Experts Contributors That Helped With This Guide
Lawn Care is easy. Said no one. Ask any homeowner what the one activity that creates the most fear is? Most of them say it is taking care of their lawns. Especially lawn care through seasons.
Have you faced a lawn that needs mowing and upkeep, but you have no idea where to start? Do you need a question answered about basic lawn care? What tools you would need, and what is involved in maintaining any lawn? Well, many have questions on how to take care of their lawns properly so we decided to create this Lawn Care 101 guide, to answer as many as possible all in one post.
This kind of scenario is a familiar situation faced by most homebuyers in North America and elsewhere in the world. You will be mowing or fertilizing or otherwise trying to maintain or improve the lawn that came with the house.
When it comes to maintaining your home, there is nothing probably more demanding and time-consuming than doing lawn care.
Without question, a well-maintained lawn would definitely increase the property values. Also, aesthetically, lawns enhance the quality of life, contribute to social benefit, and provide a soft landing for kids at play.
There is clear scientific evidence that shows that a healthy lawn is good for the environment. A healthy turf generates oxygen for the improved quality of air that we breathe every day.
Most HOAs (Home Owners Association), municipal by-laws would prohibit having neglected lawns in their jurisdiction. So if you have to do lawncare anyway, what is stopping you from doing it right and enjoying the pleasures of having a beautiful lawn as part of your house that you call home?.
To do things right, you would need to know enough necessary lawn care information. You also need the correct information regarding the tools you would need, such as lawnmowers, aerators, and fertilizing materials, to take a few examples.
Rest assured, the team here has hands-on experience working with various types of lawns, varieties of grass, and a plethora of lawnmowers. We did all the research and learning required to put this multi-part post together for you.
This article is going to be a multiple parts post detailing primary lawn care, fundamentals of mowing, types of lawnmowers, maintenance, their troubleshooting, and finally few words on how to mow like a pro.
When it comes to lawn care, frequently we hear:
- How often should I mow my lawn?
- What height should my grass be?
- How often should I water my lawn?
- When is the best time to water my lawn?
When it comes lawnmowers, many times we receive questions such as:
- For the size of my lawn, how big should the mower be?
- Are mowers safe to operate?
- I did not operate a machine like a lawn mower before, can I operate one?
- Would I be able to do basic troubleshooting if my mower has issues?
It is very typical to have such questions in your mind when embarking on a journey to become a pro that you would be. All kidding aside, our aim here is to present you with all the inside knowledge that you need to understand basic lawn care and the usage of a lawnmower.
In this lawn care guide, the content is organized in the form of questions and answers as this kind of format lends itself for more in-depth understanding. If you would rather download our full eBook on The Perfect Lawn, you can do so here. Or just keep scrolling to get to the FAQ’s.
The Basics of Lawn Care
The basics involve watering, fertilizing, and mowing (cutting grass) as required. These actions constitute the primary maintenance. Core aeration, overseeding, and dethatching activities are part of crucial secondary maintenance. By correctly maintaining your lawn, in the long run, you would incur fewer costs.
It is essential to understand all the maintenance activities are inter-related, and the quality of your lawn depends on these activities. As an example, if you cut your grass too short, believing you do not need to mow for a long time, you would actually see the adverse effect. The grass would grow faster in a short amount of time, and then the roots will be damaged. Remember, every time you are cutting the grass, essentially, you are reducing the food source of the grass as well. More details on this will be explained in the mowing section of this article.
Lawn Care Terminology
Some of the most popular lawn care terms used:
This term is something you might have already heard. Fertilizer is a mixture of organic or human-made materials. This substance would contain all the nutrients that the lawns need, and you would distribute this on the grass.
Grass-cycling is to do with the grass clippings that you would get when you mow. These clippings contain valuable nutrients that the soil needs. When you leave these clippings on the lawn instead of keeping them in a bag and throw them away, you are essentially grass-cycling.
Overseeding or Reseeding
You normally overseed or reseed to cure or repair thin patches of lawn. You are planting grass seed on top of already existing turf. Learn more about overseeding here.
