This post is based upon a presentation Tony Works gave at Jackson Florist Garden Center.
Creating a lawn that is lush and green can seem daunting. Something only dedicated groundskeepers can attain. Yet, with a little bit of information and regular maintenance your lawn can become the healthy and verdant one you long for.
Selecting Grass Seed
Selecting the best type of grass seed for your lawn is the single most important action you can take in having a healthy lawn. Just as you choose plants based on what type of sunlight they will receive in your garden, you must also do the same for grass seed. Not only is the amount of sunlight important, but also the type of soil you have, soil drainage, foot traffic, and the existence of nearby trees. The best way to determine your soil type is to have a soil test. Your local Cooperative Extension Office can help your soil type.
There are two main types of grass, cool season and warm season. Cool season grasses include Kentucky Bluegrass, Perennial Rye, and Tall Fescues. Warm season grasses include Zyosia, Bermuda, and Saint Augustine. The grass varieties are divided based on their optimum temperatures for growth. All types of grass have a period of active growth and a dormant period that they go through per year. For the most part, people living in the Ohio River Valley have better success growing cool season varieties.
Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis)
Fine leaf texture.
Good spreading habit.
Spreads by rhizomes.
Grows in light shade to full sun.
Slow to germinate.
Poor foot traffic tolerance.
Severe susceptibility to grubs.
Perennial Rye (Lolium perenne)
Tolerates heavy clay.
No thatch problems.
Great foot traffic tolerance.
Can be mowed short.
Difficult to mow; sharp blade required.
Susceptible to summer brown patch disease.
Little heat tolerance.
Needs summer irrigation.
Tall Fescue (Festuca arundinacea)
Performs well in heavy clay & sandy soil.
Good foot traffic tolerance.
No serious pests.
Competes well with weeds.
No thatch buildup.
Little irrigation required.
Heavier coarse textured blades.
Require more frequent mowing.
Susceptible to summer brown patch disease.
Slow lateral spreading.
Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon
Zoysia (Zoysia japonica)
Require little mowing.
Very dense and fill in quickly.
Dormant October to April.
Invasive and difficult to remove.
How to Read a Grass Seed Label
Being able to read and understand a grass seed label will help you to select high quality seed. Not all seed and seed mixes are of the same quality, but all seed labels are required to list specific information.
Name of Variety and Species Name
Lot Number - Each lot of seed is uniquely numbered, so it can be traced back to its origin.
Purity/Pure Seed - The percentage by weight of seed that is the named species.
Germination - This is the percentage of pure seed that will germinate, the higher the number the better.
Crop/Other Crop - The percentage by weight that is other than the pure species labeled, but not considered weeds.
Inert - The percentage by weight of material that will not grow.
Weed - The percentage of weeds in the lot. The best seed will state "None Found" or "No Noxious Weeds".
Date Tested - Month and year this lot was tested for germination.
Origin - State in which the seed was grown.
Your goal in preparing your lawn is to create an area that will have good soil to seed contact. Eliminate weeds using selective or non-selective herbicides. Fill in any divots in your yard with top soil. Bald patches of compacted dirt should be loosened and then covered with healthy top soil. It is crucial that you do not work the soil when it is wet. Working with wet soil will compact it even more, making it difficult for seed to germinate. Once you have removed all weeds and leveled your yard you are ready to apply seed.
The best time to seed is late August through September. The second best time is in late winter; February through March. How much seed you will need depends on the size of the area you are seeding and if you are creating a new lawn or overseeding.
Recomended seeding rates are:
KY Bluegrass 2lbs per 1,000ft²
Perennial Rye 4 lbs per 1,000ft²
Tall Fescue 6lbs per 1,000ft²
After you have seeded it is imperative that you do not let the seedbed dry out. Depending on the weather, you may need to water two to four times a day. You want to make sure that the top .5 - 1" of soil remains moist, but not oversaturated. As the seedlings grow you can gradually reduce your watering frequency. Once your grass has grown a few inches it is safe to mow. Make sure you only remove 1/3 of total blade length in a single mowing.
Do not remove more than 1/3 of total blade length in a single mowing.
Mow high in the summer to protect from warmer temperatures, humidity, and periods of drought.
The final mow height in the fall should be lower than summer height.
