1.   Selecting and planting the right grass type (seed or sod)
  2.   Caring for your new lawn
  3.   Managing lawn problems
  4.   Creating your lawn care plan

1.  Selecting and planting the right grass type

Cool Season Locations

Sunny Locations

While there are many grass varieties available for seeding and for sodding a new lawn, not all varieties will do well in sun and shaded areas.

 In the northern two thirds of the US, improved Kentucky bluegrass is the native grass variety, most common in sunny locations. Be sure to select an “improved” bluegrass. One major benefit of a bluegrass lawn, is its natural ability to spread via underground roots, call rhizomes, filling in and repairing damaged areas. In every state, your local extension service has recommendations available on line. Since every variety has individual growth characteristics, it is wise to plant a blend of two to three individual varieties. A blend ensures that, while some varieties green up earlier and some hold their deep green color later in the fall, you will see a smooth transition of growth and color in and out of the growing season.

A blend also provides the strengths of each variety; disease resistance and drought tolerance, for example.

 Turf Type Tall Fescue is a good option for areas in sun or moderate shade, where maintenance is difficult. Large turf areas, for example, where budget constraints make it difficult to provide regular fertilizations and irrigation. TTTF has been developed to look like and fit well into a blend of Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass. The benefit of using TTTF is that is can grow reasonably well with somewhat less fertilizer and watering. This, again, makes it a good choice for low maintenance areas.

 Perennial Ryegrass is highly recommended as part of a blend for new seedings. While it looks like bluegrass, it germinates quickly, within a week, and acts as a nurse grass, minimizing soil erosion and providing pleasing green color until the slower growing bluegrasses comes along. Annual ryegrass, often used by contractors around new homes, is NOT recommended. While it germinates fast, it lives only one year, does not thicken up and is not pleasing to the eye. It’s only benefit is quick germination.

Shady Locations  

One of the most common homeowner lawn complaints is, “why can’t I grow grass in the shade”? The answer is simple, grass, no matter which variety you plant, grass plants need a minimum of a half-day’s sunlight to do well. And, while there are shade tolerant varieties, no turf area will be consistently thick when adequate sunlight does not exist. As an example; watch the grass under a shade tree green up in early spring, only to thin out as the tree’s canopy of leaves prevents adequate sunlight from reaching the lawn.

Fine Fescue is the most logical choice in the northern two thirds of the US for shady areas. Although these fine bladed fescues can do reasonably will in less than full sunlight, they tend to be prone to disease damage throughout the spring and summer months. And, since fescues do not spread and thicken naturally [they have no underground roots called “rhizomes”], keeping a shady lawn of fescue grass thick is an annual challenge.

The most sensible approach would be to plant a blend of the most shade tolerant Kentucky bluegrass with the hardiest and most disease resistant fine fescue varieties. Even then, you should plan to over-seed the shaded area annually, in the fall.

Warm Season Locations                                                   

Sunny Locations

(specifically, the transition zone; points at or south of St. Louis, Louisville, Richmond and Charlotte. Across the mid-south, the most common varieties for sunny locations are Bermudagrass and Tuft Type Tall Fescue. And, since the mid-20th century, Zoysiagrass has been used satisfactorily. A cautionary note: Zoysiagrass goes off color quickly as fall temperatures drop and, in the northern transition zone, Zoysia sod struggles to maintain a thick, healthy appearance. Contact your university extension service for local recommendations.)

Bermudagrass and Zoysia are the best choice

In more shaded areas and around trees Turf Type Tall Fescue is recommended.

Common Bermudagrass, a courser and less appealing variety, may be planted from seed, although sod is the most common and recommended form of establishment. Hybrid Bermudagrass, with it’s finer blades and deep green color, creates a more beautiful turf quickly, and is installed as sod.

In the deep south, from South Carolina, across Florida and Texas to Southern California, St. Augustine is the predominant recommended variety. While St. Augustine will thin out and die off when temperatures are below freezing for any length of time, it does very well in the hottest climates. Like Kentucky bluegrass, in the north, St. Augustine requires regular fertilization and irrigation for healthy growth and beauty. When well maintained, St. Augustine spreads rapidly from above ground “stolons” or runners that form a dense thatch above the soil. This “spongy” characteristic can make mowing without “scalping” the lawn a challenge.  Still, by all measurements, St. Augustine is the variety most commonly used in the deep south.

In smaller, more highly maintained turf areas in the deep south, hybrid bermudagrass may be the variety of choice. It is important to point out that, if hybrid bermudagrass is sodded, regular fertilization, irrigation and frequent mowing are a requirement.

