Easy free lawn care

A lawn needs several hours of sunlight a day and at least 1 inch of water a week. An inexpensive rain gauge can tell you how much water your lawn is getting. Or you can use a spade to open a slit 6 to 8 inches deep; the soil should be damp at the bottom. Grass naturally goes dormant and turns brown in the hot, dry days of summer, reviving with the next good rain. To keep your lawn green in dry spells, give it a thorough weekly soaking, preferably during the morning; frequent light waterings make roots shallow and encourage weeds.

Don’t mow a lawn too short; grass needs its leaves to produce food. The ideal height for most grasses is 2’/z to 3 inches in hot weather (1/8 inch shorter in cool weather). Remove only one-third of the blades’ length at a time. If the grass is badly overgrown, mow it twice, 3 or 4 days apart. Clippings under 1 inch long maybe left on the ground; rake longer clippings for the compost pile.

Fertilizing a lawn

Since grass regularlyloses its leaves to mowing, it needs a high-nitrogen fertilizer, such as 10-6-4. An average lawn needs 3 to 4 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet a year. A 10pound bag of 10-6-4 contains 10 percent (or 1 pound) nitrogen. Thus, you’ll need 3 or 4 such bags for each 1,000 square feet of lawn.

In warmer climates, give the main feeding in early spring, with a small midsummer booster. In wintery areas, give the main feeding in early autumn and a booster just before winter sets in; give another light feeding in midspring, after the first burst of growth has tapered off.

Most grasses do best in neutral to slightly acid soil (pH 7 to 6). With a kit from a garden center, test the soil from several places in your lawn. If the pH is lower than 6, add ground limestone in late fall. Do not apply fertilizer within 2 weeks after applying limestone. Correct alkaline soil (pH 7 or higher) with gypsum, powdered sulfur, peat moss, orwell-rotted manure. Lawn problems

The best defense against weeds, disease, and insects is a well-nourished, properly tended lawn. When weeds do appear, pull them before they go to seed, using a long weeder to get all the roots. Herbicides are available, however, both for crabgrass and for such
broad-leaved weeds as dandelions, hawkweed, and plantain. Follow the manufacturer’s directions carefully. Small doses applied directly to the weeds are better than large-scale applications, which can kill many desirable plants.

If your lawn gets heavy foot traffic, loosen the soil once a year with a garden fork: thrust the fork into the soil every few inches and wiggle it back and forth. For a large lawn use a mechanical aerator.

Before reseedingbare patches, rake the lawn to remove thatch (accumulated clippings). In the north, the best time to reseed is August or early September. Next best is late winter, before the ground thaws. If you must seed in summer, keep the area moist until the seedlings are well established. In warm climates, seed in late spring or early summer. Popular lawn grasses Bluegrass is a favorite in areas with cold winters; it forms a dense turf that takes considerable trampling. Several strains of perennial ryegrass are also gaining popularity in such areas. Fescue, tough and shade-tolerant, is excellent for playgrounds. In the High Plains, buffalo gr ss is a good choice for its ability to tolerate drought; a slow grower, it needs few mowings.

Where winters are mild and summers hot, Bermuda grass is popular. Augustinegrass and centipedegrass are also useful. All three are planted by sprigs or plugs instead of seed; they spread rapidly by means of runners. Zoysia, another warm-climate favorite, is hardy as far north as Boston. It forms a dense, low-growing turf that turns brown at first frost.