6 Tips for DIY Lawn Care
You’re stuck at home. You can’t go anywhere. Spring is at hand. Get some yard work accomplished. Here are six lawn-care tips from the HIR staff, for new lawns and old.
Seeds—A Good Place to Start Quantity and coverage are equally important when seeding a lawn. Use plenty of seed and spread it evenly. A brand new lawn requires as much as 6 to 8 lbs. per 1,000 square feet. For an existing lawn that you want to replenish, 3 or 4 pounds per 1,000 feet should should suffice. Over-seeding an existing lawn can flesh out thin spots.
Prior to spreading the seed, rake away loose thatch and debris. Use a sharp garden tool (rake, hoe, etc.) to till the soil of bare spots and thin areas 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Spread the seed in a criss-cross pattern, using a spreading device for even coverage. Even an inexpensive handheld seed spreader will get better results than spreading by hand.
After spreading the seed, use a rake to work it below the surface of the soil. Then, spread fertilizer. Some products are available as a mixture of seed and fertilizer. Otherwise, follow the planting with a good “starter” fertilizer with a high middle number (phosphorous), i.e., 20-27-5, which is the most common retail starter fertilizer).
Watering New Seeds For new grass seeds during the germination period, water twice a day, 10 minutes per watered area. To keep the top inch of soil moist, it’s best to water lightly often rather than deeply once a day. Seeds germinate in 2 to 3 weeks, depending on the type.
Once the seeds have germinated, keep a consistent watering schedule, but account for weather conditions, because over-watering can cause grass disease. The ideal time to water your grass is between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. If possible, avoid watering new lawns in the evening.
Sodding a Lawn To establish a new lawn quickly on bare ground, sod is the way to go. Pro landscapers use specialized equipment to sod a lawn, such as a tractor with a rear-mounted sod-laying attachment which is fitted with a large spool of sod (backed with mesh) that unrolls over the ground in strips.
The DIY method is to have pallets of sod delivered to the home and recruit some helpers to lay the sod on bare, tilled soil in tightly spaced rows, each square butted end to end without overlapping. Hatchets and garden tools can be used to cut the sod squares to fit around obstacles and follow the property lines. Any gaps can be filled with topsoil and seed.
Watering New Sod Proper watering is critical to establishing new sod. Immediately after installing, water the lawn thoroughly so the sod is spongy when stepped on. New sod must be kept damp so the grass can take root. The sod should be kept wet 4 to 6 inches deep and watered 3 to 5 times a day during the first two weeks (depending on season). Lift a corner of the sod to determine the depth of moisture. Avoid foot traffic while the lawn establishes. The new sod should never dry out, even during hot weather. At the end of the second week, allow the lawn to dry enough so you can mow, then transition from frequent daily watering to fewer cycles per day—but don’t allow the sod to dry out. During week 4, water once or twice every other day. By week 5, the new lawn should be able to go 2-3 days between watering.
Mowing Height When mowing a lawn, homeowners often set their mower blades too low and “scalp” the lawn, which can lead to thin and dying grass and shallow root systems. Each grass type has a height range that is ideal for its health, looks and resilience. The depth of the root system directly correlates to the height it should be mowed. The higher you cut the grass, the deeper the roots will grow. The deeper the roots, the more water the grass can absorb, which means you don’t need to water the lawn as often.
Two types of grasses are most common for lawns. Cool Season grasses include Fescue, Bluegrass, and Ryegrass, and are most common in the Southeast. These grasses like to be mowed at a range of 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 inches high. Fescue looks best at least 3 inches high. Bluegrass is most tolerant to lower mowing, but should be left at least 2-1/2 inches. The second type is Warm Season grasses, such as Bermuda, Zoysia, and Centipede. These grasses tolerate as low a cutting as most homeowner’s mowers will cut. For warm season grasses, a home lawn looks good 1 inch hign if the yard has a smooth grade.
Herbicides Pre-emergent products control weeds before they germinate. Post-emergent products kill existing weeds. For proper weed control, use the right product at the right time (for the right weed).
After weeds have already emerged on your lawn, you’ll need a post-emergent herbicide, which is categorized as selective or non-selective. For example, Roundup is non-selective, meaning it tries to kill most all plants. Be careful using such products, because non-selective herbicides often kill all vegetation, destroy the nutrients in the soil, and prevent any vegetation from surviving—including any grass the chemical contacts.
Selective herbicides kill specific types of plants, such as broadleaf weeds. Certain selective herbicides can control broadleaf weeds in warm season turf grass, control of grassy weeds in Zoysia turf, etc. Read the product packaging carefully to choose the right post-emergent herbicide for your specific needs.