In the higher elevations of California, it is not unusual to see Kentucky bluegrass lawns, side by side with transition zone varieties. Along the coast, several varieties can be seen, from Bermudagrass to annual bluegrass. The key is to plant the right variety for your specific location.

Seeding A New Lawn

1.  Establish a proper grade and seed bed. Depending on the site soil and amount of compaction, this may require a roto-tiller for larger areas. Before applying seed, be sure the lawn will properly drain. A “drop” of just a few inches across lawn will allow water to run off, minimizing any low spots or standing water.

It is important that the seedbed contain “chunks” of soil, roughly the size of golf balls. Do not work the soil down to fine, sand-like particles. The larger chunks of soil provide some protection from wind and erosion for the seed, as it is distributed across the ground.

The seedbed should be worked up to a depth of at least two to three inches before planting. It is important that, as the seed germinates, it can easily send down and establish roots in the loose soil. Where the soil is not adequately worked up and newly germinated plant roots are exposed on hard-pan, compacted soil, new plants cannot quickly root down. Within only minutes, newly germinated grass plants that have not located moisture in loose soil will dry out and die.

2.  If you are in an area of high soil acidity, now it the time to provide necessary amendments. Lime is used, mainly in the eastern US, to neutralize or “sweeten” acid soil and can be applied with a rotary fertilizer spreader. West of the Mississippi, soils tend to be alkaline. Where this situation exists, a sulfur application at the time of seeding can raise acidity, necessary for optimum plant growth. Grass grows best, between 6.0 and 7.0 on a pH scale [measuring soil acidity] of 1 to 14. A soil test, available at the local extension service will measure soil acidity and provide recommendations for amendments.

3.  Spread seed accurately and evenly. Grass seeds are very small and very lightweight. Spreading seed can be a real challenge. An accurate method of seeding, is to use a “drop type” spreader. Using this type spreader, the seed falls from the bottom of the spreader hopper a distance of only an inch or two, minimizing off target drift.

When seeding large areas, using a “drop spreader” is impractical. In this situation, a larger “rotary spreader” makes sense. With this type spreader, seed can be spread across a spreader swath of at least six feet, per pass. The challenge will be to spread the seen when there is little or no wind, which can ruin spreading accuracy and leave large bare spots where no seed was applied.

 4.  The very most effective seeding procedure, employs a “slicer seeder”. This machine, which can be rented locally, uses large disks to cut grooves into the soil. Seed is dropped directly and accurately into the groves, where seed to soil contact is insured. A word of caution; slicer-seeders are heavy. Unless you are physically fit, it may make sense to hire a landscaper to do the seeding.

 Note: Another method of seeding, is to spread seed over a lawn area which has been “core aerated”. This process, however, is not recommended for bare ground, initial lawn planting and is most suitable to seeding thin areas of existing turf.

 5.  Follow up. Once the lawn has been seeded, it is very important to keep the new seedbed damp until the new seed has all germinated and roots have been established in the soil. While extensive watering is not required, it is important to keep the top two inches of soil damp. This will allow germinating seed to send down and establish roots. Do not let the new seedbed dry out.

Sodding Procedures

1.  Preparing the site.  Note: AS with a seeded lawn, be sure to identify any soil acidity or alkalinity issues and apply necessary amendments before laying sod. [See seeding procedures for details].

The most common mistake landscapers, contractors and homeowners make when sodding a lawn is failing to prepare the site. Homebuilders are notorious for tossing rolls of sod on uneven, compacted soil, sometimes laden with left over pieces of wood and construction debris. When this happens, sod will eventually have to be removed, soil area cleaned and leveled, then sod reapplied.

Sod is delivered to lawn sites without roots. Cutting sod in the field means removing critical root material, vital for grass establishment. To maximize sodding results, it makes sense to grade and prepare the site soil before the sod truck arrives.

 2.  As with any new lawn, establishing a grade is important. The idea is simply to create enough “drop” to ensure proper drainage. A very small amount of drop, just a few inches across the lawn is adequate.

 3.  Rake up or roto-till compacted soil, removing rocks and debris. Smooth out the area to be sodded with a garden rake.

 4.  Apply high phosphorus starter fertilizer to the site soil.

 5.  Lay the sod evenly across the lawn, jogging the seams so that no two seams match up. This will minimize any extensive openings between sod seams. Push sod strips tightly together to minimize any spaces. Where space exists between sod strips, you can expect weeds to grow quickly.

 6.  IMPORTANT: Water the newly laid sod generously. Water until the soil under the sod is saturated to a depth of at least two inches. Moist soil is vital in allowing the new sod to establish deep, sustaining roots. A failure to provide adequate water is a major cause of sod failure. Once the soil is moist, maintain daily watering [in lieu or rainfall] until the sod is well established. When you cannot pull the grass plants up for the soil, you will know for sure that rooting is taking place.

