Everyone wants a green lawn in front of their homes. Proper lawn fertilizing and soil care is essential if you expect green grass on your property. But when it comes time to choose a fertilizer, things become complicated. Currently there are so many fertilizer options available to the average end user that one can easily be overwhelmed, confused and just plain turned off by just the decision making process alone. “What brand is best to use? What formulation is best for my grass type? How must I apply it? How frequently should I fertilize? What equipment is needed?..” These are all common questions and very much expected given the array of lawn care products currently available. Rest assured, getting answers will be easy. The problem is that every source you use to get the answers will all have a different recommendation and/or story! Who should you believe? Who can you trust? So hard is the decision making process for this area of home maintenance that many people will avoid the issue altogether and choose instead to hire a service care company to handle their turf grass control and care. If you want to learn how to care and maintain your grass so it will look nice and stay healthy, this article is for you. The purpose of this article is to make the “science” of lawn care easy to understand and then show how you can implement a program that will yield a healthy and happy yard.
WHAT TYPE OF GRASS IS BEST FOR YOU ?
The best way to choose what species of grass to install is to talk with some local nurseries. Hear what they suggest. Common types of grass include Fescue, Bermuda, St. Augustine, Centipede, Bent and Rye. But there are literally hundreds of species these days on the market and it can be a bit overwhelming when deciding what to install if you don’t already know. The main thing to consider is whether you want your grass to remain green all year like a Fescue can or if a grass type that goes dormant during the winter is Ok such as a Bermuda or St. Augustine. It’s also a great idea to simple talk with neighbors and see what they’re growing on their property. One of the easiest things to do is just look around and see whose grass is “OK” when everyone else’s is dead. Whatever species seems to endure the summer stress is probably a good grass type to consider. Of course, personal preference can come into play but understand that the grass types which look the best will probably need more attention, food, water and the general care we explain in detail below. And don’t be tricked into thinking you can grow what the local golf club has established on their fairways or greens; most golf courses have water resources not available to the general public. On top of that they have seasoned professionals that do nothing but spend their time calculating the exact amount of food, water and other herbicides needed to get their turf to grow at a specific rate. Realize that these folks do it for a living and that their very livelihood depends on having green, healthy grass. For the average homeowner, such levels of maintenance are not within their time or monetary budget. Failure to realize this limitation can result in choosing the wrong grass to grow so you will be much better served by using another homeowner as an example of what can or can’t be grown in your region.
If you reside where it’s generally damp and moist, you’ll need to be prepared for drought. For example, the southeast region of the United States will commonly have wet, rainy springs followed by summers that can be either rainy or dry by July and August. You need to be aware of the local weather pattern when choosing which type of grass to grow since these changes will directly influence your yard. Grass which has become accustomed to an abundant water supply will be thirsty when the dry season hits. It’s important to understand that once your grass is trained and expects water every 2-3 days, it will become stressed when this water is not supplied. To help identify when your grass is under stress, a good pair of stress glasses will help. They’re able to show when plants and trees are under stress due to lack of water, disease, parasites and other factors. Use these to “watch” the local grass being grown to see which species does well in the middle of summer and which succumb to the heat and stress. Anyone new to yard care should start with a grass type that will be easy to maintain. After a few years of actually growing and maintaining a yard they will be better able to decide if they want to install a grass type that might look nicer but require a lot more work. There is no doubt the amount of work put into your yard will have a profound impact on the end result. We always recommend you start with an “easy” grass to grow and change out to something more time consuming to maintain only after you are willing to commit 100% to the regime such turf will mandate.
GREEN GRASS: What do you need to get it looking great?
Grass care and maintenance should not be perceived as something akin to paying taxes; instead it should be viewed as an outdoor activity – something like growing a garden. If you think about it, grass is nothing other than a plant and like most any plant, it will need food, water, care and attention during the growing season. The right combination of these requirements will help yield a “crop” that both looks nice and is healthy. Lets take a look at just what grass “needs” to look nice and remain healthy.
