Maintaining a Beautiful Lawn
The purpose of this discussion is to transform the world's best grass seed into the best lawn on the block.
This presumes you followed the instructions for Planting a New Lawn or Renovating a Lawn on this website and you have mowed your newly seeded lawn several times.
"What do I do next", you ask?
- Feed your Lawn
- Control Weeds
- Control Insects
These three steps combined with your superiorgrass seed will produce a superior lawn year after year.
Feed the Lawn
There is no substitute for fertilization. Some grass species will survive with less fertilizer than other species, but all grasses need to be properly fed if you want a healthy, great looking lawn.
There are two basic categories of lawn fertilizer; organic and synthetic. The primary difference is that organic fertilizer is composed of enriched organic matter—plant or animal, whereas synthetic fertilizer is manufactured from elements and minerals to produce Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphorous, the essential elements of plant growth.
Without getting into a discussion of the merits of organic vs. synthetic fertilizer, this will explain
- the amount of nutrition required for an optimum lawn,
- how to calculate coverage from a fertilizer label,
- why Kinder blend Turf Maximizer fertilizer is an excellent choice for maintaining the natural beauty of your lawn.
How much to apply: A balanced lawn of cool season turfgrasses such as bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and fine bladed fescues (hard fescue, creeping red fescue, and chewings fescue) perform best with 3 lbs.of actual Nitrogen applied in increments of 1 lb. of actual N three times during the 6 month growing season.
For tall fescue add an extra fertilizer application where the growing season is longer than 6 months.
Elite Bermudagrass does best with 4 lbs of actual nitrogen per year, applied in 4 applications throughout the growing season. Zoysiagrass requires 3 lbs of nitrogen in 3 feedings when the grass is green and growing.
Note: Many experts recommend an extra fertilization during the "grow-in" year to accelerate sod formation. Up to a maximum of 1 lb of actual nitrogen per month can be applied to the new turf during the first 6 months of growth. After that, you should reduce fertilization to the above schedule (3 lbs of N per season).
The importance of soil pH:
Recommended Nitrogen application rates are based on a soil pH range of 6.5 to 7.5, with 7.0 being neutral. Soil tests below 6.5 indicate acid soil which should be neutralized with lime. A soil test above 7.5 is rare and indicates alkaline soil which should be neutralized with sulfur.
In acidic soil nitrogen is less available to the plant and it takes more fertilizer to achieve the same result. As soil acidity increases, fertilizer availability to the plant decreases.
Always test for soil pH before adding lime. Excessive lime (causing high pH) can be as big of a problem as too having too little lime (low pH).
How to calculate actual Nitrogen and coverage:
In the old days fertilizer bags were labeled for coverage at a rate of 1 lb of actual N per 1,000 sq ft, which is the rate recommended by virtually every cooperative extension expert. Nowadays the coverage rate on most of the best selling fertilizer brands has crept down to around 0.8 lb of N per 1,000 sq. ft. This has more to do with the slogan "We Sell For Less" and nothing to do with agronomy.
Here is how you determine the actual coverage of a bag of fertilizer at a rate of 1 lb of N per 1,000 sq ft.
- Divide the first number of the three number fertilizer description (ex., 22-4-18) by 100. In this example, 22/100=.22.
- Multiply the result above by the weight of the container. In this case the container weighs 25 lbs so 25 X .22= 5.5
- Multiply this result times 1,000 to determine the coverage of the fertilizer container. In this example a 25 lb container of our 22-4-18 Turf Maximizer covers 5,500 sq ft at an application rate of 1 lb. of actual Nitrogen/1,000.
This calculation is particularly critical in determining the proper amount of organic fertilizers to apply. People who switch from synthetic fertilizer containing 30% nitrogen to organic fertilizer containing 6% nitrogen and don't increase the amount of fertilizer they apply often wonder why their lawn is light green and thin. The obvious answer is nitrogen deficiency.
When to apply: The best time to apply fertilizer to cool season turfgrass is on the holidays: Memorial Day (May 30), Labor Day (Sept 1) and after Columbus Day (mid to late October).
Spring fertilization is not recommended. Feeding nitrogen to your lawn in wet spring growing conditions where the soil temperature is increasing daily encourages excessive shoot growth and extra mowing. Rapid shoot (leaf blade) growth comes at the expense of root growth. This results in turfgrass plants with shallow roots at the onset of the stressful summer season.
What to apply: We recommend Kinder blend Turf Maximizer (22-4-18) for maintaining the natural beauty of your lawn. Here are the benefits;
- Turf Maximizer feeds the turfgrass plants very slowly, producing a consistent green color without a flush of top growth requiring extra mowing. Ninety six percent of the nitrogen in Turf Maximizer fertilizer is slowly released by the natural reaction of soil microbes on the nitrogen source. This contrasts with the best selling retail lawn fertilizer which can release over 60% of its nitrogen within 72 hours, resulting in a sudden surge of shoot growth followed by rapid fading out of the green color.