 7.  Follow up. Mow the new sod tall, at a height of at least three inches to avoid scalping any elevated spots.

2.  Caring for Your New Lawn

Once a new lawn is seeded or sodded, watered and fertilized for maximum root development, proper cultural practices are very important. Proper mowing, watering and providing adequate nutrients will ensure a beautiful lawn throughout the growing season.

Proper Mowing - will give your lawn that clean cut and uniform look we all strive for.

  • Mow tall. The best mowing advice you will ever get it to mow tall; at least three [3] inches for cool season grasses, like Kentucky bluegrass, turf type tall fescue, fine fescue and perennial ryegrass. Mowing warm season grasses, Zoysia, St. Augustine and Bermudagrass can be more of a challenge. Because of their growth characteristics, spreading by sending out above ground “stolons” or runners, if not mowed frequently, at least once per week, stolons can build up, forming a spongy layer, leading to “scalping” as the mower wheels sink into the thatch. Again, mowing often is key. Hybrid varieties with notoriously short blades should be mowed closer. When mowing hybrid Bermudagrass and Zoysia, set the mower at a height of one and a half [1.5] inches. Other warm season varieties can be mowed to a height of three [3] inches.
  • Mow often. Mowing more than once per week in the peak growing months is recommended. Your mowing schedule should allow for removing no more than one third [1/3] of the blade, per mowing. Mowing often, removing a small amount of blade tissue is less stressful for the grass and, with more blade tissue remaining after mowing, the plant is better able to photosynthesize and produce food. The result, a more colorful, healthier lawn, especially in hot, dry weather.
  • Keep mower blades sharp. It is important to mow with a sharp blade. Making a smooth, clean cut is much less stressful for the grass plants and minimizes any loose, shredded blades, which dry quickly, turn brown and create a ‘tanish’, off-color look to the freshly mowed lawn. Seeing this off-color appearance, it is easy to blame your fertilizer or a seasonal disease for the problem; when the easy remedy is to sharpen the blade on your rotary mower. Take a fine file and smooth the outer inch of the blade on each side. This simple mower maintenance practice can make a big difference in the look of your lawn and minimizes any large blade wounds, where disease spores often enter the plant.

Provide Adequate Water

  • How much is enough water? A widely accepted rule of thumb is to provide one to one and a half [1.5] inches of water per week in lieu of rainfall, during the growing season.
  • How can I tell how long to water? Place a straight-sided can or container under the sprinkler’s watering pattern and run the sprinkler for 30 minutes. Measure the water depth in the container to learn the watering rate per hour with your equipment.
  • How often should I water? Its best to spread the 1.5 inches of water over 2-3 watering applications per week. Watering for short periods every day does not deliver enough water to soak up the soil to a depth of three [3] inches, the recommended depth at which soil moisture is needed for plants to develop deep roots. Frequent, short watering enhances shallow rooting, which can lead to early plant stress in periods of drought or when watering is interrupted for any length of time.
  • Do I Need an Underground Irrigation System? No. The goal is to provide enough water, per week, to maintain healthy growth and color. That can be accomplished with a quality sprinkler or with an underground system.

Proper Fertilization

In order to build a thick, dense turf, all grass varieties require supplemental fertilization. Allowing the lawn to “go natural” will quickly result in a thinning out of new and existing plants, followed by the immediate invasion of a variety of grassy and broadleaf weeds, like dandelion.

  • How much fertilizer is required? Nitrogen [chemical symbol N] is the key grass nutrient and is required in the greatest quantity. With the exception of Centipede grass [found from South Carolina, across northern Florida and the gulf coast], four to five [4-5] pounds of Nitrogen per 1000 square feet of lawn per year are required to maximum turf density. Centipede grass should not be over-fertilized, limiting supplemental Nitrogen to two [2] pounds per 1,000 square feet per year.

Phosphorus [chemical symbol P], also a major turf nutrient, is typically plant available in most native soil. Supplemental Phosphorus should not be required, with one exception; planting seed or sodding. In this case, extra Phosphorus is very important in enhancing early plant root establishment and growth.

Potassium is the third major turf nutrient. Important in building strong cell walls, which can help minimize disease damage and prepare plants for winter, supplemental Potassium [chemical symbol K] is required but at a much lower rate than Nitrogen.

