A YEAR-ROUND LOOK
- SPRING LAWN CARE & REPAIR: March 15 – 25, after final frost.
- Organic lawn fertilizers can be applied in mid-March.
- Grass emerges from winter dormancy as average temperatures reach 50 F, usually mid-March to April.
- Grass reaches its peak growing season from April into June.
- Organic fertilizers can be applied again in July.
- Lawn growth begins to slow, brown out, and enter a summer dormancy, as average daily temperatures reach into the 80’s and higher, usually in August & into September.
- Grass emerges from summer dormancy as average temperatures begin to drop back down into the upper 70’s to low 80’s.
- AUTUMN LAWN CARE & REPAIR: 6 – 8 weeks before 1st frost, in mid-November.
- Organic fertilizers can be applied in early October.
- Grass growth begins to slow in mid-October to November.
- Lawn enters it’s winter dormancy around mid-November.
- Keep your lawn cut at 2-3 inches, while never cutting more than 1/3 off the top. This is the ideal length to make it harder for weeds to establish, as well as retain more water during the hot summer months.
- For best results, you may need to increase your mowing regimen to once a week, during the peak growing months, to keep up with the length to cut ratio recommended above. Cutting more than the top 1/3 damages grass and leaves it more susceptible to disease and decline.
- As your grass begins to go dormant in late autumn, keep your lawn at 2 inches. This will help reduce the risk of disease due to matting & winter damage.
- Minimize damage to your grass by keeping your blade sharp & only mow when dry.
- Raking your grass clippings back into your lawn is a great way to provide your lawn with extra nitrogen, phosphorus & water, help protect grass roots, and maintain proper soil health & structure.
- helps reduce excess pollution from yard waste being dumped in land fills.
- the additional organic matter being recycled back into the soil helps it retain moisture more efficiently, saving you money on your water bill.
If you are routinely cleaning up yard debris, clippings, perennial plant die-back, leaves, etc., you will need to add approx. 4″ of mulch to garden beds, and 1/2″ to lawns, a minimum of 1-2 times a year. This will help replace the essential lost & unrecycled organic matter.
- Mulch provides your lawn with an excellent balance of essential nutrients, broken down into a form grass can easily access.
- Raking a 1/2″ of mulch into your lawn, as part of your autumn and/or spring lawn care & repair routine, will help provide a protective cover for vulnerable grass roots, making your lawn more drought, disease, and heavy traffic resistant.
- Mulching helps maintain a more balanced, neutral soil Ph, which grass prefers. Proper soil pH is essential for grass root’s ability to access nutrients in the soil.
- Adding mulch to lawns also helps address & prevent disease & infestation by maintaining a healthy, dynamic balance of a wide range of beneficial bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi, micro & macro organisms (fauna, flora) that keep one another’s populations, within the soil biology ”food web”, in check.
- Mulch improves soil by providing an ideal balance between proper drainage & moisture retention. The larger chunks of woody debris in mulch allows water & oxygen to permeate the soil more efficiently, while the additional organic matter helps absorb & retain moisture.
- Saves you money on your water bill.
- Maintaining healthy soil structure, stability, drainage & aeration allows grass roots to access much needed water and oxygen within the soil, more efficiently. A proper rate of drainage, encourages grass roots to establish deeper, where they are more resistant to drought, disease and damage from heavy traffic.
*For more on mulch and composting, see my article,
Use only organic lawn fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers are not only extremely toxic & detrimental to entire soil ecosystems, children, animals and adults, contaminate ground water, result in build-ups of toxic chemicals like arsenic, uranium, cadmium in your soil, etc., but their prolonged use ultimately results in an unravelling of soil health, structure and stability , more generally, that yields a long string of negative symptoms such as various disease, infestation, soil acidification, and other such conditions much less capable of sustaining grass.
Weeds, on the other hand…
*For the deep dive into lawn fertilizers, see my article,
Organic lawn fertilizers provide a safe & effective, often three month supply of essential nutrients, that is safe to use, year round.
Here, in the Pacific NW, I have had excellent results using organic lawn fertilizers with an N-P-K ratio of 8-1-1, used in combination with a 1/2″ of fresh mulch.
Prior to the massive promotional campaigns, launched by prominent chemical weed killer & lawn fertilizer companies (here unnamed), characterizing clover as an undesirable weed in the ideal lawn, it has long been considered a much welcome & utilized beneficial ground cover, companion plant & integral contributor to lawn & soil health & vitality.
Traditionally, clover seed had often been mixed with grass seed as part of an over-all “seed, feed & weed control” regimen. When overseeding a lawn, a ratio of 6:1, grass seed to clover seed was commonly used.
- Clover fixes nitrogen into the soil, an essential nutrient for healthy & prolific grass growth.
- Clover attracts & sustains numerous beneficial pollinators & other insects that play a key role in keeping more nefarious garden pest populations in check.
- Clover is a hearty, heavy traffic, drought & disease resistant ground cover that thrives in conditions not otherwise conducive to grass health or spread.
