Lawn Care Tips by Season
DIY lawn maintenance
While there are many companies that specialize in improving lawns, it’s fairly easy to do your own lawn care if you know what to expect. Both weekend warriors who plan to handle tasks when necessary and enthusiasts who want to win yard of the month contests can have luscious turf with a little work. Get started by figuring out what type of grass you have, performing year-round maintenance and tackling common issues to keep your yard healthy.
What type of grass do you have?
The first step in caring for a lawn is identifying the grass type. If you didn’t initially lay the sod or spread the seeds, don’t worry — it’s easy to identify. Grass types are divided into two main groups (cool season and warm season), and the type you have will be based on your climate.
- Cool season grasses grow during cold winters and go semi-dormant during warm summers. These include bent, Kentucky blue, red fescue and rye grasses.
- Warm season grasses grow during hot summers and include Bermuda, buffalo, carpet and zoysia grass.
Note: A small part of the country (called the transitional zone) can tolerate both types of grasses. Identify which type you have using this questionnaire, as maintenance plans look different for the various types.
Lawn care for each season
Once you know what type of grass you have, you can make a plan for lawn care. There will be different needs throughout the year, so take it one season at a time.
Spring lawn care
Spring is when your lawn gets set up for healthy growth. Think of it like the grass coming back to life and be sure to treat it with care.
- Aeration — Using a manual tool, aeration shoes or a powered machine, aerate (or poke holes in) all grass types each spring. Perforating the soil allows water and nutrients to get deeper, helping roots grow strong. It also helps avoid compacted soil, which can cause a dry, brown lawn. By aerating in spring, rains will help fill open areas with fresh dirt.
- Feeding — Spring fertilization should occur once the grass starts to turn green. You can choose either liquid or granules. Quick-release fertilizers last 3 to 4 weeks, while slow-release can last 8-12 weeks. For cool season grasses, fertilize lightly using either a slow- or quick-release fertilizer, but make sure that the fertilizer will be used up before the peak of summer heat, since cool season grasses go dormant in the summer. For warm season grasses, fertilize heavier with either slow- or quick-release, timing it the same as cool season grasses. In the spring, use fertilizers that are higher in nitrogen, as it encourages plant growth.
- First mowing — Once the grass starts growing, it’s time for the first trimming. Warm season grasses should be cut short to remove any dead grass, while cool season grasses should be mowed on the highest setting.
- Scarify — This step is also called thatching or raking. It simply means removing any moss or dead debris from the lawn using a rake or scarifier (either manual or electric). In the spring, perform light scarifying on warm season grasses to increase growth, and time it before a warm rain so the lawn can heal quickly.
- Seeding – Warm season grasses should be seeded in the spring, once temperatures get above 65 degrees during the day. This encourages growth from spring rains and moderate temperatures. Great Day Improvements breaks down each type of grass and the optimal planting time.
Summer lawn care
Summer is hard on grass. Between heat, insects and little water, it’s important to take steps to strengthen and protect it.
- Feeding — Warm season grasses should be fed throughout the summer to help them grow during the high heat. Cool season grasses go semi-dormant during summer, so feeding is not required.
- Mowing — Different grasses thrive at different heights, but in general, you should never mow more than one-third of the blade height at any time. Most warm season grasses thrive at shorter lengths of half-an-inch to three inches. Cool-season grasses can get a little longer in the summer, with most being optimal at three-fourths of an inch to four inches. In the summer, grasses should be left on the taller end of the acceptable length, especially during dry conditions. Check the ideal height for each grass type so you don’t impact the health of your lawn.
- Watering — Water early in the morning so that all water dries before nightfall (grass that’s wet overnight can develop fungus). Use either an automatic sprinkler system or a manual one hooked up to a water hose, and make sure sprinklers provide complete coverage without too much water waste or runoff. Warm season grasses should be deeply watered 2-3 times a week rather than daily, as deeper intermittent watering make grass stronger and more drought-resistant. Water cool season grasses lightly. Test the soil moisture by seeing if you can easily push 6” of a screwdriver into the soil. If not, extend the watering time a bit.
- Weeding — Pull weeds when they’re young since their roots won’t be deep. If you have trouble pulling weeds, attempt it after a rain when the soil is soft. It’s important to remove weeds, even if you have to dig them out, as they can quickly overtake a healthy lawn.
Fall lawn care
As the temperatures cool off, lawn care needs change. Lawns will need to be tended to so they are well-protected for winter.
- Aeration — Perform one last aeration in the fall so that water and fertilizer can get deeper into the soil.
- Feeding — Apply fertilizer to strengthen grasses to survive the winter. Since cool season grasses grow during winter, fertilize them heavily in the fall. Lightly fertilize warm season grasses to give them one last boost before winter.
- Mowing — Lower the blade on your mower for the final few cuttings, making sure not to remove more than one-third of the blade at any time. Keeping grass short in the fall will allow more sunlight to reach the crown of the grass, which is great for all types.
- Mulch leaves — Instead of raking leaves, mulch them with a mower to create food for your yard. If the mower has a grass catcher, remove it so that the leaf bits get deposited back onto the grass.
- Scarify — Do a vigorous scarification on cool season grasses in the fall. Wait until spring to scarify warm season grasses.
- Seeding — Fall is the ideal time to seed for cool season grasses, as growth will ramp up in the fall and winter. Seed when days are still warm to encourage growth.
- Top dressing — Cool season grasses thrive with a bit of fall top dressing, which is the process of applying living soil (such as compost or organic dressing) over the surface to improve the nutrient quality of the soil.
Winter lawn care
In the winter, you can rest a bit on maintenance. In most areas, growth has stalled and there’s no mowing to do. But there are a few things that can ensure a healthy lawn throughout the winter months.
- Avoid traffic — Because the short, brown grass is very delicate, don’t walk on it much during winter. And avoid walking on grass during a frost as it can actually break or damage the blades.
- Feed — Perform one last fertilization to cool season grasses in early winter. Time it so that the fertilizer is used up before the first freeze.
- Keep it clear — Remove any lawn ornaments, furniture or toys during the winter, as these can create dead spots from the extra stress the items place on the grass.
Addressing common lawn issues
Even with regular maintenance, you may experience some trouble with your lawn. Brown spots, patchy grass and bald spots are a few issues you might face while attempting DIY lawn care. Common culprits are animals, bugs, fungus, lawn use and pets. Here’s how to specifically target these concerns:
- Animals — Invasive animals like moles, voles or gophers can easily tear up yards. To drive them away, apply castor oil to the grass in areas where they’ve been seen or where holes and other evidence of their presence is located. It’s also smart to target their food source — grubs, worms and insects.
- Bugs — Anything from grasshoppers to chinch bugs can wreak havoc on your lawn. For the initial identification, it’s probably best to consult with a pest control company. Once they identify which bug is invading, either treat them yourself or have the company continue to provide service.
- Fungus —Doing routine maintenance like watering or fertilizing can cause a fungus to grow. These can be difficult to diagnose and treat, so contact a local cooperative extension or a nursery for help identifying issues and treatment recommendations.
- Lawn use — Everything from lawn mower tires to foot traffic can compact soil and dry out grass. If you notice dry, brown areas from use, do an extra aeration and apply extra water.
- Pets — Pets may dig up the yard, or their waste can cause issues. Create a special area for pets to use and play in, so they don’t tear up the entire space.
Caring for your lawn
Don’t be overwhelmed by the amount of things to do for a healthy lawn. Simply break them down by each season and cross the tasks off the list when you can. Which maintenance task is your favorite? We’d love to hear what you enjoy in the comments.
Looking for more DIY upkeep? Check out our other home care posts.