Most commercial fertilizers, those available at the local big box store or nursery, will have a blend of major nutrients, described above. Still, fertilizers are NOT all the same. Nutrient sources can make a big difference in determining how effectively the fertilizer releases its plant food, how effectively it “feeds” the plant and how long it lasts. In addition, some fertilizers include biological ingredients, designed to “feed the soil”, enhancing the take up of plant nutrients. Whether or not these biological materials measurably impact plant growth depends on the soil chemistry in each location and the availability of active mircro-organisms.

The directions on each bag of granular fertilizer will provide information on some but not all spreader settings and let you know how large an area the bag is designed to cover. Importantly, for the desired dark green, consistent color across the lawn, fertilizers must be applied at the proper rate, accurately. Accordingly, choosing an accurate fertilizer spreader, cleaning and maintaining it are important.

  • When should I fertilize? Beginning in early spring, apply fertilizer at a rate of one [1] pound of Nitrogen per 1000 square feet every 5-6 weeks throughout the growing season. The early application will “kick off” the lawn, enhancing green growth and color, Summer applications help the lawn withstand heat and drought and late fall fertilization prepares the lawn for the cold, drying winter months ahead. Applying fertilizer only once in spring, summer and fall for a total of three [3] to four [4] applications will NOT produce the thickest, healthiest lawn. For a lawn that most Americans want, one that looks and feels like a golf fairway, five [5] to six [6] applications per year are required.
  • What About Lime? Limestone is a supplement, applied to lower soil acidity. It is not a plant nutrient and does not “feed” the plant. In states east of the Mississippi river, most soils are somewhat acid. Grass grows well at a PH [acidity] level of around 6.0 to 6.5, on scale of 1.0 to 14. When the pH level is on the low side, a surface application of lime can “sweeten” the soil, lowing acidity in the root zone and improving the plants ability to take up and use nutrients. A soil test, available at most extension services will provide information on your site soil. As a general rule, applying lime in the eastern US is recommended annually. Note: In western states, most soils are alkaline. In this situation, sulfur may be required to increase acidity, bringing the soil back into the optimum range for nutrient uptake.
  • Liquid or dry, granular fertilizers? While fertilizer nutrients can be applied in either liquid or granular form, for most homeowners, a granular product, applied dry through a rotary lawn spreader is most sensible. Applying liquid fertilizer requires mixing and application equipment, including lots of hose! From a chemical point of view, both types of fertilizer supply the same nutrients. It has been shown, however, that some liquid fertilizers are taken up quickly on plant blades and used to “push” blade growth. This can stress plant roots, thinning the lawn over time. Granular fertilizers fall to the soil surface, are broken down by both water and soil micro-organisms and slowly taken up by plant roots; leading to a more controlled growth pattern for a longer period of time.

3.  Managing Lawn Problems

While your new lawn is growing and filling in, it is important to realize that building a new lawn does take time. The first growing season will require regular maintenance; and, you should be prepared to deal with several predictable challenges, beginning with weeds.

Managing weeds

Annual grassy weeds, like crabgrass, will be an early challenge. Assuming you seeded or sodded the new lawn in fall, open areas in the growing turf will still be plentiful, allowing weeds to invade.
There are two major groups of weeds with which you should be concerned; annual weeds, mostly grassy types, and broadleaf weeds, mostly perennial, like dandelion.

Early spring is the time to prevent crabgrass. Since this ugly invader is an annual plant, after turning an unsightly purple late summer, it dies with first frost, each fall. Unfortunately, before dying out, crabgrass and other annuals, such as goose grass, barnyard grass and foxtail, drop up to 100,000 seeds into the soil. These seeds are there the following spring, ready to germinate and grow rapidly as soil temperatures reach and maintain 55 degrees for several days. Depending on your geographical location, this can be as early as mid-April.

To prevent annual grassy weeds, apply a pre-emergent barrier prior to weed germination. When the chemical pre-emergent is applied early [March in the north], a second application is highly recommended to extend prevention through late spring. Several effective materials are available at your local nursery or garden center.

As is the case with other lawn care products, it is very important to make complete and accurate product applications. Products applied at the wrong rate and missed strips, usually due to a failure to properly overlap spreader wheel tracks, will result in weeds filling in these areas. The same is true of liquid applied pre-emergent products. Uneven application, improperly mixed materials and off-target application will have the same unwanted result. Read product directions carefully and follow application spreader settings as they appear on the package. Do not increase or decrease applications rates, as this will significantly impact results.

For best results, even when using a liquid product, at least one dry granular pre-emergent product should be applied in the early spring.

Expect approximately 80% weed prevention. Even the most accurate, properly timed product applications may not prevent all grassy weeds. Heavy spring rains, foot and equipment traffic and lawn raking can and does decrease results. When this occurs, crabgrass and other annuals can be treated with liquid spray controls once they are up and growing. Still, prevention is the recommended method of control and weed management.

