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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Lawn Maintenance Made Easy

September 29, 2004

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In the face of insects, diseases and stress, favor the growth of the grass and a lawn will take care of itself.

That's the best advice Dave Gardner, an Ohio State University Extension horticulture and crop science assistant professor, gives to homeowners when it comes to lawn maintenance.

"People think you have to apply tons of chemicals and put a lot of work into keeping a lawn immaculate," said Gardner. "But there are inexpensive ways of maintaining a nice lawn with low-chemical, minimal work."

Gardner said the key to a low-maintenance lawn lies in three cultural practices: watering, mowing and fertilizing.

"The most common mistake I see homeowners make is sporadic watering of their lawn," said Gardner. "Many individuals will wait until their grass is dry and turning yellow before watering it, let it green-up again, wait for the grass to turn, then re-water it."

This sporadic watering puts stress on the turf, depleting carbohydrate reserves in the crown to continually regenerate the leaf. Over time the grass either weakens becoming more susceptible to diseases, or stops regenerating new leaf tissue, eventually creating a sparse lawn.

"Commit to regular irrigation in the summer or just allow the lawn to go dormant," said Gardner. "Such a regimen includes early morning watering that provides one inch of water to the lawn each week."

It's time to water the lawn when footprints remain in the turf (leaf blades lose their turgidity as they lose moisture) or just as the color begins to fade to a blue- or grayish-green. Leaf blades will fold up at the cross section when in need of water and the nature of the color change is due to the way the light reflects off the leaf tissue.

The saying "less is more" applies to mowing, said Gardner.

"Mowing is not something the plant likes. The more leaf tissue you take off, the more stressful it is for the turf because it takes that much more energy to regenerate tissue," he said.

Homeowners are encouraged to mow their lawns on the taller side of the recommended range for their lawn species (2.5 to 3 inches for Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass) and avoid removing no more than a third of the leaf blade when mowing. Lawns cut at higher heights do not require mowing as frequently. The higher cutting height will also make the lawn more tolerant of dry periods and less susceptible to pest problems.

The optimum time to fertilize a lawn is in November before the turf goes dormant, said Gardner. "Turf has two peaks of growth: one in the spring and one in the fall. By fertilizing in the fall, the fertilizer will either be stored or put into root production rather than foliage growth," he said. "The result is a denser turf stand come spring."

Ideally homeowners should fertilize their lawn five times a year: a half-pound of nitrogen in April or May, three-quarters of a pound in May or early June, a half-pound in August, a pound in September and a pound and a half in November.

"The thinking behind less fertilizer in the spring is that the turf will have adequate nitrogen carried over from the fall to promote foliage growth," said Gardner.

Other tips to keep in mind when fertilizing:

• Read and understand the fertilizer label.

• Recognize that different species have different fertility requirements and application schedules.

• Do not apply more than the maximum single application rate to avoid burn.

• Do not apply during unfavorable weather conditions such as high heat and

For more information on lawn care maintenance, log on to

Candace Pollock
Dave Gardner