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Following Mr. Lawn's advice, we worked on the lawn shown here. In March, it
had dead patches of grass caused by voles. By August, the grass over the
entire lawn was so thick we felt like we were walking on shag carpet. And the
lawn looked great too (see lead photo). It was noticeably greener than the
neighboring yards. We spent about $250 on supplies.
Achieving a lush lawn doesn't have to be a constant struggle. And you don't
have to pay big bucks for a lawn service to douse your
yard with chemicals either. Growing healthy, green
grass is mainly just a matter of knowing what to give
your lawn, and when to give it.
In this story, we'll show you what to do in the spring,
summer and fall to get a lawn so nice you could cut it
up and sell it as sod. These steps will work for any yard,
regardless of climate or soil type. The products shown
in this article are available at lawn and garden centers
and some home centers.
We worked with lawn care expert George Dege, better
known as Mr. Lawn. He has been teaching lawn care
classes since the 1970s and has helped thousands of
homeowners improve their lawns. As the third-generation
owner of a lawn and garden center, he has been in
the lawn care business “forever.”
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Photo 1: Vacuum the pebbles
Gravel and sand hinder grass growth, so
vacuum them up. Start along the street
and vacuum into the yard until you no
longer hear stones getting sucked up. Then
do the same thing along the driveway.
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Photo 2: Check the spreader’s “throw”
To apply the right amount of fertilizer,
measure from the wheel to the edge of the
dispersal pattern. Then space your passes
across the lawn so the coverage overlaps
by 6 to 8 in. Do this test every time you
spread a new product.
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Photo 3: Don't spill on the grass
Park your spreader over a tarp or your
driveway when filling the hopper. Spills
and leaks can saturate one spot of your
lawn and kill your grass.
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Your lawn and a chicken's butt—a marriage made in heaven!
Chicken manure is rich in nitrogen,
which is a key nutrient for a healthy
lawn. No need to get your own
flock—it's a whole lot
easier to just buy it by
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Photo 4: Improve your soil
Soil activator helps retain
water in sandy soils and
loosens clay soils. It also
helps aerate the soil,
decompose grass clippings
and reduce erosion.
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Soil activator is available at lawn and garden centers.
Once the grass starts turning
green, it's time to start your lawn care.
That's usually mid to late March for
Northerners, early March for Southerners.
Don't fret if your lawn is slow to
green up. That's good. The thicker the
lawn, the less sunlight that reaches the
individual blades and the longer it takes
for the grass to turn green.
Get rid of the stones and sand that
the snowplow or snow blower threw into your yard over the winter. Raking
isn’t effective—you'll only get about 15
percent of the stones and pebbles.
Instead, use a shop vacuum (Photo 1).
The snow piles that sat on your lawn
all winter compacted the soil. You can
loosen the soil and improve water penetration
by applying gypsum (a 40-lb. bag covers 200 sq. ft.). Test
your broadcast spreader's dispersal pattern
on your driveway. Fill the hopper,
set the spread rate so the holes are wide
open for gypsum and walk at your normal
speed. Then measure how far the
gypsum is dispersed on each side of the
spreader (Photo 2). This tells you the
distance to move over with each row
when you're spreading—you want the
spread patterns to overlap by 6 to 8 in.
Broadcast spreaders always “throw”
farther on the right side than they do
the left. You don't need to spread gypsum
over the entire lawn; just 10 ft.
back from the street and the driveway.
For your spring and summer mowings,
cut just the top third of the grass.
So if your grass is 3 in. high, take 1 in.
off the top. Mowing more than one-third
stresses the grass. You can mow
the grass shorter in the fall.
Between your second and third
mowings, apply a lawn fertilizer with
slow-release (time release) nitrogen
(a 20-lb. bag covers 5,000
sq. ft.). Always fill your spreader over a
tarp or driveway (Photo 3). Follow the
spread rate listed on the fertilizer bag
and spread it on the entire lawn.
Fifteen days after applying the fertilizer,
spread soil activator on the lawn
(Photo 4; a 40-lb. bag covers
4,000 sq. ft.).
A centerfold only a handyman would love:
Look at those luscious blades!
Vacuuming the Lawn?“Your neighbors will
think you've lost your
mind when they see you
vacuuming your lawn. But
by the end of the summer,
they'll be asking you for
lawn care advice.”
Late spring, early summer
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Photo 5: Measure the right amount of water
Set a cake pan halfway between your
sprinkler and the edge of the spray pattern.
Watch your clock to see how long it takes
the sprinkler to fill the pan with 3/8 in. of
water. Water for that amount of time three
times a week, unless it rains.
