For a healthy, trouble-free lawn this year, give your grass a good strong start right now. As spring blooms into summer and summer fades into fall, your lawn will repay your efforts with lush, long-lasting turf.

Timing is the key. Fertilize too early or too late, and you waste money and may even weaken your grass. The same is true when you apply herbicides to control weeds. So now’s the time to review basic lawn-care practice. Then follow up by contacting your local nursery or cooperative extension office for information specific to your area.

The Dirt on Grass

Lawn grasses come in two basic types: cool-season and warm-season. Hardy cool-season grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue, grow best in northern, cold-winter climates. They grow most vigorously in the cool months of the spring and fall seasons. Although they grow slowly in summer, they stay green through the heat if they’re well watered. If you have a cool-season lawn, fertilize it twice: once in late fall, about two weeks before the first frost; and again in late winter to early spring. But go ahead and follow the other steps listed below in early spring when days are still cool. Water this grass about an inch a week, spring through fall.

Warm-season grasses, such as Bermuda grass and zoysia grass, grow best in the mild-winter, warm-summer areas of the southern and southwestern United States. These grasses grow most vigorously in summer heat, and go dormant and turn brown in winter. They die in areas where winters are too cold. Begin caring for a warm-season lawn later in the spring, when temperatures are regularly in the mid-80s. Fertilize such grasses in early to mid-spring and again four to six weeks later; do not fertilize in the fall. Water about an inch a week in spring and summer.

Nine Easy Steps to a Better Lawn

Warm-season or cool, all lawns need proper care. Here’s how to give your grass a great start.

Fertilize. Use a complete lawn fertilizer and apply it, following the recommendations printed on the label. Your lawn will be denser, greener, have fewer weeds and will resist insects and diseases.

Adjust your soil pH. If your soil is very acidic (likely, if you have abundant summer rainfall), apply powdered limestone to adjust the pH. Talk to the folks at your local nursery or someone at your local cooperative extension office for local advice. These people can help you test your soil pH and tell you the recommended amounts of lime to apply.

Control weeds. Apply a pre-emergent herbicide, a weed killer that also prevents weeds from reappearing later in the growing season. These herbicides are generally sold in granular form. Do this before weed seeds germinate. To kill broadleaf weeds that appear later, apply a “weed-and-feed” product. Again, timing varies with local conditions, so consult your local nursery for advice. Follow all label instructions carefully.

Know when to mow. Mow your lawn only when the grass has grown 30 to 50 percent higher than the recommended mowing height. For most cool-season grasses, the recommended height is 3 to 4 inches, so you’d cut when it’s 4 to 6 inches high. For most warm-season grasses, the recommended height is 2 to 3 inches, so you’ll mow when it’s 3 to 4?/2 inches high. Mow all season, whenever the grass is 30 to 50 percent taller than the recommended height. If you don’t let the grass grow too long between mowings, you can leave the clippings on the lawn rather than rake them up. The cut grasses will break down quickly and contribute organic matter and nitrogen to the soil.

Aerate. Aerators remove small plugs of grass and soil from the lawn, admitting air to the soil, breaking up mats of dead grass and debris that can accumulate at root level, and invigorating root growth. Aerating also helps water and nutrients penetrate the lawn. You can rent a power aerator at local rental company or hire a lawn-care company to power-aerate for you. The best power aerators work by driving little hollow pistons into the ground that remove tiny cores of soil. For small areas, aerate manually with a sod-coring tool, a special tool that resembles a garden fork.

Reseed. If your cool-season lawn is thin or spotty in places, reseed it. First, roughly rake the area with a steel rake with short, hard tines. Then spread fresh grass seed, following the recommended coverage rates on the seed package. Lightly cover the new seeds with mulch or other >organic matter, and then keep the area moist until the seeds germinate.

