Landscaping & Lawn Care

1. Improve the Soil

The first step is to test the soil’s pH – it should read between 6.5 and 7.0, which is slightly acidic. Soil that is too acidic will need a sprinkling of lime; sulfur can be added to soil that’s not acidic enough.

Lawns grow best in loamy soils that have a mix of clay, silt, and sand. Too much clay in the soil mix, or heavy use, can compact the soil and prevent air and nutrient flow. Compacted soil may need aeration (see below), a process of lifting small plugs of turf to create air spaces in the soil.

Organic matter, such as compost and grass clippings, will benefit any type of soil; it lightens soil that is heavy in clay, and it builds humus in sandy soils, which helps retain water and nutrients. Some lawn mowers are equipped with mulching attachments that break up the clippings and disperse them as you mow. To add minerals to your soil, consider products like glacial rock dust.

2. Choose a Locally Adapted Grass

Grasses vary in the type of climate they prefer, the amount of water and nutrients they require, how much shade they can tolerate, and the degree of wear they can withstand. Ask your local garden center to recommend the grass that is best adapted to your area.

3. Aerate

If your soil is compacted, your lawn will benefit from annual aeration. Half of any healthy soil should be pore space, which allows the circulation of water, nutrients, and air. When soil particles are compressed so there aren’t enough of these spaces, plants can’t get the nutrients they need to thrive.

Aeration helps re-create these important spaces by removing finger-sized plugs of soil throughout the lawn.

4. Mow Often, But Not Too Short

Giving your lawn a “Marine cut” is not doing it a favor. Surface roots become exposed, the soil dries out faster, and surface aeration is reduced. As a general rule, don’t cut off more than one-third of the grass at any one time. Most turfgrass species are healthiest when kept between 2.5 and 3.5″ tall.

When the lawn is finished growing for the season, cut it a bit shorter, to about 2″. This will minimize the risk of mold build-up during winter.

5. Water Deeply But Not Too Often

Thorough watering encourages your lawn to develop deep root systems, which make the lawn hardier and more drought-resistant. Let the lawn dry out before re-watering; as a rule of thumb, the color should dull and footprints should stay compressed for more than a few seconds. When watering, put a cup in the sprinkler zone; it should get at least one inch (2.5cm) water. Most healthy lawns require only 1″ of water per week.

The best time for watering is early morning; less water will be lost to evaporation. Ideally, it’s better to water the first half-inch or so, then wait for an hour or two before watering the second half-inch.

6. Overseed Your Lawn

Overseeding is the process of adding grass seed to an existing lawn, which can be helpful for filling in thin or patchy areas of grass. In cooler climates, overseeding can be done in spring and fall when the soil is warm enough for the type of seed you’ve selected; in warmer climates, late spring to midsummer is the best time to plant warm season grass.

Begin by preparing the area you intend to overseed by mowing grass very low and raking away grass clippings and other plant matter, so the seed can contact the soil. If possible, aerate before overseeding. Next, follow the directions on your seed mix package to determine seeding rate, since these will vary by type. After sowing keep seeds moist to encourage germination. Once the seeds have sprouted, follow your normal watering schedule. Wait to mow the overseeded area until grass has grown to at least one inch in height.

7. Control Thatch Build-Up

Thatch is the accumulation of above-soil runners, propagated by the grass. This layer should be about 1/2″ ( 1.25cm) on a healthy lawn, and kept in balance by natural decomposition, earthworms and microorganisms. Too much thatch prevents water and nutrients from reaching the grass roots. Before you resort to renting a dethatcher, however, effort should be made to improve aeration to control thatch build-up. Aeration brings microorganisms to the surface that will eat most of the thatch.

If you don’t aerate, the roots stay near the surface, contributing to thatch build-up. When you aerate once a year it breaks down the thatch, allowing the roots to get deeper in the soil. This leads to thicker grass, which naturally kills weeds too. While a dethatcher will reduce thatch build-up, it can also strip and thin the grass so much it allows weeds to germinate more easily. Ensure you don’t overuse your dethatcher. You can also reduce thatch with a steel rake.

9. Replace Grass with Pathways in High-Traffic Areas

Areas people walk on repeatedly can get compacted and worn, and may be better off as paths. You can lay paving stones or gravel for a no-maintenance path. Mulch can also work, but will need replenishing regularly, making pavers or stepping stones the more ecological and potentially more cost-effective option.

Watering Needs for Different Grass Types

How long can you wait between watering before the lawn starts to go brown?

  • 12-21 Days: Bahia grass, Buffalo grass, Bermuda grass, St. Augustine grass, Centipede grass
  • 8-12 Days: Carpet grass, Fine fescue, Kikuyu grass, Seashore paspalum, Tall fescue, Zoysia
  • 5-7 Days: Ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, Bentgrass

The fine-leaved fescues as well as the “common” types of Kentucky bluegrasses, such as Park and Kenblue, require less water, fertilizer, and cutting than turf-type perennial ryegrass or many of the newer, “improved” types of Kentucky bluegrass.

Source: University of Georgia, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

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