by Ronald J. Plachno
This information is meant as a help based on what I learned from
others and I myself learned. However I have only tried it in a
suburb of Chicago Illinois and in Southern California. Therefore I
cannot guarantee results or help against damage. If concerned
about damage, please go slowly and with lower amounts of fertilizer and
watch your lawn - the way a doctor should watch their patient.
Regardless of anything I say below, I do not always do the same thing.
I look at the lawn for greenness in color, for over or under watering,
for damage, and more. And I adjust what I do to what I think it
OTHER THAN THAT
In two locations our family has been told by several people different
times that we had the best lawn in our residential neighborhood.
That made us feel good. I also think it took not that much more
time to win than lose.
OFFENSE THE BEST DEFENSE
The idea is to get a good lawn, one way or the other, and then to
keep it. Most of this is about keeping it. It might work
best right after sodding - of course if one is careful about fertilizer
and watering to do just the right amounts, since then you begin with
good grass. Why a good offense? Weeds grow easier than
grass. And so if you give them a chance, they can and will be
trouble. But if you have an offense - a great thick lawn that is
very healthy and continues to expand and grow, then there are fewer
places for weeds to grow. It is better to prevent weeds in the
first place then to have to get rid of them.
While nature provides some good help, sometimes nature is not
consistent enough and as such we need fertilizer. How to use it?
There are three numbers on the top of most fertilizer bags, such as
30-5-2, a series of numbers that I just made up. That is the
percentage by weight in turn of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium
in the bag. For my purposes, the last two items, Phosphorus and
Potassium are "root food" - needed for new lawns being sodded or grown,
and at times during the year. Some colder climates suggest hitting
your mature lawn with these in Spring and in Fall at least one time.
And of course, new lawns sodded or seeded may need more. The first
number on the bag, Nitrogen, is for growth above ground and that is the
next paragraph. And of course you would buy different fertilizer
when wanting root food such as 10-10-10 and you would want high nitrogen
for greening such as 30-5-2.
NITROGEN = GREEN PAINT
Want a green lawn? The common prescription is one pound of
actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet of lawn once a month in the growing
season. And so we begin to multiply width by lengths in our lawn
to figure out close to the square feet. Let us take the example of
3000 square feet, something a residential neighborhood might have.
Then we need to know how much nitrogen by weight in the bag. Let
us take an example of a twenty pound bag of total fertilizer that is
marked 30-5-2. With a high nitrogen content, this is clearly for
greening power. Now the decimal equivalent of 30% is 0.3.
And so let us multiply 0.3 times the whole bag weight which is twenty
pounds, and we get 6 pounds of actual nitrogen in the bag. Okay.
Now if we have 3000 square feet of grass, and we need one pound of
actual nitrogen by weight per 1000 square feet, then we need 3 pounds of
nitrogen for each feeding. In our bag though, which is 30%
nitrogen and twenty pounds total, we have 6 pounds of actual nitrogen by
weight. And so this bag would be good for two feedings - one this
month and one next month. Cautions next.
Since nitrogen can cause great growth spurts and also greening power,
it can also cause damage if too much is spilled or applied way too much
in an area. Growing too fast can kill. Now sometimes that is
good since if nitrogen is applied in the correct amount, weeds may be
affected more and die. But we also must be careful to not spill
nitrogen anywhere since it can then "burn" our lawn. And also if
our math is no good, and we apply far too much, we can again damage our
lawn. So we must be very careful. If concerned start with a
lower dosage than 1 pound per 1000 square feet of lawn and watch it.
I understand that your lawn may get some natural nitrogen after a
thunderstorm. Nature often needs help though.
For a big lawn, I recommend buying a good spreader with two wheels
that you push and a bucket or barrel on that spreader center that you
fill with fertilizer that throws it around. For small lawns, which
I now take care of, I use a hand spreader since I am often just dealing
with about 1000 square feet total.
