How to grow and maintain a healthy lawn:

Tips and techniques for growing a healthy, lush lawn.

  • Watering
  • Mowing
  • Thatch
  • Proper Soil pH

Watering

It is better to saturate your soil to a depth of 5” once per week than to water for 10-15 minutes every day. Deep irrigation done less frequently will promote deeper roots, healthier grass, and fewer weeds.

How much water for your lawn – or how long you need to water your lawn -- depends on the type of soil in your yard. While ½” of water may wet sandy soil to a depth of 5”, it can take up to 2” of water to wet soil that is predominately clay down to 5”.

Of course, recently seeded lawns need more frequent watering until the grass becomes established.

Remember not to allow water to run off the surface or to form puddles. If your sprinklers apply water at a rate faster than your lawn can absorb the water, turn the water off for 10-15 minutes, then resume watering until the preferred depth of saturation is reached.

How often should I water my grass?

Frequency of water depends on several factors, including grass species, type of soil, amount of sun and wind, and intensity of use. Your lawn will tell you when it needs water, if you look for the signs:

  • Blades beginning to wilt
  • Color changing to a more greyish or bluish-green shade
  • Able to see your footprints after walking across the lawn

When should I water my lawn?

The most efficient time to water lawns is in the early morning hours from 4 to 8 a.m. Water is able to soak in with less water lost to evaporation. And your grass is able to dry thoroughly during the day to minimize disease. (Watering in the evening means your grass will stay wet all night, which can encourage pests and disease.)

What is “syringing”?

Syringing is applying just enough water to wet the blades of grass without getting water down into the soil. Syringing is usually done to cool the temperature of the plants and to reduce heat stress. It is also done to keep newly seeded lawns wet for germination.

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Mowing

According to internationally-recognized turfgrass researcher, Dr. James B. Beard, as far back as the 12th century people maintained “low-growing, perennial grasses. Although in Europe, China, Japan, and eventually North America, only the wealthy could afford expanses of scythe-mown lawns. In most areas, livestock did the ‘mowing’.”

From “The Evolution of Turfgrass Sod,” By Dr. James B. Beard

The invention of the first mechanical lawn mower in 1830 brought the manicured look of a mowed lawn to the masses. And ever since, mowing the grass has become a weekly chore.

How often you should mow the lawn

It doesn't matter how often you mow, as much as how long the grass is when you mow it. Never cut off more than 1/3 of the grass blades when mowing. Since most of us tend to set the height of our lawnmower and then forget about it, it is important to pay attention to how tall your grass gets before cutting. So, if your lawnmower is set to cut at a 3” grass height, you should mow whenever your lawn reaches 4 ½”.

Your lawn’s rate of growth will depend on the how much sun and rain it receives, the season, your fertilization routine, how much watering you’ve done, and the type of grass.

How high you should cut your grass

Generally, the taller you allow your grass to grow, the healthier and less maintenance it will require. Taller grass has deeper roots, which take in more moisture and nutrients. As a result, the grass grows thicker and is more resistant to environmental stresses.

Taller, thicker grass also limits the amount of sunlight reaching the soil. This in turn inhibits weeds from germinating. Taller grass also keeps the grass roots from drying out as fast.

Tips for cutting your grass

  • Change the direction of mowing each time you cut your grass to prevent scalping and soil compaction, as well as to encourage straight plant growth.
  • Raise the mowing height 1” during the hot summer months to help your grass tolerate the sun and warm winds.
  • Grass that turns yellow or dries out after you mow indicates your mower is set too low.
  • Sharpen your blades 2x per season for a clean cut. A dull blade tears the grass, inviting disease, water loss, and decreased photosynthesis. It is time to sharpen your blade when you see white tissue at the top of grass blades after you mow,
  • Keep mowing until late October or the first hard frost.

 

The best time to mow the lawn

Mowing your lawn in the late afternoon and early evening will help your lawn stay green, especially during the peak summer heat. Just like you, your lawn can be stressed by the sun and heat, so avoid mowing at noontime or when it is excessively hot.

Can I mow wet grass?

Certainly it is preferable to cut the grass when it is dry, but it is better to mow wet grass than to cut off more than 1/3 of the blade.

Here are some tips if you do have to mow wet grass:

  • Be careful, it is easy to slip on wet grass
  • Raise your mower one or more settings higher to minimize clipping length and avoid scalping when the wheels sink in
  • Use your side discharge to keep your engine from overworking (and to keep from having a wet, moldy mower bag)
  • Rake clippings that have clumped on top of the lawn (Piled up clippings suffocate healthy growth and can cause fungal disease)
  • Make sure your mower blade is sharp
  • Do NOT use an electric mower or electric trimmer on wet grass
  • Clean the underside of your mower. Clumps of grass will stick to the underside of the deck disrupting the vacuum or the blade itself, forcing the engine to work harder. Disconnect the sparkplug before cleaning.
  • Be prepared for more grass stains on your clothes and shoes -- chlorophyll in freshly cut wet grass will cause more stains than normal

 

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Thatch

Thatch is a layer of dead and living grass shoots, stems, and roots that forms naturally on top of the soil in your lawn. Thatch is a tightly woven layer between the grass blades that can improve the resilience of turf to heavy traffic and extreme temperatures. However, thatch that builds up faster than it breaks down becomes a problem. 

