Several components go into healthy turf that work synergistically to give your lawn that perfect look. It takes a lot more than merely running a mower over it every week. Healthy turf is its own complicated ecosystem that requires a delicate balance of sunlight, water, proper nourishment, maintenance, and weed control to thrive. It is also essential to choose the right type of grass for your particular climate and sun exposure if you want it to do well! In most areas of the country, hiring a licensed turf care pro is something to consider. They have access to commercial-grade weed and disease control products that the average homeowner doesn’t.
Start with Healthy Soil
The best soil is a balance of sand, silt, and clay. This type of soil is called loam, and is ideal for growing turf because it helps retain moisture, yet drains well and is drought resistant. It can hold onto vital nutrients while still allowing for proper airflow. Healthy soils will also have a slightly acidic pH. A pH between 6 and 7 helps to promote better absorption of nutrients through the roots. It’s easy to see the difference between soil that is stripped of nutrients and sterilized versus soil thriving with microorganisms. There is nothing better than a lawn that self-fertilizes via the microorganisms that live within it.
Healthy Roots Make Healthy Grass
The roots of grass are an extremely complex system. Roots that reach deep into the ground are a significant indicator of a healthy lawn. Longer roots mean a longer life, lower fertilizer usage, lower water usage, and increased nutrient uptake. Some key steps to achieving healthy roots include deep watering less frequently, proper mowing height, adequate fertilization, soil acidity, and soil conditions. Please keep reading for more details on each of these and how it impacts healthy roots.
Feeding your lawn the right nutrients will help the condition of your lawn throughout the growing season. There are a number of different fertilizers that come in either liquid or granular form. The most critical nutrient for healthy turf is nitrogen, and most fertilizers will have some nitrogen in them. Liquid fertilizers are water-soluble and able to be absorbed immediately by the roots of your grass. Liquid fertilizers often need to be applied more frequently than granular fertilizers, however, and they can cause burning if over-applied. Granular fertilizers are typically slow-release. A single application can last for much of the growing season as the granules break down into the soil. Granular applications need to be done less frequently than liquid applications and have less potential to burn your turf. However, they are often more expensive and take longer to achieve optimal results for your lawn.
Generally speaking, when it comes to grass, there is a direct correlation between the height of the grass and the depth of the roots. The longer the grass, the deeper the roots, and vice versa. For most types of grasses, favoring on the side of longer cuts will help promote healthier blades, healthier roots, and an overall healthier turf. Setting your mower blade on the higher end, particularly in scorching months, will help provide a bit more shade for the roots and promote a bit more water retention. This helps to create a more resilient and drought-resistant grass. Many lawns in the south are Bermuda grasses designed to be extremely drought-resistant as it is. These types of grasses typically do best at a shorter mowing height. The extremely fine blades do not fare as well at longer lengths. Knowing the type of grass you have in your yard will determine the proper height to mow.
The 1/3 Rule
When mowing your lawn, always keep in mind that you never want to cut off more than 1/3 of the plant’s height in a single mow. Cutting any more than that at one time stresses the grass and causes the plant to use its energy to regrow blades instead of developing healthy roots. Scalping your lawn can also make it more prone to weeds.
Sunlight and Water
Your lawn is made up of millions of little plants. These individual plants all require the proper amount of sunlight and water to grow and thrive. Certain types of grass require more direct sunlight than other types of grass. For example, Bermuda grass is excellent in direct sunlight and requires less watering than other turf types. However, it does not do well in shady areas. Knowing the type of grass you have can help determine the sun and water requirements for healthy turf. The best time to water your lawn is early morning before it gets too hot, and you lose a lot of water to evaporation. Do not water in the evening, as this can create conditions for mold or fungus in your lawn.
Weeds are the nemesis of a healthy lawn. The best possible way to prevent weeds is to promote the best possible conditions for your desired plant–in this case, grass. Creating ideal growing conditions for your lawn gives weeds little opportunity to take root and crowd out grass. Should weeds manage to rear their ugly little heads, it is essential to take proper measures to eliminate them before they gain traction in your landscape. They can be removed manually or through applications of herbicides. Treating your lawn for weeds early in the season and all year round can help prevent seeds from emerging and can keep unwanted weeds at bay to keep your turf looking healthy and vibrant.
