A Lawn is Your Welcome Mat: Tips for Improving the Lawn and Reducing Maintenance

Keeping the lawn attractive while cutting down on its overall maintenance is important to most homeowners. A lawn is your welcome mat. It is one of the first things that people notice as they drive up to or past your home. With a few simple tips, it is possible to not only have the lawn of your dreams but one that will require less work in keeping it healthy.

Choosing the right grass for your yard can make the difference between having a low-maintenance lawn and one that requires a lot of upkeep. Grass seed that grows slowly, thickens easily, and discourages weeds or other pests is important for a healthy lawn. Grasses vary in color, appearance, and growth habits. Determine how much time or money you are willing to spend on your lawn. Higher-maintenance grasses mean higher cost and more work for you. The type of grass seed you choose is dependent on and determined by the growing conditions of your particular area. For instance, how much sun and shade does the site receive? What is the soil like? Choosing the right grass for your lawn includes determining how it will be used as well. Will the lawn be used simply for appearance or other purposes such as entertaining, playing, gardening, etc? Consider your lawn requirements and compare brands carefully. The extra expense for higher-quality grass seed is usually worth it. Since most lawns have a variety of growing conditions, choosing those which are blended or mixed, such as with cool-season grasses, may be helpful. Different grasses have their own strengths and weaknesses, growing wherever they are better suited within the lawn. For instance, with a mixture containing bluegrass and fine fescue, the bluegrass will grow happily in sunny locations, while the fescue will thrive in shady areas. The lawn will also be more resistant to disease and pests when using a mixed blend. Warm-season grasses are usually planted as a single seed, not a mixture. Depending on your needs, these can be as good a choice as any other. The vigorous growth patterns of warm-season grasses make it difficult for other types of grasses, or weeds, to compete. Some grasses, such as tall fescues and native grasses, also look better when planted alone. If all else fails, you can always check with your local Cooperative Extension for recommendations in your area.

A good lawn is an easy-care lawn. Mowing and other lawn-maintenance chores should not be complicated or time consuming. Minimize these tasks by implementing edging around beds, walkways, foundations, steps, etc. to allow for easier mowing. An attractive edging can be constructed with paving stones or brick and laid flush with the lawn. This kind of edging will also reduce the need for hand trimming. Steel, aluminum, and plastic edgings are attractive and readily available alternatives as well. Grass is great, but less lawn means less lawn maintenance. Consider using easy-care groundcovers that don't require any mowing or trimming. Groundcovers like liriope (lilyturf) or English ivy do not require mowing and can make good landscaping fillers, especially in hard-to-mow areas. Edging can also save on lawn maintenance by keeping mulch in and grass out. A good-looking lawn requires mowing no more than every two weeks. Rather than giving the lawn a close trim each week, let it grow a little. This will actually help the lawn by allowing it to shade out weeds and develop stronger root systems. Removing no more than 1/3 of its overall length at a time may be helpful as well. Also, mow only when the grass is dry and use a sharp mower blade to make cleaner cuts. Mowing wet grass can spread fungus or insects; it can also dull the mower blades.

A well-prepared lawn doesn't contain bare spots or patchy areas where grass will not grow. If a bare area should develop, don't leave it open to weed invasion; reseed the area as soon as possible or turn it into a flower bed instead. If your lawn has significant shady areas that make growing grass difficult, consider using shade-loving grasses instead or incorporate a shade garden within these areas. You could also try to reduce the amount of shade by removing the lower branches of trees that might be causing this shade.

Weeds and wild grasses should not be present within the well-manicured lawn. A tell-tale sign that this is occurring would be easily recognizable dandelions throughout the lawn or grass that grows out ahead of the rest of the lawn grass. Even if you are committed to having a low-maintenance lawn, you will need to fertilize it with nitrogen to sustain a thick, vigorous lawn. In addition to needing nitrogen, your lawn may need phosphorus and potassium. Depending on where you live, however, your soil may naturally contain sufficient levels of these elements. When choosing fertilizer, look for the slow-release forms. Using slow-release fertilizers will allow you to reduce the amount of time you spend feeding the lawn. These don't have to be applied as frequently, lasting longer and saving you both time and money. Leaving clippings where they fall not only saves on maintenance, but it also reduces the need to fertilize. Grass clippings naturally add nitrogen to the soil as they decompose and also help conserve soil moisture. This is also a great alternative to using chemical fertilizers. A healthy, well-fed lawn will resist the attacks of pests and diseases as well as crowd out weeds and other undesirable grasses.

One of the best lawn-maintenance savers is less frequent but deeper watering. How much water your lawn needs depends on the grass, the soil, and the amount of rainfall your lawn gets. Generally, watering an inch once or twice a week should be sufficient. Give your lawn the water it needs but no more. If it rains during the week, decrease your watering. If it is extremely hot or windy, you may need to increase the watering. There are, however, ways to minimize the need for watering. Keeping the grass taller by mowing less frequently will help shade the soil, reducing moisture evaporation. Choosing native grasses or those adapted to your area generally require less watering. Improving the lawn's soil quality, without chemicals, can also reduce watering needs, and organic lawns require less watering than chemically-treated lawns.