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Photo 6: Water with a timer
If you don't have an automatic sprinkler, an inexpensive timer frees you from watching the clock every time you water. The timer controls
the sprinkler, so you'll be sure the
lawn gets the proper amount of water.
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Photo 7: Neutralize dog spots
Gypsum and water are the antidote for dog
spots in your yard. Gypsum neutralizes the
dog urine, and the water soaks the area for
new grass seed. If you treat the brown
spots early, your grass won't die.
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Photo 8: Stop crabgrass before it starts
Apply crabgrass preventer to any areas
where crabgrass previously grew. A hand
spreader is perfect for small areas, like
along the pavement where crabgrass tends
Proper watering is crucial to a
healthy lawn. The best time to water is
early morning, when the sun starts to
rise. You lose some water to evaporation
in the middle of the day. And
watering at night leaves the grass wet
too long, which can cause fungus and
other diseases in the summer.
Give your lawn 3/8 in. of water three
times a week. Calculate the amount of
time it takes your sprinkler to dispense
that much water (Photo 5). Set a timer
(sold at home centers and lawn and garden
centers) on your hose spigot so you
won't have to watch the clock (Photo 6).
Increase from 3/8 in. to 1/2 in. when
the daytime temperatures are above 80
If you have bare spots in your lawn
caused by your dog, sprinkle gypsum
on the spot and saturate it with water
(Photo 7). Plant new grass seed in the
bare spots and keep it watered.
Crabgrass will grow when the soil
warms up to 55 degrees F. Apply a
crabgrass preventer to keep that nasty
weed from coming back. Timing is
everything. If you apply the preventer
too early, it will be ineffective. And
once the seeds germinate, it's too late.
In northern states, late April is the best
time. Mid-March is recommended for
southern states. Check with a local garden
center to find the best time for your
Apply the preventer wherever you
had crabgrass the previous year, which
is typically along the street, driveway
and sidewalk (Photo 8).
In mid-May, give your lawn its second
application of lawn fertilizer.
Mid to late summer
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Photo 9: Spot-spray individual weeds
Don't treat the entire lawn if you have just a
few weeds. A pump sprayer is more economical
than buying spray bottles. Be sure
there's no rain in the forecast for 24 hours.
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Photo 10: Use your hose for large areas
Use a dial sprayer hooked up to your hose to
kill large areas of weeds. Spray the herbicide
on a calm day so the weed killer won't drift
onto your plants and flowers.
By midsummer, you should notice
a thicker, greener lawn. You'll probably
also notice weeds. Spot-kill patches of
weeds with an herbicide in a handheld
pressure sprayer (Photo 9).
If weeds are popping up all over the
lawn, spray them with a dial sprayer
(sold at home centers and lawn and garden
centers). Pour concentrated herbicide
into the sprayer and hook it up to
your garden hose. Turn the dial on the
top of the sprayer to the setting recommended
on the herbicide container
(such as 2 tablespoons per gallon of
water). Then spray the weeds (Photo 10).
In mid-August, you could give your
lawn a third application of fertilizer, but
chicken manure works even better
because it contains more nitrogen,
which gives the grass a healthy, green
look (there’s hardly any odor). Mr. Lawn
is a fan of Chickity Doo Doo because it
also contains 9 percent calcium, which
improves root growth. (A 40-lb. bag
covers 4,000 sq. ft. Chickity Doo Doo or other brands are available at lawn and garden centers.) Within two
or three days of applying the manure,
you'll see the lawn really green up.
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Photo 11: Face winter with short grass
Mow the grass short at the end of the year.
This reduces the chance that your lawn will
get snow mold and vole damage.
Don't neglect your lawn as
the growing season comes to an end.
It's important to keep treating your soil
before the grass goes dormant for the
winter. In early to mid September,
apply soil activator over your yard, just
as you did in the spring.
Two weeks after that, give your lawn
its final application of fertilizer for the
year. Use a winterizer fertilizer (a 40-lb. bag covers 10,000 sq. ft.).
This specialized fertilizer has more
potassium to help the grass roots grow
deeper, which lets the roots absorb and
store nutrients until the ground freezes.
When the ground warms up in the
spring, the grass uses those nutrients to
jump-start its growth.
Keep mowing your lawn until the
grass stops growing. Even in
Minnesota, that sometimes doesn't
happen until the first part of December.
On your final mowing of the year, cut
the grass to 1 to 1-1/2 in. high (Photo 11).
Now you're done caring for your
lawn until spring!
Soil Activator“Soil activator
a natural product
that's older than
dinosaurs. This is
one of the best
things you can
put on your lawn.”