Note: Always apply granular products with a properly adjusted, accurate spreader. Mis-application is a major cause of poor weed control.

Perennial broadleaf weeds. While not all broadleaf weeds are perennial [living more than two years], most troublesome lawn invaders do live for several years. This growth characteristic means that preventions is not possible. You cannot prevent what is already there, in the lawn. Often, homeowners, unaware that those frustrating dandelions that bloom in mid-spring, are well established, lying dormant until sunlight and warming soils signal the start of another growing season. Typically, while the top growth is destroyed in winter, the deep roots are alive and well.

To control perennial, broadleaf weeds [like dandelion], apply a liquid, post-emergent control when weeds begin growing actively. Treating before active growth begins is not effective.

Some broadleaf weeds are not selectively controllable. While most weeds can be managed with one or more liquid spray applications, a few simply cannot be killed without harming desirable grasses. In this case, a non-selective product, like Round Up, can be used effectively. One drawback to using a non-selective product is that, as the weeds are eliminated, large dead spots in the lawn, lead to more weeds. In addition, when used extensively, non-selective controls, while killing the weeds, leave the lawn looking less that pleasing. Most often, homeowners simply try to manage these few hard to control weeds by digging them out, using a weeding tool to remove the top growth and the root where possible.

Weeds grow all season. Because weeds sprout and invade lawns season long, whenever the lawn develops thin or damaged areas, weeds can be expected to fill in within just days. And, because weeds never stop invading, it will be necessary to continue treating as new weeds emerge. A professional service will inspect the lawn for weeds and treat as necessary on each visit. If you choose to manage weeds on your own, read the product label to be sure the control you are applying is registered for the target weeds in your lawn. Most weed controls are broad spectrum and will control all common weeds.

Thick lawns prevent weeds. One of the very best ways to manage weed populations, is to build a thick, dense lawn. When lawns are mowed tall [see “Caring for Your Lawn”], grass blades shade the soil, minimizing weed germination and growth. Most homeowners do not realize that, when they give the lawn that close mowed, crew-cut look, they are unknowingly opening up the lawn to more and more ugly weeds.

Managing lawn damaging insects

There are two basic types of turf damaging insects; surface feeding, chewing insects that feed on grass plant blades and sub-surface grubs that feed on and destroy plant roots. In addition, a few of these unwanted visitors [chinch bugs, for example], do damage by sucking plant juices, leaving behind a poisonous toxin and killing the plant.

Surface feeders. The most common chewing, surface feeding insects are the sod webworm, armyworm and cutworm. In some areas, billbugs can be extremely damaging.

These common and controllable bugs, often active during the nighttime hours, climb onto grass plant blades, chew away the tissue on either side of the mid-rib and subsequently kill the plant.

While most lawn insects are controllable, the first step in any management plan should always be to inspect the damaged areas and confirm the problem. In the case of surface feeding insects, by closely inspecting the turf at the edge of the browned out, damaged area, looking closely at the soil surface, in the thatch, you will often find a sawdust like dried material known as “frass”. This material is the remains of chewed up plant parts and a sure sign of surface feeding insects.

Taking a leisurely walk across the lawn on a summer evening can disturb small [1/2 inch in length] lawn moths, resting in the grass. Easily visible, these small, half-inch long moths flit and fly around the lawn, laying eggs. Within a few days, the eggs hatch and young insect larvae begin chewing on grass blades. With the problem identified, applying a liquid or granular insect control is the next step. Granular insecticides can be applied through your lawn fertilizer spreader. Product application settings and instructions will be supplied on the product bag. Since some insects [sod webworms, for example], have more than one summer life cycle, a repeat application may be required.

Repeating, a close inspection on your knees is the best way to spot the larvae or frass, left behind.

Sub-surface, root destroyers. White grubs can destroy an entire lawn in mere days.

Beginning in late spring, beetles, commonly known as June bugs, Japanese beetles and Chafers, spend their days eating and destroying the leaves of blooming trees and ornamentals. Within a few days, these beetles begin several weeks of laying eggs. As the beetle eggs hatch at the soil surface, they work their way to the root zone and feed on grass roots. As with surface feeding insects, most insect damage is found in sunny, therefore warm areas of the lawn.

While a few grubs per square foot should not cause serious lawn damage, as populations grow, and roots are destroyed, preventing the grass plant from taking up water and nutrients, the lawn will begin to brown out. Often, an irregular patch of browned out turf is the first sign of insect damage. To confirm grub damage, go to the browned-out area, grasp a handful of turf and attempt to lift it up. If grubs had significantly damaged roots, you will be able to raise the sod, pulling it back like a carpet.