Yes, that is right. It is not just our bodies, and even the soil has its pH. The threshold is 7, and below 7, the soil is said to be acidic, and above 7, the soil is alkaline. Many plants do not thrive in soil that is highly acidic or highly alkaline.
Scalping happens when you cut the grass too short. Cutting the grass short would stress the grass a lot. The grass becomes weakened and may even die.
Sod and Thatch
Sod is grass with part of the soil attached to it by its roots. There could be a piece of thin material holding the earth and grass together.
Thatch is an organic matter that is accumulated on a lawn around the base of the grass. Typically, thatch is a combination of living and dead plant matter. Here write few sentences about dethatcher and their pros and cons and link to a future post where products are introduced
Top Nineteen Lawn Care Questions Every House Owner Has
The following are the FAQ lawn care questions that most of our customers/visitors ask us.
1. How Often Should I Mow My Yard?
The simple answer would be to mow once a week. Unless you have a new lawn. If you would like to have a lawn that is in its best shape year-round, weekly mowing is recommended. If you wait long before your next mowing session, you will let the grass overgrow. There is also the potential for weeds to appear and grow. Uncontrolled weed growth happens a lot in the Spring and Summer months when homeowners go on vacations as these are ideal seasons for grass to grow faster.
Regular mowing schedule helps to remove any damaged grass tips and also, stimulates new growth. Often, this would result in thicker grass and fewer weeds.
A word of caution here: While regularly scheduled mowing is essential to a healthy lawn, avoid making the schedule too firm. You should base how often you cut the grass on its growth, not on the day of the week, for example. Many factors affect the growth of your lawn.
The best time to mow your yard is mid-morning. You don’t want to mow when your lawn is still wet from morning dew or irrigation. That said, don’t wait until too late in the day either. If you mow when it’s too hot out, it can stress your grass. If you miss your mid-morning window, the next-best time to mow is in the late afternoon.Mike Kane for IBegYourGarden
2. What Height Should My Grass Be?
Grass Type Mowing Heights
Proper Mowing Height, by Grass Type
The exact mowing height depends on what kind of grass you have:
- Bahiagrass: 2-2½ inches.
- Bentgrass: 1 inch.
- Bermuda: 1½-2 inches.
- Bluegrass: 2-2½ inches.
- Buffalograss: 2-3 inches
- Centipede: 1½-2 inches.
- Fescue: 2-3 inches.
- Perennial Ryegrass: 2-3 inches.
- Zoysia: 1-2 inches.
- Saint Augustine: 3-3 1/2 inches
- Kentucky Bluegrass: 2-3 inches
By mowing your lawn too short, you inadvertently open the canopy to more sun and heat. This action can increase weed growth, especially during warm months, since weeds need light to grow. A rule of thumb when it comes to cutting grass is to never cut more than 1/3 (one-third) of the grass blade height with each mowing session. When you mow the grass, you are putting the grass blades and roots under a significant amount of stress. So consequently, your lawn would need time to recover after each cutting.
Cut no more than one-third of your lawn’s grass blade length in a single mowing. Because grass grows through photosynthesis, taller grass blades mean healthier root systems. Shorter blades are unable to obtain the energy needed. Though you may be tempted to give your lawn a buzz cut to skip a mowing, you’ll ultimately negatively impact the health and vibrancy of your lawn.Chris Zeisler from Repair Clinic
Different types of grass have different recommended hights for mowing. The following table shows the details:
It all comes down to balance. If your lawn gets lots of sunlight and is not cut very short, then your yard could become a healthy, lush green lawn.
Research has proved that grass plants have their food factory. Their food is in leaf blades. So every time you mow, you are cutting off some of the food supply of the grass.
For this reason, with lots of light, the leaf blades can produce plenty of food. During periods of warm weather, you should go for higher mowing heights as that would help shade the grassroots and provide deep root growth.
Tallgrass contains more plant tissue. This issue retains more moisture, can produce more chlorophyll. The height also gives more shade from the sun. Let your grass a little longer in warm weather and a bit short in cool weather.
