Your lawn may be the envy of the neighborhood, but many people find that along the way, what they hoped would be the emerald-colored carpet leading to their home poses some challenges to their gardening skill. Many lawn problems can be prevented with good cultural practices. Here are the top 10 things you can do to maintain and improve the health of your lawn:
1. Choose the right turf. Warm season turfs, such as hybrid Bermuda, zoysia and centipede are fairly drought tolerant and make good choices for our climate. If you prefer a grass that stays green all winter, then tall fescue is a good choice. The most drought tolerant of these choices is hybrid Bermuda, and the least drought tolerant is tall fescue.
2. Mow your lawn at the proper height and frequency. Different turfgrasses require different mowing heights. You can look up your lawn’s mowing height requirement and other recommended practices on the Georgia Turf website: Bermuda, Zoysia, Centipede, St. Augustine or Fescue.
3. Let the clips fall where they may. Returning clippings to the turf does not build up harmful thatch. Clippings increase the soil organic matter, making it easier for water to move into the soil and increasing water and nutrient retention. Soil microbes efficiently break down the clippings, creating organic matter. This decomposition process can reduce turf nitrogen needs by 25 percent.
4. Don’t guess, soil test! Putting down too much or too little fertilizer is a costly mistake many homeowners make, and the impact can often be felt in our local waterways when excessive fertilizer runs off into stormwater drains and creeks. When you begin your yearly fertilization program, take a soil sample to the Paulding County Extension Office. For an $8 fee, we can tell you your soil pH and how to adjust it if needed, as well as give you specific recommendations for the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N, P, and K are represented by the three numbers on fertilizer bags) that you need to apply and when.
5. Scout your lawn regularly for pests. Take a walk around your yard every few days and look for potential weed, insect or disease problems. Walking the yard regularly gives you a sense of what is normal and when something seems unusual. This “scouting” can alert you to potential problems early, when they are easier to correct.
6. Control weeds early. Weeds are much easier to control when they are small. A weed that has gone to flower or seed is very mature and has potentially already left seeds for next year’s crop. When you spot a weed in your lawn, identify it properly and look for a control product that will eliminate that particular weed safely on your lawn. If you have had a weed problem consistently in the past, consider using a spring or fall pre-emergent weed control product for control of the pest.
7. Control lawn-injuring insects. Watch your lawn carefully for pests like white grubs. A few grubs may not be a problem, but if you find a large number of grubs in a small area of lawn and notice damage to your turf, control may be necessary. Identify the grub and apply insecticides labeled for the particular insect you need to control.
8. Prevent lawn diseases. Diseases of lawns are common when conditions for their development exist. Disease development requires three ingredients: A host (your lawn), a pathogen (many of which live in our soils) and the right environmental condition (usually this means adequate moisture and the right temperatures). The one ingredient that you have the most control over is the environmental condition. You control the amount of fertilizer you put on your lawn, the mowing height of your lawn, and in some cases you can control the water available to your lawn. If you follow the cultural recommendations for your lawn type, you are doing a lot to prevent lawn diseases. Once diseases have set in, many times improving your cultural practices can help get the lawn back to its healthy state.
9. Water correctly. Your lawn needs about 1 inch of water per week. If it rains 1 inch during the week, there is no need to water your lawn. The best way for water to be delivered is all at once, so that the lawn is watered deeply and roots are encouraged to grow. Stronger and larger root systems encourage a healthy lawn. If you water with an irrigation system, do a simple irrigation audit to determine how long you need to run your system to deliver an inch of water.
10. Grow turf in areas that have the right light conditions. Generally grass doesn’t grow in the forest. And the reason grass doesn’t grow in the forest is that trees out-compete it for light, water and nutrients. Turfgrasses perform better in full sun, but some of our common turfgrasses can tolerate a little more shade than others. The one common north Georgia turfgrass that can handle some amount of shade is tall fescue. If you have a truly shady area in your yard where you have had a difficult time establishing turf, consider turning that area into a shade garden and save yourself the stress of turf problems caused by low-light conditions.
You can learn more about basic lawn care by attending the gardening class, “Caring for your lawn” this Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Paulding County UGA Cooperative Extension Office. Call the Extension Office at 770-443-7616 to reserve your space. The program is free, but seating is limited.
Paulding County Cooperative Extension is an Equal Opportunity Organization that operates as part of the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and Paulding County government. Its purpose is to bring current research and information to the people of Paulding County in the areas of agriculture and natural resources, 4-H and youth development, and family and consumer sciences. You can learn more by visiting www.ugaextension.com/paulding.