There’s always that one yard in the neighborhood that has perfectly green grass. You may eye their turf in amazement and envy and wonder what they are doing to get their lawn a lovely shade of deep green all over. Chances are good they put a lot of time and effort into maintaining their lawn either themselves or by hiring a professional lawn care company to maintain it for them. Either way, if you want your lawn to be the greenest and healthiest lawn in the neighborhood this season and for seasons to come, then start from the very beginning.
Understanding Where Green Grass Starts
Your lawn is essentially covered in thousands of tiny plants. Plants are able to convert energy from sunlight into glucose through the process of photosynthesis. During photosynthesis, chloroplasts within plant cells convert light energy into ATP, which is then used to create the reaction which splits water molecules into separate hydrogen and oxygen molecules. Chloroplasts contain chlorophyll, which is a green pigment. It is the green pigment chlorophyll which gives plants their deep green color. When grass is healthy, it is able to perform endless cycles of photosynthesis without disruption. When there are issues, grass may not appear as vibrant, thick, lush, or green.
Sunlight is absolutely essential for a richly green lawn. Without the energy plants absorb from sunlight, photosynthesis cannot occur. All plants need some amount of sunlight in order to trigger this reaction. However, different grasses require different amounts of sunlight. In order for your grass to thrive, it is important to plant the right kind of grass. Start by charting the amount of sunlight different areas of your lawn get throughout the day. Areas of your yard that receive direct sunlight for most of the day will not generally tolerate a number of cool-season grasses. Instead, Bermuda grass may be ideal for those scorching sections of turf. If you have any particularly shady areas of you yard–say underneath ancient oak trees that have been growing for over a century–then Bermuda grasses are not likely to survive long. Instead, opt for more shade-resistant grasses that can withstand many hours out of direct sunlight. Additionally, since all plants need at least four to six hours of sunlight per day, you may want to consider removing some limbs or some inner branches from light-blocking trees on your property. Ensuring each area of your lawn receives adequate sunlight will help your grass stay green and healthy all season long.
One of the biggest culprits behind lawns that look more chartreuse than emerald is improper watering. And believe it or not, overwatering is to blame more often than not. Often, when people notice grass that is looking sickly or yellow or droopy, one of the first things they do is add water. They assume the problem is dehydration rather than overhydration and continue in this cycle until the grass is barely hanging on. First and foremost, watering deeply but infrequently is one of the healthiest choices you can make for your lawn. Once or twice a week is more than enough to keep grass happy. This encourages deeper roots, which makes grass sturdier and more resilient. When you water, do so early in the day. Ideally, watering should occur between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m. for as long as it takes for you to achieve one total inch of water or six inches of topsoil moisture. Depending on the type of irrigation you are using, this can range in time from fifteen minutes to two hours. Avoid watering at night, as this can leave thatch wet for several hours at a time. Without the sun’s rays to evaporate surface moisture, damp grass can become a prime location for disease. Fungus has the capacity to completely wipe out a yard in a very short amount of time.
The roots of plants soaks up water to aid in photosynthesis. When water is absorbed by the plant’s roots, water-soluble minerals are also absorbed into the plant directly from the soil. It goes without saying that what we put into the soil is extremely important to the overall health and well-being of the plants that grow in it. Healthy soil will typically be a good balance of clay, silt, and sand. Grass needs to be able to soak up water while allowing circulation and drainage. Soil compaction is one of the biggest challenges to proper circulation and drainage and can be compounded if your soil is heavy clay or silt. Aeration can greatly improve quality of soil in terms of drainage and circulation, but is not a permanent fix. If you find your soil is too sandy, you can add compost or manure to add nutrients while allowing for greater water retention. For clay soil, adding organic mulches can help soil retain the nutrients found in clay while allowing for adequate drainage. Silty soil can be amended by adding compost as well. All three amendments may take several growing seasons and regular working in of materials to achieve desired soil texture. However, when all is said and done, the hard work will pay dividends in healthy soil and healthier grass.
There is more to fertilizing your lawn than simply throwing down a bag of the cheapest fertilizer you can find at the store. There is a science to fertilizing in a way that will give your turf the most benefits. It may be more expensive initially, but the long-term cost and beauty of your healthy and vibrant lawn will far outweigh the up-front cost. Fertilizing should be a priority for your lawn if you want to have healthy and beautiful grass, and knowing the correct fertilizer to use will be crucial to your final results.
The first course of action is determining the best type of fertilizer for your lawn. The two main kinds of fertilizers are granular and liquid, and each have their own benefits and shortcomings. Granular is among the most popular kinds of fertilizer as it is easy to spread and requires fewer applications per season.
Granular fertilizer offers a slow release into the soil. The slow deterioration of minerals allows it to break down over the course of many weeks and can feed your lawn slowly over longer periods of time. They also have a lesser likelihood of burning your grass if over-applied. Because the minerals are released slowly, over-application will not typically result in as much damage as a liquid fertilizer. The downside of this type of feed for your lawn is that results can take a long time to show and granular fertilizers tend to be more expensive than liquid fertilizers.
Liquid fertilizers are generally less expensive than their granular counterparts. They offer immediate nutrition to turf as they are already applied in a soluble form so the nutrients are readily available to plants. Applications typically need to occur more frequently with liquids as they are usually absorbed from the soil more quickly than granular fertilizers are. Liquids are fantastic for lawns that need immediate minerals or for those who are looking for faster results.
