(A Copyrighted How To Article)
Some folks have asked me to share my "secret" for establishing and maintaining a beautiful lawn. There really is no secret. It requires planning, planting and patience.
One of the tricks of a good lawn is knowing a few things about the growing cycle of grass and weeds. First, grass starts to grow before weeds in the spring and continues to grow after the weeds die out in the fall.
Second, weed killer is like chemotherapy for your lawn. It has the side effect of killing your grass. If you can establish a thick lawn, it will not allow the weeds to grow negating the need for strong chemicals.
Third, a lush lawn in spring is actually started in the previous fall. In Northern Virginia, this means October 1. This brings us to the next stage.
The main ingredient to any lawn is the grass! This sounds obvious, but is it? Most of us go to Hechinger's or K Mart and buy a popular grass seed that is on sale for $25.00 per 50 pound bag with little or no regard as to what we are getting. These inexpensive seeds are usually Kentucky Tall Fescue. This is a broad leaf grass normally used in meadows for grazing animals and for baseball diamonds in state parks. It is one step above a weed, in my opinion. It flattens out and allows weeds (the enemy of any lawn) to grow and is not very becoming as a "beautiful" lawn basis.
The University of Virginia rates the various seeds that grow well in the soil conditions here in Virginia. Our soil is made up mostly of clay and sand.
Consistently each year three seeds rank at the top of the list: Shenandoah, Guardian and Jaguar. They produce a fine bladed grass that is thick and green. These seeds are not cheap. The average cost of a 50-pound bag is $100.00. Well worth it because without good seed rated for this area, you are just cultivating and inferior lawn. You certainly do not want to waste time, effort and money on that!
The next ingredient to a lush green lawn is fertilizer. I am not an expert in this area and most of the articles I have read on the subject are Greek to me. The bag will usually tell you what the numbers represent, for those of you who care to know.
My experience has been that a product called STA-GREEN (24-6-12) or STA-GREEN STARTER (18-24-10) works for me. It does not burn the lawn and will last around three months after an application. Each bag costs around $10.00 - $12.00.
An additional product is Compro. This organic fertilizer is useful for the whole lawn, but specifically bare spots that appear. There will be more on this problem later.
Installation of your lawn using the products above should begin October 1. Why October 1? Because the weeds have already died and the lawn has stopped growing in preparation for winter. It is in its dormant stage, although it will still stay green.
Adjust your lawn mower for the lowest possible setting. You want to scalp the lawn. Do not worry if it bottoms and creates bare spots. Do not use a mulching mower! Bag all of the clippings for your compost heap or the trash. Your refuse collector will love you.
After scalping the lawn, apply the grass seed (I use Shenandoah) at the recommended setting +1 for your spreader. Make sure you overlap runs to maintain even coverage. Remember that 90% of this seed is really going to grow.
Next, spread the STA-GREEN STARTER (18-24-10) fertilizer at the recommended setting, +1, for your spreader following the same rules as before.
Finally, spread the Compro over all of the bare spots on the lawn. This is a neutral product. It naturally adjusts the pH of your lawn while providing a basis for the seed to grow. Some people spread it over the entire lawn. This is up to you. It is more work but it does not hurt to do so.
At this point, rake the seeds in the Compro and smooth as necessary.
Finally water the lawn lightly, enough to wet the Compro and give the seeds wet grass to stick to.
On November 1, spread STA-GREEN (24-6-12) fertilizer at the recommend setting, +1. Repeat the process again on December 1.
Now sit back and wait until spring arrives for your new crop of lawn.
This brings us to our next event: April 1, the beginning of lawn maintenance. A few rules to follow:
1. Raise your lawn mower blade to its highest level. Now that you have a thick lawn with few weeds, you keep it high to prevent weed seeds from germinating. Any weeds found at this time should be pulled out by hand. There will not be many, you will see.
2. Water your lawn to 1 inch, three times a week, all season long. Grass needs good seed, good soil and water to thrive. If any of these elements are missing, it will falter.
You can start cutting the grass as soon as necessary in March at the 3 ½" level, but wait until April for the next fertilizer application. As before, use STA-GREEN (24-6-12) at the recommended rate, +1, for your spreader.
Relax and enjoy cutting your grass until June 1. On this date repeat the fertilizer application at the same rate.
Do the same thing again on October 1.
When October 1 rolls around gain, there is no need to scalp your lawn, just apply the fertilizer as before. I usually re-seed annually. This is your call, better more than less. It can only make it thicker!
If you follow the plan religiously, no more, no less, I believe you will have a beautiful lawn, the envy of the neighborhood.
NOTE: A Few general rules will also help ensure a good looking and healthy lawn:
Cut the grass in the shade or early evening hours when it is cooler, not in the bright sunlight during the heat of the day. This keeps the grass from drying up and burning out, not to mention less wear and tear on your body.
Watering should occur on a systematic basis early in the morning. The reason for this is the water acts as tiny prisms in direct sunlight, intensifying the heat and stressing the plant. In addition, evaporation is faster, not allowing full penetration down to the root system. Never water your lawn in the early evening. This allows for all kinds of diseases to occur during the night.
If, during the year, bare spots occur from pulling up the errant weed, use Compro, grass seed, and fertilizer in these spots to fill in. The key is planning and patience.
This paper is not intended to be the panacea for all lawns. Grading, shade, water runoff, and many other variables can play a part in the outcome of your lawn.
Nor is it intended to be an exhaustive scientific paper. Simply put, what is outlined here has worked for me over the past three years. It seems reasonable to assume that with proper care it will work for you.