3. How Much Water Is Needed?
Often we get asked questions like “How long should I water my lawn?” or “How many inches should I water?”. Of course, there is no cookie-cutter answer here. That is because; how much water your grass may need depends on many factors. Many turf pros generally recommend about 1 inch of water is required per week. This amount could be from the sprinkler system or natural rainwater. Note that this amount of water is needed for actively growing lawns.
Also see our guide on how much irrigation systems cost.
4. How Often Should I Water My Lawn?
As we have seen in the previous answer, your lawn needs about one inch of every week. Of course, water is one of the essential nutrients for lawn growth, however like too much of anything is not good, too much water or too little water can cause various issues with the lawn.
For example, too much water encourages the growth of harmful insects. This could result in lawn diseases. Frequent watering with fewer amounts at a time causes shallow roots.
What is the best thing for your lawn; deep and infrequent watering is the best method. Do not water your lawn everyday day, instead choose to do 2 or 3 times a week. Regular deep watering is essential, and it would prevent soil and grassroots from drying out. Water deep, get the soil moist 6 to 8 inches deep. Using a sprinkler system or oscillating sprinkler will help regulate the amount of water you use.
“Your local garden center is probably familiar with your soil, so can advise you on how much to water; or, if you are lucky enough to live near a college or university, for free they will usually analyze soil core samples you send them to let you know what type of seed, fertilizer, potash, and water needs might be best for you. Once you know how much water you need, you can measure this using aluminum pie pans: place a few on the lawn, and each day at the same time mark the water level with a Sharpie, then measure it. You will know if your lawn is getting ¼ inch of water a day (which could be a combination of sprinkling, rain, dew, etc.), or an inch, and can adjust accordingly.”Glen DellaValle of DellaValle Management
5. When is the Best Time to Water?
When you water your lawn in the day is crucial as it impacts grass growth, weed growth, and potential for lawn diseases. For best lawn care practices and final results, keep in mind the following recommendations:
- Water when there is less sun. Usually, this means between 6 and am in the morning.
- If you can’t water in the morning, water in the late afternoon between 4 pm and 7 pm
- Watering during a hot period of the day, which is generally between 11 am and 3 pm
- Watering at night, as it attracts mildew, fungal issues, pests
The best time to mow the lawn can vary, and this means that you may not be able to mow the lawn at exactly the same time every week. The main idea is you want to mow the lawn while it is dry. Mowing in the mid-morning, or after the dew has evaporated and before the sun gets too strong. Mowing a wet lawn can make the process more difficult. Mowing too frequently can be detrimental to the lawn, as it can weaken the lawn. A lawn with weakened health makes it more vulnerable to problems such as diseases and pests.Holly Maguire for Simple Lawn Solutions
6. What Type of Grass Do I Have, or Should I have?
Various Types of Grass for Cool or Warm
- Cool-Season Grasses – Cool-season grasses include fine and tall fescue, perennial ryegrass, bluegrass, and wheatgrass. These types of grasses need mild, wet winters. They grow very well in colder weather with snow and ice. They would also prefer at least 25-30 inches or more of total yearly rainfall.
- Warm-Season Grasses – Warm-season grasses include Bermuda grass, buffalo grass, St. Augustine grass, and zoysia. They prefer very mild winters and dry, hot, and humid summers. And they would not need much rainfall (less than 20 inches).
7. When Should I Plant New Grass?
To establish a new lawn, it takes planning and time. Sowing seed (seeding) would be the last step. If you are planning to plant a lawn, generally early Fall is the best time.
Fall time is the best time and as early as possible away from the onset of colder weather. Early Fall is needed so that the grass has enough time to establish. If you miss Fall time, your next best bet would be Springtime. During Spring, you would not have to worry about frosting, and hot weather would not have already set in by that time.
Pick a day where less wind is forecast and sow seed evenly. You would have to use a drop or rotary spreader.
