The best defense against these problems is to maintain a healthy, vigorous lawn by keeping your grass adequately fertilized, properly watered, and mowed at the correct height. Here are some tips to get your lawn off to a great start and to keep it that way ...
A healthy lawn starts with a good fertilizing program.
Feeding not only results in lovely, thick green grass but it also encourages the development of a dense root system that penetrates deep into the soil. Grass with deep roots is better able survive drought conditions because the long roots can tap into water that is available deeper below the soil surface.
- Organic fertilizers release nutrients slowly over time and thus need to be applied less often than synthetic fertilizers. The nutrients, which are broken down and slowly released by soil organisms, remain in the root zone longer feeding the grass over a longer period of time. There is little risk that organic fertilizers will burn the roots or foliage.
- Although there are some slow release synthetic fertilizers, most are water soluble and release nutrients quickly. These quick-release nutrients often leach out of the soil before the plants have a chance to use them up. This can lead to groundwater pollution. Because the nutrients are released quickly, they must be reapplied more frequently than organic fertilizers. Synthetic fertilizers are more concentrated and must be applied carefully to avoid damage to growing plants.
- Organic lawn fertilizers are usually applied two to four times a year in spring, summer, and fall.
- Synthetic lawn fertilizers are generally applied four to five times a year with the first application being made by the end of March for Zones 6 and 7.
- Synthetic lawn fertilizers are often formulated to include pre-emergent or post-emergent herbicides for crabgrass and broadleaf weed control.
- Organic lawn fertilizers usually do not include herbicides or pesticides but may contain a natural pre-emergent like corn gluten meal.
- Organic fertilizers add organic matter to the soil which helps improve the soil structure.
- Click here for more information on organic vs. synthetic fertilizers.
New in 2013, The Espoma Company has developed a simple annual organic lawn feeding program. This program involves four applications over the season, each one formulated specifically for the time of season it is put down; early spring, late spring, summer, and fall. Each step in the program puts down the nutrients that are required at that particular time. The nutrients are available in an all organic, slow release formulation that feeds slowly over time. And since they are not water soluble, they won't wash out during a rain storm or when you water.
The new Espoma all organic lawn feeding program produces a beautiful, lush lawn that stays green longer with fewer fertilizer applications while also maintaining a healthy soil environment. The program includes Espoma's Bio-tone microbes which add all important mycorrhizal fungi and beneficial bacteria to the soil.
The ideal soil pH for turfgrass is around 6.5.
In the Shenandoah Valley, our limestone based soils are naturally alkaline and may not require a yearly application of lime - in fact they may need to have the pH lowered!
Have your soil tested just to be sure. Your local extension office can help you with the soil test.
- The pH of your lawn soil should be adjusted when the grass is not in full active growth.
Improper watering can be as harmful as not watering at all! Proper watering technique involves irrigating slowly over an extended period of time so the water is able to seep in gradually and penetrate deeply into the soil. What you are trying to do is to imitate a gentle soaking rain. If you put down too much water too fast, it can't soak in and a lot of it runs off which doesn't do your grass any good and also wastes water. Slow, deep watering causes your grass to develop a deep root system and grass with deep roots is able to better survive periods or drought and heat stress.
Here are some watering tips:
- Healthy grass requires water every week especially during hot, dry periods. Unless you get a soaking rain, water your lawn once a week with a good quality sprinkler that delivers about 1½" of water slowly over a period of several hours.
- If you have an automatic sprinkling system, be sure it is set to water long and deep and no more often that once a week. Frequent, short waterings result in grass with weak, shallow root systems that cannot compete with weeds and are prone to heat and drought stress.
- If possible, water between the hours of 5am and 10am. At this time, the air is cooler and the wind is lighter so there is less evaporation and watering is more efficient.
Keeping your lawn healthy and mowed at the proper height is the best way to discourage lawn weeds.
Mow high! Grass mowed to a height of 3" to 3½" will both shade out and crowd out most lawn weeds. However, sometimes you need a little help to control some of the more persistent weeds that invade your lawn.
- Have trouble with crabgrass and other broadleaf weeds like dandelions?
- Apply a pre-emergent broadleaf herbicide before the petals on the forsythia drop to help control them.
- The first step in Espoma's new organic lawn program contains corn gluten meal as a pre-emergent and can be applied February through April.
Read and follow label directions.
- Have wild onion and other weeds like henbit, creeping charlie, or speedwell springing up everywhere?
- Apply a post-emergent weed killer when they are actively growing.
- Spot treat when possible - if you have sporadic weeds popping up here and there.
- Bayer Advanced Lawn Weed & Crabgrass Killer, Bonide Weed Beater Ultra, and Clear Choice will kill wild onion along with many other annoying lawn weeds.
- Read and follow the label directions - don't use when grass is emerging from dormancy.