As the seasons change and warmer weather comes into view, our minds begin to fill with the pleasant thoughts of entertaining, lawn games, and grilling. They also turn to the question of how to have a green lawn this summer.
While the question is seemingly simple, the answers are many. If the goal is to achieve a green lawn, you can nurture your existing lawn, replace it, or get rid of it altogether.
In order to decide if your lawn is a good candidate for nurturing, consider its health. If you’ve lived in your house for a while you’ve probably noticed how it’s performed over the past few seasons.
Does it spring back when walked on or does it lay flat? Is it patchy, with grass in some areas and bald spots in others? What about weed control? If you have more weeds than lawn, it might be better to start from scratch than to battle it out.
Insects can also do a number on your lawn, primarily the ravishing effects caused by crane flies.
Even if your lawn is filled in and thick, it may be nutrient-poor. Grass that is yellow or brown isn’t healthy and is typically lacking the proper nutrients.
If the blades of grass are shriveled, curling, or split, you may also have disease spreading.
While most of these effects can be remedied, it isn’t an instant process. Rebalancing the nutrients in the soil or improving overall health is a process that can take one to two years to take full effect.
Don’t expect it to happen overnight, but with fertilizers, weed control, insecticides, dedicated watering practices, and other care, you can bring it back to life.
Oftentimes, removing the lawn and reseeding is a better option. With the proper techniques, this process not only gives you a fresh start, it provides an opportunity to enhance the soil, eliminate pests and disease, install irrigation systems, and plant a grass that is well-matched with your climate.
There are a few ways of going about lawn removal. The first is to dig it out by hand. This works best for small lawns since it requires manual labor.
Start by watering the grass deeply with a hose or sprinkler. Basically flood it and allow it to soak in for a day or so. Then grab a shovel or hoe and dig out the grass in chunks. You can rent a sod cutter to make the process easier. Next, till the soil and add in your amendments.
The second option is to kill off your lawn with herbicides. This is obviously the least environmentally and human-health-friendly option, but if you do decide to kill off your lawn, look for chemicals that flush from the soil quickly.
A third option is called solarization, which is basically overheating the grass until it dies. This technique is best relied on in hot, unforgiving climates rather than temperate ones.
Begin the process by mowing the grass as short as possible. Then cover the entire lawn with plastic sheeting and completely tack it down around the borders and along the seams. Overlap the sheeting for complete coverage.
Allow around two months for the process to work. Then remove any remaining grass and rototill the area.
Finally, you can suffocate your lawn with a heavy layer of mulch. Again, mow it low to the ground. Then cover it thoroughly with a thick layer of cardboard or newspaper. Build up around six inches of materials, adding bark chips if needed, and allow it to sit undisturbed for a few months.
Replanting Your Lawn
Once your soil is prepped, the replanting can begin. Choose your grass seed carefully in alignment with recommended grasses for your climate.
You’ll be able to create that green lawn of your dreams by choosing a seed that will perform well with the available resources. Don’t be tempted by promises of how a certain grass should look. If you plant it in the wrong environment, you won’t achieve those results.
Time your seeding when the weather is mild. Rain can help your watering efforts while hot days make it difficult to keep the seeds moist while they germinate. Rely on timers to provide consistent watering if needed.
If you think about it, a lawn is a plant. Therefore, it relies on air, water, sunlight, and nutrients to thrive. If you want a green lawn this summer, it’s your job to provide those elements in proper portions.
Fortunately, Mother Nature helps by providing air, sun, rain, and nutrients so you merely need to focus on keeping those elements in balance through amendments, water control, and lawn management.
Let It Grow
Contrary to the tightly-mowed landscaped yards on the cover of magazines, keeping your grass short actually stresses it, causing a decline in health.
You might feel a bit guilty about allowing your lawn to grow taller before mowing, but you’re not lazy, you’re thoughtful.
Give your lawn a safety cushion by keeping it around three inches high. During spring when it’s in full growth mode, you may still need to mow weekly, but raise the deck on your mower to the highest setting.
If you do let it get a bit out of control, start by shaving off ⅓ of the height and gradually work towards shorter blades without stressing them.
Sharpen the Blades
Keeping your lawn mower in tip-top shape is another favor you can do for your lawn. Dull blades can damage the lawn, again bringing stress to the grass.
Plus, sharp blades make the job go faster with better looking results.
Automatic sprinklers are the foundation of a great lawn, but not just because they make your life easier.
