You might be surprised to learn that a green, healthy lawn doesn't cost a lot of time or money - it just takes good management.
Tall fescue is the most common grass grown in this part of Kansas and one of the best choices for hardiness and drought tolerance.
¢ Raise your mowing height. Fescue cut at 2.5 to 3.5 inches tall is much healthier than shorter turf. Mowing lower stresses the grass and causes patches of turf to thin and die, leaving space for weeds to grow. Taller grass also reduces the need for water because the grass provides some shade for the soil and roots below it. Taller grass is healthier and grows more slowly than weeds, so you will actually need to mow less often when you raise the mowing height.
¢ Follow the one-third rule. If the mower is set to cut the grass at 3 inches high, you should mow when the grass is about 4 1/2 inches tall. That means you are removing one-third of the total height. Waiting until the grass is much taller shocks the plants, takes more time and causes more wear on the lawn mower.
¢ Leave your grass clippings on the lawn instead of bagging. Grass clippings are about 90 percent water, so they break down quickly and return nitrogen to the soil. If you use the bagger, your lawn will require more fertilizer, more water and will take longer to mow.
¢ Water less. Research shows that over 50 percent of the water applied to lawns is wasted - running off into ditches and storm drains. Fescue requires only 1 inch to 1 1/2 inches of water per week in the summer months and sometimes occasional watering in the spring and fall to retain vigor. Watering in the spring does more harm than good unless we have a long dry period. The excess moisture reduces the grass' drought resistance and makes if more susceptible to disease and pest problems in the summer months.
¢ Apply water deeply and infrequently. A general example (not an actual recommendation) of deep and infrequent watering is to water for 20 minutes every other day instead of 10 minutes every day. The result is deeper-rooted, healthier turf. Determine frequency and duration of watering with consideration to the volume of water that your watering device puts out. Take time to monitor runoff in your yard.
¢ Apply water in the morning so the blades of grass dry quickly. Grass that stays wet for an extended period of time (overnight) is more prone to disease problems. Adjust your watering schedule if rain has fallen or is in the forecast.
¢ Core-aerate and de-thatch, if needed, in September. Core aeration lessens compaction from lawnmowers and foot traffic. A core-aerating machine pulls small plugs of soil from the ground and drops them on the surface. The holes left in the soil ease the movement of water and air to plant roots, and let roots grow more easily. One pass over the lawn is not enough - go over the lawn two or three times, using different directions.
¢ Thatch is the fibrous layer between the soil and the grass. It is mostly surface roots and stems produced by the plants which help shade the soil. Good watering and mowing techniques will prevent thatch from building up, but poor practices cause thatch to build and prevent water and nutrients from reaching plant roots. If more than one-half inch of thatch accumulates, remove it with a power de-thatching machine or verticutter. Core aeration will help alleviate thatch also.
¢ Overseed the lawn and fertilize each September. When selecting grass seed, look for a blend of more than one variety of turf-type tall fescue. Pay attention to the label on the bag that shows percentages of seed types - "other" may be weed seeds. If the lawn is thin, use a spreader to drop 3 to 4 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet. Use up to twice that much seed over bare areas.
¢ Have your soil tested before fertilizing. This simple, inexpensive test will determine what your lawn really needs. If you have adequate levels of phosphorus and potassium, there is no need to spend money applying more. Also, some plant health problems are related to soil pH.
¢ When you determine what fertilizer your lawn needs, follow a few general rules. First, use a water-soluble or quick-release fertilizer instead of a slow-release fertilizer so that the grass can immediately benefit from the application. Second, only apply 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn in an application. More can cause excessive growth. After fertilizing, sweep up fertilizer from sidewalks and driveways and toss it back on the lawn to keep it from washing away.
¢ Weeds cannot compete well with healthy turf - so changing your management will reduce problems with the pesky dandelions. If you need to treat weeds, spot spray with a herbicide that is selective to broad-leaved plants.
¢ Insects, including grubs, rarely warrant control. Grubs should only be treated when found in high enough numbers to cause damage, and the healthier your lawn is, the more grubs it can handle.
¢ If your lawn is something other than fescue, find out what the management recommendations are and adjust your mowing and watering habits accordingly.
A good-looking lawn is a reflection of the way you take care of it - and when you follow the proper management recommendations, it will show in the green, lush grass, even if you aren't spending a lot of money.