The Ultimate Beginner's Guide
To Lawn Care
Have you ever wondered why some houses on the same street have better lawns than others?
How is it that some lawns look patchy, struggling to survive, while others are so picture-perfect that they could’ve been lifted right out of a magazine?
What can the home-and-land owner do to cultivate a lawn that is well-kept and lustrous?
In this Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Lawn Care, you’ll find lawn care tips for those who want to maximize the health of their lawn—as well as for anyone who just wants to learn.
It may surprise the inexperienced to learn that lawns require much more than a weekly or fortnightly mow to stay healthy and robust.
Read on to understand why it’s important to know the difference between your soil and your grasses, and how correct seeding and fertilizing can positively influence both.
We also offer tips on weeding, what to do about uneven lawn growth—and of course, the fundamentals of mowing, watering and aeration.
Be sure to follow the instructions in this article carefully; your lawn will thank you for it.
Get To Know your Soil
It can be easy to forget about looking after soil—because it is below ground, after all.
In the case of lawn care, however, ‘out of sight’ does not equal ‘out of mind’.
The soil is what holds your lawn in place, and it requires nourishment in the form of vitamins and minerals.
Testing your Soil
Find out what type of soil you have by taking a sample to a lab or doing a test yourself. There
are four types common to residential areas. These are:
Sandy soil: This soil comprises mostly sand. It contains few nutrients and does not effectively retain water; these soils are well-drained by nature. This means grass roots won’t absorb water easily.
Silt soil: This fertile soil is made up of rock and mineral deposits. It is a smooth soil that retains water effectively.
Clay soil: Clay is a tightly packed soil. There is little airspace, and it does not drain or absorb water well.
Loam soil: Loam soil is a mixture of the above three. It retains water and nutrients well and has a high pH and calcium levels.
It’s important to know if your soil is too acidic or alkaline, because this will also affect how well the grass grows. You can perform a simple litmus test to find out your exact soil pH.
Different Types of Grasses
As well as knowing your soil, you need to know what type of grass grows in your lawn.
Different types of grass have different treatment and nutrient requirements. Grasses grow at different rates as well—if you’re not aware of this, you can run the risk of watering and fertilizing at the wrong times.
Cool Season vs. Warm Season Grass
There are the two main types of grass, categorized in terms of their ideal growing temperatures.
Warm Season Grass
The southern United States tends to have warm season grasses such as Bermuda Grass, Zoysia Grass, St. Augustine Grass, and Bahia Grass. These grasses like temperatures between 75 and 95 degrees.
Warm season grasses grow their roots deeper down into the soil, and have thick blades to retain water.
This means they require less frequent watering than their cool season counterparts. They grow fast in summer and are dormant once the temperature drops below 65.
Cool Season Grass
The northern US favors cool season grasses such as Kentucky Bluegrass, Tall Fescue, Fine Fescue, and perennial and annual ryegrasses. These do well in temperatures between 50 and 75 degrees.
Cool season grasses grow faster when temperatures are low in spring and fall. They are dormant in summer or winter.
You need to think about choosing the best grass for your environment; there is some excellent research on this topic which can be found below.
Lawn Seeding Basics
It’s important to plant the grass best for the area that you live in, and at the correct time of year.
Here are some simple, step-by-step guides for each stage of lawn seeding:
Preparing the Soil
Till the existing soil, and loosen the top three to five inches of the soil. Use a rototiller for large areas, or a shovel or hoe for small areas. Add lime if needed to offset soil acidity and improve pH levels.
Add any additional soil you need and spread it out evenly.
Rake the soil smooth, and water the area well in preparation for seeding.
For small areas, distribute the seed by hand, spreading it evenly over the soil surface.
For larger areas, you may want to use a drop seed spreader to distribute the seeds in one direction.
The seeds should be about one-quarter to one-half inch apart initially. Then, go back and distribute more seeds in a perpendicular direction. Finally, use a rake to bed the seeds in.
Apply ¼ inch of mulch (e.g. screened compost or mushroom soil).
Mulch will stop the birds pecking at the seeds, and will help to keep the seeds moist as well. You might like to use a mulch roller to make this process easier.
Mulch will also overshadow any aspiring weeds, killing them before they become entrenched.
Mowing the Grass
Mow the grass about 3 weeks after applying the seed.
The initial 3 weeks of growth are vital, as it gives your lawn time to establish itself. Let the roots really take hold, no matter how strong the urge may be to mow as soon as you see the beginnings of growth.
Mowing any sooner than this could result in the displacement of ungerminated seed—and unless your area is incredibly fertile, there won’t be much to mow after less than 3 weeks anyway.
Fertilizing the Soil
Fertilize the soil again 4-6 weeks after planting.
The month-and-a-half time frame gives the grass a chance to use up all fertilizer present and mitigates the effect of overfertilization, which can actually damage your grass and surrounding areas.