Recommended mow heights:
Tall Fescues: 3"
KY Bluegrass: 2.5"
Perennial Rye: 2"
Have a soil test performed to determine specific fertilizer needs.
Fertilize three times a year. The best times to fertilize are early fall, late fall, and again in late winter/early spring.
We recommend using the fertilome 3-Step program. Apply two applications of Lawn Food Plus Iron® in the fall and an application of For All Seasons II® in late winter.
Another favorite lawn fertilizer is Milorganite.
Established lawns require 1" of water per week.
The best time to water is in the morning.
An aerator works by coring, spiking, or slicing. Core aeration works by using hollow tines that pull columns of soil from compacted roots and then deposits the soil on the surface of the lawn, creating large openings for air and water which in turn encourage deeper root growth. Spiking aeration works by using solid tines to puncture small holes in the lawn. Slicing aeration uses rotating blade to cut narrow slits in the soil.
You can rent an aerator at most hardware stores.
Fall is the best time to aerate a lawn with cool-season grasses. Try to schedule it before the first frost, but after the first application of fall fertilizer, roughly two weeks before the second fall fertilizer application.
If you do aerate, make sure you mark any sprinkler heads.
Thatch is a layer of living and dead stems, roots, and crowns that are sandwiched between the soil and living grass blades. Thatch looks like old brownish-gray grass that has matted. A healthy layer of thatch (1/2" or thinner) provides protection from temperature and water fluctuations. However, if you have a thatch layer an 1" or greater it is most likely acting as a barrier to water and nutrients that your grass needs to live.
The best time to dethatch is in early fall or spring.
Use a dethatching rake or rent a dethatching machine to complete the job.
Tall fescues and perennial rye rarely develop thatch problems.
Lawn diseases are influenced by environmental conditions, as well as plant susceptibility. Temperature, moisture, and overall soil fertility and pH affect if and which disease develops. Imagine what your lawn looks like after a period of high temperatures and drought or after a cool wet spring. It is not uncommon to see patches of dry dying grass or circular patches of discolored diseased-looking grass. We cannot control the weather, but we do have control over how we irrigate our lawns if we use sprinkler systems. Pay attention to how long the sprinkler system is running, what time of the day it is running, and what is being watered. Duration of soil moisture, wet grass blades, and temperature are significant factors in leaf diseases. Maintaining healthy cultural practices such as not mowing too short or too high, deep infrequent waterings, and correct fertilizing will help to prevent and control lawn diseases.
Identifying diseases on turfgrass can be quite difficult, particularly if the disease involves root rot. Correctly identifying grass diseases is crucial in treating them affectively. Symptoms of disease include leaf spots, blight, dieback, and root rot. Leaf spots are the easiest to see and recognize. Leaf blades can be tan or gray blotches with brownish borders. Blight is the general deterioration of the leaves. Dieback is evident when the blades appear to be dying back from the tip. Leaf tips my be dead, but the base may be green and healthy. Root rot is when the roots and tissues of the grass appear rotted. Prior to purchasing and applying any treatments do some research. Take a sample of infected grass (roots too) to your local extension service, talk to us at JF&GC, or research online through reputable scholarly sources.
"Identifying Turf Disease" by Richard Latin, Professor of Plant Pathology at Purdue is an excellent tool for understanding lawn diseases. Another helpful article is "Chemical Control of Turfgrass Diseases 2020" from the University of Kentucky.
Below are the most common lawn disease in our area.
Appearance of red thread-like structures on the tips of infected blades.
Favored by nitrogen deficient lawns.
More prevalent during wet & humid weather, typically in the spring and fall.
Infection stops in dry hot weather.
Bag clippings from infected areas.
Proper fertilization helps prevent Red Thread.
Fungicides are not generally recommended since it is mainly a cosmetic issue.
Practicing healthy maintenance will help.
Most common from August – November.
Occurs mainly after periods of drought in lawns that have been mown too short and lack soil fertility.
Extended durations of wet leaves increases the risk of infection, particularly during the night and early morning hours.
Commonly found on Rye grass, Bluegrass, & Zyosia.
Visible orange-red pustules can be found on blades.
A fungal disease that can be easily spread by mowing, shoes, and pant legs.
Fungicides can work, but normally they must be applied prior to the diseases occurring.
Maintain good cultural practices, adequate Nitrogen, and soil moisture.