Why thatch is bad for lawns:

Too much thatch will limit the amount of air and water to the roots, reducing the plants’ resistance to drought. Thatch that stays moist can harbor pests that damage lawns and fungi that cause turf diseases.

Causes of too much thatch:

Too much thatch is more often a problem in highly maintained lawns than in low-maintenance lawns. Over fertilization and indiscriminate use of fungicides and insecticides reduce the population of organisms that decompose thatch and/or that cause plant material to build up more quickly than the microorganisms present can break down.

Earthworms and microorganisms are important to limiting thatch buildup. Good aeration, soil pH around 6.5, and adequate moisture increase the number and activity of beneficial microorganisms.

Compacted soil and soil that contains large amounts of clay or sand often have lower populations of microorganisms that decompose thatch.

Some species of grass, such as Kentucky bluegrass, produce more rhizomes or stolons and consequently form more thatch than other grasses. Perennial ryegrass, tall fescue and other “bunch-type” grasses typically do not produce as much thatch buildup.

Recycling grass clippings back onto the lawn does not cause an increase in thatch buildup. Grass clippings quickly decompose, returning valuable nutrients back into the soil.

How to tell if your lawn needs dethatching:

A thatch layer of 1” or more can limit the movement of air, water, fertilizer and other nutrients necessary for a healthy, vigorous lawn.

To determine how thick thatch is in your lawn, use a trowel or spade to pry up a small section of turf. Measure the thickness of the thatch layer lying directly on top of soil. It’s time to dethatch if the thatch layer is ¾” or greater.

How to dethatch a lawn:

Excess thatch is best removed with a dethatching machine, also known as a vertical mower or power rake. The vertically spinning blades on the machine slice the thatch layer and bring the excess thatch to the surface of your lawn.

Mechanical dethatching should be done in either early spring or early fall when the weather is still cool. In spring, dethatch after your grass has turned green and is actively growing. In fall, dethatch when there is still time for your grass to recover and grow before the first frost.

Dethatching is not needed on a routine basis. Only dethatch your lawn when it is necessary.

How to prevent thatch build-up:

You can minimize thatch build-up:

  • Mow your grass frequently at a height of 2” - 3”. Short clippings decompose easily.
  • Have Adam’s Healthy Lawn professionals conduct a soil nutrient analysis. Adam’s can tell you if your soil needs phosphorus, potassium, or lime supplements.
  • Have your lawn aerated every fall. Core aeration relieves compaction and improves air movement down to the soil resulting in increased bacterial decomposition.

 

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Proper Soil pH 

Soil pH is the measurement of the acidity or alkalinity of your soil. The pH level of your soil determines how easily plants can absorb nutrients. A pH of 6.5 is ideal for most types of grass.

How to test your soil pH:

Adam’s Healthy Lawn Division can test your soil for you. Home test kits are available at many garden centers.

You can also test your soil with vinegar, distilled water, and baking soda, although it is not a precise test:

  • Collect soil from different parts of your yard
  • Place 2 tablespoons of soil into a container
  • Add ½ cup of vinegar
  • If the mixture fizzes your soil is more alkaline, probably with a pH between 7 and 8

If there is no reaction to the vinegar test:

  • Place 2 tablespoons of soil into a clean container
  • Slowly add distilled water to the soil until muddy
  • Add ½ cup of baking soda
  • If the mixture fizzes, your soil is acidic, probably with a pH between 5 and 6

If there is no reaction to either test, your soil is neutral with a pH between 6 and 7 – just what you want!

 

Note: Adam’s Healthy Lawn experts recommend a professional lawn analysis before making any adjustments to your soil.

 

How to lower pH

Sulfur is commonly added to increase the acidity of soil. It is relatively inexpensive and can be spread on top of the soil.

Because sulfur is slow-acting, do not over apply as this will cause more harm than good.

 

How to raise pH

Lime is commonly added to increase the alkalinity of soil. It is sold as ground limestone and it is considered a natural soil amendment rather than a fertilizer.

Be careful not to apply too much lime to your soil as this will cause more harm than good.

 

Please note that lime and sulfur can take 2 - 3 months or longer to react with soil.

Make one application according to the label, wait at least three months, retest the pH of the soil, and then reapply if needed. Fall is a good time to apply a soil additive because it can work its way into the soil over the winter

 

CAUTION: Always Read and Follow the Instructions on the Label when applying anything to your lawn.

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