For best results, seed or sod cool-season grasses when the temperature is below 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Also see: when to mow newly planted sod
8. Is Fertilizer Important?
The short answer is yes. To grow green, and healthy, your lawn needs high-quality fertilizer. Regular feedings are also crucial for a healthy lawn to stay that way. There are six primary nutrients that all plants require. They are Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium. Plants get the first three from air and water. The last three need to be supplied by soil (earth).
Most soils do not provide adequate amounts of Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium. So proper fertilization is essential so the grass can develop strong roots. Each nutrient is needed for a specific purpose. Plants need Nitrogen to produce new growth. Root growth depends on Phosphorous. Overall, plant health and vigor come from Potassium.
The choice of fertilizer depends on the type of grass. A high-quality fertilizer should stimulate plenty of grass growth and help the lawn fight various stresses caused by weather elements, living organisms such as insects. Your climate and the type of grass that you choose for that climate make a massive impact on having a healthy lawn.
9. When is the Best Time to Fertilize?
Springtime is the best time to fertilize your lawn. Aim to fertilize when the soil temperature is between 50 and 60 Fahrenheit degrees. This time is when you would notice more blossom, and the grass starts growing. For most parts of North America, the first feeding should be done from mid to late April.
Of course, few experts suggest fertilizing in March as that would help jump-start grass growth; however, you still have to keep in mind the need to have soil temperature around 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
You should plan for 5 feedings from mid-Apirl to the end of October. So if you start the first feed mid-April, aim for second feeding 4 weeks after the first feeding. After the second time, feed your lawn every 6 to 8 weeks.
September is also an important month to fertilize. Early Fall fertilization will help protect your lawn during cold weather as the grassroots will be able to store much of the essential nutrients.
You could also mix your feedings cycles and use organic material such as manure. Be sure to read the labels carefully as some would suggest to water the lawn before or after applying the fertilizer. Some granular fertilizers need moisture to break down.
We recommend fertilizing no more than once every 30 days during the grass’s active growing season. Your grass can survive without fertilization, but it may not look very presentable and may struggle with nutrient deficiencies. If you need to aerate your soil, do so when the ground has come out of the frost, but at least 2 weeks before planting seeds. Applying nutrients after a lawn has been aerated is best because it helps with nutrient absorption. Before you apply NPK, best to obtain a soil test. A good soil test will provide a comprehensive guide on what is going on with your soil, and if any nutrients are missing. We recommend soil tests be conducted at least once per 1-2years. Avoid fertilization if the weather is scorching hot unless you have a serious deficiency. Shaded areas will need less fertilization. The best time of day to apply the fertilizer is in the morning. If you are using liquid nutrients, we recommend watering the lawn after applying the nutrients for better absorption. Applying fertilizer in the extreme heat can result in a burnt lawn and/or the water and fertilizer evaporating too quickly.Holly Maguire for Simple Lawn Solutions
10. What is Mulching? Should I Use Mulch?
Mulching Around A Tree
Mulching in gardening is a process where you would be covering bare soil with a porous (organic) material. Covering with organic material would improve soil conditions. This method is an inexpensive, simple, and very effective way of providing benefits to the lawn.
While the improvement of soil conditions depends upon the soil type, the material used, and the thickness of the mulch you applied. The protective layer provided by mulch on top of the soil gives the following benefits:
Reduce weeds by blocking sunlight Prevent water evaporation thus reducing the water requirement and keeping the soil cool Reduce wilting of younger grass by keeping the grass cooler in hot summer The pH of the land will be improved over time
With the benefits explained, you should use mulch. Mulching with organic materials such as straw, bark chips, and grass clippings is the best scenario as these materials decompose rather slowly and naturally, thus improving soil conditions immensely over time.
Although mulching with organic material is recommended, depending on the type of lawn you have, you may prefer to have in-organic mulches like landscape fabrics, gravel, etc.
11. How Do I Control Weeds?
Weeds are inevitable, and they are tough. Unless you take some precautions, it is challenging to stop weeds from growing. There are many varieties of weeds.