Once grubs have killed off the turf, where damage is severe, removal of dead grass and reseeding may be necessary. Where grub populations are lower, and some green grass remains well rooted, applying a grub control and watering it in well, should stop the damage in time for the remaining healthy grass to recover.

The most sensible and effective way to avoid white grub damage is to apply a preventive control in late spring. When properly applied and watered in well, a control barrier will provide protection from newly hatched larvae for four growing months.

Managing common lawn diseases

In order for lawn disease to seriously and permanently damage a lawn, three factors known as the “disease triangle” must be present.

  1. The pathogen or fungus [ disease spores] must be present and active
  2. The host plant [susceptible grass plant] must be available
  3. The necessary environmental conditions [weather] must exist

When any of the above factors is NOT present, a disease epidemic cannot occur.

Lawn diseases come and go seasonally, as weather patterns change, temperatures and humidity increase and decrease, and rainfall amounts vary.

On highly maintained turf, like golf courses, where serious turf damage would limit playability, diseases are vigorously treated and controlled. In addition, the closely mowed turf on tees and putting greens, under constant and significant stress, is less likely to be able to tolerate or outgrow disease without chemical treatment.

Generally speaking, however, on home lawns, where grass is mowed tall and under less stress, and in view of the fact that diseases cannot remain active when conditions change and the “disease triangle” is broken down, the most common and practical disease management strategy is to keep the lawn as healthy and strong as possible, allowing it to outgrow the disease. In addition, as a practical matter, because fungus control products are comparatively expensive and have a fairly short effective residual, using them on large home lawns is not always practical.

Below, are several turf diseases, commonly found on home lawns. Diseases are identified here using common names.

Late winter disease

Gray snow mold - Commonly found under melting snow. This disease, most often developing in a temperature range of from 28-45 degrees in the presence of excess winter moisture, does not typically kill turf. The recommended treatment for snow mold is to rake off dead area and apply a complete fertilizer. As weather warms, the lawn will grow out of the condition.

Spring diseases

Leaf spot – Found during the cool, damp spring season on most cool season turf grasses [Kentucky bluegrass, fine fescue, perennial ryegrass], leaf spot is easily identified by its “cigarette burn” lesion on grass blades. As the disease progresses, the lesions coalesce to form larger damaged areas at the crown of the plant. When this occurs, now referred to as crown rot, significant plant damage and death is possible.

Leaf spot is treatable with readably available fungus controls. If conditions, however, do not change in 10-14 days, the disease will again become active and re-treatment necessary.

Recommended cultural controls include adequate [1.0 pound/1000 sq. ft.] but not excessive nitrogen fertilizer and watering in lieu of rainfall. Mow tall to reduce stress.

Damaged area should be reseeded with resistant cultivars, now available. Consult local extension service for specific, local recommendations.

Red Thread – Active on perennial ryegrass and other cool season turf, this disease is first seen as yellowish colored areas across the lawn. These irregular patches become pink to red, over time. Limited to plant leaves and stems, drying plants turn a straw-colored tan but most often are not killed off. Culturally treating red thread calls for the application of a complete fertilizer with repeat application in four weeks.

Summer / Fall diseases

Rust – Found on cool season turf, rust forms most often in late summer and early fall. Yellowish spots appear on grass blades. As the disease progresses, the outer layer of the grass blade ruptures and millions of disease spores ooze onto the surface of the blade. Soon, the spores form a rust colored coating which easily rubs off on shoes and equipment on the lawn. As temperatures continue to drop, this condition typically subsides without significant plant damage.

Brown patch – During the hot, summer months, most turf varieties, north and south, are impacted by large, irregular brown patches of diseased turf, commonly referred to as brown patch. This is a soil active pathogen, attacking plant roots under stress. Preventive chemical applications are recommended to avoid this predictable problem. When lawns, especially in the mid to deep south are not treated in advance of the diseases development, entire lawns can be and are killed annually. Recommendations are for the application of only a low amount of nitrogen fertilizer during active disease periods.

Summer patch [necrotic ring spot and other summer patch syndromes] – Summer patch diseases are caused by soil active pathogens. These pathogens, active during the hottest, most stressful times of the growing season, attack and destroy plant roots on cool season turf grass. Attacking mostly mature lawns, leaves turn from tan to a reddish color, then die. Often, during the diseases development, a “frog eye” type damaged spot can be seen; browned turf with a tuft of green grass in the center. Culturally, recommendations include mowing tall and possibly providing a core aeration to improve drainage. Dead areas should be replanted with perennial rye grass, which is resistant to most patch diseases.