Do not water at night.
Avoid mowing too short.
Most commonly found in Kentucky Bluegrass & Fine Fescues lawns.
Straw colored circular or crescent shaped patches. As patches grow their edges turn yellow or bronze.
Favored by short mowing, light & frequent irrigation , high nitrogen fertilizers, & soil compaction.
Prevent by mowing high, proper fertilization, and deep less frequent irrigation.
Patches are brown, tan or yellow.
Discolored irregular lesions can be found on upright blades.
Most often found in Tall Fescues & Perennial Rye lawns.
Active in warm humid weather in lawns with poor drainage.
Early morning fungal cobweb growth may be present.
Avoid high Nitrogen fertilizers & over watering especially late afternoon or evening.
Insects and Pests
You have put a lot of time and effort into growing a healthy and lush lawn. Everything seems to be growing well, until one day when you walk outside and spot irregular patches of dying grass or ridges of raised earth. Seems like you might have a few unwelcome pests. Before you rush to the store and purchase all the pesticide and traps you can carry, investigate to find out who is the culprit and the extent of the damage. Sometimes the best action is no action at all.
Cicada Killer Wasps
Not all insects are pests. Cicada Killer Wasps are beneficial insects that eat nuisance insects.
Leave them be, unless they are creating extensive damage. Keep damaged areas wet to discourage tunneling.
Damage is usually noticeable in late summer. Irregular dead patches of grass and thinning yellowing grass and signs of an infestation.
Infested patches are easy to remove. Pull back the grass and look for C-shaped larvae.
Large populations of adult beetles in June and July may be a sign of a possible infestation.
Tall Fescues are more tolerant than Kentucky Bluegrass and Perennial Rye.
Applying a fertilizer in the fall will help build a strong root system that will in turn resist grub damage.
Chemical control may be necessary, but it can be difficult to apply.
Insecticide application must be timed correctly. It must be applied during a specific point in the grub lifecycle. When to apply will depend on the product being used.
From mid-June to mid-July when the adult beetles emerge use a preventative insecticide such as Mach 2 or Merit.
In late summer use a curative insecticide approach after the eggs have hatched and grubs are present. These insecticides do not have a long residual effectiveness so timing is crucial. Grub-Be-Gone or GrubX, and Grub Free Zone are options.
The UK College of Agriculture has a helpful article on controlling grubs in lawns.
Rarely seen above ground, moles are subterranean mammals that dig tunnels with large claws. Moles are solitary creatures and can become a nuisance in the yard.
Small, cone-shaped mounds of soil in your lawn may be a sign that you have a mole. Other signs of mole activity are slightly raised, ridges that sink when stepped on. The presence of a mole could also signal that you have a grub infestation, since moles eat grubs as well as worms and other insects.
Moles will not eat your plants or roots of grass, but their tunnels and soil piles can be a nuisance. Since it is an aesthetic problem many people just leave the mole alone.
You can use mole repellents to encourage your mole neighbor to relocate. We recommend Mole Go.
Trapping and killing moles is another option.
Mole baits are commonly used to poison moles. When using baits, such as poison worms, be careful that you follow the directions on the package. The baits are toxic to other animals, including pets.
Weeds and How to Control Them
There are mainly two trains of thought when it comes to "weeds". One is that they are a nuisance and must be removed and the other being that they are in fact plants, perhaps growing in the wrong area, but are useful. Marty Rubin and Ralph Waldo Emerson state the two distinct beliefs perfectly:
“Weeds are stubborn. Weeds are independent. Weeds aren't tolerated.”
"What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson, Fortune of the Republic, 1878
For the purpose of this article let us agree with Mr. Rubin.
Dandelions in Bloom
The University of Maryland Cooperative Extension has a great website to help with identifying weeds. We can also help you identify your weed.
Caution must be taken when using any herbicide. Read the directions on the packaging and follow them exactly. Adding more product than what is called for will not create a better outcome and could result in negative consequences. Make sure that you take your personal safety and those around you, including your pets, into consideration before applying any herbicide.
Preemergent herbicides are used to prevent weeds from germinating. If you already have existing weeds, a preemergent will not work.
Control or suppression of listed broadleaf weeds in landscape beds and lawns. Control postemergence of crabgrass. Apply in spring before weeds emerge or when crabgrass is just emerging.