- Grass needs healthy, balanced soil in which to grow. Though grass seeds can grow and take root most anywhere, it won’t last long if the dirt in which the roots are growing is tired, out of balance or lacking key minerals. Freshly laid sod will look “OK” when first installed but a bad soil underneath will cause it to die within a season. In other words, if you expect to be successful growing grass, you need good soil.
- Grass needs water. Most every species of grass will require water. Some more than others. Choose the grass you grow based somewhat on the amount of water that will be available. If you are in an extremely dry arid region, plant drought resistant strains of grass. If you don’t mind watering as needed (and if local ordinances will allow regular watering), being able to irrigate your turf will allow you to plant just about any species of grass.
- Grass needs food. For most grass, food will be in the form of nitrogen. This can come from dry or liquid formulations. If you want green healthy grass, expect to feed your turf throughout the growing season. Failure to feed it will result in dead grass that will be susceptible to fungus, heat stress, insects and other problems.
- Grass needs “LOVE”. That’s right, grass needs some TLC to keep it both looking right and growing properly. If you expect to have kids or pets playing day after day on the grass you are growing, understand the consequence – turf that is both beat up and rough around the edges. This doesn’t mean anything is wrong. It means you need to give the grass a time out. Give it a good meal, some water and let it grow by itself a few days to “heal”. Like people, grass will need to be left alone. For most turf, spring and summers include pets defecating, kids kicking and stamping on it and the sun beating down on it’s back with no place to hide for 10 hours straight all when local temperatures are in excess of 100 degrees!! Under these conditions its a wonder how grass is able to grow at all let alone survive. Yet even during such extreme conditions the average home owner will look out at their stressed yard and ask themselves, “What am I doing wrong?” If you are one of these people, chances are you aren’t paying attention to the four important “essential” things grass needs listed above. Lets take a closer look at each one of these “needs” and learn just what it takes to keep the grass in our life satisfied. By fulfilling these needs, your lawn will reward you with a thicker, greener, healthier crop and in doing so make you feel both proud and happy.
GREEN GRASS: What are you willing to do and provide to get it?
Like any “relationship”, the success of your grass will depend largely on how much care and attention you supply. Don’t expect something for nothing. The four grass “needs” listed above must be taken seriously if you expect to grow happy and healthy grass. Though most people are quick to say “yes, I am willing to do whatever I can for my grass”, in the end they give up half way through the season when they run out of time, patience or resources. Growing green healthy grass requires a season long commitment; a constant vigil if you will. This next section will help explain in more detail just what is involved and needed to achieve this goal. Understanding each “need” will hopefully enable you to achieve the results you want but more importantly, help you identify what it is that may have contributed to past failures.
- GREEN GRASS needs GOOD SOIL. Arguably the most component in the equation, without good soil most any attempt to grow green grass will fail. The good news is that most general soil requirements are similar from species to species. The exact type you need will depend largely on the type of grass you are growing; make sure to have the right kind installed prior to seeding or laying sod. If you are attempting to grow grass from seed, rich soil will be a necessity. If you are laying sod, it won’t be nearly as important; supplements can usually restore even the most worn soil so you should still be aware of it’s condition prior to laying sod. If you are trying to grow back grass which has died out in certain areas of your property, chances are the dirt currently present has a problem. Most problematic soils can be fixed with a few additives and rarely have to be replaced. However, mixing in some new top soil will never hurt. First and foremost, any serious turf manager (homeowner) must have a way to measure the PH of their soil. This should be done at least twice a year using a PH PROBE. Proper PH is critical for most any plant and though there can be different preferences depending on grass species, most all like a soil PH to be in the 6.5 – 7.0 range. Since PH tends to lower over time, measuring it quarterly is recommended so that any drop can be duly noted and proper action taken immediately before levels get severely out of balance. To learn more about PH and why it is so important for proper turf management, review our site on SOIL PH CONTROL. If your PH is not right, don’t even bother attempting to grow grass. FAILURE TO MONITOR AND ADEQUATELY ADJUST PH IS THE NUMBER ONE CAUSE AND LEADING REASON WHY HOMEOWNERS ARE NOT ABLE TO GROW THEIR LAWNS PROPERLY !!! It is amazing how many people are not aware of just how important PH is for growing grass. The author hopes you get the point; get your PH measured every three months and keep a journal on the readings. This will insure early prognosis when it starts to drop so you can adjust it as needed throughout the year and keep it balanced.