Fairy ring – Appearing as dark green circles in the lawn, fairy ring is the product of dead and decaying tree roots and stumps under the ground. As decay takes place, the rotting material sends up nitrogen, which leads to the dark green color seen in the lawn. Since the rotting material can be several feet deep, digging it out can be difficult. In addition, the darkened green turf can be literally fill of mushrooms. The good news is, as the decaying plant decomposes and disappears, the condition should end. There is no treatment for his condition. Turf grass will not be damaged.

4.  Your Lawn Care Plan and Best Choice

What Most Homeowners Really Want in a lawn

Until roughly 100 years ago, a beautiful lawn of fine turf was to be found only in the formal gardens of Europe. Cared for daily by large staffs of workers, these beautifully planted and maintained landscapes amazed those privileged to walk the manicured pathways.

After WW1, something interesting happened in the turf world; Americans, fighting in Europe, saw and were impressed by these fine turf areas. Some even brought home bags and boxes of European bentgrass to plant around their homes in the states.

Couple that with the amazing growth in the game of golf and it’s increasing popularity along the east coast of the US, and the result was a booming interest in and desire for beautiful lawns. Golfers inquired about this beautiful fairway turf and wanted it, not just on the golf course but around their homes, as well.

By the early 1920s, “lawning” had become an American pastime. Bags of seed and fertilizer were sold via direct mail order and retailers began to display lawn products in specially created garden sections of their hardware and general merchandise stores.

By the late 1940s and into the 50s, O.M. Scott and Sons Company, Marysville, Ohio was pioneering the development of, not only improved grass varieties but pest control products and application equipment.

It’s fair to say, lawncare, as we know it is literally an American invention. Nearly every product available to homeowners today, was developed and patented right here in the good old USA!

The key to a beautiful lawn, the lawn you seen in advertisements and on TV, is to maintain your lawn on a planned, consistent program of lawn care product applications, proper cultural practices and close monitoring to minimize common lawn problems.

Homeowners who want a beautiful lawn have a choice to make; should I do the planning, applications and monitoring myself or, should I turn the job over to a professional.

Think about it; beautiful golf courses do not just happen; they are the product of careful planning and care by crews of technically educated and highly trained turf experts, using only the most effective products and professional grade equipment.

Requirements for building a beautiful lawn on your own – If you are an avid gardener and look forward to doing the regular lawn work required to build and maintain a great lawn, or just want the increased property value a nicely landscaped property brings, here are factors to consider:

1.  Do I know what to do? While a lawn program is not complicated, to be effective, it should be well thought out and applicable to your lawn site and geography. The best lawn program can vary, even within your home town. Site soil, the degree of sun and shade and grass varieties on the property and the availability of irrigation equipment are just a few of the important factors in a lawn care plan.

2.  Do I know how to do it? The next step in building your great lawn is accessing the most effective products and application equipment. Fertilizers, for example, are NOT all the same. Nutrient content varies greatly from product to product. The best lawn care plan will employ a variety of fertilizers to meet the needs of the grass plants as they change throughout the growing season. Weed controls may contain one, two or more active ingredients. Some ingredients are broad spectrum and control lots of weeds; some are narrowly focused and have no impact on specific weeds. And, some weeds cannot be selectively controlled at all. Knowing what products to use on the many weeds that may invade your lawn is key to minimizing weed populations. For effective weed control, you will need product knowledge.

3.  Do I know when to make applications? Planning a fertilizer program is simple; an application about every 5-6 weeks throughout the growing season is the standard procedure. But what happens when you miss the deadline for preventing crabgrass, for example? The answer is, you have a lawn full of crabgrass. And what about spotting and treating lawn damaging insects? Will you spot the symptoms and damage early enough to stop problems before losing expensive to replace turf? Fact is, a large part of building and maintaining a consistently beautiful lawn is doing the right thing, the right way at the right time!

4.  Am I willing to do the work? Simply put, we Americans are busy people. Our lives are no longer filled with hum-drum, repetitive rural activities and chores. Today’s American family is on the run most every day. Are you prepared for the 6:00AM applications of granular weed control, applied at just the right time on wet foliage, to control those dandelions? Are you properly mixing liquid weed controls? Will you get the crabgrass pre-emergent product on accurately and at the right time? Does your lawn need a lime application? Are you prepared to handle those heavy, back-breaking bags? This is an important area of consideration when deciding how you will go about lawn care at your home.