Weeds grow abundantly in Spring and Summer. Most homeowners prefer to get hands-on and remove the weeds manually as they come up. This is a good exercise. However, it could get physically daunting very soon.
Another alternative and one that is safe to choose (you must follow the labels) is to use herbicides. It is essential to use a pre-emergent herbicide in early Spring. Herbicides are very effective, although they may not be well suited for all situations.
Remember, weed control slows down the weeds and not eliminate them. You need to deprive weeds of the things that they need to survive, such as food, water, and light.
Some weed control tips below:
- Pick them up as they come up. Depending on the weed, you can use a digging tool to get the roots out. Start early in the Spring during their abundant growth.
- Deprive them of light by using mulch, as explained above. If you pick the weeds at the root and then mulch about 5 inches, this would cut the light supply. Just do not heap too much onto the plants that you want to keep. You should keep a small well around the plants and trees.
- Pick weeds and cover either with several layers of newspaper or landscape fabrics. These form a barrier through which weeds can not grow
Finally, ensure that you water the plants and grass that you want to keep and not the weeds that you don’t want.
12. How Do I Spot Lawn Diseases?
All lawns are susceptible to diseases; your lawn will be no exception. Especially lawns that are not maintained properly are more prone to catching a disease. The disease attacks weak grass with weak grassroots. Few precautions should be taken to prevent the onset of lawn diseases:
- Proper watering techniques
- Applying mycorrhizal fungi
- Do not use fertilizers that have high nitrogen
- Adequate weed control
Most lawn diseases are caused by a few types of fungi that invade the soil and grass blades. And then the fungus spores spread across by wind, rain, insects, etc. Apart from heeding the above tips, you can:
- Use grass varieties that are suited for your local area
- Do not keep your lawn continuously moist, meaning do not water too much and not just before night
Remember, some of the lawn diseases are more dangerous than others and can damage the lawn seriously. Professional treatments may be needed to eliminate existing lawn diseases and prevent them from spreading and re-occurring. Seek professional lawn care services in such a situation.
13. Do I Need Pest Control?
Regular lawn care maintenance will keep your lawn looking good, but you would also need consistent pest control. All grasses are susceptible to numerous outdoor insects and pests. Often, it is difficult to identify useful insects from harmful insects. One amateur mistake that many homeowners make is to over-react and use a potent pesticide, thus killing beneficial insects along with problem insects.
Small, hard to see insects like mealybugs, caterpillars, and beetles can invade your lawn. There are pests like grubs, wireworms, etc. If and when pests invade your lawn, it is hard to eliminate them without using herbicides and pesticides. Follow below tips to keep your lawn pest-free:
- Do not keep any stagnant water, which becomes breeding grounds for mosquitoes
- If you have pets, get them checked regularly
- Cut your grass frequently, remove tall weeds, and grasses at the edges. Junk or damp wood is heaven for pests
- Keep your lawn tidy and trimmed. Overgrown shrubbery or tree branches could be entry points for certain pests
If you would like to keep your lawn green, lush, and healthy all year room, it is highly recommended to keep pest control as part of your regular lawn care. If all fails and you face a situation with your lawn invaded by insects and pests, don’t despair. Call a local pest control service company, and they will take care of your garden in the most professional way.
14. Are Pesticides Dangerous?
Pesticides are poisonous and contain toxic chemicals. These chemicals can contaminate soil and water and often pollute the environment in which they are used. Pesticides generally kill anything that gets large doses of those chemicals. Insecticides are dangerous both to insects and humans.
However, chemical treatments are sometimes necessary to fix any problematic lawn issues. At the same time, you have to take extreme care while using pesticides both for yourself, your family, neighbors. Follow the labels and take all the recommended precautions. If you are short on time and cannot spend the time it takes for proper application of pesticides, seek professional services for your pest control.
A good alternative here is to use organic solutions. Organic lawn care product solutions provide a safe environment for everybody involved. If you are a serious proponent of green, environmentally friendly consumerism, go organic for pest control. For more info on natural lawn care, please see the next question.