- GREEN GRASS NEEDS WATER. Arguably the most essential requirement, water is key to the success or failure for most any turf. When deciding the grass you want, be sure to consider this very important variable. Clearly, without water, most turf will not grow or remain healthy for extended periods of time. More importantly, grass needs water to help generate new growth to replace damaged turf. That being said, there are some species of grass which are bred specifically for arid regions; other grasses are designed to be more tolerant of high moisture and will do well in rainy regions.
- GREEN GRASS NEEDS FOOD. Grass needs food and plenty of it to grow healthy and strong. With the possible exception of Centipede Grass, most any type of grass will need to eat. For grass, food is basically anything with Nitrogen. This is where things get confusing. Nitrogen comes in all kinds of strengths. Its now packaged as “Spring Feed”, “Winterizer”, “Weed and Feed”, “Starter Formulation” and “Summer Fertilizer” just to name a few. The large marketing departments of any fertilizer selling corporation have devised all kinds of schemes and plans which have taken a very simple product and made it very complicated. Most fertilizers will have three numbers that are fairly important. These appear on the label looking like “28-8-16” or “32-4-8”. The first number represents Nitrogen, the second number is Phosphate and the last number is Potash. As a general rule, it is best to avoid applying pure nitrogen. The risk of damage to the grass and soil is high and such applications should be left to the professional. Try to use a granule or dry formulation that has a high amount of Nitrogen when demand for growth will be high, like in spring. Once the summer months arrive, lower nitrogen is better for the turf allowing it to stay healthy but not over growing which is stressful. Just what brand to use and whether or not its a slow release or a time released form won’t be so important. What is important is that most people don’t feed their grass enough. That’s right, MOST PEOPLE DON’T FEED THEIR GRASS ENOUGH! Grass which resides on soil that is healthy and moist won’t grow if it doesn’t have the nitrogen it needs. Try to remember how important this is since most people feel a bag or two of fertilizer applied in the spring is enough for the year. THIS IS WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!! Grass needs to be fed over and over and over again. There are many variables that affect just how often grass should be fed but here are some guidelines to consider.
- Grass needs free or available nitrogen to grow. Slow release granules are just that, slow release. They won’t get your turf the needed food if its hungry and wants to be fed now. Like watering, feeding the grass is about timing. If you have properly spaced out your fertilizer applications chances are there will be plenty of nitrogen available. This means you need to sit down in the spring and set dates on the calendar when applications should be made. Follow the calendar and if you calculated right, your turf should have all it needs to eat throughout the growing season. Since the amount of nitrogen needed for turf is based on the amount of grass you are growing, you must have an accurate measurement of your yard. This is vital. Not an estimate, not some random number or description like “average” ; such generalities will not do if you wish to grow healthy green grass. In order to determine how much food should be applied to the soil, you need to measure the ground on which your grass resides. These measurements need to be documented and are well worth the time and effort to record accurately. Once calculated, you can keep a record for future reference. Square footage is basically the width of an area times the length of an area. In other words, a yard which is 100 feet wide by 75 feet deep would have an area totaling 7500 sq/ft. Most yards are in the 5000 to 20,000 sq/ft range but a precise measurement is needed if you’re serious about Fertilizer requirements. Use a Tape Measure or MEASURING WHEEL to get the measurement; most every yard will have “sections” and knowing their size will enable you to know exactly how much fertilizer should be applied to that given area.
- Grass that is used and abused will require more food to maintain itself. Understand that the grass on a golf course which is busy from sunrise to sunset is likely being fed huge amounts of nitrogen. The superintendent probably knows just how much extra it will take to get the grass to grow fast enough to replenish all that is lost from day to day. Most homeowners yards won’t require this much nitrogen but if you have a lot of stress from pets or children playing on it, make sure to provide enough extra food and water so the turf can renew itself.
