Maintenance Schedule For Cool Season Lawns
Products that are mentioned and pictured below are only examples, not recommendations. There are similar products available by other brand names that you might prefer.
1. March is a great time to clean up the yard and begin the year’s maintenance regimen. The first thing to do is rake. Using a leaf rake might be best so as not to damage the soil's fragile condition at this time. The soil is likely still very moist, so rake lightly to stand the grass blades, unbind matting, and also clear away debris.
2. Apply pre-emergence herbicide to prevent weeds. Grassy annuals begin to germinate when temps are consistently above 50°. Scotts Halts or Green Light Crabgrass Preventer are for grassy weeds, like crabgrass, foxtails, goosegrass, etc. Green Light Portrait prevents seed germination of broadleaf weeds like dandelion, clover, chickweed, henbit, etc.
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If soil compaction is a problem and you plan to core aerate, April is a good time to do it. Since the ground is still a little moist, coring will be easier. If you applied pre-m herbicide in March, however, you will not be able to perform any mechanical functions, such as raking, dethatching, or core aerating or you will disturb the herbicide barrier. To still be able to address a soil compaction problem, there are liquid alternatives such as Nitron A-35 and AerifyPlus to condition soil and relieve compaction. Nitron A-35 and Aerify are excellent, natural soil amendments that make aerating unnecessary.
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The best soil amendment is compost or compost tea. David gave us a really good method for brewing compost tea here Deuley’s Little Texas Tea Brewer. If not the tea, spread 1/4 inch layer of compost all over the lawn. That translates to 1 cubic yard/1000sf so you know how much to purchase.
Fertilize using any brand you wish, Scotts, Lesco, Greenview, Vigoro, etc. Apply 1 pound nitrogen evenly all over. Fertilizer that also contains weed control, i.e. weed-n-feed, is not recommended.
May or June
Apply post-emergence herbicide for new crop of dandelions and other weeds. Bayer Advanced has an "All-in-One" product that takes care of practically everything - broadleaf weeds like dandelion, plantain, chickweed, clover, etc. as well as grassy weeds like crabgrass and even nutsedge.
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Between Mid-August and Mid-September
1. Get a soil test to determine nutrient requirements and pH balance. Contact your state university’s Cooperative Extension Service. Results may take up to two weeks. You may apply lime or sulfur after that time per test recommendations.
2. Fertilize using brand of your choice. Apply 1 pound nitrogen evenly all over. You can fertilize 2 times or 3 times in the fall. Fertilizing should be spaced 4-6 weeks apart.
3. (Optional and strongly advised) Topdress with 1/4 inch layer of compost to incorporate organic matter or spray compost tea.
4. Core aerate if soil compaction is an issue.
5. (Optional) Overseed with premium cultivars. Spare no expense on grass seed. (Do not overseed if you plan on weed control in any of the steps that follow.)
Following hot and brutal summer, Fescue and Rye grasses usually need to be overseeded. Normally, Kentucky Bluegrass is not in need, but it is good practice to overseed Bluegrass every two or three years to maintain diversity.
Core aerating, Fertilizing, topdressing, and overseeding can all be done at the same time.
4. Apply Portrait to prevent winter annual broadleaf weeds (if you don't plant grass seeds), or refer to item 2 under November.
1. A good time to apply Nitron again if soil compaction is an issue and you did not core aerate.
2. Fertilize again if you wish.
1. The last fertilizing of the year is late October to mid-November. Application should be when top growth ceases and you no longer have to mow the lawn but the grass is still green. For some northern areas, this may well fall in October. This final application will help maintain good winter color but most importantly, it provides for carbohydrate accumulation. The food the grass stores is utilized in spring to promote greenup and carry the grass through the growing season of spring until time to fertilize again in May.
2. This is the best time of year to control broadleaf weeds. Apply post-emergent herbicide for winter's crop and to help prevent them the following spring and summer.
From Now Until The End of Forever
A. Your lawn needs one inch of water per week (including rainfall) and should be applied all at one time. This is what is referred to as deep but infrequent irrigation. Using tuna cans placed in various places, run the sprinkler to obtain one inch of water in the tuna cans and time it. Run the sprinklers each week for that amount of time in every section to achieve one inch of irrigation all over. One inch will moisten the soil to a depth of 6-8 inches. This encourages the roots to grow deeply. The soil will pull the water downward. The roots will grow down looking for water and nutrients. Each week, be sure to take rainfall into consideration.
B. Irrigation should be modified during the hot periods of summer, particularly during heat waves. To relieve heat stress and prevent drought stress, water the lawn more frequently. Divide the weekly irrigation schedule in half to provide water twice a week for half the amount of time. If it normally takes one hour to provide an inch of water, then irrigate twice a week for half an hour during the hot weeks of summer. Divide irrigation schedule into thirds during heat waves. Again, if it normally takes one hour to provide one inch of moisture, irrigate three times a week for 20 minutes.
C. Should you decide to allow the grass to go dormant in summer, water requirements are greatly reduced, but keep in mind the lawn still needs moisture from rainfall or irrigation. About half an inch per week (or somewhat less) should suffice.
D. Always mow high at 3 inches or higher on a regular basis. Mowing high permits proper photosynthesis. That means the grass needs sunlight to grow. The shorter the blades of grass, the more you impede the photosynthesis process. Photosynthesis takes place at just about the middle of the grass blade. Ever notice the grass is yellowish closest to the soil? The reason is that as the grass utilizes sunlight to manufacture its own food, chlorophyll is produced to give the grass its green color. It is very important to remember you should never remove more than one third of the grass blade at a time or you shut down the food factory, which causes stress. You may wish to mow once a week or 2-3 times a week, depending on how fast the grass grows. Either is fine just so long as no more than one third is cut off at once.
Infrequent deep watering and frequently mowing high are the two crucial points of lawn care. Anything else you do is secondary to these cultural practices. Proper watering and proper mowing are what encourage a healthy growing environment for a lush green lawn that is able to crowd out weeds.
Other helpful information
Organic Lawn Care if you prefer not to use chemicals or synthetic fertilizer
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them on the forum.