15. Should I Invest in Organic Lawn Care?
Soils matter. If you believe in that, you would think about organic lawn care. Around the world, grass grows and thrives on fertile ground. Grassland soils that are left natural, i.e., not subjected to any chemicals, typically are very fertile soils. Under the right conditions, growing grass naturally at your home builds fertile soils.
Our favorite organic lawn service is Sunday Lawn Care. They create custom lawn products for your specific lawn type and send you the products that you simply spray on with a garden hose.
Organic lawn care is an excellent way to maintain a healthy, green with natural, zero-chemicals products. Organic lawn care means either create or maintain the right soil fertility conditions. In real organic farming, about 80% of the plant nutrients derived from the soil are returned to the ground as manure. This is known as nutrient cycling. When it comes to organic lawn care, you could achieve nutrient cycling by mowing and then leaving the clippings on the grass and not bag them to throw away.
If you don’t want to leave the grass clippings on your lawn, after each mowing session, create a compost pile. And mulch some of them into your lawn. This makes a significant impact on over organic way of living.
By treating your lawn as a whole living organic system, your lawn will be improved. For example, some of the weeds that you would think as not good for your yard, for example, clover, are good for the soil. Another example would be dandelions, which help break up compacted soil with their long, extensive roots.
16. Do I Need to Test My Soil?
As we have seen before, pH balance is an essential thing for your soil. It will impact the growth of your grass in the lawn. Another equally important thing is the texture of and the moisture level of your land. Sandy soils do not hold much moisture. Silty soils create a slippery surface that helps drainage.
Soils that are in clay are smooth when dry and sticky when wet. These heavy soils do not let air and water penetrate, although they hold a lot of nutrients.
It is recommended to check the soil properties to ensure the soil is compatible with the vegetation or grass types that you intend to plant. Testing your soil would also analyze nutrients in your soil and allow you to understand what kind of fertilizer or organic matter that may have to be added to the soil for optimal results.
You can typically get these soil tests done at your local county agency. The fees would be nominal for these tests. Alternatively, you may be able to find ready-made test kits. If you get any professional lawn care service for your lawn, they would generally start the process by doing a soil test first.
17. Why is there Moss in My Lawn?
Moss is a plant, and it typically survives conditions that grass can not survive. So if opposite conditions for regular grass are present, there is a good chance for moss to develop. Moss spores are ever-present in the air, and with enough moisture, moss is germinated.
Fortunately, moss is not a competitive plant and does not necessarily overtake other plants. Moss roots are shallow and generally thrive in wet soils. Often, shade for extended periods helps certain types of moss to survive, whereas grass would need the right amount of sunlight.
Moss is not very aggressive, and the best way to get rid of moss would be to create the right conditions for more grass growth.
18. What is aeration?
Aeration is a technique that you can use on your soil to create air passages so that water, fertilizer, and nutrients can reach deeper layers of the soil to reach the grassroots. Aeration is required to loosen hard, compacted soil, which is generally the result of people, equipment moving on the soil. You can find hand-held gardening tools that can be used to aerate the soil in your lawn.
If your lawn is big enough, it may warrant that you use an outdoor powered aerator. Alternatively, aerator sandals are available in the market, and these sandals have spikes underneath. By only wearing them and walking on the soil, the spikes would create tiny passageways for air and water.
19. What is the best way to mow my lawn?
Mowing is essential for healthy grass growth and proper lawn care. Before you start mowing, ensure that your mower has sharp blades. If the mower blades are not sharp, you will end up chopping rather than cutting. Shredded grass will lose water through a high rate of evaporation.
Another common mistake would be cutting the grass when it is wet — cutting the grass when it is moist results in compressed soil. Compacted soil impedes proper nutrient absorption leading to bare patches and dead spots. Another activity that could result in such a soil is mowing the same pattern every time mowing is done.
In Part 2 of this article, you will find more information on mowing, types of mowers, etc. The best mower buying guide compares all the top-rated mowers available in the market.