- Grass can only eat what is “close by” and available. If you have a large sloped lawn, chances are the turf on top of the slope won’t have as much nitrogen available as will the section at the bottom of the slope. Rain and natural leaching will cause a lot of the nitrogen to funnel down to lower soil making it more concentrated down low in the grade. Take this into account when fertilizing and make sure to add extra at the top and less down low to allow for this “movement”.
- Grass in direct sunlight will require different food and water compared to grass in shady sections of the yard. Grass which receives more direct sunlight will require more or less nitrogen then the same grass which is partially shaded. You will have to experiment a little here to see just how the grass grows over the course of the season in order to make the proper adjustments when making your applications. However, generally speaking, the more sun the more growth. This means local nitrogen levels will be depleted faster in areas with more sun. When grass doesn’t have nitrogen but a lot of sun, it will get stressed sooner. Be aware of such locations and make adjustments as needed.
- Grass doesn’t like to store high amounts of nitrogen during the winter months so don’t over fertilize as the end of the season approaches.
- Grass will do best when it receives small doses of water and food over the entire season. Though most people would like to fertilize once or twice a season, such a scenario is far from what is really needed if you want a green and healthy lawn. If you attempt to feed your lawn once or twice, you will most certainly be disappointed with its performance. Your grass will look and grow so much better if you space out many small feedings and use a food which is immediately available and readily processed compared to every now and then approach only when it’s looking bad or tired.
- Grass loves liquid food. Though most people prefer to use a granular fertilizer, liquid forms of nitrogen are so much better. They have many benefits including the fact that they are immediately available to the grass. LIQUID FERTILIZER is like giving your grass an IV vitamin shot! When doctors need medications or nutrition to impact their patients as quickly as possible, they administer an IV. The same can be done to your grass. By feeding it with liquid nitrogen, you enable it to absorb and process the food it needs immediately. This will allow it to benefit from the application overnight. New growth will not have to wait for nitrogen to become available; the application is just that, available nitrogen which is ready to be processed. This is so much better for the grass and over the course of the growing season, the difference can yield dramatic results in just how healthy and robust your turf will look.
IF LIQUID FERTILIZER IS SO GOOD FOR OUR GRASS, WHY ISN’T IT MORE COMMON?
Great question. There are three main reasons why you don’t see liquid fertilizer as the more common product being stocked at your local nursery.
- First, applying Liquid Fertilizer is more work compared to using traditional granular forms. In fact, this is one of the main reasons why granular fertilizers have become the main form produced and applied. Liquid Fertilizer will require the use of a HOSE END SPRAYER. This one allows a large amount of water to be mixed with the fertilizer which is what you need to get faster soil penetration. To help minimize the amount of work needed to get Liquid Fertilizers applied, the use of an INLINE SIPHON SPRAYER should be considered. They work well, require little maintenance and will just about eliminate all the work involved with liquid materials. They can be used to apply other products as well like insecticides, fungicides and herbicides. If you have a small yard and won’t need that much fertilizer over the course of the season, consider the LIQUID FERTILIZER RTS. It comes with it’s own sprayer so all you need to do is hook it to your hose, turn it on and start applying the product.
- The second big disadvantage of using Liquid Fertilizer is the fact that it won’t last as long as granules. Dry fertilizer can be designed to slowly release (lasting 1-2 months per application) and though during product testing this concept works well, in the real world there are many times such formulations are not ideal. Such is the case when demands for nitrogen are in a state of flux. This tends to happen over the course of the growing season and once granules have been spread, there isn’t any practical way to remove them. If you continue to use a dry form of fertilizer, make sure you don’t over apply them. With Liquid Fertilizer, you will have to apply some once every 2-4 weeks for most turf. This will vary from region to region for different types of grass but in general, expect to be spending more time applying the fertilizer than if you were using a granule. Of course, the advantage of this format is that you are able to add more when needed and cut back when warranted. This is the beauty of using the Liquid Fertilizer; it allows for a more precise control of just what is available at any given time for your grass. Another option is to continue to use the granules to some extent and then do Liquid Fertilizer applications during the season as needed. This is a very good option and should be considered. Again, it will take a little more time and effort from you compared to using a granular form exclusively but the rewards will justify the extra work.
