Garden Guide: Lawn care essentials
Summer lawns that have been dormant all winter have greened up and begun to grow, and winter lawns are beginning to slow their growth before the heat of the summer.
Creating a healthy lawn is key to having a beautiful lawn. Keeping weeds out of the lawn is easy if the grass planted is maintained properly. Proper maintenance includes mowing at the proper height. For tall fescue, the proper height is 3 to 3.5 inches. This height will help prevent weeds, keep the root system cool and encourage a deep root system that will be able to reach water and nutrients to prevent stress. The proper height for summer lawns is as follows: Bermudagrass 0.75 to 1 inch, Centipedegrass 1 inch, Zoysiagrass 1 inch, and St. Augustinegrass 2 to 3 inches.
Something to consider when deciding when or how frequently to mow the lawn — you should never remove more than 1⁄3 of the leaf blade at any one mowing. A good example of this is to cut Bermudagrass to 1 inch when it reaches a height of 1.5 inches. Removing more than 1⁄3 of the leaf blade shocks the lawn, causing it to slow its growth to recover from the severe loss of food production area. This allows weeds the opportunity to get the jump on the lawn and become established.
A sharp lawnmower blade improves the look of the lawn. A sharp lawnmower blade will cut the grass for a smooth, even look. A dull lawnmower blade will beat or tear the grass for a ragged, dull look.
Mow when the grass and soil are dry. This will reduce the chances of spreading a turf disease. Most fungal diseases on lawns need a wet surface in order to infect the leaf blade. Cutting the grass when it is wet not only provides the moisture, but also creates an open area (the fresh cut) where the fungus can easily enter the leaf.
Using a mulching mower or letting the grass clippings lay on the lawn can reduce the fertilizer application by 20 to 30 percent. If the clippings are in piles and are shading the grass, it’s advisable to remove the clippings rather than have them do damage to the lawn.
Proper fertilization of the lawn will greatly improve the health of the lawn by providing it with the nutrients needed to continue vigorous growth. Fertilizing the lawn at the wrong time can increase the likelihood of certain diseases. A great example in our area is fertilizing Centipede grass too early in the spring or giving it an extra boost in the fall can make it more susceptible to large patch disease.
Proper irrigation can also play a big roll in keeping a lawn healthy. Watering every other day just because the water restrictions say you can creates a shallow-rooted grass that gets stressed quickly when water restrictions get even tighter. A deep watering once a week is better for the grass. Deep watering trains the plants to find the water deep in the soil. When there is a drought, the roots will already be deep down where the available water is located.
To get the water down deep in a heavy or clay soil, you may need to cycle the irrigation. This means water the area for as long as it takes for water to begin running off the surface, then move the sprinkler or change the watering zone to another area. Give the water that has already been applied time to work down into the soil (about an hour or more), then come back and add more water until the water begins running off the surface again. Repeat this until about 1 inch of water has been applied to the area. In sandy soils, water may need to be applied twice a week depending on how fast the soil dries.
For more information on lawn maintenance, you can pick up a copy of the publication Carolina Lawns: A Guide to Maintaining Quality Turf in the Landscape or a copy of the lawn maintenance calendar for your particular lawn. For those with access to the internet, the website TurfFiles has both publications mentioned above plus a Turfgrass Irrigation Management System (TIMS) that can help you apply the proper amount of water each week by taking into account the amount of rainfall in your area and the amount of water used by the plants. If you have questions that need to be answered, you can call the Cooperative Extension office at (919) 775-5624.
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North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.