How to grow a better lawn

Q. I want to grow a better lawn this year. What recommendations do you have?

Joe from Youngstown

A. For some people, anything green makes a great lawn. For others, perfection is key. But, for most of us, we are just like Joe. We simply want a better lawn. This is possible by following some basic concepts.

The No. 1 problem with your lawn is most likely improper soil conditions. Soil is the single most important part of your lawn. If it is improved, your lawn is more likely to look healthy throughout the year.

Ponding water tells you drainage is an issue and that you most likely need more organic matter in your soil. It may be a sign of compaction, which can be addressed through core aeration. Healthy soil drains properly and is better for the roots of your grass plants.

Organic matter can be added on top of your lawn. But, if this is your only way of adding organic matter, it can build up and cause other issues. The roots will only want to live in this environment. Core aeration before applying organic matter will help improve the soil profile within the root zone.

As a follow-up to soil, know that lime is not always the solution. The only way to know if your lawn needs lime is to do a soil test. We do not have the acid rains of the ’80s and ’90s these days. Without knowing the pH and the buffer pH, you are most likely applying too much.

Apply fertilizer based on recommendations. Avoid extra nitrogen in the spring. Our grasses are cool season grasses. They do not require extra nitrogen in spring. The timing of nitrogen applications are in late summer and fall, depending on how you manage your lawn overall.

Frequent mowing is best, trying not to remove more than one-third of the leaf surface at a time. This means early spring requires mowing every few days – not just once per week. If too much leaf surface is removed, the plant cannot produce and store adequate food. Instead, it must devote stored energy to regrowth of lost leaf surface.

Try to keep the lawn at about 3 inches high. When you cut the lawn shorter, the photosynthetic capacity is reduced. Sunlight reaches the soil surface, which causes the soil to dry out more quickly and allows weed seeds to germinate.

If plant crowns dehydrate, the grass can brown and die more quickly. Cutting the grass too short results in reduced vigor and fewer roots. The most important time to keep the grass higher is in the hotter, drier weather of mid and late summer.

For complete details on a healthy, low-maintenance lawn this season, download this fact sheet:

Eric Barrett is OSU Extension educator for agriculture and natural resources in Mahoning County. Winter hours for the Plant and Pest Diagnostic Clinic vary. Submit questions to the clinic at 330-533-5538 or drop samples off to the OSU Extension Office in Canfield.

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