Developing a Lawn Care Schedule
By Matt Hagens
When you look at the information available on a lawn care schedule, it’s often conflicting information. We’ll show you how to develop a lawn care plan that works for you! Let’s start with a few things that will make a difference in how your lawn care calendar is set up:
What kind of grass is in your lawn? What works for a cool season grass may not be the best time for a warm season grass. Planting time is an example of this, with the plants only growing at particular soil temperatures.
Even without a lot of plant knowledge, it’s safe to say that a lawn in southern Florida will receive completely different care at different times of the year than a lawn in Northern Minnesota. When looking for specific information outside your region, try to use references that talk about doing something before or after a frost, at particular soil temperatures or other seasonal markers that are not based on a calendar date.
The type of soil you have will also influence whether you need to adjust the time of year you’re doing particular tasks. Fertilizer is needed less frequently in clay soils, but they warm up more slowly in the spring, delaying planting times. Sandy soils need more frequent watering.
Now that we know what we’re dealing with, let’s work on your lawn care schedule! The best place to start with this is getting a good-quality soil test done at your county extension office managed by your state’s land grant university system (University of (state), as an example). After you’ve taken a good soil sample, take it into their office and for a modest fee (usually $20-$30 or less), they’ll create an in-depth soil report including what type of soil it is, its ability to hold nutrients, how much fertilizer of various types are needed and the pH.
Fertilizing and Adjusting pH
In addition to typical N-P-K fertilizers, you may need a micronutrient fertilizer. Fertilizer and lime applications are based on recommendations from your soil test. Apply it in the spring when the ground is not too wet; you don’t want the fertilizer running off.
To adjust pH, you can alkalize it by addinglime, either regular limestone, which adds calcium to your soil, or as dolomitic limestone, which also adds magnesium. The pellet size controls how quickly it’s released into the soil, with larger granules spreading out the change in pH over a longer period of time.
In the rare instances that you need to lower (acidify) your soil, you’ll use a recommended amount of sulfur from your soil test.
An ideal soil sample has about 25% air in it, allowing roots to exchange gasses with the atmosphere. When soils become compacted, there isn’t enough room for soil organisms to move around and roots to penetrate. Aerating your soil once a year, usually in the fall a few weeks before the first frost, helps keep it healthy.
If you’re dealing with bare patches, make sure you fix the problem before replanting. You’ll want to replant cool season grasses in the fall if possible, though you can also replant them in the spring. Warm season grasses will do best being replanted a few weeks after the last frost of the spring.
Never take off more than 1/3 of the plant’s leaf height, which causes stress and dead spots in your yard. For the last mowing before winter, mow 1/2″ to 1″ shorter than usual. Beyond that, height is dictated by the type of grass seed you have planted.
Watering will vary depending on how your soil holds water, what grass type you have planted and your climate. A rule of thumb is if the soil is still moist 3″ to 4″ down, you don’t need to water yet. If it’s dry, put 1/2″ to 1″ of water on your lawn. The easiest way to measure this is by putting a tuna or other short, wide tin can where you’re watering and measuring the water that collects.
A pest by definition is something you don’t want in your lawn, whether insect, disease or weeds. The best way to manage pest control is by handling the problem as soon as it appears using integrated pest management techniques.
Now that you’ve got a better idea of what your lawn care schedule needs to be, go do it!