How to Achieve Greener Turf Management
Nobody wants a crusty, dusty lawn. The ideal for grass is always going to be a lush green expanse of healthy blades. That’s what everybody wants, but it can sometimes be difficult to achieve. To keep up with that greener turf management, however, is a big task, and not everybody’s up to the challenge. It requires monitoring your yard and adjusting your turf maintenance strategy according to the season and the slight changes in condition you notice over time.
It’s a big job, and some might want to hire a greener turf management company to get it done for them. If that’s not your style, though, you can read on for the different steps you should take to properly maintain your turf this summer and all year long.
Test Your Soil
This one makes for a great first step, since knowing the pH level of your soil can inform a lot of your other turf maintenance decisions. Your grass is generally going to grow best with a pH level between 6 and 6.5, so your turf maintenance efforts should be focused on keeping your soil in that range. However, there are certain regional variations in ideal pH level, so you can also contact your county extension agent to find out which pH level is ideal for your specific area.
As an added bonus, taking a soil sample can give you access to a lot more information than just pH level. You’ll be able to pretty clearly see a lot of information about your soil’s texture and structure. That information can guide your decisions on how to best approach your turf maintenance.
Now that we’ve explained the importance of soil testing, the next step on your greener turf management quest would logically be securing the supplies necessary to test the pH level of your soil. You can buy an at-home soil testing kit, or you can contact your local extension office. They can analyze your soil for you. You’ll want to get samples from 10 different spots on your lawn, and you’ll want to make sure you’re taking them from at least 4 to 6 inches deep. It’ll help them out if you let them know what kind of grass you’re looking to grow, too.
If you’re hiring a company to do your greener turf management, do make sure to ask them to do a soil test before they lay out sod. Not all turf maintenance companies will automatically do this, and it could end up spelling disaster for your lawn.
Mowing the lawn isn’t exactly rocket science, but there’s a definite strategy to it. You don’t want to let your grass get too short or too long. Your poor lawn gets stressed when you cut it too short, and that can lead to less healthy roots. A lawn that’s too short is also more susceptible to weeds — longer blades of grass can provide enough shade to stop weed seeds from growing.
The general rule of thumb is to only trim one-third of the length off your lawn at any given time. Shoot for keeping your cool season grasses around three and a half inches tall and your warm season grasses between a half and one and a half inches tall. You can also look up ideal lengths for your specific grass variety.
Other important considerations for optimal mowing are keeping your mower blade sharp (you should sharpen them one to two times each year) and leaving the clippings. As long as you’re only taking a third of the length off, the clippings can be left alone to return some nitrogen and organic matter to the soil. They’ll also help your grass retain water. Some people object to this practice simply because it’s unsightly, and if that’s the case, you can also collect the clippings and compost them. Which brings us to the next tip…
Clippings aren’t the only thing you can compost. Throw in all the potato peels, coffee grounds, tea leaves, and other organic kitchen or garden waste.
Spreading a thin layer of compost on top of your lawn is known as “topdressing.” It’s a great method for turf maintenance because it can improve how well the soil holds moisture, feed soil microbes, and add nutrients to the soil. When those microbes are well fed, your lawn is, too, and that leads to greener turf management.
If thatch is an issue for your lawn (and we’ll get more into what thatch is and how to get rid of it later), compost can also help you on that front. Thatch that’s had compost spread on top of it decomposes faster, meaning you can get rid of it with minimal labor.
Of course, like most good things in life, topdressing also comes with its fair share of complications. For starters, you’ll want to be sure that you’re using high quality compost before you spread it out over the turf you’ve worked so hard to maintain. If you’re not making your own compost, you’ll want to be sure to find out exactly what’s in it. It shouldn’t contain any unwanted materials like dyes or pesticides.
This is all to say that compost gets you greener turf management in two ways: It’s eco-friendly and can make your lawn literally greener. For the most effective greener turf management, spread your compost in the spring and fall.
Use the Right Fertilizer
To find the right fertilizer for your lawn, you’ll need to know how to read the label on the fertilizer bag. Most brands will list the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium content on front in that order. So if the bag says 18-6-12, it contains 18 percent nitrogen, 6 percent phosphorus, and 12 percent potassium. You’re generally looking for a 3:1:2 or 4:1:2 ratio.
All three ingredients are important, but nitrogen is the key component. There are two types of nitrogen commonly seen in fertilizers: Fast-release and controlled-release. Turf maintenance experts will generally recommend controlled-release, but those types of fertilizers will generally come at a higher price point and will work less quickly. For speedy results, you’ll need a fast-release formula. The downside there is that it might burn your grass, but it works better on cold soil than its slow-release counterparts.