- As soil fertility & structure improves, as a result of the clover, grass will begin to move back into problem areas & thrive.
- Clover helps crowd out weeds & block seeds from establishing.
- Clover helps fill in problem bare spots in your lawn, protect from extreme heat & winter damage, and maintain soil structure.
- An excellent, long treasured companion plant for lawn & garden, alike.
- Choose an organic local grass seed that is best suited for your zone, environmental, soil type, air & sunlight conditions.
- The best time to lay down seed is along with your fall lawn preparations, 6-8 weeks before the 1st frost, in mid-November.
- As needed, seed again after final frost, in mid-March, as part of your winter weather lawn repair / spring preparations.
- For best results, rake in with a 1/2 inch layer of fresh mulch after spreading seed.
The GOLDEN RULE of WATERING: “Water more less often”, rather than “less more often”.
- Deep watering equals deep roots. Roots follow the water. By swamping your garden every 3 days (or every 2 days, as needed, as during extreme heatwaves, etc.), you are encouraging roots to establish deeper, where they are more protected from drought, disease, and other damage.
- By watering ‘less, more often’ (say, 10 minutes day), you are encouraging grass roots to establish closer to the surface, where the water is. Where they are less stable, and more drought, disease & damage prone. Roots follow the water.
- The ideal amount of water, per watering is equal to approximately 30-60 minutes of moderate rainfall. Overhead, oscillating, wide fan spray type sprinklers work best for lawn & garden.
- Maintaining healthy soil structure is essential to effective watering. Add mulch to your lawn regularly, to maintain proper drainage & moisture retention.
- To determine if your garden is due for watering, push your finger deep into the soil. If it feels slightly damp, like a rung out sponge, you’re still good. Check again in a day or two. If it’s DRY, SOAK IT.
- Allow the topsoil to dry, between waterings. Grass roots need to “breathe”. Frequent OVERWATERING can have the effect of 1.) suffocating & starving roots, leading to significantly stunted growth and even death, and 2.) encouraging disease & infestations. Allowing the topsoil to dry out helps address & reduce risk.
- Avoid watering at night, as longer periods of standing dampness on leaves and soil surface provide ideal conditions for disease & infestation to get a foothold.
- The best time to water your lawn is early in the morning. This will allow plenty of time for the water to fully permeate through the soil, before afternoon sun has a evaporate it out. This also allows topsoil to dry before nightfall.
*For the “deep dive” into watering, see my article
Thatch is the built-up tangle of undecomposed dead grass leaves, clippings & living grass rhizomes, stems. A thin layer of thatch can actually help protect grass roots from extreme heat, heavy traffic & retain moisture longer during the hotter summer months, etc.
However, an overaccumulation of thatch build-up on the soil surface (more than a 1/2″ – 1″ inch), prevents water & oxygen from effectively reaching soil & root system beneath, thus weakening your lawn & increasing your risk of disease & other damage.
The single largest contributor to thatch build-up is the use of chemical fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers are highly toxic to entire soil ecosystems. Prolonged use ultimately leads to a decline & collapse of, among other things, the essential bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms responsible for the breaking up & decomposing of dead organic matter, such as the grass clippings collecting on your lawn.
“Dethatching” involves routinely raking the excess thatch out of your lawn. Although this will temporarily address the issues precipitating from the build-up itself, alone it does nothing to resolve the underlying problem. Not to mention the amount of hard raking involved can also damage the grass, pull up grass roots, and lead to disease, etc.
Thatch can be addressed & eliminated directly by
- eliminating the use of chemical fertilizers, amendments, pesticides, weed killers, etc., of any kind.
- raking mulch into your lawn, a minimum of 1 -2 times a year. This helps by
- replenishing the soil with the essential soil microorganisms & organic matter involved in breaking up & decomposing any excess build-up,
- covering over surface forming grass roots,
- maintaining & supporting a healthy, balanced soil ecosystem, that helps prevent excess thatch from occurring, in the first place.
Another common contributor to poor lawn health & growth is heavily compacted soil. Under such conditions, grass roots are deprived of sufficient water, air & nutrient penetration.
Similarly, dense clay-like soils significantly reduce air penetration and plants’ ability to access essential nutrients. As a result, root development becomes weakened, more shallow, thus less drought & damage resistant, and more prone to disease.
“Aerating” involves removing small plugs of soil from your lawn to help break up compacted areas & to allow water, air & nutrients to get to the roots & encourage deeper root growth. Although somewhat marginally helpful, in the short term, this, again, does nothing to resolve the underlying problems.
If your soil is compacted to the point that this is an issue, it is most often the result of larger issues such as the impacts of prolonged use of chemical fertilizers, insufficient amounts of organic matter present in the soil, heavy traffic, soil imbalances, unfavorable environmental factors, etc. *(for more on this, see my article, “Organic vs. Chemical Lawn Care”)
The most effective and direct way of addressing & preventing soil compaction??? You guessed it, MULCH!!!
