Growing The Perfect Lawn

Perfect Lawn

How to grow the perfect lawnPerfect LawnA perfect lawn is achievable, and you can and should start working on it right now to make sure that mid summer, your lawn is in its ultimate condition.

If you want to learn how to grow the perfect lawn keep reading.

Perfect Lawn

Making you lawns look good, takes time.  Unfortunately, plants need time to change and adapt from where they are to where you want them to be.  All plants have their own ability to recover from their current condition and move towards being in their optimal thriving condition.  

Grass, is a plant.  All plants require nutrition to survive.  If your grass is not getting the food it requires, then it will not be looking its best.  

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Your Lawn Is Like A Buffet Table

I want you to think for a minute about a buffet table.   This buffet table is serving a large crowd, and very soon the food runs out.  If no one comes to refill the food, then the people eating the food wouldn't be very happy.  So instead of letting food run out, buffet tables are resupplied as the food runs low.  If the buffet is kept at a consistent supply then the people will be happy.

This is a lot like your lawn.  If you don't feed your lawn, how can it be happy?

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With regular feedings, your lawn will be so much happier. 

Depending on if you plan on using conventional or organic fertilizers will determine your feeding schedule.  Applying the right fertilizer at the right time of year will also provide you with results that will make you the envy of your neighborhood.

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Here on the rainy west coast, I start my clients fertilizer program as soon soon as the frost has passed which could be as early as February .  After the first application early in the year, we reapply season specific fertilizers every 6 - 8 weeks until November.  Which means our lawns get fertilized  6 - 8  different times throughout the year.  Conventional works longer while organic fertilizers require frequent applications.

Understanding Fertilizer Codes  24-25-4

Your perfect lawn depends on numbers.  The numbers in fertilizers represent the main ingredients that will be feeding the plants.  In a fertilizer with 24-25-4:

  • 24% is Nitrogen
  • 25%   is Phosphorous
  • 4%  is Potassium

Nitrogen is what makes the grass green and grow strong.  Using a high nitrogen fertilizer in the growing season will produce a faster growing and greener grass.  This is a short growth spurt that only lasts a few weeks.

Phosphorus  feeds the root system.  I will use a high phosphorus number in the fall and early spring so that as the lawn goes into and comes out of winter dormancy, the roots are growing deep under ground.  In the spring the grass responds quickly and is ready for the season right away.

Potassium helps provide the plant with strength to withstand drought in the summer and cold in the winter.  It is also a root development aid.

As you go through the season you will find there are different fertilizers for the different season.  Use the one that is right for your purpose for best results.  In 30 years I have experimented a lot and I still find that using season specific fertilizers out perform any one size fits all style of fertilizer.

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Perfect Lawn Care Program

In the spring when your perfect lawn begins to grow, you may want to consider if your lawn needs to be de-thatched and deep core aerated.

Thatch is a layer of grass that grows above the surface of the soil and below the green of the grass.  If you have ever mowed your lawn to short and come across the "burnt" underside of the grass, you have discovered the thatch layer.  This is the dried out withered looking layer, that if not removed can become so dense that water has a hard time penetrating to reach the soil.  This can lead to hard and compacted soil, which leads to dried out withered looking grass.


 I typically de-thatch every second year.  This is a simple process and depending on the size of your lawn can be done either with a de-thatching rake available from your local  hardware store or with a machine that can be rented from local tool rental places.

When renting, look around and ask about mid week specials.  Some places offer a 50% discount on their lawn tool rentals on Tuesday and Wednesday morning.  This is typically the time when tool rental places are slowest and willing to work a deal.  This is a larger machine than a lawn mower so please don't show up to rent this machine in a compact car.  Some places offer a delivery, so ask about that if you have a small car.

Deep Core Aeration

I suggest deep core aeration every year for the perfect lawn.  This will keep water flowing to the roots of your lawn and prevents hard compact soil.

A deep core aerator again comes in a hand tool and in a machine for large areas.  Depending on how much time you  have to work on your lawn will determine which method you use.  The hand tool is more time consuming, but I find to be relaxing.  

In clients yards that have been aerated recently, and if I want to enjoy the sunshine and the spring day I will use my hand aerator.  If the lawn has not been aerated and is hard packed, root bound and difficult, then I will use my machine.

