Local lawn care experts share the secret to creating and maintaining a healthy lawn.By Rebecca Mayer Knutsen
An enviable blanket of lush green grass tops the list of must-haves for many homeowners. According to Spencer Howard, operations manager at BJ’s Lawncare & Landscaping on Cape Cod, owners typically want their lawns to emulate a golf course, but that’s simply not realistic. “The composition of turf on a golf course is made up a variety of grass that is specifically suited for that environment,” he explains.
There are tricks of the landscaping trade, however, that will help keep your lawn looking healthy and green, even if you don’t live on a golf course. The ideal turf for Massachusetts’ southern coastal area is 80% tall fescue with a mix of Kentucky blue and perennial rye rounding out the remaining 20%, explains Natascha Batchelor, district manager of The Davey Tree Expert Company’s Cape Cod region. Homeowners should strive for a blend of grass types rather than a monoculture, which leaves the lawn vulnerable to being wiped out by damage.
What is the first step in facilitating a healthy lawn? Take a soil and turf sample to a commercial lawn company or Cape Cod Cooperative Extension to determine the soil’s texture and nutrient composition and identify the type of turf for a small fee.
In order to thrive, lawns need three major nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium – as well as macro nutrients, including calcium, magnesium and copper, to name a few. “It’s important to have enough organic matter for the lawn to grow well,” says Howard. “Grass can be grown in pure sand but it would need around-the-clock maintenance or else it would shrivel up and die.”
There’s no simple answer to getting a great lawn because it depends on many factors, and all lawns have different requirements. “But the major considerations for any homeowner are proper irrigation, nutrient management and mowing techniques,” says Batchelor.
The H2O Factor
Proper irrigation is vital for a good, healthy lawn. In general, a homeowner can strike the right balance by applying heavy amounts of water infrequently. Just how much water is needed varies based on numerous factors, from the type of subsoil to the amount of sun the turf receives.
Experts recommend watering three to four times a week, early in the morning and for a long duration of time. “All of that water leaches down and goes deep into the soil,” Howard says. “Not watering every day forces the grass roots to stretch down to get the water needed and helps make the grass stronger.”
According to Batchelor, lawns in this region typically require about one-and-a-half inches of water per week. Homeowners should consider performing a test to learn just how much water they’re applying during each watering. “People set irrigation systems based on how long they want to water [their yards], but homes have different water pressures, and water pressure can change throughout the day and by season,” she says.
The time of day is critical not only for the turf’s resistance to disease, but also for water conservation. Early morning is the most optimal time. Midday watering can result in losing up to 60% of the moisture to evaporation, and evening watering leaves grass prone to diseases and fungal infections due to high overnight moisture conditions.
Mow Like a Pro
To keep grass looking clean-cut and healthy, a few techniques will make a world of difference. Follow these tips for a well-manicured lawn and to promote better grass health:
1. Set mower blade height to about three inches to decrease water evaporation, encourage deep root systems and help ward off weeds.
2. Sharpen mower blades to prevent fungal infections that are attracted to the increased surface areas of poorly cut grass blades.
3. Mow the lawn about once a week in summer and about twice a week in spring and fall.
4. Remove no more than one-third of the grass blade at a time.
To Treat or Not to Treat?
The use of conventional fertilizers and pesticides has become widespread in the quest for the perfect, pest- and weed-free lawn. As consumers increasingly turn to organic foods and household cleaning products, lawn care has been singled out as the next obvious target.
In this region, pesticides and fertilizers are used to combat grubs and chinch bugs, keep lawns healthy and green and ward off weeds. In general, synthetic products are less expensive, less labor intensive and more effective than organic options, however, homeowners pay the price by exposing the environment to harmful chemicals. “Customers in some parts of the Cape are interested in having an organic lawn,” Howard explains. “It’s more expensive in the first five to 10 years, but will eventually pay off. After that, it’s a living, self-sustaining lawn.”