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10 Common Lawn Care Mistakes

Avoid these practices for a healthier lawn

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10 Common Lawn Care Mistakes
photo © Jamie Burke

Every year billions of dollars are spent on lawn care. Keep some of them in your pocket by avoiding some common lawn care mistakes.

Here's my top ten.

  1. Mowing too low - The most common problem in lawn care today is people mowing their lawn too short. The golden rule is to never remove more than 1/3 of the grass blade at any given time. When grass is mowed too short it becomes stressed. Stressed grass not only needs time to recover, it cannot properly photosynthesize and re-grow. Mowing too short can also cause scalping which creates a vector for weeds and contributes to an unhealthy lawn.
  2. Watering too much - Sprinkler systems are supposed to make it easier to conserve and manage water but all too often they seem to be a license to water non-stop. There's no sadder sight than watching a sprinkler system run during the day and during a rain storm.
  3. Improper fertilizer applications - Most synthetic fertilizers containing nitrogen are "hot", which means they have the potential to burn the lawn. Using an old spreader or one that is not at the proper setting can cause uneven applications resulting in discoloration or burning. Handle fertilizers with care.
  4. Improper use of pesticides - READ THE LABEL. There is no greater piece of advice than to READ THE LABEL. Pesticides are toxic, poisonous, and can have devastating effects on non-target organisms. Pesticides should never be used as a silver bullet. Use only in conjunction with a responsible Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. Pesticides must be handled, stored and used with extreme caution so READ THE LABEL. All the information needed to safely use a pesticide is located on the label.
  5. Not focusing on the soil - All the time, money, effort, and products in the world will not help a lawn with bad soil. Everything about the lawn begins and ends with the soil. There is a universe of organisms down there, each with their specific function to break down minerals and organic mater and make them available to the grass roots. If you're wondering where to begin in the world of lawn care, have your soil tested.
  6. Timing of cultural practices - Performing lawn care tasks is one thing, performing them at the right time is another. Timing is crucial when it comes to things like fertilizing, weed control applications, and aerating. The success of many cultural practices depend on the weather and the seasons so timing is very important.
  7. Wrong type of grass for location - Different species of grass require different temperatures, amounts of light, and soil types. You may even need different species within the same yard depending on the amount of shade present at any given time. There are plenty of warm season and cool season grass species to choose from depending on your location and climate.
  8. Ignoring thatch - Excessive thatch prevents water and nutrients from penetrating the soil and reaching the roots. It causes shallow rooting and creates unhealthy growing conditions which can bring on weed and disease problems. Try to aerate and/or de-thatch once a year.
  9. Unreasonable expectations - The elusive "perfect lawn" has made many people rich and many more crazy. Obsessing over the lawn is the exact opposite of what it should be used for. If you're paying attention to your soil, weeds will be kept to a minimal. Besides, it's okay to have a few weeds in the lawn, especially clover. A perfect lawn is not necessary for a picnic, croquet, or ball game.
  10. Excessive resource use - Unless maintaining a lawn is really your passion (or career), one shouldn't expend too many resources on a lawn. These include time, labor, money, water or pesticides. Chasing the ideal lawn is like a magazine cover model. Most of us will never look like the model but we're still urged to buy the clothes. Sometimes one needs to step back and re-evaluate what's really important to them. It's only grass after all.
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