The Q&A Archives: Grass Needs Help

Question: I just moved into a home. The front lawn is sod but is thin in spots from not being taken care of and being cut too low too often. I know I can fertilize in the fall but what can I do to help it now?

Answer: Good lawn care can be summarized in three cultural practices: mowing, watering and fertilizing. If you will do these three properly, your lawn will be the best on the block!

Frequent mowing is better than infrequent mowing. Mow on a 5-7 day schedule, removing no more than 1/3 of the leaf blade with each mowing. For example, a St. Augustine turf should be mowed to 2 1/2" when it reaches 3", while a semi-dwarf bermuda or zoysia would be mowed to 1 1/2 or 2" when it reached 2 or 2 1/2".

While many homeowners like to water 15 minutes a day, your turf will benefit from a good soaking applied less often. Apply 1/2 to 1 inch of water once or twice a week. A coffee can makes a good rain gauge to test out how long it will need to be run to apply an inch. Frequent wetting promotes disease problems and a shallow rooted turf. Let the soil dry out a bit between waterings and the grass will develop a deep root system and do much better.

Fertilize with no more than 1/2 to 1 pound of nitrogen in spring and again in fall (less is o.k.). Apply a product with a 3-1-2 ratio of nutrients as this is roughly the ratio of nutrients grass takes in. So, for example, if you purchased a 15-5-10 fertilizer (15% nitrogen), you would apply about 7 pounds per 1000 square feet (1 pound / .15 = about 7). If you purchased a 21-7-14 fertilizer (21 % nitrogen), you would apply about 5 pounds per 1000 square feet (1 pound / .21 = about 5).

Healthy turf will choke out most of its weed problems. When the turf is thin and soil is exposed to the sunlight, weeds will sprout and you have a battle on your hands. So first concentrate on the above 3 cultural practices and you will be amazed at the results.

Good luck getting that lawn back into shape!

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