1. Choose Wisely (just like mama said)
No matter what you do, if you have the wrong type of grass for your area of the country or your lawn’s specific needs, the lawn will be mediocre at best. Lawn professionals in our area are familiar with the grasses that grow well in the different lawn settings. Full-sun large lawns, north-sloping lawns under large trees, partially shaded patio lawns – each may require a different turf type or a specific variety.
2. Water…Water…Water (but not too much)
Most people know that the proper amount of water is an important factor if they want a thick, lush and healthy lawn. But most of us don’t know how much to water or why. In the Mid-South, our lawns typically need an average of 1 to 1 ½ inches of rainfall (or irrigation equivalent) per week during the growing season. This will allow the water to provide several “services” for your lawn:
- Insulation: Water actually helps insulate grass from sudden temperature changes. It also acts as a “radiator” keeping the grass cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter (yes, your lawn needs water even in the winter if the soil becomes dry and crumbly).
- Nutrition: Water is the medium that carries food to the leaves of the grass. Nutrients move from the soil, into the roots. Then it’s the water that carries the nutrients and stored sugars from the roots throughout the plant. If the plant doesn’t have enough water, it won’t be able to “feed” the whole plant
- Root Development: Watering properly can stimulate the roots into growing deeper. The deeper the roots grow, the more stress a plant can withstand without significant damage. It’s not a guarantee that your lawn will survive a hot, dry summer, but it will give it every possible opportunity to thrive. This is why watering less often and more deeply is beneficial to healthy root growth.
3. Nutrition: “Feed Me, Please!”
A lawn needs five basic nutrients – Carbon, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium – along with several trace minerals. Each nutrient supports a different aspect of the plant and plant development. This is why lawn care professionals suggest several fertilizations throughout the year. Fertilizers are classified by three numbers – the first showing the percentage of Nitrogen (N), the second showing the percentage of Phosphorus (P), and the third showing the percentage of Potassium (K). A typical lawn fertilizer may be labelled “25-5-10”. This means the bag contains 25% Nitrogen, 5% Phosphorous and 10% Potassium. It has been said “Nitrogen to green and grow, Phosphorous for flower and fruit and Potassium for root and shoot.” If you provide these basic nutrients you will be giving your lawn the best fighting chance possible.
- Carbon in the soil helps to keep it loose and crumbly, therefore holding moisture and giving the roots an ideal environment for growth. Carbon is best found in organic matter (decaying leaves and grass clippings, compost, etc.). Organic matter helps make the lawn more drought resistant.
- Oxygen helps the plant break down food so it can get to the energy inside. Without oxygen, you could provide premium fertilizer and your lawn will still struggle to survive.
- Nitrogen simply helps your plant grow and provides that deep green color every neighbor envys. If your lawn is deficient in nitrogen, it may appear off-color and stunted. Much of the stored nitrogen supply in a lawn is housed in the leaves. Every time you cut your lawn and bag the clippings, you are taking away a portion of the nitrogen. This is one reason why most lawn professionals recommend mulching clippings in place on the turf.
- Phosphorus is a necessary component of photosynthesis and is used in reproduction. In the Mid-South, phosphorous is usually plentiful in our soils. Many fertilizer blends reduce or eliminate phosphorous from the mix unless the fertilizer is for newly seeded or sodded lawns.
- Potassium (potash) is a multifaceted nutrient. It helps plants develop healthy roots, stems and leaves. Potassium also increases disease resistance, improves carbohydrate storage and strengthens wear tolerance. Plus potassium allows better stress management and helps increase root mass by encouraging root development.
4. Sunlight: Key to a “bright” future
If you think back to high school biology class you can probably remember little green squigglez your teacher told you turn sunlight to energy. Though it sounded funny at the time, that little piece of information is going to be the cornerstone to your lawn successes. Your lawn MUST have sunlight. The amount of sunlight can be all day, all morning or all afternoon, or filtered through the trees during the entire day. Different turf grasses require different amounts of sunlight.
Bermuda typically needs 5 to 6 hours or more sunlight per day. Zoysias will tolerate as little as four hours or more and fescues typically need two to three hours minimum sunlight per day.
5. Temperature: The Ups and Downs
Your lawn is surprisingly sensitive to temperature. Grasses are broken down into two main categories: cool season and warm season. It all depends on your zone. Here, in the Mid-South, we can support both cool season and warm season grasses…just at different times of year. Bermuda and Zoysia are warm season grasses. They prefer temperatures in the 80s or 90s, but do not like it when temperatures fall into the low 40s and into the 30s. That is why your bermuda and Zoysia will go dormant after frost (yes, the brown color is natural, it’s not dead). Fescue, on the other hand, is a cool season grass. It will struggle and barely make it through the hot summer only to explode into a vibrant green as soon as the temperatures dip into the 60s and we get some rainfall. Fescue will also stay green through the winter (making your bermuda neighbors jealous).