A healthy lawn has its own ecosystem that works by staying in just the right balance. Invading pests can throw off that delicate ecosystem and wreak havoc on your turf from time to time. Whether it is rodents like moles or voles digging through your turf or insects like grubs, Japanese beetles, or chinch bugs, it can be tempting to use a blanket pesticide to eliminate the problem. However, blanket applications can do more harm than good when they disrupt your yard’s delicate ecosystem. The best way to eliminate pests is to identify the type of pest you are dealing with. For example, chinch bugs thrive in heavy thatch. By dethatching your lawn, you can eliminate much of the problem without disrupting the balance of your turf’s ecosystem. Our general advice is to be gentle to the ecosystem but get rid of the bugs causing issues!
Most disease issues in lawns are the result of a fungus. It can leave your lawn looking brown and burnt in places. Most fungal problems with lawns are the result of over-watering. In the Southeast, Brown Patch, Take All Patch, and Grey Leaf Spot are some of the most common fungal issues people deal with. The best way to eliminate the disease is to treat the affected areas with anti-fungal applications and change the conditions which led to the disease in the first place.
We’ve had recent years where record amounts of rain have fallen across the southeast region. What does that mean for our lawns? While plenty of rain is a great thing for lawns and gardens, it can be a detriment to a healthy lawn if it has no place to go. If you walk through mud in your lawn days after it rains, you have a drainage problem.
Here are some things you will want to pay attention to:
1. Is the area common to flooding?
2. Are there sloping variations in the yard that catch the water and not allow it to drain?
3. Do the downspouts from the house or building drain to an area that allows the water to leave?
4. Is the turf higher than the home or building foundation?
While these may be issues may need a more major solution to combat the water. Do consider adding french drains, exit drains, and/or catch basins to alleviate the drainage issue.
Aeration is an integral part to maintaining healthy turf. This process involves penetrating the turf with core holes to allow air, water, and nutrients to get to the root system. This helps roots grow strong and deep. Compact soil isn’t a good thing for your turf, and an annual aeration will help to alleviate this problem. There are two different ways to aerate lawns. Spike and Core. Core aeration is recommended as it removes the cores from the soil and helps reduce the compaction mentioned above. A core aerator will go 2-3 inches deep and 2-3 inches apart. For best results have your soil wet at the time of the job as it allows the aerator to penetrate. Ideally, you want to aerate your yard once a year. This frequency is sufficient, but if your soil has a heavy clay base two times annually is sometimes preferred.
Dog Urine in Grass
We all love our pets and are they are a part of our family, but they can harm your landscape. While an amount of nitrogen-based fertilizer is necessary for a healthy lawn during the growing season, dog urine is extremely rich in nitrogen. This amount of concentrated nitrogen can kill your grass. While nothing is perfect when dealing with this much nitrogen in a small area, it does help to pour water over the area the dog urinated on. This act can help dilute the urine and reduce the effects on the yard. If the grass is dead use a rake to remove it. Properly maintained warm-season grass will spread and “fix itself” over time. Cool-season turf like fescue isn’t so easy. This won’t be fixed until you seed it in the fall. A common misconception is that only female dog urine kills grass. Their urine isn’t different than a male, it’s just the way they deposit it. Females generally squat and put it in one particular spot farther from the edge of the lawn versus a male dog that often marks its living area’s perimeter.
Cultivating a beautiful lawn requires striking a number of balances. Watering, fertilizing, mowing, soil conditions, temperatures, sunlight, weed control, and microbes within the soil all have a vital role in growing healthy turf. If any of these factors get thrown off balance, it can cause problems with your lawn. Knowing the proper balance is half the battle. A good lawn care company can help maintain the balance among all of these factors and help you achieve that picture-perfect lush lawn.