sports turf such as a golf course does need to be as perfect as
possible. A weed or spot of insect or disease damage
affects the play of the ball, or could cause a career-ending injury
to an athlete. Fortunately, home lawns do not need to strive for
such perfection - it is not likely that the Masters will be played
in your yard in the near future!
You don't HAVE TO do anything to your lawn except keep it mowed to comply with
local ordinances. The resulting lawn may not be perfect, but it is
green and tolerates foot traffic. If you have children or pets,
there is no substitute for a lawn that will tolerate the kind of
wear and tear that grass does. Lawns have added benefits of cooling
the ambient air temperature around our homes; absorbing rainwater
that otherwise would run off and cause erosion or even flooding;
protecting streams and other bodies of water from pollution caused
by runoff; allowing rainwater to slowly infiltrate the soil,
recharging groundwater supplies; improving air quality by reducing
dust; and helping to reduce noise levels by deadening sounds.
lawns start with
selecting the proper type of grass for our climate
and the cultural realities of your yard. If you have a lot of shade,
make sure to use a mixture that has a predominance of fine fescues.
These are the
most shade-tolerant species of the cool season grasses grown in our
part of the United States. If you have a lot of sun, dwarf or
turf-type tall fescues, or a mixture of Kentucky bluegrass and
perennial ryegrass will perform best. Dwarf tall fescue also
tolerates partial shade.
management of your lawn will go a long way toward improving its
health and appearance without using a lot of pesticides. You may
need to make a few herbicide applications to get severe weed
infestations under control. Once you have accomplished that, you can
control the occasional weed by hand pulling or spot treating with a
There is no reason to spray herbicides over the
entire lawn when there are not many weeds. If weeds are not a major
problem in your lawn, or if you do not mind them, skip down past the
weed control information and concentrate on the cultural information
Seed heads on Crabgrass
weeds such as crabgrass are generally controlled with pre-emergent
herbicides such as Halts (pendimethalin), Dimension (dithiopyr) and
Barricade (prodiamine). If your lawn has been under a pre-emergent
regimen for a number of years and is relatively lush and thick, you
may be able to spot treat areas where crabgrass is most likely to
grow, rather than broadcasting pre-emergent over your entire lawn.
Crabgrass is most likely to grow in the crevices between the lawn
and hardscape, such as along sidewalks and driveways, or any areas
where the grass has thinned out. You can also switch to a more
natural alternative such as corn gluten meal. Although corn gluten
meal is not as effective as synthetic pre-emergent herbicides at
first, it seems to provide better control once you have been using
it for three or four consecutive years.
You should have your
pre-emergent herbicides in place when forsythia is in bloom. You can
also take a wait and see approach, and control crabgrass just after
it germinates with a post-emergent product such as Ortho Weed-B-Gon
Crabgrass Killer (calcium acid methanearsonate).
controlling broadleaf weeds such as dandelions and plantain as soon
as they start actively growing. Liquid broadleaf weed killers are
generally more effective than granular weed and feed products.
They have the
added benefit of allowing you to make additional applications to
tough to control weeds such as clover and ground ivy. You cannot
make additional applications of weed and feed because that much
fertilizer would burn your lawn. Herbicides labeled for home lawn
use generally contain a combination of 2,4-D, MCPP and dicamba. You
often get the best control of tough weeds by making herbicide
applications in late summer (mid-August to early September).
still may need two or three applications to get sufficient control.
Check the label of the herbicide you are using for suggested
application intervals. Even though some of these weeds seem
indestructible, keep after them and repeat your applications at the
shortest recommended intervals until you are satisfied with the
level of control. Now you can focus on proper maintenance practices
to help the lawn outgrow the weeds and minimize the need for
Mowing practices greatly determine the quality of turfgrass. If you allow
your lawn to grow long, then cut it short, you stress the grass by
depleting the carbohydrate reserves stored in the crown and roots of
the individual grass plants. This can make your lawn more
susceptible to attack by insect and disease problems.
of turfgrass should be cut at a height of two-and-a-half to three
inches. There is a direct relationship between the height of cut and
the depth and extent of the root system. The longer the grass, the
more extensive the root system. The shorter you cut it, the less
root system it will have. Since summer heat and drought are the most
stressful for the cool season grasses we grow, leaving the grass
longer to encourage an extensive root system will make your lawn
more drought tolerant.
Leaving the grass longer also shades the
soil, moderating soil temperatures and helping to conserve soil
moisture. Longer grass also shades out germinating weed seeds and
crowds out weeds that try to become established. Try not to remove
more than one-third of the blade of grass in one mowing. How often
you should mow depends on how fast the grass is growing.
Keep the Mower Blade Sharp!
Be sure to
sharpen your mower blade regularly. A sharp mower blade makes a
clean cut that the grass recovers from easily. Dull mower blades
shred the grass, making jagged wounds that are harder to heal. They
can serve as a point of entry for insect and disease problems.
often you should sharpen your mower blade depends on the size of
your lawn and the number of obstacles it is likely to encounter.
Once a month for very large (or obstacle-filled) lawns or every
other month should be sufficient. Small lawns can get by with
sharpening once a year.
Watering properly is critical
Deep, infrequent watering during hot, dry weather is important to maintain
a healthy lawn. Deep watering encourages the turf to develop a
deeper, more extensive root system. Conversely, frequent, shallow
watering encourages a shallow root system. A shallow root system
means a lawn that is under drought stress when the top couple of
inches of soil dry out. Use a sprinkler or an irrigation system to
apply one to two inches of water weekly to your lawn if we are not
receiving any rain. This is best applied in one long, deep soaking
session, rather than watering your lawn a little bit every day.
clay soils in western Pennsylvania can only absorb about one-half an inch of water an hour,
so it should take two hours of watering to apply an inch of water.
To measure how long you have to run your sprinkler or irrigation
system, take a flat-bottomed container such as a coffee can and mark
off half-inch increments. Place the can or cans where it will be hit
by the water, and time how long it takes to gather one-half inch of
water. Then run your sprinkler twice as long. You may need to apply
water even slower to steep slopes to avoid wasting water to runoff.
It is best to water in the morning.
If you water
during the heat of the day, too much water is lost to evaporation.
If you water at night, the grass stays wet too long, and may be more
likely to have disease problems. You also have the option of
allowing your lawn to go dormant during hot, dry weather.
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