Ten steps to a better lawn? No, your yard is bigger than that!

I USED TO spend hours pulling weeds and spot spraying them in the search for a perfect lawn. I never got there. Years ago I heard the expression “work smarter, not harder” but it took a long time before I understood it. Now, when given a choice I try to pick the “smarter” method rather than proving I can “work hard.” More often than not, this turns out to be the best choice.

I just mowed the lawn for the last time of the year and did the pre-storage prep on the mower – hope it starts in the spring!

I also used to think that “weed and feed” products were efficient and saved time.

Here’s what I have learned in the last five years: 1) “weeding” and “feeding” should happen at different times of the year; 2) strong, healthy grass needs less effort and keeps out weeks on its own; and 3) weed prevention is much, much better than weed eradication. I’ll talk about the last two below.

Healthy grass is watered properly, mowed properly, and nourished properly. The specifics of these items depend on what kind of grass you have and where you live. Typically, lawns are best fertilized just two or three times a year. A tip I recently learned is to put out half as much fertilizer than the directions call for, but to then put out the second half about six weeks later. This reduces runoff into the sewer system and gives you a bigger bang for your buck – if you are concerned about your wallet or the environment, you can feel better about this. Consider a spring fertilizer that helps the grass green up and grow, followed by something in the fall to help build a sturdy root system. Frequent mowing at the proper height with a sharp blade will help the lawn look its best.

Weeds that never appear in your lawn never have to be removed. Sounds easy. It is. Just take the time to work smarter not harder. You can get pre-emergent weed preventer that inhibits the germination of weed seeds. They never grow. This pre-emergent product is often called “crab grass preventer.” These preventative products are good for about 90 days. If you put it out four times a year you will get rid of almost all weeds in one season. I aim to get it out the middle of November, February, May, and often August. You can get this stuff for about $20/bag. Try it for a year.

Back to fertilizer for a moment. Fertilizer is most effective when the pH balance in the ground is correct. You can get your soil sampled at your local count extension agent. I’ve done this, but it’s coming up soon in the search for an easy, good looking lawn. My back yard gets lots of acidic pine straw from neighbors’ trees. I spread a bag of lime in the backyard last spring knowing it hadn’t been done in at least the last 12 years. I was amazed by how much quicker the bare spots in the yard filled in. The fertilizer was much more effective. I’ll need to try this in the front yard next year.

Give this a try for a year, I think you’ll be pleased with your effort at “working smarter, not harder.”

  1. Mow properly, don’t take off more than the top 1/3 of the grass to keep it green. A sharp blade works much better.
  2. Water properly, less frequently but deeper is more effective. Frequent light watering only encourages the roots to grow up towards the surface.
  3. Fertilize properly, follow directions and don’t randomly spread the wrong stuff.
  4. A good weed killer helps with some immediate results if you don’t want to wait for long-term changes.
  5. Pre-emergent weed control every 90 days will keep the weeds from ever growing.
  6. Break up the ground around the perimeter of bare spots to encourage root growth to fill in the spot. This can take time, but is effective. And free.
  7. Alternate the direction you mow by 90 degrees each time. I don’t know why you are supposed to, but it does keep ruts from forming. Sometimes I mow 45 degrees to the previous direction.
  8. Use a grass catcher on your mower. Don’t let it get too full or it won’t work well.
  9. Learn to perform some basic maintenance on your mower, it will work better and make you happier.
  10. At the end of the season, either use a gas preservative in the gasoline or drain the tank, remove the carburetor bowl, cover the open gas tank, and safely store the parts to prevent trapped gas from forming varnish or sludge in the fuel system. You will thank yourself in the spring.

Much of what I’ve learned has come from the local county agent on the radio Saturday mornings, the Internet, and lawn care product instructions. Jerry Baker has some great books on lawn and garden care including this from Amazon one on lawns: 

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