Lawn Care Tips
A healthy lawn contributes to your property value and the overall appearance of your neighborhood. It provides a natural, safe surface where your family can play and relax. By following a few simple tips, you can keep your lawn healthy and environmentally beneficial.
With some easy changes, you should be able to cut the whole area with your mower and leave the trimmer in the shed.
A healthy, vigorous, dense turf is the best defense against invasion by weeds and other pests. Check your lawn regularly to catch problems early. Usually the presence of a few insect pests or weeds is not cause for concern. Insects rarely damage healthy lawns in Alberta. Most insects you'll find in your lawn will either not be a problem or may even be beneficial. If you're concerned that insects may be causing damage, consult a lawn care professional.
Ideally, a home lawn only needs to be fertilized when nutrient levels drop below what's needed to maintain it in a healthy condition. Compost will add organic matter and provide the major and minor nutrients in a slow release form. Organic fertilizers such as activated sewage sludge or steer manure also supply all the nutrients needed for healthy growth.
Inorganic commercial fertilizers usually contain the three major nutrients: nitrogen (N) to promote leaf growth and dark green color, phosphorous (P) for root growth, and potassium (K) for stress resistance. The three numbers on the bag represent the percentages of each of these elements - always in the order "N-P-K". Unless the instructions say otherwise, inorganic, commercial fertilizers must always be watered-in after they have been applied. Otherwise, you'll burn your lawn.
The type of grass, type of soil, age of the lawn, weather conditions and other factors mentioned above, such as returning clippings and watering frequency, will all determine rates and timing of fertilizer applications. A soil test by a professional laboratory is the only sure way to access nutrient needs accurately.
Repairing weak spots
A healthy lawn will usually repair itself. With proper watering and fertilizing, thinned areas, small gouges and dead spots will fill in. Kentucky blue grass turf thickens quicker after damage than other less aggressive species such as creeping red fescue. That's why turf professionals use it for golf tees and playing fields that suffer frequent damage.
You can repair larger dead patches by reseeding. Mix grass seed into compost or soil in a container such as a bucket. Then spread the mixture over the dead spot. Lightly pack it by stepping on it but make sure it's dry before you do so (you'll pack it too much if it's wet). Then keep the area watered until the seedlings become established.
If the bare patch is in a high traffic area, you may prefer to replace the dead grass with new sod. Cut out the dead sod to about an inch deep, rake the soil, place the new sod and firm it by stepping on it or rolling it. Then keep it well watered until the new sod is established.
Thatch is a layer of dead and living shoots, stems and roots that builds up between the green vegetation and soil surface. Because thatch has high lignin content, it resists microbial breakdown.
Thatch will accumulate if the growth of the crowns and lateral stems (rhizomes) exceeds their decomposition. If thatch builds up to a thickness of more than 1/2 inch, it restricts water penetration and minimizes the movement of air and fertilizers into the soil. It weakens the turf, which makes it more susceptible to insect, disease and weed invasion.
Older lawns that have been highly maintained with excessive nitrogen applications and over-watered may be unhealthy because of a thatch problem. You can easily check this by cutting a plug of grass and soil several inches deep and examining it. A dense layer of spongy vegetation and organic (peat-like) material between the crown of the grass plants and the soil of more than 1/2 inch will indicate that your lawn needs to be dethatched.
Relieve thatch problems by aerating. This is done with a core aerator, which punches small holes to a depth of several inches, pulls out cores and leaves them on the surface. Leave the cores on the surface to dry, then crumble and spread them with a hand rake or by dragging a section of weighted chain link fence across the aerated area.
If it is set deeply, a vertical mower (power rake) may remove thatch but it will also damage the grass crowns (growing points). When the thatch layer is thick, most of the roots will be in the thatch. If that's the case, a vertical mower will pull out most of the live grass. Only a small amount of healthy turf will be left and you'll need to topdress and reseed the area. If a vertical mower is set shallow enough to leave the live grass undamaged, it does little more than remove dead grass clippings that will breakdown anyway.
Lawn grasses need at least 4 hours of direct sunlight for healthy growth. If the lawn receives much traffic, it should get 6 hours of direct sun daily.
Select the right species of grass to ensure you'll have a healthy lawn in shady areas. Creeping red fescue tolerates shade better than Kentucky bluegrass. Don't mow any shorter than 3 inches in the shady areas of your lawn. Fertilize and water shady areas less than the sunny part of your lawn. If you're having difficulty maintaining grass cover in areas where people walk, put in a stone or bark chip path to keep traffic off the grass. Often shade-tolerant ground covers are an excellent alternative to grass in shady areas that don't need to carry traffic.
Factsheet prepared by:
Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development