Once the 4-6 week period has passed, it might pay to perform a pH test on your soil, as well as any other relevant tests to see what chemical compounds are still present.
In this way, you will learn approximately how quickly your lawn uses up nutrients.
Lawn Fertilizer Basics
All lawns require nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. If there are deficiencies in your soil, it is imperative you fertilize regularly.
Even if your base levels of the above chemicals are satisfactory, it does not hurt to fertilize a little more to give your lawn that added luster.
However, do not over fertilize as runoff may go down stormwater drains to end up in local waterways and spur on algae growth.
This can cause serious environmental damage, as has occurred in certain dairy-farming nations due to extensive grass-paddock cultivation.
Excess nitrogen in particular can be dangerous in large amounts. Use the size of your lawn, pH level of your soil, and types of grass present to calculate what and how much fertilizer you need.
Fertilizer is commonly found in two forms:
Liquid fertilizer is easy to use and readily absorbed, but is also an expensive option and requires frequent applications.
Granular fertilizer lasts longer and is cheaper, but it is hard to apply it evenly. It also takes longer to work.
Fertilize your lawn at the appropriate time of year for the type of grass. For cool-season grasses, this is in fall and spring. For warm-season grasses, this is mid-spring through summer.
As mentioned above, do not overuse fertilizer as this can damage your lawn and surrounding waterways.
Dealing With Weeds And
Patchy & Bare Spots
There are three types of weeds that are commonly found growing in lawns, categorized as follows:
Green, grassy weeds such as crabgrass and foxtail, which have long, thin, veiny leaves.
Grass-like weeds such as sedges and wild onions which have long, thin leaves, but in different colors.
Broadleaf weeds such dandelions, clover, and chickweed which have a vein in their leaves and may have flowers.
You can remove weeds by pulling them out, or by using herbicide to prevent them from appearing or to kill ones that are already there.
For a chemical-free way to remove weeds, you can leave grass clippings to function as a mulch to stop the sun from reaching weed seeds.
To prevent patchy and bald spots, scatter seed—more than you think you’ll need.—onto the existing grass.
Do this after mowing, dethatching, or aerating, as this allows the seeds to reach the soil to germinate and take root.
Once you have sown the extra seed, water it every day for the next week. This process, called overseeding, should be done in late spring or early summer for warm-season lawns, and in early spring or fall for cool-season lawns.
Lawn Care Basics
Here are some basics to be aware of when it comes to mowing:
If your grass grows too high, it will attract pests and fungi, and the long clippings won’t decompose. This may make it difficult for your lawn to absorb water.
If your grass is too short, it will struggle to use the sun for photosynthesis, which in turn, can damage root growth.
Mow your lawn at the right height for the grass type (it should be less than 1/3 of the height of the grass).
Warm-season grasses need to be mowed more often in summer, and cool-season grasses during spring and fall.
Here are some basics to be aware of when it comes to watering your lawn:
Lawns in areas with high rainfall and mild weather need less water than lawns in dry, hot areas.
Water 1-1.5 inches per week, or ½-¾ an inch for cool climates or after rain.
Water your lawn in the morning so that the water does not evaporate. Don’t water at night, or you risk mold breaking out.
Once a week, soak the lawn to encourage the grass roots to reach a deeper level. You don’t want to overwater several times a week however, as the grass root system will not develop properly or deep enough.
Here are some basics to be aware of when it comes to aeration:
Aerated soil is less densely packed, and this makes it more receptive to nutrients and water—not to mention oxygen.
The definition of aerating soil is to make some holes in it. To be precise, you must till the ground; this involves using a tiller, backhoe, or whatever tool you are comfortable with to pierce the top layer of your soil and turn it over, breaking up any surface crust.
If you want to test for aeration, simply push a screwdriver into the lawn. If there is no resistance, then the soil is already aerated. If not, it is too compact and must be tilled.
Aerate your lawn in late spring through early summer for warm-season grasses, and early spring or fall for cool-season grass varieties.
These are just the basics, and it always pays to read up on the subject extensively. Make sure to take a look at the reference list below for a good overview on lawn establishment and maintenance.
The Bottom Line
It’s important to look after your lawn to prevent it from being overrun by weeds or developing bald patches.
With attention to the basics of watering, mowing, weeding, fertilizing, and aeration, there is no reason why you can’t have the best lawn on the street.
To make best use of this Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Lawn Care, make sure to put into practice all you have learned.
Firstly, Identify the type of soil you have, and then what grass is best suited to this soil and to the climate that you live in.
Once your lawn has started to grow, it is important to maintain it and to deal with problems such as weeds before they get out of hand. After all, it takes less time than you think for the best lawn on the block to become one of the worst.
Stay ahead of the game by monitoring your lawn, visually and with tools such as litmus tests. With time and effort, neighbors and visitors alike will be commenting on the luster and thickness of your grass.
Receive their compliments with pride—you will have earned them.