I do not adjust the spreader to put out the exact dosage, but I set
it to about half dosage. Then I spread fertilizer across the lawn
going one direction - perhaps left to right in front of the house - and
the next time up and down towards and away from the house. Since I
am using a smaller dosage each trip, there is less chance of over dosage
and more chance of getting all of the lawn and not missing an area.
CUTTING YOUR LAWN
My wife likes when a lawn is cut diagonally instead of up and down or
back and forth like a rectangle. And now I agree with her.
There are two reasons. One is that when a lawn is sodded it is
often done rectangularly. And so if we cut it the same way, we
will emphasize the lines between the sod and it might not look the best.
Diagonally of course ensures we just do not follow the sod lines.
The second is simply appearance. Cutting a lawn diagonally always
makes it look more professional, such as like a country club lawn
instead of someone just trying to survive and get a job done. We
now always cut our lawns diagonally, except of course for trim areas
around trees and the like. And I try and change the diagonal
direction each time I cut - between of course two possible diagonal
CUTTING DONE, NOW FINISHING TOUCHES
Some people cut their lawn and they are done. For my tastes, I
am about half done. Yes I use a gas mower and always have since I
fear running over extension cords. But I use electrical appliances
for edging by the sidewalk, for spot trimming with a weed whacker or
something similar, and I use an electrical blower for blowing grass on
the sidewalk onto the lawn. Since the extension cord is out, I
just use it for all three. If you have a different preference on
appliances that is fine. I do however think that edging a lawn
between the lawn and the sidewalk makes a huge difference in appearance
- taking something messy looking and making it look very neat. My
electrical edger is an old Sears Craftsman with a new blade, and is a
monster at 3 HP, and I just love it. I had a much lower power
edger once and it was just trouble. The first time that you edge a
messy lawn it may not be the best. It takes a few times I find to
cut the grass back and to dig a trench between grass and sidewalk.
SOAPING YOUR LAWN
I have not done this for a while, but I have done this. Some
people suggest getting a hose attachment like a plastic jar and filling
it with a low (meaning not much soap, but much water) soap concentration
in it, and then spraying your lawn. Since I have done this, it
does two things. It can make your lawn glisten since the soap gets
dirt off the grass and now the grass is clean and shiny. The
second thing it does, I am told, is to break up the junk on the surface
of your dirt such that water can get into the ground easier and it takes
less watering. I have not done this soap thing for a while, but I
admit that I used to like it.
It is best to try for a regimen whether using a sprinkling system or
doing the watering yourself. But of course like the above, you
should act like a doctor and watch how your patient is doing. If
much looks parched, then it may all need more water. If just one
area looks parched you may need to adjust your automatic sprinklers or
how you manually water it. And if you have toadstools or the grass
seems mostly wet, then perhaps there is too much watering.
Some people suggest watering early in the day. In that way they
say the grass can get the benefit of the water, but at the same time the
sun can dry out the ground before nightfall. Some say that
watering at night is bad since that can attract bacteria and lawn
disease. Now some will say here that Country Clubs water at night.
Yes, they do since they have no choice since there are golfers out there
during the day. But Country Clubs also have experts who look for
lawn diseases, a complex problem you may not wish to get into.
They have no choice.
Overall, remember, you are the doctor, your lawn is your patient.
There is nothing you should do just to follow a schedule. You
should watch your lawn for greenness, damage, water needs, disease,
weeds and more and adjust fertilizer and watering to suit. In my
recent case, I absolutely hit this lawn with 1 pound of real nitrogen
per month for about four months. The lawn was light green and I
wanted dark green. Now that it is darker green, I watch the lawn.
Sometimes I skip a month and do not use nitrogen that month.
Sometimes I add watering and sometimes I cut back watering by what I see
happening with the lawn.
But there are rewards. I admit at times I just like to go look
at the lawn and feel good about it being in good shape. And in our
new location, two different neighbors without me asking them told us we
have the nicest looking lawn in the neighborhood. We have also
noticed some neighbors now cutting their lawns diagonally as well.
Well, good for them.
Hope some of this might help someone.
Ronald J. Plachno
October 18, 2013