Lawns should get their first feedings for the year when soil temperatures reach 55 degrees. Typically, you will notice grass is starting to come awake again at this point after a long winter’s nap. In most parts of the country, this happens around mid-April. You will want the nutrition available to turf as it starts greening up and growing for the season to give it a bit of a head start on the season to come. If using a granular fertilizer, this first application can last six to eight weeks, depending on your watering. Many sources will encourage another fertilizer application in late spring to help feed turf into the hottest months of the year, and another application in mid-summer to replenish nutrients lost to watering, foot traffic, and heat. A final application should be done in fall immediately prior to grass going dormant to store up energy to feed throughout the winter months. Or an easier way to remember when to apply fertilizer is based on summer and fall holidays: Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, and Halloween. Fertilizing four times during the growing season is a pretty good rule of thumb, as it will help restore balance and nutrients to keep grass thick and green throughout the growing season.
Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium Ratios
Most bags of fertilizer will have NPK ratios on them, and often the user has no idea what these mean or how they benefit their turf. NPK ratios are the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium found in fertilizers. Nitrogen is the most important component of fertilizers, as it is what helps lend to the deep green color of grass. For example, if a bag has an NPK ratio of 20-5-10, it contains 20% nitrogen, 5% phosphorus, and 10% potassium. The remaining 65% of the material in that bag is likely fillers, but is used for ease in application on turf. Different ratios will offer different benefits and may be used throughout different times throughout the growing season or if your particular soil has a deficiency of a particular mineral.
As already mentioned, nitrogen is a critical staple for most fertilizers. Nitrogen plays many roles in overall plant and grass health, but is the biggest contributor to the deep shade of green and the rate at which your grass will grow. While it may seem tempting to add more nitrogen for grass that grows in more quickly and comes in greener, do not give into this temptation. Grass can only get so green. Adding more nitrogen will only make it grow faster and require more frequent mowing. While grass is growing upwards, it is usually not growing as quickly beneath the soil. The result can be grass that is deeply green for a short time, then becomes unhealthy and unmanageable later in the season because it failed to develop deep, healthy roots. Excessive nitrate applications can also risk runoff and leeching into ground water. Instead, the general rule is to apply no more than one tenth of a pound of nitrogen per week. Nitrogen fertilizers come in many forms. Among them are ureaform and triazones.
Although phosphorus is usually found in smaller quantities in fertilizers, its presence is importance for a number of plant functions. This mineral is important for rooting, seedling development, and cell division in plants. It is usually found in higher concentrations in fertilizers intended for use in early spring when grass is breaking dormancy, as it aids in these early functions for healthy turf. Soil pH can have a direct impact on the presence (or lack thereof) of phosphorus in soil. Concentrations of iron, calcium, manganese, and aluminum can also affect the availability of phosphorus to newly emerging plants. Soils which are more acidic can cause phosphorus to bind with other minerals in soil (iron, calcium, manganese, and aluminum) and therefore make it unavailable for use by plants. Phosphorus can be applied either as organic or inorganic fertilizer. Among the most common are superphosphates and ammonium phosphates.
Potassium is used in plants for synthesis of various proteins. It is necessary in photosynthesis as it is what helps complete the reaction which converts energy to food for plants. It also plays an important role in drought tolerance in plants and helps lends to it’s overall hardiness during some of the most intensely hot and dry months out of the year. While potassium is generally found in large quantities in soils, it is not readily available in a form that can be utilized by grass. When present in fertilizers, it is present as a positively charged ion, which makes it easier to bind to the right compounds for use by plants. The most common potassium fertilizers are inorganic muriate of potash and sulfate of potash.
Iron is important in plant enzymes, respiration, nitrogen metabolism, and plays a role in photosynthesis as well. Most soils in the United States have adequate amounts of iron to sufficiently feed grass. However, in areas where excessive liming occurs, there may be an iron deficiency in soils. Often, iron is used to supplement nitrogen applications as it can help give turf a deep green color without inducing excessive growth. The most common types of iron fertilizers for turf grasses are inorganic iron salts and organic iron chelates.
Many lawn care services love to use lime on turf. It aids in the uptake of nutrients necessary for a healthy and beautiful lawn. Most plants grow best in a slightly acidic soil, so lime helps to create the ideal pH for plants to thrive. Strongly acidic soils can result in a deficiency of micronutrients in the soil such as calcium and magnesium and result in too much uptake of other nutrients such as aluminum and manganese. These can be toxic to turf grass in high quantities. Liming helps balance the pH of soil so that nutrients can be absorbed in the proper quantities for optimum health.
General Tips For Greener Grass
Proper mowing and pest control also play important roles in maintaining a healthy lawn. Mow grass to the proper height, which can range anywhere between 1/2″ to 3″, depending on the type of grass in your yard. Mowing at the tallest height for your specific grass helps to shade roots and prevents scalping your lawn. It also aids in retaining the right amount of moisture to keep grass from becoming too dry. Weed regularly to prevent unwanted plants from taking root in your turf. Weeds compete for sunlight, water, and nutrients and can turn an otherwise healthy lawn into a war zone if not handled properly. Pest control is another important part of maintaining a finely manicured lawn. Whether it is pests of the insect, plant, or animal variety, keeping conditions ideal for growing grass will often make for poor conditions for unwanted visitors in your lawn.
Ultimately, there is a lot of time and care that goes into maintaining a perfect lawn. However, once a good lawn care routine is established, it is often easier to maintain a course of action that is working well for you and your yard than to fight never-ending battles to simply mitigate problems. When it comes right down to it, if you establish a good, healthy lawn care routine and cultivate a beautiful yard, the grass is NOT always greener on the other side of the fence.