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Punching Holes

Whichever method you choose, the ultimate goal is to punch holes 2 inches deep, and equal distance from each other roughly every 8 inches.  This 2 inch hole will be deeper than the roots of the lawn, breaking up compact and dense areas and allow water to reach the lowest parts of the grass.  

If water does not reach the base of the root structure, it will not matter how often or how much you water, the grass will not respond.  So deep core aeration is something that should be done annually. 

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There are a number of other benefits to aerating and I will dedicate an entire post to the subject in the coming weeks.   

Over Seeding

After deep core aerating, your well on your way to the perfect  lawn.   Little plugs of dirt will be scattered across your lawn and there will be little holes everywhere..  This is the perfect time to over seed.

Once you have identified the type of lawn you have, matching the seed is easy.  Your local hardware store will probably carry the type of seed that is most common in your area.  Take the time to find out what type of grass makes up your lawn.

 

Use the same broadcast or hand held spreader you use for applying fertilizer.

After seeding you need to ensure that the seed stays damp for the next couple of weeks.  Water daily for up to 10 minutes while the seeds germinate and start growing.  

Don't over water 

 Too much water will kill your delicate seeds.  So set your automatic watering system accordingly or plan on watering by hand to give a consistent watering throughout the yard.

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Avoid mowing your perfect lawn for the next 2 weeks to give the seedlings a chance to grow.  If you mow to soon, even seedlings that look established can be sucked up by the lawn mower.  Prior to starting the lawn mower, tug on a couple of the seedlings to see how established they are.  If they come out extremely easy, then you need to wait a few more days for the roots to grow stronger.  If it pulls out with a little resistance but there are a lot of roots on the seedling, then you are ok to mow.

Top Dressing

Top dressing could be a couple different things.  It could be sand or it could be soil blend.  Depending on the soil composition in your yard determine which top dressing is perfect for your lawn.  

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Standing Water & Drainage Issue Yards

If you have drainage issues and find standing water in your yard often then you could have hard packed soil or it could be a clay based soil.  Either way, standing water is an indication that the soil is not allowing proper flow of the water.  Using washed sand as your top dressing will help break up the clay or hard pack.  This may not provide immediate results.  depending on the severity of the soil hardness below will determine how often you will need to use sand as your top dress.  I have had some clients that because of the clay deposit in their area, we only use sand in their yard, and this only offers a slight relief to the standing water or puddles in the yard.   If your yard has a severe standing water issue, talk to someone about drainage solutions.

If your yard is not plagued with drainage problems, then a standard soil blend will work.  Soil blends are made of organic material and introduce these composting elements into your soil.  As the compost breaks down over the year it will release nitrogen and will act as a slow release fertilizer throughout the year.

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Top Dressing Coverage

A 2,000 square foot lawn would use around 1/2 cubic yard of top dressing.  Your best bet is to contact your local lawn and garden service company and ask about either of these materials delivered.  You can also discuss installing if this task is more than you wish to perform yourself.

The proper way to install lawn top dressing, is to spread it evenly across the yard and using a fan rake, spread it throughout and back fill the holes that were created by the deep core aerator.  Back filling the holes allows the holes to remain open for a longer period of time, which allows deeper water penetration, which in turn provides a new area for existing grass to extend.  New roots means new grass shoots.  

Between the new grass seed and  the aeration holes, your new lawn will produce up to 25 - 40% new grass area.  Considering that the average life span of a grass plant is 2 - 3 years, this process is a great way to ensure young, healthy and vibrant grass plants.

Perfect Lawn Watering 

Your perfect lawn only requires 2 inches of water per week.  By setting your automatic sprinklers accordingly your lawn will look better than it ever has. 

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To find out what 2 inches of water per week looks like, take a cake pan and set it in the yard and turn on the sprinkler.  Using a timer, measure how long it takes until the cake pan has reached 1/4 inch.  Multiple that number by 8 to get a total watering run time.  Divide that total number by the number of days you are able to water and set your clocks to that.

The following is just an example.  Your times may and will vary.

  • Time to fill 1/4 in in cake pan - 3 minutes
  • 8  x 3 minutes = 24 minutes total weekly watering time
  • 24 minutes / 3 days of watering = 8 minute watering time
  • 24 minutes / 4 days of watering = 6 minute watering  time
  • 24 minutes/ 2 days of watering = 12 minutes watering time

Any more than 2 inches a week will just run off your lawn and be wasted down city drains.  By watering less volume but more frequently, your perfect lawn will be much more water efficient than by running the sprinklers less often but longer.

