A healthy lawn is often a source of pride and recreation for homeowners. Let’s be honest — it feels great to have a lawn everyone in the neighborhood envies. Whether you want to create curb appeal or give the kids and pets a place to play, caring for your yard takes intention and attention all year long. If you’re new to lawn maintenance, we’ve got you covered. We’ll also offer advice on landscaping with native plants and other alternatives to a grass lawn.
Everything comes out of hibernation as winter melts into spring, and so should your lawn tools.
Revive your lawn mower by sharpening its blades, replacing the air filter and spark plug, if necessary. Also refuel with fresh gas. Dispose of any old gas properly.
Assess your other gardening and yard tools, looking for rust, breakage or wear and tear.
Pull out the rake (it’s not just for fall!) to remove debris that’s blanketing the grass. This includes leaves, twigs and dead grass.
Once you’ve tended to those steps, put your soil to the test. Use an at-home kit or have a sample professionally tested for pH and nutrient levels. Armed with this information, you can bring anything into balance that’s out of whack. Usually, you’ll do this with fertilizer. Make friends with the pros at your neighborhood nursery or the local cooperative extension, which are organizations that provide non-formal agricultural education. They’ll be a great resource for advice on fertilizer and other lawn issues.
It might sound like you’re tearing down a tiki hut but dethatching actually involves removing the layer of organic matter that’s built up between your grass and the soil. If the layer of living and decomposing material measures greater than half an inch, you’ll need to take a rake to it, lifting and breaking up the thatch to allow the grass roots to access air, nutrients and water.
Aerating the soil will also help it more readily receive those essentials. Use a specialty tool like AMES Spike Aerator to handle this part of your lawn’s maintenance.
Prevent weeds like crabgrass from taking over your yard. You can do this for virtually no cost and without harming the environment (or your grass!) simply by boiling water and pouring it on any crabgrass that has begun to sprout. Wait a few days and pull out the now dead crabgrass. If you choose to go with a commercially made product, look for a selective herbicide so that you’re not killing your grass along with its uninvited guests.
Fertilize your lawn. You’ll need to find out whether your grass is cool-season or warm-season to know when to apply the fertilizer. Cool-season grass should be fertilized in early spring. For warm-season grass, wait until mid- to late-spring. Go with a slow-release fertilizer if you’re choosing a chemical-based one. Organic fertilizer will cost more initially but will yield a lusher lawn in the long run (and you can feel better about your impact on the earth).
As the weather heats up, so does your lawn’s maintenance. The grass will begin to thrive — just in time for your yard’s busiest time of year (yay!) — but this also means it requires more attention from you. Mow it to its highest recommended height. The taller the grass is, the deeper its roots go. Healthy roots can more readily muscle out any weeds that try to show up. Plus, a plush lawn is more fun and softer for summer activities — from tag football to backyard picnics.
Unfortunately, the kids aren’t the only ones who love your yard in the summer. Weeds and grubs want to take up residence there too. Uproot any unwanted plants with a garden fork, a dandelion weeder or a stand-up weeder. Rid your lawn of grubs, the larvae of Japanese beetles, if you count more than 10 under one square foot of your sod. Try a chemical-based pesticide or an organic option like milky spore.
Douse the lawn with an inch of water weekly. Believe it or not, it doesn’t get as parched as we do in the hot weather. In fact, overwatering could actually cause harm.
Following safety procedures carefully, clean your lawn mower’s underside monthly to keep it from passing along lawn diseases.
If your lawn is worse for the wear after a long, hot summer, you’ll want to patch any thin spots as the weather cools off. Get rid of the dead grass and then use a garden trowel to loosen the soil. Feed compost to the soil — about an inch worth — and mix it in well. Sprinkle grass seed evenly over the bare area and work the seeds into the ground with a hard-tooth rake. Cover the patch with grass clippings and water daily until the new grass is an inch in height.
As you probably guessed, fall is when you need to focus on fallen leaves (hence the season’s name). The average tree has 200,000 leaves, most of which will wind up cluttering your yard. To make clean-up easier on you (or whichever member of your family is tasked with this chore), be sure you select the proper rake for the job. The heads of leaf rakes generally range from 24 to 30 inches in width with deep “baskets,” or bends in the tines, at the base of the rake to scoop up leaves and debris.
You’ll want a lightweight rake where all tines touch the ground at the same time. This makes for the most efficient raking. Finally, look for a rake handle that has cushion grips for comfort with a minimum of a 48-inch handle. You’ll find these features in AMES 30-inch poly leaf rake with cushion grip.
Once you have your perfect rake, begin in a corner of your yard raking up leaves straight across from one corner to the other corner horizontally. Collect the leaves into a line as you go. As you finish each row, rake the line towards the middle, forming a pile.
Sweep in a long but fast motion. Rakes with larger capacity let you gather large amounts of leaves quickly. Now that your leaves are in a pile, try to resist the temptation to jump into them. Bag them for disposal or collect them for composting.
You’ll also want to fertilize again to stimulate root growth during the winter.
Give your lawn a trim, so that it’s about two inches shorter than its summer cut.
Your lawn needs your attention the least in the winter. In fact, it’s best to leave it be at this time of year. Keep people off the grass as much as possible. De-ice it safely. Rock salt and grass aren’t friends.
Native landscaping and grass lawn alternatives
If all that lawn maintenance seems like too much or you’re environmentally conscious (or perhaps you like to be unique), try landscaping with plants that are native to your area or alternatives to grass, like artificial turf or rockscaping.
Going native has many positive implications for you, your immediate surroundings and your wallet. You’ll feel like you’re doing something good (hint: you are!) and you’ll save time and effort on maintenance. Your local wildlife will appreciate the sanctuary you’ll have created for them, and you’ll use less water and fertilizer (so less impact on the ecology). You’ll spend less money on buying new plants and your water bill. These are just a few of the reasons to consider swapping your grass lawn for plants that naturally grow in your area.
Alternatively, change out your grassy lawn for one that requires less care or offers a completely different look. Still want a green yard but not the maintenance that comes along with traditional grass? Install artificial turf or choose a ground-cover plant like microclover or creeping thyme. Live in an arid climate or have a mid-century house, try a rockscape. No plants equals no watering, no mowing, no problem! Xeriscaping is similar to native plantings but its main goal is to reduce or eliminate the need for irrigation. Sometimes, local plants will achieve this. After all, they grow wild without human interference. Talk to your local nursery or cooperative extension for advice and suggestions.
Regardless of how you opt to design your lawn, following these tips will help you have one you can be proud to show off and enjoy.Collect your lawn maintenance tools