Understanding the growth patterns of lawn grasses will make it easier to determine a lawn maintenance schedule that will keep your own lawn healthy and looking great all year round.
Essentially, growth is stimulated in early spring, when the weather starts to get warmer. This growth generally peaks in mid-summer and then slows down through the fall. In winter most grasses stop growing and are dormant.
There are, of course, differences in the exact pattern of growth of different grasses, particularly between cool-season and warm-season grasses. You will need to take these into account. For example, some of the cool-season grasses that can withstand very cold winters become semi-dormant in summer. So their growth pattern is quite different.
Once you know what you are dealing with, you can decide on a good year-round maintenance program that will prevent your lawn from deteriorating. Here are some seasonal tips.
Spring is the ideal time to renovate and rejuvenate any tired-looking lawn. So this is a good time to dethatch, aerate, fertilize and top-dress your lawn.
Dethatching involves removing the layer of dead grass and cuttings that forms between the soil and the grass in most lawns. Do this early in spring by first mowing as short as possible, before using a steel rake or power rake (dethatcher) to remove the embedded debris. You can also bring the embedded debris to the surface by flooding the lawn and then brushing with a hard-bristle broom. Just be careful not to remove all the grass. Your aim is to be left with a sparse but complete cover over the entire lawn.
The process of aeration involves opening up the surface of the soil to a depth of about two or three inches so that there is a good passage of air both in and out of the soil, and so that water can easily penetrate it. Aeration is best done using a hollow-tine fork that removes plugs of soil from the lawn.
When you fertilize in spring, use a good, balanced, general fertilizer that contains the major nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
The primary reason for top-dressing an established lawn is to level it and keep the surface smooth. Apply as soon as possible after thatch removal and aeration when the grass is very short. Water the lawn a few days before applying the top dressing, and then again three or four days later. Generally it is best to top-dress the day after fertilizing.
Only mow the lawn once the blades of grass have grown well above the surface of the soil.
You can seed a new lawn in spring, but then you will need to be extra vigilant when it comes to weeding. Hydro-seeding in spring is the best bet at this time of year because it’s a faster process than regular seeding, and if a fast germinating type of seed is used this is more likely to beat the weeds.
You can also lay lawn from sod in spring. The cheapest method is seeding, but hydro-seeding is cheaper than using “instant” lawn or sods.
When it comes to mowing an established lawn in spring, make sure the first cut of the season is short. This way you will get rid of dead leaves and generally rejuvenate the lawn before the growing season.
If you do a good job weeding in spring you are more likely to have a weed-free lawn through summer.
This is the time of year when lawns generally need the most water – on average around an inch every week. Remember that the aim of watering is to feed the roots of your grass below the surface of the lawn. For this reason it is particularly important to water in the early morning in summer, to reduce the chance of evaporation. If you have an automatic sprinkler system set it to run before dawn.
If you lay lawn from sod during summer, bear in mind that you are going to need to water it more frequently than you would if you lay it during spring or fall.
Summer is the best time to spray lawn to get rid of weeds in warm-season grass, because this is when the lawn grows most actively. (Cool-season grasses on the other hand tend to grow most inn spring and fall).
When it comes to mowing the lawn in summer, remember that many of the cool-season grasses need to be cut a little longer in the heat of summer, so that they stay green.
Whatever height you decide to cut your grass, make sure that your mower blades are nice and sharp.
If you are growing a lawn from seed, early fall is the best time to plant it, when the weather is cool and there aren’t too many pests around. You can also lay lawn from sod in the fall.
Early fall is also the best time of the year to reseed a worn-out looking lawn. You can also still spray weeds at this time, because the lawn is not yet dormant.
If you have an established lawn, fertilize again with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to strengthen the reserves of warm-season grasses and promote winter growth in cool-season grasses. Then apply nitrogen fertilizers every six weeks.
Because the grass is actively growing less and less, there is not the need to mow as much. When you do mow in the fall, aim for a slightly higher cut. And if you have warm-season grass growing, allow it to get quite long before winter.
Before winter arrives, do a good clean up of your lawn to get rid of any obvious weeds that might have survived all other previous efforts to remove them. Also regularly rake up all the fallen leaves that end up on your lawn. If they are left to lie and rot, leaves will prevent the grass from getting the sunlight and air it needs to stay healthy.
If the weather is dry, be sure to water the lawn from time to time, preferably in the early morning.
There is not much to do when the lawn is dormant. Mowing isn’t necessary, but you will need to cover the lawn with about an inch of water once or twice a month to prevent it from dying.