Green Healthy Lawn Tips on Mowing, Seeding, and Care

Green Healthy Lawn Tips on Mowing, Seeding, and Care

If you’re looking to grow a healthy, thriving lawn using natural methods, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, we’ll share everything we’ve learned about lawn care over the years – from mowing and fertilizing to seeding and more.

Let’s start!

The Great Lawn Debate

We want to acknowledge that lawns are a hot topic these days. Some view them as high-maintenance water hogs that require too many resources. Others find joy and relaxation in a sweep of green grass.

We see both sides. Here is my perspective: Lawns can actually provide environmental benefits when cared for thoughtfully. They cool the surrounding air, reduce runoff into waterways, trap carbon, filter dust from the air, and more. Plus, they provide a soft place for kids and pets to play.

But the way we often care for lawns is problematic. Overuse of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides has caused issues like toxic algae blooms and loss of pollinators. Did you know that in the U.S., more fertilizer is applied to lawns than to all food crops combined in India? That’s kind of nuts. And suburban residents are now exposed to higher levels of lawn pesticides than rural folks.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Stunning lawns thrived for centuries without dousing the grass in chemicals. In fact, many flawless lawns in Europe are maintained without any pesticides at all.

Top-Dress with Compost

Let’s start at the root (pun intended) – building healthy soil. Often, we focus on feeding the grass itself instead of nourishing the soil. But soil is the foundation that grass depends on.

Here’s the difference: Fertilizer feeds plants directly, but doesn’t do much to enrich the soil. Compost, on the other hand, feeds beneficial soil organisms like bacteria, fungi, insects, and worms. These microbes mineralize nutrients, making them available for plant roots to absorb.

Compost also lightens heavy soil, improves drainage, increases water retention, and suppresses weeds and disease. Good stuff!

For new lawns: Before laying sod or seeding grass, work 2-3 inches of compost into the top 6-8 inches of soil. Compost with manure is ideal, as the nitrogen and phosphorus boosts green growth. Cow, horse, chicken, even rabbit or goat manure – they all work!

For existing lawns: Top-dress with 1/4 inch of manure compost once a month during the growing season. This nourishes the soil biology and provides a slow-release fertilizer. Rake it gently into the grass.

Over time, this biological fertilizing will strengthen your lawn’s roots, helping it better withstand pests, disease, drought, foot traffic, and pets. As the soil improves each year, you’ll notice fewer weeds too.

Top Mowing Tips

Proper mowing techniques are crucial for a healthy, thriving lawn. The way you cut your grass makes a big impact on its appearance and growth. Here are 5 key tips:

  • Trim the lawn’s edge first with a string trimmer or edger if needed. This way the mower blades can chop up and mulch the trimmings. Avoid using string trimmers right up next to tree trunks though! Keep grass a few inches away from trunks, and mulch that area instead, to prevent damage.
  • Mow to the correct height for your grass type. This is so important, most people cut their lawns way too short. For cool season grasses like fescue, bluegrass, and ryegrass, mow to a height of 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 inches. For warm season grasses like Bermuda, zoysia, and centipede, go for 1-2 inches high. Keeping grass on the taller side strengthens the roots, reduces weeds, and decreases water demand.
  • Follow what’s called the “one-third rule.” Never cut more than one-third of the total blade height when mowing. For example, if your target height is 2 inches, let the lawn grow to 3 inches before cutting it back to 2. Cutting too much at once stresses the roots.
  • Change up your mowing pattern each time. Mow in different directions – diagonal one week then perpendicular the next, for example. This prevents soil compaction and matting of the grass blades.
  • Only mow dry grass! Seriously, this is huge. Mowing wet grass tears and frays the blades, which is a doorway for disease. It also compacts the soil. Wait until any dew has dried, or after a rain delay mowing until it’s dry again.

A few bonus mowing tips:

  • Sharpen mower blades at least once a season. This gives a clean cut rather than shredding the grass.
  • Leave the clippings on the lawn to break down and fertilize naturally. If possible, use a mulching mower that finely chops clippings.
  • After mowing, rake up any large clumps of grass so they don’t smother the lawn as they decompose.
  • Use a half-moon edger or spade to edge along beds, walkways and driveways periodically. This keeps things tidy.

Fertilizing and Dethatching

Remember, grass clippings and compost offer natural fertilization. But you may still want to supplement occasionally based on your lawn’s needs. Here are some tips:

Spring: Some experts advise applying a small amount of quick-release fertilizer in early spring to give the lawn a boost after winter. Others recommend waiting until late spring to use a slow-release formula instead. This feeds the roots and restores energy reserves. Whichever you choose, go easy on the amount.

Late Spring: If your lawn has more than a half-inch layer of thatch, dethatching is a good idea. Thatch is a tightly-woven layer of stems and roots between the grass blades and soil. Some thatch is normal, but too much prevents air, water and nutrients from reaching the soil and roots. It also harbors disease and pests. The best time to dethatch is late spring after the grass has greened up, but before hot weather sets in. Dethatching is very disruptive and stressful for the tender new blades, so timing matters.