- Fertilizer makers don’t want to make liquid fertilizers. They’re unstable, hard to process and hard to ship. Dry formulations are so much easier for both the companies that make it as well as the stores that sell it, granular fertilizer has all but taken over the entire market. Due to limited availability, liquid fertilizer has all but been forgotten by most people except professionals like Golf Course Superintendents along with other property managers who need the very best performance from the fertilizer they use.
4. GREEN GRASS NEEDS TLC! Your turf should receive some TLC throughout the growing season. This TLC can be administered many ways. The first way is by foreseeing any rough time ahead like drought or excessive rain. If you know there will be a long time before any rain may fall, make a point give the grass a drink of water. Don’t let it go dormant due to lack of water; giving it something to quench its thirst before it becomes too dry is important if you want to keep it both healthy and disease free. Conversely, if you expect a lot of rain to fall during the next couple of weeks and its been hot and humid, the environment will be prone to having an outbreak of fungus. Prevent this from happening by treating before the fungus emerges. FUNGUS CONTROL is essential for most any turf which is growing Fescue or Bermuda. If you have a lawn that is prone to fungus, don’t wait till the fungus starts to grow before treating. Get some fungicide applied prior to the warmest, must humid time periods and your yard will endore the onslaught if it at least has a chance.
Remember that like people, your yard needs time to relax. Give it a day or two by itself to be alone – particularly when its been under a lot of stress. Keep the kids and dog off it for some relief, let it get a lot of water and give it an extra treat. Iron will always help pep up most any lawn and comes in many ways. LIQUID IRON or POWDERED IRON will give grass that dark green healthy look and help to restore some basic nutrients which “grow out” of the soil over the course of any season. Either of these can be applied with a good HOSE END SPRAYER but we also have them available in both a LIQUID IRON QUART/SPRAYER KIT and the LIQUID IRON GALLON/SPRAYER KIT.
KEEP OFF THE GRASS DURING EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS!! One of the best things you can do is keep people and pets off a sensitive area that is maybe more stressed than other parts of the lawn because it’s out in the open. Fence these ares off if possible or consider setting up some PESTICIDE APPLIED WARNING SIGNS. A few signs in such areas will give the impression that these areas must be avoided. The end result will be beneficial to the grass enabling it to maybe rebound and make it through extreme heat or other stress commonly experienced in summer.
Apply some LAWN GREEN to sections which have sustained fungus or heat damage. Lawn Green is a non-toxic grass dye that’s completely biodegradable. Treating damaged turf will both make it look a lot nicer but will also help to protect the grass blades helping to promote healing and new growth. It can do remarkable things to most any burned out lawn as demonstrated in this video.
Another Lawn Paint that’s ready to spray with it’s own trigger sprayer is YARD SMART. It won’t cover nearly as much as the Lawn Green but it’s fine for small jobs. This video shows how you can patch up small areas with it.
IRON, LAWN GREEN and YARD SMART can all help to cosmetically improve the way your turf looks but there is no need to rely on them for season long maintenance. A properly fed and maintained yard will reward you with adequate and healthy growth with little fungus or other problem. Using some when needed is a good idea and can help get your turf through the hardest time of year so be sure to help your grass during such times.
GREEN GRASS CAN BE ACHIEVED !!!
Beautifully manicured and maintained lawns involve a lot of work and constant attention. Most people don’t understand just how much time, effort, cost and consideration must be applied to keep the average yard both healthy and happy. Of course it can be done as evidenced by all the well maintained yards you can find in most any neighborhood. But those yards are not “lucky” and did not turn out this way without someone giving them attention and some TLC. If you want such a yard, make the commitment. You can accomplish this goal with the right type of grass, the right soil conditions, a good supply of water and the proper amount of food. Knowing what to use, when to use it and how much to use will insure you accomplish your goal. Keep expectations realistic and you too will be able to grow and maintain a lush green landscape which will add both beauty and esteem to any property and it’s occupants.