With the warming weather, many people in the Finger Lakes are getting out to mow their lawns for the first time this season. Whether we realize it or not, we make many land management decisions when we take care of our lawns. A significant portion of land area, especially in urban and suburban areas, is lawn- there are 2.8 million acres of lawn in NYS. A lawn is a resource beyond just its aesthetics. A well-managed lawn provides the homeowner and the neighborhood with various services. Lawns provide a safe and fun place for outdoor play for people and pets, they catch, filter and conserve surface water to reduce runoff of contaminants, they reduce soil erosion, they cool surface temperatures, they capture and store carbon, they filter air pollutants, they reduce noise pollution and they increase the value of your home.
A lawn does not have to look perfect to effectively perform these functions. When caring for your lawn, strive for a balance of cost, look and function. You don’t need to kill every weed in your lawn for it to be healthy. Here are a few tips for keeping your lawn healthy:
Mow High– mowing your lawn to a three-inch height helps grass to outcompete weeds and requires less effort to maintain. Mow when your lawn reaches about 4 inches.
Keep your mower blade sharp- dull blades tear grass instead of cutting it. This causes the grass to use more water and makes grass more vulnerable to diseases- it also uses more gas.
Leave the Clippings on your lawn- if you are mowing often enough and not cutting too much off at once, grass clippings will not smother your grass. Also, don’t mow grass into pavement and gutters- fresh grass is high in phosphorous and should be kept out of places where they can flow into waterways.
Don’t fertilize in the spring- If you want to fertilize, it’s best to fertilize in the fall, when plants will use it to develop root reserves to help survive the winter and get off to a good start in the spring. Also, get a soil test to see what nutrients your soil needs and only add those nutrients. An established lawn does not need as much fertilizer as a young lawn. If your lawn is thick enough for you and has an acceptable level of weeds and a good color, it’s fine- the nutrients being added by leaving the grass clippings are enough. It’s actually illegal to apply lawn fertilizers between December 1st and April 1st in New York State.
Watering can do more harm than good- Most lawns in New York rarely require watering. If your lawn is healthy, grass that goes dormant under drought conditions will recover once cooler, wetter conditions return. If you do decide to water, be sure to give your grass enough water, but not too much and it’s best to water in the early morning.
Pay special attention to shady spots- Grass needs a minimum of 4 hours/ day of direct sunlight- six hours in heavily used areas. Areas with little direct sunlight should not get fertilized and should be mowed high. You may want to consider alternative groundcover for these areas.
Reduce or eliminate pesticide use- never use pesticides to control lawn insects or weeds as a routine practice. You might want to use them if you diagnose a specific problem and know what and when to spray. Generally, the best way to fight weeds and insects is to keep your grass healthy through good management.
Practicing good lawn management reduces the time and money you need to spend to keep your lawn looking good and provides many important services including improving water quality, and storing carbon. For more information on lawn care, see the links below:
Lawn Care Links:
Cornell Garden-Based Learning Lawn Basics http://blogs.cornell.edu/horticulture/about/lawn/
CCE -The Homeowners Lawn Care Water Quality Almanac http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/lawn/almanac/
Cornell University Lawn Care Library http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/homegardening/scenea03b.html
Last updated May 11, 2015