5.  What will I do when things go wrong? How important is it that the work you do delivers the results you want? When a weed control is mixed or applied incorrectly, it wont work. What to do? Answer: back to the store you go for more product. When grubs invade your summer lawn, what happened? Did you fail to apply a preventive control at the right time? What to do? Answer” back to the store you go, quickly in this case, before those nasty little critters wipe out your lawn. And, think about this, your work is never guaranteed! No matter what causes you frustration on the lawn, you have no back up; you must solve the problem and make the necessary re-treatments and do it effectively yourself.

Of course, you can plan and execute a perfectly appropriate lawn program on your own. Each year, several million ‘happy gardeners’ do so. Still, as leading manufacturers of lawn products have found, because of changing American lifestyles, fewer and fewer homeowners choose to do all the work themselves. Millions have concluded, it only makes sense to turn this time consuming and often confusing work over to the pros! They do the work, guarantee results while you live your busy life.

Hiring a professional lawn care service – If you decide to hire a lawn care service, many options exist. And, while most every advertisement boasts of great results, free service visits and a program that provides just what your lawn needs at a ridiculously low cost, the fact is, these important home services are NOT alike.

Lawn care services, loosely defined as service providers who fertilize your lawn and make added chemical treatments when needed, became popular as far back as the late 1960s. Typically, a home delivery service, providing fuel oil, for example, and looking for ways to keep crews busy and equipment in use during the warmer months of the year, began to spray lawns with liquid fertilizers and weed controls. Gradually, as the convenience of these services caught on, the lawn care service industry exploded into a multi-billion-dollar industry. And, as in any fast-growing new industry, not every provider measured up to industry standards of professionalism and reliability. Companies started with pick-up trucks and a herbicide tank but without marketing knowledge and operating capital, quickly began to acquire customers through price-cutting and service offers they could not afford or deliver. The result has been that, while nearly all these ill-fated start-ups are gone, homeowners have been left with a bad taste in their collective mouths, when it comes to finding a reliable, professional lawn care service.

Today, the most reliable and professional services deliver on promises and provide real customer satisfaction.

How to hire the right lawn care service

  1. Hire only an experienced service – Choices abound. Many operators are simply ex-employees of other services, hoping to cash in on the growing lawn service market. Unfortunately, having been a ‘lawn tech’ does not qualify a person to operate a modern business. From choosing and investing in only the most effective products in a challenging regulatory world, to providing and satisfying customer service after making the initial service application visit, to staffing the business with fully trained and technically knowledgeable service reps, a quality service will never be the cheapest out there. It’s one thing to turn grass green for a week or so; quite another to partner with homeowners for a consistently healthy and beautiful lawn year after year. Wise homeowners have found that choosing a service with people, products and programs based on real-world experience is, in the end the best choice.
  2. Take a close look at the company before joining the service – Who really is this service? What is their service philosophy? Before scheduling any home service, including lawn care, with all the choices facing consumers, it makes sense to check out the ownership and management of your prospective service provider. What lawn care experience do they have? Is the service basically a marketing company, offering low, low prices to push you into saying “yes” to a manipulative sales rep? Is that really the service for you? Ask about the people who will come to your home and treat your property? What training do service reps have? Who are their mangers. And, when you have a problem, who will show up, hopefully with the knowledge and experience necessary to spot problems and minimize damage on your lawn. And how does this company back up its work? Is there a meaningful guarantee of satisfaction, or is the word “guarantee” simply part of advertising slogan? Your lawn care service provider is, in a very real sense, your partner in developing a great lawn over time and keeping it that way reliably.
  3. Look for ratings and referrals – Today’s buyers have learned that ratings and customer comments are both reliable and important in making a buying decision. Home Advisor is a great place to start. What are actual customers saying about this particular service? If a current customer is nearby, take a look at the lawn, ask for their experiences with the service.
  4. Never sign a service contractIf a service provider asks you to sign a long-term contract, run for the nearest exit! You do not need a contract and a professional service, while offering season-long programs, will never require a signed contract. The right professional service will understand that their responsibility is to earn your business with every visit.
  5. Understand that there is much more to cost than dollars per treatment – Survey after homeowner survey confirms that what most of us want from our home service company is reliable, trustworthy results without a hassle! In choosing a service, you deserve no less. When you are talked into a low, low priced service and told “were all alike”, you have been, as the old saying goes, “hood-winked”. The right, quality service uses expensive products, designed to get the job done without jeopardizing safety in the environment, around your pets and children. The right service will hire and train the best people; folks who can be trusted to deliver on commitments and treat your property like their own. The right service stands behind their work, realizing that, in nature, things can go wrong and that, when it happens on your property, they have a clear responsibility make things right. This is what you deserve and are paying for. Don’t fall for the lowest initial price; when it comes to home service, you really do get what you pay for.