A lush, green lawn is soft and welcoming underfoot, providing a cool oasis for family playtime, neighbourhood get-togethers, and relaxing in the sun. The private outdoor space a lawn provides is one of the biggest perks of living in a single-family home.
But a patchy, thin, brown lawn isn’t fun for anybody, and growing a healthy lawn takes a little work. The good news is that healthy lawns are more likely to stay healthy – health is a lawn’s best defence against weeds and disease. Here’s how to give your lawn exactly what it needs to thrive.
Every lawn is different. Just because your soil looks good, doesn’t mean it is good. You can’t tell whether your soil is too acidic or too basic without testing it. You can buy DIY soil pH test kits at most lawn and garden centres. If you want a more comprehensive and accurate test, your local Cooperative Extension office can do one for you, although you’ll have to wait a bit to get the results. The results can help you figure out what you need to add to your soil to adjust the pH. Most grass species require a soil pH level between 6.0 and 7.2.
Still not sure how to adjust your soil pH? Wondering what fertilizers, seeds, and weed killers work the best? Usually, the best products for your lawn are going to be those that work best with your local soil conditions. How do you find out which ones those are? You guessed it – talk to your local extension office. They can help you figure out what products to use on your lawn, and they can also help you troubleshoot common lawn issues, like insect infestation, dog damage, brown patches, and fungal diseases.
Over time, your lawn will build up a thick, matted layer of tangled living and dead plant material on the surface of the soil. This is known as thatch. While some amount of thatch is fine, too much can inhibit lawn growth, because it prevents water and nutrients from reaching the soil. Your lawn needs to be dethatched regularly, usually about once a year or whenever the thatch reaches a thickness of about half an inch.
It also needs to be aerated; aeration involves removing plugs of soil from your lawn so that grassroots can breathe. Aerating also allows fertilizer to penetrate the soil. Aeration, too, should be done about once a year, or more often on lawns with easily compacted clay soil. If you have a small lawn, you can use hand tools to aerate and dethatch, or you can rent gas-powered dethatches and aerators. However, dethatching and aerating a large lawn, while not technically difficult, can be strenuous and difficult. Fortunately, you should be able to find local lawn care companies that will dethatch and aerate your lawn for a reasonable price.
Why does your lawn have so many weeds? It’s because of a phenomenon known as the weed seed bank. Your soil contains tens of thousands of weed seeds, and with each new growing season deposits thousands more – if you let it. Keep weed seeds from sprouting by applying a pre-emergent herbicide to your lawn after your second mow of the year. This will keep weed seeds from sprouting and drastically reduce the number of weeds you’ll need to pull from your lawn. Keep applying it every year to further reduce weed growth over time.
Fertilizer needs to be applied two to four times a year. If you have your lawn aerated in the spring, apply fertilizer immediately after, when it can soak into the newly opened-up soil. Fertilize again in the fall, before the grass goes dormant, so that it has the nutrients it needs to bounce back in the spring. Fertilize less on shady areas – it’s counterintuitive, but shaded grass needs fewer nutrients because it grows more slowly.
Broadcast spreaders are the most effective way to distribute herbicides, fertilizers, and seed on your lawn. They’re better at spreading these materials out over a larger area. Do a test run on your driveway first to figure out how much area your spreader will cover with each type of product. When it’s time to treat or seed your lawn, do a header strip around the edge before covering the middle in rows. Turn the spreader off for turns. You can overlap each strip by about six inches to ensure coverage.