiful green lawn in the foreground with the sky and a tree blurred out in the background.

About the author: Jeffrey Douglas is a horticultural hobbyist that loves everything related to plants and gardening. He specializes in gardens and houseplants. Read More