This is easy to set with an automatic irrigation system, and I suggest watering early in the morning starting around 4 AM.

DO NOT water over night.  Overnight watering means your lawn will be damp overnight.  Damp dark places are perfect for fungus and molds to grow.  Think about that forgotten jar of jelly in the back of the fridge and how quickly it started growing.  Your lawn is no exception.  There is a whole lot of bad fungus that can develop in your lawn by watering over night, so don't take the chance.  Most fungus' are very easily spread and passing red thread on to your neighbor.  Like any fungus or virus, getting one is not fun and is much easier to prevent it than it is to correct it.

Perfect Lawn Mowing

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First thing to know about cutting the perfect lawn, is blade height.  Each type of grass requires different cutting heights, but the one rule to learn is never cut off more than 30% of the grass at any time.  

If you have a warm weather grass that can tolerate low cutting heights, then by following the above program will mean you need to cut more frequently to avoid cutting more than 30%.  To keep warm weather short grasses maintained, you still need to fertilize which will mean more growth.  

Taking more than 30% will put your grass in shock, its color will be dull and the grass will become weak.   If your lawn is a warm weather grass that you want to cut short, plan on cutting the lawn every second or third day.

Short Does't Mean Less Work

Picture if you will a golf putting green.  In order to keep that grass healthy and green, depending on the golf course, will cut that green every day or every other day.  There are no other options for this if you want a nice short lawn.

If you try maintaining a short lawn every seven days, the grass will grow too long and you will remove all the color and are left with a withered yellow looking grass which will take time to recover, and cutting it every seven days will not allow that recovery to happen.

If you only have time to cut your lawn once  week, then maintain your lawn longer.  

The optimal height of cool weather grass is 3 inches.  All the lawns I care for are kept at 3 inches because my climate does not support  warm weather grass.  This leave my clients lawns full, deep green and lush.  No other lawns in my areas look the way my lawns do.  My lawns stand out in every neighborhood we work in.

What I love most about a longer lawn cut, is that they are drought tolerant.  By keeping the  blades of grass at 3 inches, provides enough shade for the roots and the soil below. 

This shade protects the soil from drying out and helps the roots retain the moisture needed to keep the grass green.  Even in the high heats of summer when watering restrictions come into affect, the lawns we care for stay green and healthy through the heat wave.  

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Cut At The Right Length For Your Grass Type

Cutting your lawn short will not mean less frequent cutting.  It only means your lawn will be in a constant state of shock and will be discolored.

I recommend mulching your clippings.  Just like the top dressing that returns nitrogen to the ground, mulched clippings do the same.  There used to be a time when mulching left big swaths of grass clippings in the lawn.  

Today's mulching blades are designed to leave no trace of the clippings behind.  I have not bagged a lawn cut in over five years and not one of my high end clients have complained about the clippings.  The only time one of my clients noticed was when he was walking through the yard and notice I did not have a bagger on my machine.  He walked into the lawn and got on his hands and knees to see what happened to the clippings.

In my opinion, a lawn that is being mulched will look way better than a lawn that is not getting mulched because of the natural fertilizer provided by the clippings.

Mowing Patterns

Finally, when mowing your lawn, change the mowing pattern.  In the near future I will post a video and a full description of changing mowing patterns.

Follow straight lines and go back and forth.  Never go in circles.  If you follow the same pattern week after week, very soon you will develop ruts in your lawn from the consistent mowing patterns.  When you have ruts in your yard, your mower will not run smoothly across the lawn, most times it will bounce and shimmy while traveling over the uneven surface.  When the mower is jostled the level cutting surface is disrupted and the finished result is typically choppy and uneven.

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Avoid ruts by changing your pattern every week.  I follow a four week pattern cycle.  

  • Week 1 - Straight lines from front to back
  • Week 2 - Straight lines side to side
  • Week 3 - Straight lines corner to corner
  • Week 4 - Straight lines corner to corner opposite of week 3 to create an "X" pattern

Perfect Lawn To Enjoy

By following this program you can be sure to have a sweet lawn to look out over and be proud of.  So sit back, kick up your feet and enjoy that ice cold glass of lemonade while you look out over your perfect law.

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