Great Lawn

Written by Ron Plachno

  This is just information much of what I learned from others, and some from experience.  Feel free to use it.  Of course, please do not copy and post all or sections of it without giving credit to the source.  Thanks!


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 needs.


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.


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.


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.


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 directions.


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.


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

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