Monday, March 4, 2013

5 and a half steps to a healthier lawn.

Last week, I gave a small seminar to local homeowners on ways they can improve their lawns. The lecture took place at the Leslie Science and Nature Center. I thought that it would be a natural extension of this to post the lecture notes that i handed out and expand on them, just a little. The outline is in RED.

1) Mowing. Everyone mows, here are some hints to make it easier on your lawn.

      a) Keep mower blades sharp. The mower blade basically hacks the grass off. The sharper the blade, the cleaner the cut. This makes it less likely to be attacked be fungus and keeps moisture loss to a minimum.

      b) Never remove more than 1/3 of the grass blade. The grass uses the leaf to turn sunshine into energy. Removing too much at any one time stresses the plant out unnecessarily.

      c) Set mower at 3-4 inches high.

               i) This promotes a larger, deeper root system.

                      (1) Which in turn makes the grass more drought tolerant.

                      (2) And also more resistant to grubs.

               ii) Provides weed control. By shading the ground, weed seeds do not have the chance to germinate.

2) Do not remove clippings or leaves.

     a) Get a mulching blade kit for a rotary mower.

     b) Returning clippings and leaves means less need for fertilizer.

     c) Unfortunately, you may need to mow more often to keep your lawn looking nice.

     d) Returning clippings to the lawn DOES NOT increase thatch. Studies at Michigan State and other universities have shown that thatch is composed of roots, rhizomes and stolons, not leaf tissue.

3) Get a soil test.

     a) $25.00 from Michigan State Extension Office.


     c) The Washtenaw extension office is located at 705 N. Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, 48107

4) Fertilize in Spring and Fall.

     a) Nitrogen - Phosphate – Potassium These are the three "Macronutrients" in plant science. They are the numbers you see on a bag of fertilizer.

     b) Do not use phosphate unless soil test shows a need. A state law went into effect in 2012 that limits phosphorous usage.

    c) Know the square footage of your yard and use the correct amount. It should say on the bag how much area the bag will treat.

    d) Around 1 pound of Nitrogen per 1,000 square feet at each fertilization. Recommendations range from 2-6 pounds a year. The high range mostly effects appearance, not plant health. Also, over-fertilizing makes the grass grow more. This means more mowing and can also lead to more disease pressure.

5) Water only when needed. Turn off automatic irrigation off after rains.

     a) Pay attention to the weatherman, but only for a couple of days. More than a couple of days out and the weather forecasting gets pretty sporadic.

    b) Leslie Park has a weather station.

             i) Records amounts of rain, solar energy, windspeed and humidity.

            ii) Combines these readings to calculate evapotranspiration rate. (ET) I use this to determine if and how much irrigation to have in a night.

            iii) This website will estimate ET for your area.

            iv)  Our weather station is linked to Weather Underground and provides real-time updates.  (Weather station ID – KMIANNAR33)

      c) Deep, infrequent watering is better than shallow, nightly irrigation. It helps to promote a larger root mass.

      d) Brown grass is not always dead grass. Most grasses will go dormant in the summer.

      e) One indication that your grass needs water is “footprinting.” When you walk on your lawn, if your foot prints don't disappear, the grass needs water.


       a) Never a bad idea.

       b)Usually not needed on a home lawn. Aeration is used to combat compaction. Most home lawns don't see a lot of traffic.

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