If you’re still not sure which kind to pick, a greener turf management company would be happy to come out and fertilize your lawn for you.
This kind of technique is employed to combat soil compaction. Aeration just means creating a bunch of roughly three-inch deep holes in your lawn to loosen up the soil, allowing your grass to grow better as the roots get more air, water, and nutrients.
You have some choices for the equipment you use to complete this task as part of your greener turf management plan. You can choose between spike aerators, slicing aerators, or core aerators. This last category is the one most often preferred by greener turf management companies, and it differs from the first two in an important way: Core aerators remove chunks of soil from the lawn and leave them on top. Spike and slicing aerators leave the soil in the ground.
Aeration is typically an annual task, and you want to do it when the grass is at its peak growth. Aerating a dormant lawn might stress it unnecessarily.
Like all of these steps, aeration is just one part of the turf maintenance puzzle. Aeration combines nicely with topdressing — it’s a little greener turf management trick to aerate your lawn after you’ve applied the compost. After you aerate your lawn is a great time for other turf maintenance tasks, like overseeding or fertilizing.
Watering is a turf maintenance step that pretty much everybody knows to take, but not everybody is doing it correctly. You want to water longer and less frequently to make sure that water is seeping down deep. The ideal depth is 6 to 8 inches for most yards. It’ll help you in your quest for greener turf management by reaching the deep roots of your grass.
You can test to see how long you need to have your sprinklers on to reach that deep by digging up a little sample at the end of a watering cycle. You can see how far down the water seeped, and if it’s not to the ideal depth, you can turn the sprinklers back on for a while and test again. That way, you’ll know for sure your lawn is getting watered properly.
Get Rid of Pests, Disease, and Weeds
Practicing greener turf management means being proactive. You’ll need to be on the lookout for any signs of bad actors in your grass. The good news is that taking all the other steps we’ve outlined here will be a main defense against lawn diseases, but you’ll still need to pay close attention to your turf. If you notice loose patches of lawn or leaf blades wilting, that could be a sign that pests have infiltrated your yard.
To combat them, you’ll need to determine what type of insect they are and what time of year is best to apply pesticide. Your county extension agent can help you identify both of those things.
If you’re already past prevention and need to get rid of the weeds already growing in your yard, do it when the weather’s warmer. When the weeds aren’t growing, they won’t absorb herbicide as fully, rendering it far less effective. At the same time, if you try to do it when the weather’s too hot, your grass might get stressed in the process, which is the exact opposite of good turf maintenance.
Before you can do this crucial turf maintenance step, you have to know what thatch is. It’s a mixture of both dead and living plant material that gathers at the base of grass plants. It should decompose on its own over time, but sometimes it starts building up faster than it’s breaking down, causing some issues.
The thing is, thatch isn’t all bad. There’s usually nothing wrong with a layer that’s less than half an inch thick. It can actually help out your turf maintenance efforts by conserving soil moisture and offering some protection from large fluctuations in temperature. It’s only when the thatch gets too thick for water and fertilizer to get through that your lawn will suffer. Lawn diseases and pests can also thrive in a thick thatch layer, thwarting many of your best greener turf management efforts.
The best time of year to dethatch your lawn will depend on what type of grass you have. The cool season varieties should be dethatched in late summer or early fall, and warm season varieties should be dethatched in late spring or early summer. Just avoid dethatching when the lawn is dormant or stressed.
You can always hire a greener turf management company to dethatch your lawn if it’s too thick. If you’d rather go it on your own, however, you can get a dethatching rake and go to town. You’re other options include renting a power rake or a vertical mower. When you’re done dethatching, you should rake up all the debris you’ve created, and be sure to water your lawn well.
The Bottom Line on Greener Turf Management
We’ve outlined eight different ways that you can practice turf maintenance that’ll help you achieve greener turf management. To get the best results, mix and match all of the different steps that would benefit your lawn. Don’t stop at just mowing correctly or watering more effectively — to take your turf maintenance to the next level, add on the more complicated lawn care steps, too.
If all those steps sound like too much work, you can also hire a greener turf management company to do the dirty work for you. They can come out and fertilize, aerate, and dethatch your lawn at the most advantageous times, taking all the guesswork out of it.
Whatever turf maintenance route you decide to take, we hope you now have all the tools you need to take your lawn to the next level.