Summer: Applying fertilizer in early fall (around September) helps the lawn recover from summer stresses like heat, drought, heavy use, and pests. The nutrients support root growth going into winter, and build energy reserves that help the grass bounce back vigorously in spring. Use a balanced fertilizer with a slightly higher nitrogen ratio for fall feeding.

Weeding Your Lawn

When it comes to weeds, the old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” really rings true! Here are some organic strategies:

Spring: Use corn gluten as a natural pre-emergent herbicide in early spring to prevent those dreaded crabgrass weeds. Timing is crucial – only apply when the soil temperature has been at least 55°F for three consistent days. Once the thermometer hits 65-70°, crabgrass germinates quickly and spreads fast. Corn gluten creates a barrier to block the crabgrass seeds from sprouting. An organic alternative to toxic synthetic pre-emergents.

Spring: Early spring is also the best time to apply natural broadleaf weed control like corn gluten or vinegar-based products. These help suppress common yard weeds like dandelions and clover before they even sprout. Once weeds have already emerged, hand pull them or use spot treatments instead of blanketing the whole lawn.

Ongoing: Check your lawn routinely for clumps of undesirable perennial weedy grasses like orchard grass, quack grass, or bentgrass. Dig these out promptly before they spread. Ounces of prevention, remember?

Bonus tip: Mulching around garden beds and trees naturally prevents weeds. Blocking light keeps seeds from germinating. An easy, chemical-free method.

Seeding Your Lawn

Over time, every lawn develops thin spots or bare patches in high traffic areas. Reseeding occasionally helps keep your grass thick and lush. Here’s when to seed:

Spring: After dethatching your lawn in late spring, it’s the perfect time to reseed bare spots and patches. Just don’t seed too early if you plan to use a pre-emergent weed control, since those products prevent new grass seeds from establishing too. Overseeding in late spring gives the new grass chance to develop deep roots before hot midsummer temperatures hit.

Summer/Fall: The ideal time for establishing a brand new lawn, or reseeding large damaged areas, is late summer to early fall. In mild climates, aim for mid-August through mid-September. The cooler nights, mild days and fall rains give newly seeded grass the perfect conditions to thrive. This timing works well for cool season grasses like fescues, Kentucky bluegrass, perennial rye, and bentgrass.

A few seeding tips: Loosen soil lightly before spreading seed, to improve contact with soil. Cover larger seeded areas with straw to retain moisture. Keep newly seeded areas consistently moist for 2 weeks until germination. Once established, water deeply and less frequently to build strong roots. And be patient – grass seed takes time to establish but pays off.

Watering Your Lawn

Adequate water keeps grass healthy through heat waves, dry spells, and drought. Here are some tips:

  • During the growing season, aim to provide 1/2 – 1 inch total of water per week through rainfall or irrigation. Measuring sprinkler output with cans helps hit this target.
  • Water thoroughly and deeply when you do irrigate. Short light sprinklings lead to shallow root systems. Instead, water until the soil is saturated 6-8 inches deep. Early morning watering gives the grass all day to dry.
  • Don’t overdo it! Some drought stress is beneficial, encouraging grass to grow deeper reaching roots. Let your lawn go golden tan and dormant occasionally, then bounce back with fall rain.
  • During extended hot and dry periods, water a bit more deeply and allow the grass to grow slightly taller between mowings. Ease up on fertilizer which can exacerbate drought stress.
  • If you have an automatic system, don’t just set and forget it! Adjust sprinkler runtimes as weather patterns change through the seasons.

Healthy soil from compost retains moisture better, meaning less water needed. Grass with deep roots also stays greener even with reduced watering.

Aerating Your Lawn

Does your lawn feel unusually spongy underfoot? Can you tug up chunks of grass easily because the roots are only an inch deep? Do water and nutrients seem to run off instead of soaking in? These are signs your lawn would benefit from aeration.

What is aeration? It is perforating the soil with small holes or cores to allow better access for air, water, and nutrients to reach the grassroots. Robust, deep-reaching roots are crucial for maintaining a lush, vibrant lawn.

Use a core aerator that pulls out plugs of lawn 3-4 inches deep. Spacing the holes 2-3 inches apart provides the best results. Aerate in early fall when grass is still growing strongly. The holes will fill in as the lawn keeps growing.

Thatch buildup, heavy clay soil, and high foot traffic all compact soil over time. Aerating every 1-3 years counteracts the compaction and brings life back into the root zone!

A Few More Lawn Care Tips

  • When seeding or overseeding, try mixing some Dutch white clover into the grass seed blend. Clover naturally fixes nitrogen from the air into a plant-available form that fertilizes the soil. Free fertilizer that also feeds pollinators!
  • Embrace spontaneity! Allow a section of your yard to grow into a naturalized meadow instead of a manicured lawn. Let native grasses, wildflowers, clover and herbs thrive. Meadows require zero mowing or watering, and support bees and butterflies.
  • If trees start shading significant portions of your lawn, strategically trim or remove lower branches to let more light in. Then overseed those areas with shade tolerant grasses like fine fescues, which thrive with just 4 hours of sun.

Let us know if you have any other lawn care questions. we could talk about this stuff all day long!