Identify the Grass Type
The first thing is to identify the type of grass you are dealing with. In GA, for example, most lawns are either fescue, zoysia, or Bermuda grass. Fescue is a cool-season grass that stays green throughout the winter. Bermuda and zoysia are warm-season grasses that go dormant in the winter. Lawn care services treat warm season and cool-season grasses very differently as there are considerable biological differences between the two.
Warm Season Grasses – For the most part, warm-season grasses will come out of dormancy in the early spring and then go dormant in the early to mid-fall. Lawn care services are always trying to make these lawns “pop” out of dormancy and look vibrantly green in the spring. During the early part of the growing season, warm-season grasses are good candidates for nitrogen-based lawn fertilizers. During the summer lawn care services need to be more cautious because some fertilizers can “burn out” lawns when there is little moisture in the environment. This happens because some nitrogen-based fertilizers are delivered in a salt-like base that can suck the moisture out of grass and turf. This screws up the biological processes within the grass blades and roots and can kill the lawn. As a result, some lawn care services use alternative fertilizers that include other micro-nutrients to reduce the risk of lawn burnout during times of the year when there is low or no moisture in the topsoil.
Cool Season Grasses – Grasses like fescue stay green pretty much all year if you water them in the summer and they get some shade. In GA you can find beautiful mansions with perfect fescue lawn on Christmas Day. During the summer they can burn out if the grass doesn’t receive enough water. Fertilizing cool-season grasses like fescue is always a good idea in the spring and fall. But don’t be afraid to fertilize in the summer and winter if your lawn is still green. Nitrogen-based fertilizers are great for fescue lawns. If conditions are too dry to use nitrogen-based fertilizers, lawn care services will turn to other organic fertilizers.
Weed Prevention & Elimination
When it comes to weed control lawn care services treat cool-season grasses and warm-season grasses very, very differently. In reality, cool-season grasses like fescue become grassy weeds in Bermuda and zoysia lawns, so some of the weed control products that you use on warm-season grasses are designed to prevent and kill fescue grass.
Warm-season grasses like Bermuda and zoysia benefit greatly from perfectly timed pre-emergent application at least twice a year in the fall and spring. Some lawn services will put out pre-emergent applications up to 4 times a year. On top of regular pre-emergent applications, lawn services will usually rotate the use of leading broad-spectrum weed killers into their lawn treatments to kill and help prevent 100’s of weeds. Broad-spectrum weed control protection is then combined with identifying one-off hard to treat weeds that need selective herbicides to kill.
Cool-season grasses like fescue usually get at least a single pre-emergent application in the early spring, but some lawn services will layer in more throughout the year. They will also layer in various selective and broad-spectrum weed control products throughout the year to keep broadleaf weeds at bay, but they MUST be ok to use on cool-season grasses. Sometimes you will see crabgrass, Dallisgrass, and other grasses invade fescue lawns. This is because they evade the broad-spectrum weed killers as they are too biologically similar to the fescue grass itself. Situations like this require one-off selective herbicide treatments to kill the grassy weeds invading the fescue lawn.
Combination Lawn Treatments
A very common practice among lawn care services is their ability to put out what are called “combination lawn treatments.” All this really means is they are mixing more than one thing at a time in their tanks that can include pre-emergents, post-emergents, lime, and liquid lawn fertilizer. Reputable lawn care services will use combination treatments. Others will try and break out each application and charge you for each. You want to hire lawn services that use combination treatments because it means fewer visits to your property and a smaller bill.
Monitoring moisture levels in soil, drought conditions of individual lawns, and weather forecasts are vital for implementing effective lawn treatment programs. As mentioned earlier, stay away from nitrogen-based fertilizers when lawns are close to being in a drought-like condition with moisture stripped out of the topsoil. Hot, dry conditions with winds are a prime catalyst for moisture getting stripped out of the topsoil.
Another key environmental concern is too much water. When lawns are wet for too long, they become breeding grounds for fungal diseases including brown spot, dollar spot, and others. Lawn services dealing with waterlogged lawns after long periods of rain are usually on guard for fungal outbreaks and keep a tank of broad-spectrum fungicide on their truck. Some people will overwater their lawns, setting themselves up for the same fungal problems. In cases like this, a lawn service will usually apply a fungicide and ask the homeowner to reduce watering or to only water in the morning when the sun is coming up.
Repetition & Consistency
One of the most important aspects of a lawn treatment program is consistency and letting the lawn treatment plan work over time. It’s not uncommon to hear people with zoysia and Bermuda lawns brag about how they cancel their lawn service in the early fall when their lawn is going dormant and try to game the system and sign back up in the early spring. This is an unwise game to play because difficult to treat cool season grassy weeds easily infiltrate Bermuda and zoysia lawns when they are dormant if they don’t get the critical pre-emergent application they need. If a homeowner takes even one year off from treating weeds, the forest will start moving in trying to take over your lawn. It’s a never-ending battle against Mother Nature.
Licensed Lawn Treatment Services
A key element to developing a good, year-round lawn treatment program is having access to the right products. Unfortunately, the average homeowner isn’t even allowed to purchase the critical lawn treatment products that licensed turf care professionals are able to obtain in bulk. Homeowners can still try to fight the good fight and implement lawn fertilization and weed control programs themselves using products from Lowe’s and Home Depot, but it’s just smarter and easier to hire an affordable lawn service to keep their lawns weed-free and green.