Lawn care is not as simple as a four-step program. One person's lawn is not the same as the next. Soil conditions, weather, geographical location, orientation to the sun, budget, usage, previous history—there are plenty of factors that can alter a lawn care program and one lawn should never be treated exactly the same as the next. People love things to be easy though, so a four-step program is an ideal marketing tool for lawn care made easy.
Of course, it is not that easy but in the spirit of other lawn care programs, here is a four-step lawn care program. (spoiler—it's a little more involved than four steps!)
- Watering - Providing adequate moisture is a key component to a healthy lawn but time and time again, overwatering is more of a problem than not having enough water. Sprinkler systems should only be used to provide supplemental water, not as the main source of water for the lawn. A healthy lawn planted with the appropriate grass species and properly maintained will need far less water than commonly thought. In the northeast, we often don't water any turf until June and even then it is rare. The trick is to build the strongest, deepest root zone possible so grass can withstand periods of drought, only turning the water on when it is absolutely necessary.
- Fertilizing - Timing is key when it comes to fertilizing the lawn. The lawn should be allowed to "wake up" on it's own a little before going out there first thing in the spring and fertilizing. Similarly, the grass should be allowed to harden off on its own in the winter. Improper timing in the fall could result in excessive top growth while the focus should be on root zone development. As important as timing is the fertilizer type whether it's an organic fertilizer derived from bone meal and fish emulsion or water-soluble synthetic fertilizer designed to release slowly over the course of several weeks. Fertilizers higher in nitrogen are used at the outset of the growing season to encourage top growth and fertilizer with less nitrogen and a little more potassium are best for the fall to build the root system of the lawn. A renewed root zone allows for a strong spring startup and the whole process is repeated.
- The Right Grass - Choosing the appropriate grass for your lawn is important to the entire lawn care program. The standard Kentucky bluegrass lawn has a nice color and is dense and lush but it requires more inputs than fescues especially newer cultivars bred for drought tolerance and disease resistance. A Kentucky bluegrass lawn requires more water, fertilizer, and mowing than other lawns, while new varieties of turf-type tall fescues are proving to be excellent low maintenance alternatives. Also be sure to plant the appropriate species for your geographic location, climate, and relative position to sun and shade.
- Pests and Weeds - Weeds and pests can be a problem but generally only when a lawn is stressed out and not maintained properly. Weeds and pests are opportunists and will invade bare or thinning turf as lawns with poor soil conditions. Through a basic IPM program, use the presence of weeds and pests as a signal that there may be a deeper problem in the lawn. Has your soil tested to ensure proper pH and adequate nutrient levels? Improving the condition of the soil and many weed and pest problems will disappear.
Can a lawn program really be as easy as four steps? Of course not, within each of our steps there are many other factors and practices that go into growing a healthy lawn. Start with the soil, have it tested, and be wary of quick and easy solutions that seem too good to be true.