De-thatch. Thatch is a thick, spongy layer of organic matter and debris that builds up between the grass blades and roots. By keeping water and nutrients from reaching the roots, thatch causes your lawn to grow poorly. Aerating will help to reduce thatch, and you can de-thatch small areas by raking vigorously with a steel rake. But to de-thatch large areas, it’s best to rent a power rake or hire a lawn company to do the work for you.

Check your irrigation system. Each spring, check your irrigation system to make sure it’s running properly. Repair clogged and broken sprinkler heads, then adjust your sprinklers so that water falls on the lawn instead of on sidewalks, driveways or patios.

Rolling right along…… Lawn Roller – What, When, How. There are several uses for lawn rollers. Knowing how and where to purchase or rent them is also essential when it comes time to use one. There are different types and uses for lawn rollers so we’ll look at a couple here. So why exactly would you use a lawn roller?

There are several main, or popular, reasons for using lawn rollers. One is if you’re getting ready to seed or overseed your lawn and the other is if you’re laying sod. Another purpose, which really goes along with what we’ve suggested in all our lawn sweeper articles, is for smoothing out a lawn and making it more level for easier and more precise mowing. As we’ve stated many times before, lawn sweepers work the best on ground or yards that are level and void of any big mounds, bumps, roots, or ruts. So utilizing a lawn roller is a good way of improving the efficiency of your lawn sweepers. If you have a big mound in your yard, you can remove dirt from around the edges of the mound and then roll it with the lawn roller. Think of it sort of as a huge divot left by a golf ball and the process that goes into refilling your divot. And if you golf anything as I do, you have a lot of them!

Rolling For Seeding. Before overseeding, you can roll the lawn several times to pad down the grass, and then rake away all the dead grass and seed. However, if you’re seeding for the first time, there are a lot more steps to take before you use your roller. First is testing the Ph level of your soil which should be around 6. To 7.5. Next, you’ll want to make sure you get all large rocks, sticks, and any other debris clear so it’s nice and clean. If you have big dirt clogs or mounds of soil that is compacted, use a tiller or hand tiller to break them up into more “dirt” than clumps. While tilling is the best time to spread out any starter fertilizer or soil additives you plan on using. Next, I like to use a regular garden rake or light screen to level the soil as much as possible before using the lawn roller. Now it’s time to use your lawn roller. Roll as many times as necessary to get the most even ground which helps with proper water drainage.

Lawn Roller and Laying Sod. The laying and planting of sod are when you most often see and use a roller or sometimes called a garden lawn roller. Most rollers use water as their main source of weight since they can be stored relatively light compared to their operating weight. Unless you’re installing a lot of sod and may even do some each year, there’s no need to really purchase a lawn roller. However, if you live on a farm or have a lot of land and do a lot of work, you may benefit from purchasing one; although they can be quite expensive. In most cases, renting one from your local lawn and garden store is probably your best bet.

Once your sod is rolled out, making sure your edges are all tightly together and staggered, (this article is about lawn rollers not laying sod) you’re ready to roll your new sod! Simply speaking, the lawn roller’s purpose is to remove any large air pockets and make sure the sod is firm contact with the soil beneath it giving the roots of the sod a good chance for healthy growth. If you don’t roll, you may end up with some roots not touching the soil underneath and dead spots in your lawn.

Like most garden equipment, rollers come in many different shapes and sizes. The most common are the rollers that are filled with water for weight. This makes them easier to transport when not in use. There are rollers that are filled with sand or concrete, but those are best used for sod farms or places where they won’t need to be transported far or often. You’ll typically find the steel lawn roller in these types of uses as well; obviously they tend to be quite heavy so are used specifically where they won’t require being moved much. Basically there are two ways of pushing or pulling the roller; by hand or using a tractor. The push lawn roller is used for smaller jobs and moved around by pushing by hand. These are mostly water-filled or sand-filled types. When looking for rollers you’ll see the term “poly lawn roller” used a lot. That basically means the way its made and most lawn rollers are made of polymer. Regardless if you’re looking for a push or pull type, both work well and it obviously depends on your need or equipment. Most can be rented for anywhere from $12 to $30 depending on the type.

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