Grass Maintenance 101

posted by Andrea | 06/18/2012
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First of all, let me just start by saying that I am far from an expert on grass maintenance… but since Dave and I love a nice green, lush lawn, we’re doing our best to figure out how to appropriately take care of our HUGE front lawn and keep it healthy and green all summer long.

About this time every year, our lawn starts to look a little brown, a little crunchy, and a little dull. No matter what we do (fertilizer, weeding, watering, mowing, etc) it just doesn’t seem to withstand the hot, humid, sunny June weather.

Because of this, we’ve been trying to learn as much as we can about grass — and we’re fortunate to have a local agricultural supply store right down the road. If you have a local (and smaller) agriculture or lawn and garden store, I would recommend asking them for information over the people at Lowe’s, Home Depot, etc. I have nothing against the big-box home-improvement stores… but if you really need the right information, you aren’t always guaranteed it from those stores (especially in the summer when they usually just hire college kids)

Anyway, if you’re interested in improving your lawn, here are a few of the things we’ve learned.

1. Soil Preparation:

If your yard isn’t looking that great, I’d definitely recomend that you have your soil tested before you waste any time and money on the steps below. It will only take you about 30 minutes (plus about 2 weeks to get the results back) and is not as expensive as you might think.

We paid $12.50 to have our soil tested through a local agricultural supply store.  When they gave us the results, they told us exactly what our soil was lacking and then provided the specific products we needed to get our lawn healthy again.

It was the best $12.50 I’ve spent on our lawn 🙂

2. Fertilizer:

We always used the 4-step program from Scotts… just because we were told it was “the best”. And while I have nothing against Scotts brand fertilizer, I recently learned that the state of Michigan has banned phosphorus from store bought fertilizer — and phosphorus promotes strong root development and helps grass withstand stress from sun and lack of water (so yeah, it’s important)

So now, the only way to get a fertilizer with phosphorus is to buy it organically (which you might not be able to find at Lowe’s or Home Depot). So this is another reason why I prefer dealing with smaller agricultural supply stores since they can get the really good organic stuff that isn’t available in stores.

3. Water:

Most of you probably know this, but it’s MUCH better to water your lawn 2 times a week for an hour (or more) each time versus 20 minutes every day.

By watering for a longer period of time, it forces the roots to grow DOWN instead of grow OUT… which ultimately makes for healthier grass and less weeds.

Thankfully, we have underground sprinkling over our entire acre which makes watering pretty easy 🙂

4. Mowing:

We’re still learning a lot about the best ways to mow our lawn… but here are a few tips we’ve picked up from friends and relatives who know a lot more than we do.

  • Keep the blades on your mower REALLY sharp — we sharpen ours every 2 months
  • Mow the grass shorter in the Spring and Fall and longer in the Summer.
  • Mow in different directions each time so your grass doesn’t get “bent” — Dave mows up and down one time, then across the next time, then diagonal, and then back to up & down
  • Never mow more than 1/3 of the blade of grass at a time. So if your lawn is very long (like if you were gone on vacation) only mow 1/3 of the blade and then mow it again in a few days.

5. Sod and Seed:

If you need to fill a few bare spots in your lawn or thicken up a thin patch of grass, seed is probably your best bet.

However, if you’re putting in a new lawn or filling a large patch, I would highly recommend using sod. We used sod for our entire yard at our old house (see picture below) and I’m sure you can imagine how satisfying it is to have a brand new lawn in one afternoon!  It also feels wonderful to walk on soft grass right away.

And if you’ve never taken the time to price out sod, it’s actually not as expensive as you might think. At the same time we were laying sod at our old house, our neighbors across the street were seeding their entire yard. We had our yard instantly, they were still filling bare spots and pulling weeds months later — and I found out that we ended up spending the same amount after it was all done 🙂

So again, I’m not a lawn expert (yet!) but these are a few of the things Dave and I have learned about lawn maintenance over the past few years.

Our yard definitely doesn’t look horrible, but we still have a ways to go!

What are your best tips for a nice green lawn?

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  1. Kathryn


    Hi Andrea! Would you mind sharing the name of the local company you get the fertilizer from? We live in your area and are looking into fertilizing our own lawn instead of having a landscaping company do it. Thanks!


    Andrea Reply:

    We use Farmer’s Co-Op 🙂 Good luck!


  2. Rebecca


    1. Our local radio yard and garden guru suggests sharpening mower blades every ten hours…which may be the same as every two months, depending on the time of year!

    2. Same guru recommends putting a rain gauge in your lawn during a watering session and see how long it takes to get to whatever the recommended inchage is (technical term, inchage) of water, and then water accordingly timewise.


    4. HOW I WOULD LOVE TO HAVE A SPRINKLER SYSTEM, as watering is ultimately our downfall with seeded lawns… water and chickweed.


  3. Heart and Haven


    Your local water dept. should have recommendations of how often/how many minutes to water lawns based on time of year, etc. We set our automatic sprinkler timers based on these recommendations.

    We also spread organic compost and worm tea for fertilizer on our lawn & gardens. Natural fertilizer and pest control!


    Andrea Reply:

    Good suggestion… thanks!


  4. Deni


    Thank you Andrea! I’m having some issues with out back yard. We have a few big patches of centipede but the rest has weeds with thorns. I’m not sure how to get rid of the thorns.

    Maybe the best place to start is at an agricultural supply store.

    Thanks a bunch! I can’t wait to see your kitchen : )


  5. Tanabeth


    I can not wait to share this info with my husband we are dealing with a simular issue and I think these tips will get us the results we have been looking for 😀


  6. Jen


    I love that picture of your yard and house. We’re building a Craftsman, but your farmhouse obsession has me picking out little farmhouse-y details for the interior.

    That’s totally off topic, but whatever. 🙂


  7. Amy


    Some great tips here. Our yard is looking sad this year so I’m going to try some of these ideas 🙂 Thanks