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General Tips: Central Canada

How do I keep my lawn looking the best it can be?

A reputable lawn care company will always relay to its customers that the key to success is each party doing their part. The relationship between the homeowner and the lawn care provider is truly a partnership. Here at Weed Man, we care about your lawn. That’s why we’ve come up with the following tips for homeowners who want to make the most out of their professional lawn care program.

Tip #1: Mowing

Height

The optimal mowing height for your lawn is 6.5-7.5 cm during cool or wet weather, and 7.5-8.5 cm in the summer heat. Most commercial lawnmowers are manufactured to cut well below these heights. As a general rule of thumb, consider the middle setting on your lawnmower wheels as your minimum height of cut. This will keep grass healthy and thick. A lush, thick lawn provides more soil surface shading, which helps prevent the establishment of many annual grassy and broadleaf weeds. Maintaining a dense and healthy lawn is the best weed control. 

Frequency

Determining when to mow should be based on the growth rate of the grass, not on the calendar. Grass blades are the food producers for the plant. Removing too much leaf can shock, dry out, and even kill some of the grass blades. To keep your lawn looking its best, you need to mow often enough to remove only 1/3 of the leaf blade at each mowing. Following the 1/3 rule will produce smaller clippings that will disappear quickly by filtering down to the soil surface returning valuable nutrients to the lawn. 

Blade

Another often overlooked aspect of proper mowing is blade sharpness. Mowing with a dull blade is like giving your lawn a bad haircut. Rather than cleanly cutting the lawn, a dull mower blade tears grass blades. This not only increases the intensity of the plant injury, but the ragged edges also serve as ideal entry points for various diseases. Dull mowing is especially visible in hot weather when the tip of each grass blade dries out and turns brown. Multiply this by several billion and your lawn may end up looking more like a field of straw rather than a lush, green carpet.

In addition to sharpness, the general condition of the blade itself should be inspected on a regular basis. A mower blade that has developed nicks, dings, and curls from hitting rocks and branches is no good to your lawn. On average, your lawnmower blade should be sharpened 2-3 times throughout the season. The easiest way to manage this is to keep a spare blade handy that you can simply change when it’s time to sharpen.

How to Mow

Two important factors of optimal plant health care are exposure to sunlight and good air circulation. Altering the direction each time you mow ensures that the grass blades maintain a straight growth pattern, resulting in a more even cut. If you mow in the same direction every time, the lawn will develop a slanted pattern that prevents air and sunlight from penetrating one side of the plants. Always mow when the lawn is dry. Mowing a wet lawn will cause damage similar to dull mowing in that the blades tend to rip and tear rather than cut cleanly. Mulching mowers may also have a hard time breaking down wet clippings.

Mulching

When following proper mowing procedures, mulching or recycling grass clippings is highly recommended. Leaving grass clippings on the lawn to decompose provides natural, organic nitrogen among other nutrients for the lawn. This will help your grass retain moisture and minimize weeds. It’s just like an extra fertilizer application! In the fall, a light covering of dry leaves can be effectively mulched and left to decompose. This will also add valuable organic matter and minerals to the soil.

Nitrogen is a key ingredient that your lawn requires to maintain a deep, rich, green colour. Aside from the fact that emptying a bag after every few passes are much more time consuming, it is important to remember that bagging clippings on a well-maintained lawn remove nearly 2 pounds of nitrogen and other nutrients for every 100 square metres of lawn.

The only time's clippings may need to be collected is if they are too thick to be broken down by your mower, and/or if there is a disease problem you are trying to remove by mowing.

Tip #2: Watering

Grass plants are 90% water, and therefore need regular watering either by rainfall or by irrigation. Specifically, grass needs 3-4 cm of water weekly. In general, your watering schedule should be based on deep and infrequent watering. It should also be flexible with current weather conditions, and of course, it must adhere to any local lawn watering restrictions. Typically, Mother Nature supplies the required amount of moisture during cooler times of the season. The goal of your watering should be to replace what rainfall does not supply during the hot, summer months. Under normal conditions, watering should always be done early in the morning. Evening watering can promote the spread of disease because the leaf blades of the grass stay wet for prolonged periods. Disease potential increases with the frequency of evening watering.

Tip #3: Raking

If a lawn is diseased, compacted, or just not growing well, raking can be very beneficial and even required to maintain optimum health. No matter the time of year, the weather conditions and the equipment used to rake will greatly influence the benefits of this practice.  

Every spring, immediately after the snow has melted, it is common to see homeowners raking their lawns to encourage their grass to start growing. While this may sometimes be beneficial, raking can uproot a lot of healthy and desirable grass plants if it’s too early and the grass has not been given a chance to come out of winter dormancy, thereby thinning out the lawn. The same thing can happen at any time of the season if the lawn is too wet. For this reason, raking should not be undertaken until the grass has started to grow naturally, and/or when the lawn is not too wet. 

It is also important to use a leaf or fan rake because a rigid garden rake can cause a lot of root damage. Another procedure many homeowners do annually is something known as power raking or de-thatching. This is done with a machine that has blades that rough up the grass and pulls excess material out if it. Apart from isolated situations when there are excessive layers of thatch in a lawn, in many cases these machines can cause extensive root damage and thin lawns out unnecessarily which in turn provides a breeding ground for weeds, crabgrass or other pest problems that develop on unhealthy lawns.

Tip #4: Aerating

It’s common practice to turn over the soil in your gardens before planting. This is done to oxygenate the soil, which improves seed germination and overall plant health. Your lawn also requires cultivation to improve growing conditions, just as your vegetable and flower gardens do. One of the most effective ways to stimulate lawn cultivation is through core aeration. Aeration relieves compacted soils and reduces thatch, a layer of un-decomposed living and dead plant parts, making it easier for water, air, and nutrients to reach the roots of the grass plant. A lawn with a healthy root system is better able to withstand drought, disease, and insect stress, resulting in a healthier, more beautiful lawn.  If it’s not included already, look into adding aeration to your professional lawn care program.

Tip #5: Seeding

The best defense against weed, insect, and disease problems in lawns is to maintain a thick and healthy lawn. If the proper seeds are selected, spreading grass seed on the lawn is beneficial in that it introduces newer strains of grass plants that are often better able to withstand pest pressures, as newer grass blends have been enhanced with endophytes (micro-organisms that help grass plants fight these problems naturally). Many homeowners have grass seed applied to their lawns annually to help fill in bare or weak areas of the lawn with desirable grasses. If left alone, these areas tend to develop weed problems.

Tip #6: Fertilizing

Your professional lawn care program should be built on a sound fertility regime that sustains a lush, thick, deep green lawn with a vigorous root system. Most soils are not rich enough in nutrients to maintain a lawn at its optimum health. Without a sound fertility program that delivers the right nutrients at just the right time, your lawn may become unhealthy, making it far more vulnerable to damage from pest infestations and environmental stresses. Spring and fall are the most important times to fertilize your lawn. Ideally, nutrients should be released slowly and evenly throughout the entire growing season so that growth is not too vigorous and optimum health is maintained.

These tips should help you get on the right track toward a healthy, lush, green lawn. However, it is always possible for other, more persistent issues to arise. If you are facing barriers to keeping your lawn as healthy as it can be, contact your local Weed Man Professional for a free Healthy Lawn Analysis.