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. 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 after you have mowed the grass twice, again in June, another feeding in September and again in late November. 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.
I vote for organic mulch. You can enrich your soil over a period of years and end up with rich garden loam if you add organic matter. Start by removing all vegetation from the area and spreading 4-5 inches of organic matter over the bed. You can use compost, aged manure, shredded leaves or whatever organic matter is readily available in your local area. Dig or till this organic matter into the soil - 8-10 inches deep. Plant and mulch over the bare soil between the plants with additional organic matter. A 2-3 inch layer will help suppress weeds and slow water evaporation. At the end of the season dig the organic matter into the soil and add a fresh layer. Repeat this process annually and you'll end up with rich garden loam - and a spectacular garden.
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