Mulching regularly helps maintain healthy soil structure, break up & amend hardened & clay-like soils, thus improving aeration, drainage, etc.
The single most effective way to keep weeds in check??….Mulch. Again, it’s mulch.
Never use chemical weed or moss killers. Although they may deliver on killing the existing weeds, they are a significant contributor to soil acidification, decline of essential soil microorganism activity, contamination of groundwater, accumulation of toxic chemicals, deterioration of general soil structure & health, that pave the way for more weeds.
When confronted with such poor soil conditions, many common, invasive weeds put most of their energy toward seed production, as a survival strategy. This, in turn, brings new & abundant sources of organic matter back into soil, which then replenishes & amends it to levels, more suitable for encouraging & sustaining grass & plants, etc.
By maintaining healthy, balanced soil, you are effectively helping suppress this trigger response in weeds. The difference of a few weeds, here and there, as opposed to the thousands, in full revolt, taking over your yard.
A thick, healthy lawn is a great way to crowd weeds out & prevent them from ever getting established. A regular annual lawn care & repair routine, involving overseeding, mulching, and organic lawn fertilizers will help ensure best outcomes & minimize weeds.
There are organic pre-emergent weed control products, such as corn gluten, available, that (as a bonus) also provides a nitrogen source to the soil, as it breaks down.
The tricky part of using corn gluten for lawns is that it is a “pre-emergent” control. That is, corn gluten works by sticking to weed seeds, thus preventing them to further develop. The timing of use is what is tricky, it closely coincides with grass seeding peak times and will have the same effect on grass seed.
Weeds can serve as “INDICATOR PLANTS“, meaning, by knowing a bit about various common weeds and the kind of conditions they prefer, the presence of certain weeds in your lawn or garden can help give you clues as to the general health, structure, nutrient content, fertility, pH level, etc. of your soil.
*For more on weeds as indicator plants, see my article,
Grass prefers a pH of 6.5 – 7.0 pH. Moss, on the other hand, prefers acidic soils of 5.5 pH or lower. Chemical moss killers are another product to be avoided as they ultimately exasperate the level of soil acidification that moss likes.
Moss spreads by spores and so there is really no way to eliminate moss from your lawn without improving soil pH and structure to something more favorable to grass and thus, less favorable to moss growth.
Moss is not competing with and/or overtaking your lawn. Instead, it offers an explicit map of all the low fertility, acidic, poor soil structure problem areas in your lawn. Shaded areas with diminished airflow, for example, add an additional, overlapping layer of favorable conditions for moss growth.
Offering a meaningful solution to moss in your lawn often requires a combination of improving both soil conditions as well as environmental conditions. That said, in the meantime, moss is actually mending and contributing something to overall soil health and stability, keeps weeds out, grows where grass won’t and is full and green year round.
SEASONAL LAWN CARE & REPAIR
Spring Lawn Care:
Once passed FINAL FROST date (mid-March), it’s time to address WINTER DAMAGE to lawns by
- filling in any potholes in your lawn, caused by winter damage, with fresh mulch.
- Overseed with a local organic grass seed mix.
- Lightly rake over with 0.5“ – 1” of mulch.
- Apply organic lawn fertilizers. *(my preferred lawn fertilizer has an N-P-K ratio of around 8-1-1)
- Add other required amendments, as needed. Be sure to have your soil properly tested (I recommend at your local extension office), and consult a professional, before applying other soil amendments.
- Weed, thatch & aerate, as needed.
- Water, as needed.
Among the benefits of seeding your lawn this time of year is making use of all the free rain, for getting your new grass seed germinated & established, in time before hotter summer temperatures start rolling in.
Autumn Lawn Care:
Once your lawn has emerged from its summer heat dormancy, and temperatures have started to settle back into the mid-60’s F, and at minimum 6-8 weeks before 1st FROST (mid-November),
- Address summer damage before the coming winter weather has a chance to finish the job.
- Overseed with a local organic grass seed mix.
- Lightly rake over with 0.5“ – 1” of mulch.
- Apply organic lawn fertilizers & other amendments.
- Weed, thatch & aerate, as needed.
- Keep mowing, as needed.
- Water, as needed.
Just as with early-spring, seeding your lawn this time of year, makes use of all the cooler temperatures & autumn rain, for new seed to get established, in time before winter.
Just as poor soil conditions don’t often occur overnight, so does the rebuilding of damaged soils, take time.
If your lawn is exhibiting symptoms, such as precipitate from chemical overuse, the only way to correct the problem is by regularly & steadily replenishing organic matter & nutrient content, rebuilding soil structure, stabilizing soil ecosystems & such, by consistently following the seasonal lawn care regimen, detailed above.
In most cases, getting a struggling lawn turned around & heading in the right direction, using best lawn care practices, it can be 3-5 years (depending on level of damage) before you begin to see the enduring benefits of your efforts.
Be patient. Your efforts will soon, and there on, be greatly rewarded with a full, lush, sturdy, healthy lawn, lower water bills, and much less trouble prone & maintenance intensive lawn!!