Although I prefer to leave my lawn at a height that will hide a 1957 Studebaker, you, your neighbors and the Public Safety Department may prefer your lawn be a bit more, shall we say, managed. Here’re some tips.
It’s a waste of money, and bad for the environment, to dump fertilizer on your lawn that you don’t need. You can buy an inexpensive soil testing kit at most nurseries. Use organic fertilizers if possible because they tend to be released more slowly but be careful about putting too much nitrogen down since it can make the grass more susceptible to disease and insects.
Excess fertilizer can also add to a thatch buildup that makes it harder for air and water to get to the grass roots. Lime is not a fertilizer but something that helps balance the pH of the soil. In this regard, it can help decrease, but not eliminate, the moss which is endemic in our Northwest yards. I use a product with iron sulfate in it to kill the moss, but if the lawn is shady or poorly cared for, it is going to come back. The dead moss also needs to be raked out of the yard for the same reason that thatch needs to be removed.
But the fertilizer (and other chemicals) won’t do you any good until it gets into the soil and you don’t want it running off into the storm drain…so mow first. Get that mower blade sharpened because a clean cut is better for the grass. You want to cut no more than 1/3rd of the grass at a time and if you leave the clippings on the lawn, you’ll be adding a natural fertilizer as the clippings decompose. By leaving the grass a little longer, up to 4” inches, it helps to suffocate out the crabgrass.
The best protection of your lawn is good health. If you weed properly, water correctly and mow right, you’ll cut down on the ongoing maintenance. In this regard, it is sometimes worth the extra trouble to dethatch your lawn. Even a ¼” of thatch can seriously prevent nutrients from reaching the soil. You can use a special blade for your mower or a dethatching rake. Bag it up and add it to your compost pile.
Another helpful technique is to spike the ground with a pitchfork or wear your golf shoes when you mow the lawn and these little holes will help let in light, water and nutrients.
So, how do you mow well? Be sure the grass is dry since a mower will mostly crush wet grass. If you’re leaving the clippings on the lawn, use a mulching mower so it chops the blades up finely. Always mow across a slope rather than up and down. Switch directions (back and forth vs. up and down) each time you mow. Although most mowers have an automatic shutoff, never leave the mower on while unattended or when you’re making adjustments to it. Don’t let the kids ride on the riding mower with you. Clear the dog toys and bones off the yard first. You don’t want them flying out and breaking bones (or a window).
A nice edge can make the lawn look more attractive but be careful with the weed wacker. Even the string trimmers can seriously damage the trunks of young trees or shrubs.
Or, of course, you can do what I do…find a neighbor kid who’ll do all the work for you.