- The nitrogen source in Turf Maximizer (methylene urea) remains relatively stationary in the root zone until released by soil microbes in warm soil. In contrast, quick-release urea based fertilizers can wash through the soil profile to contaminate ground water or volatilize as ammonia gas and escape without feeding the grass plant.
- Turf Maximizer is made for quality conscious golf course superintendents. The particle size is very small and it flows like sugar, never clogging your spreader with fertilizer clumps or dust. Fine particles are distributed closer to each grass plant, producing a uniformly healthy, well-fed lawn.
There are two types of common lawn weeds, broadleaf weeds (dicots) and grassy weeds (monocots). They require different types of weed killers.
Broadleaf weeds such as dandelions and clover can be identified by their rounded leaf edges and the fact that they emerge from the ground with two leaves opposite each other.
Broadleaf weeds can be killed with a selective herbicide which does not harm the surrounding turfgrass plants. Such broadleaf herbicides are typically a combination of three herbicides; 2-4-D, MCPP, and Dicamba.
Broadleaf herbicides can be applied as a liquid or in granular form. Weed-B-Gone is a well known brand name for liquid sprays. Granular formations are typically combined with fertilizer and commonly called "Weed-N-Feed".
Broadleaf herbicides work by contact with the plant. Always apply granular formulations in the presence of dew so the granules stick to the leaves of the weeds. Do not apply before rain, which will wash the herbicide off before it is absorbed by the weed.
The principles of Integrated Pest Management dictate that you only apply pesticides to the target pest. In this case the target pest is a broadleaf weed and the pesticide is a broadleaf herbicide. Therefore you should spray liquid herbicide directly on individual broadleaf weeds. The only circumstance where it is appropriate to spread a granular herbicide over the entire lawn is when the lawn is too heavily infested with weeds to spray them individually.
Grassy weeds include crabgrass. They are differentiated from broadleaf weeds in that they have a leaf blade similar in shape to a turfgrass plant; long, slender, and pointed.
Crabgrass is a problem because you cannot kill it selectively. In other words, the same herbicide that kills crabgrass also kills the turfgrass plants around it.
Crabgrass is an annual weed. If you have crabgrass in your lawn it will die over the winter. Before it dies the plant produces seeds which are deposited in the soil. Those seeds germinate the following spring to produce the next crop of crabgrass.
The appropriate weed control strategy for grassy weeds is to apply a "pre-emergent" herbicide in the early spring. This chemical kills the seedling plants as they germinate but before they emerge from the soil, thus the name "pre-emergent". Follow the instructions on the herbicide to determine the latest application date. In the northern tier of states a convenient reminder is the appearance of yellow flowers on the forsythia bush. After that date, it is too late to apply pre-emergent herbicide.
When deciding whether you should apply crabgrass preventer, ask yourself "did I have crabgrass last summer?" If the answer is "yes", you have crabgrass seeds in your soil and need to apply a pre-emergent herbicide. If the answer is "no", you have no seeds and do not need the herbicide. Remember, never apply a herbicide unnecessarily.
Standard pre-emergent crabgrass preventer also kills turfgrass seedlings, so you can't plant new seed that spring. Siduron is the trade name of an alternative pre-emergent crabgrass killer that does not kill turfgrass seeds. Use Siduron only if you need to control crabgrass and plant new seed at the same time.
The primary insect pest in cool season turfgrass is grubs, which are the larval stage of the Japanese beetle. Grubs kill turfgrass by eating the roots of the plant, particularly in the late spring and early summer when the grubs are largest, just before they become Japanese beetles around July 4.
Japanese beetles have a very short life span. They typically infest shrubs and also can be found in round masses of beetles on your lawn.
Before they die, beetles lay eggs in the soil which become grubs to produce the next year's beetle population.
The best time to control grubs is in August, just after the adults lay eggs. The eggs are small, located near the surface, and very vulnerable to the insecticide. You can also kill grubs in the late spring, but the larvae are deeper in the soil and much larger and thus less vulnerable to the insecticide. Also mature grubs have already done damage to the root structure of your lawn by then.
Grub Ex is a common brand name for Japanese beetle grub control insecticide.
Another, less damaging turf insect is the chinch bug which feeds on the above ground portion of the turfgrass plant. Chinch bugs are naturally controlled by endophytes, which are living organisms in the leaf tissue of most improved tall fescue, perennial rygrass and fine fescue plants.
A new insect threat to turfgrass in the Northeast US is the crane fly whose laval stage is sometimes called the leather jacket. This insect will devour the roots of a lawn if the grub population is allowed to grow unchecked. The crane fly adult is very distinctive, so if you see them in the summer, be aware of the need to spray for grubs that fall or the following spring. Check with cooperative extension for insecticide recommendations.
This completes the program for maintaining a truly superior lawn. You began by planting the best available grass seed. If you follow the simple steps described here, your lawn is bound to be the envy of the neighborhood.