No and Low Cost Lawn Care

photo by Pauline Eccles
There are a lot of things you can do to your lawn that will cost you little or no money and will have a big effect. All of them have to do with proper mowing and watering.

When I first decided to learn how to properly maintain my lawn organically, heck when I first actually started to try and learn anything about keeping a healthy lawn, I realized that it didn't take much to make dramatic improvements in my lawn.

Using the following tips, which didn't cost me anything, made a dramatic improvement in the quality and appearance of my lawn.

Lawn Mowing Tips

Mow High

Raise the deck of your mower so your grass blades are 3-4" high after you cut. There are many benefits for doing this that will help keep your grass healthier and weed free.

We all learned about photosynthesis in school. It is the process by which green plants convert light energy into chemical energy. Grass uses water and sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into carbohydrates that it uses for growth. Photosynthesis happens in the blade of the grass. The chlorophyll in the blades of the grass absorb the sunlight to perform photosynthesis. The more surface area in the blades, the more photosynthesis can occur.

Tall grass also helps shade the soil to prevent water from evaporating too quickly. Blocking the sun also helps prevent weed seeds that do germinate from thriving. By shading the soil, the lawn will choke out a lot of weeds.

On golf courses and other sports fields which are concerned with performance of the game, they need to cut the grass short in some areas. Most people don't need to worry about this in their lawns. If you really want to have a putting green on your lawn, you're going to have to work as hard as the turf managers do.

Don't bag your clippings

If you leave your grass clippings on the lawn, you will be returning nutrients and moisture to your lawn. Mulching your clippings can return up to 20% of the nitrogen your lawn needs. The clippings will feed the organisms in your soil which in turn will feed your lawn. Be sure not to leave clumps of grass. If necessary go over the clumps to cut them further and disperse them. Sometimes, after I'm done mowing, I'll have to lightly rake some areas where there are obvious clumps but most of the time I can just kick them and spread the clippings around. Clumps in your lawn can damage your lawn. If you often have to deal with clumps, you might need to mow your lawn more often.

Some people worry that this might cause thatch to build up in the lawn but this is not the case. The material in the blades decomposes quickly. Thatch is usually a result of too much fertilizer.

Another benefit is that more and more communities no longer offer grass clipping collection with normal household trash. This is true for a number of towns in New Jersey. Not having to deal with the mess of emptying a heavy bag full of clippings is also a plus for those that don't compost.

Mulch mow your leaves in the fall

In the fall, instead of raking and bagging your leaves, you can just go over them with your mower to mulch them into the lawn. This will give your lawn some valuable nutrients and build up the organic matter content of your soil.

Never cut more than 1/3 the length of the blade

If you leave your grass uncut for too long and remove more than one-third of the blade, you will stress your lawn and stunt or slow its growth, including the roots. This will also keep your grass clippings from clumping. This may mean you have to mow more often at certain times of the year. If this is a problem, you might want to consider reseeding your lawn with slower growing, dwarf-type grass seed.

Never mow wet grass

Wet grass clumps more easily and can promote diseases to spread. Wet grass also doesn't cut as well and can leave the tips of your grass blades damaged and torn.

Keep your lawn mower blade sharp

A sharp blade produces a cleaner cut that heals quicker. If your mower blade is not sharp, you tear the grass and the tips will start to brown, leaving your lawn looking unhealthy, make it more vulnerable to disease and stunt its growth. You should sharpen your blade once or twice a season depending how often you mow.

You may also want to consider a reel mower. They cut the grass with a scissor action. Many professional turf managers use expensive gas-powered reel mowers to give their lawns that manicured look.

Mow in different directions

Years ago, when I first had to learn how to mow a lawn, my neighbor told me that I should mow in two directions each time I mow. I never really looked into it, I just did it. Recently, I've read more detailed information on why I should mow my lawn in different directions. Mowing the same way each time will help the grass stand more erect because it's not dealing with the large forces from mowing in the same way each time. It seems you can alternate directions every other mowing instead of essentially mowing twice each time. In areas of my lawn where I can't really do this, the grass does look a bit flatter so I guess my neighbor was right.

Lawn Watering Tips

Proper lawn watering is one of the simplest things you can do to enhance the look of your lawn.
In the northeast, rain provides most of the water your lawn needs in the spring and fall. When the weather gets hotter and rainfall drops, you'll want to water your lawn more to keep it from going dormant. These tips may result in slightly more or slightly less water usage depending on your current schedule.

Water Deeply and Infrequently

Watering your grass when it needs it and only how much it needs it will help reduce weeds as well as help your lawn become more drought tolerant by encouraging the roots to grow deeper.
I have written a more in-depth post on how and when to water your lawn which I suggest you read.

Water in the early morning

It's not good for plants, including your grass to have their leaves stay wet. This can promote diseases from fungus. When you water in the early morning, the blades will dry as the sun comes out.
You'll also lose less water to evaporation as the water will have time to soak into the soil before the sun comes up.
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