The truth is, underground sprinklers that are adjusted for complete coverage are a great tool because they are on a timer that allows you to control the amount of water your lawn gets.
While most lawns do require a lot of water, proper watering is more about technique than amount.
Rather than giving your lawn a light watering every day, withhold water and offer a deep soak weekly instead.
Even if you don’t have automatic sprinklers, hook manual sprinklers up to a timer for the best results. Alternatively, set an alarm on your calendar so you remember to water at the same time each week. Then set another alarm while watering so you remember to turn it off.
Deep watering allows the roots to get well established, which in turn provides healthy, strong support for the lawn. Deep roots also help choke out weeds.
Mulch the Clippings
Grass clippings that result from mowing the lawn act as a natural mulch. This means it helps retain moisture, provide nutrients, and suppress weeds.
Instead of bagging, removing, hauling, and dumping clippings in your compost or yard debris cart, skip that step and allow the lawn mower to naturally mulch clipping across your lawn.
During high-growth periods make sure the mulch is thin and evenly dispersed as you mow.
Clumps of clippings will suffocate the grass so break them up and spread them out a bit when this occurs.
If your mower doesn’t automatically mulch, fling the clippings out of the mower bag and lightly rake to spread around in a thin layer.
Pick a Different Green
Most lawns are made of a mixture of grasses that have relatively short root systems and need constant watering to stay green or they will turn brown during the summer.
Fescue grasses on the other hand have long, deep root systems and are drought-resistant, shade tolerant, and most important, stay green in the heat of summer.
Our expert gardening advisor, Karen Thurber says, "Fescue is a cool season grass that grows best when it is maintained at a higher height, around three inches. It is a drought-tolerant grass that can become dormant in times of no water and grow again when water is available.
Fescue will require water to stay green in the hottest and driest times of summer. If you water, be sure to wait until the grass is showing signs of being dry, look for slight wilting or off-colored grass; then be sure to water deeply. This will encourage roots to grow long and deep into the soil, giving you a more drought-tolerant lawn.
There are many varieties of Fescue, be sure to choose a variety that is best suited to your area."
Even if you decide not to replace your lawn with a variety better equipped for your climate, you can gradually change over to a heartier option through the process of overseeding.
Transitioning from a traditional lawn can be accomplished in a year or two by overseeding your existing lawn (no need to remove your existing lawn and start over). Fescue grows best when it’s planted in the late fall or early spring.
To prepare your lawn for fescue planting, start by cutting it short, around one-inch tall, then aerating with a spike aerator. Spread your fescue seeds and aerate once more to help cover the seeds with soil, then keep the seeds moist for a week or so.
TIP: Karen advises, "The seeded area must be watered daily, most likely a few times a day for the best germination. If you don't have access to a spike aerator, a rake can be used to loosen the soil."
Germination takes approximately 7 to 10 days. Fescue grows best in well-drained soil, with a high organic matter. During the first season, you need to keep the fescue well watered, but once it’s established you’ll find the requirement to water your lawn is reduced dramatically.
An added bonus is most fescue grasses are slow growing, so you won’t need to cut your lawn as often, meaning you’ll reduce harmful emissions and conserve energy while conserving water.
Clover is another strong choice for a green lawn. It eliminates the need for copious amounts of water, fertilizers, and pesticides. Plus, it’s soft and cushiony underfoot.
Most Americans think of clover as a weed and try to erase it from their lawns. However, decades ago clover was a common part of well-maintained lawns. Clover is easy to introduce by overseeding your existing lawn with clover seeds. Water them in and watch them bloom.
Common strains of clover (Irish, Shamrock, or Dutch White) provide a lot of positive benefits for a homeowner when used in lawns, for example--clover puts nitrogen back into the soil, so it actually helps enrich the soil where it grows. It has a long root system making it very drought resistant.
These same long roots form a symbiotic relationship with a bacteria that can fix nitrogen from the air. This means you don’t need to be continually fertilizing your lawn. (Even if you’re using organic fertilizer on your lawn now, you still have the expense and work of putting it down).
TIP: Karen Thurber adds, "Clover is a legume. Like all legumes, they have the ability to form a symbiotic relationship with the bacteria Rhizobium. The Rhizobim bacteria infects the roots and forms nodules on the roots. The plant supplies the bacteria with energy, while the bacteria fixes nitrogen from the air and supplies it to the plant."
Clover is relatively bug-free, so there’s no need to apply pesticides, and it resists spotting from dog urine--a major problem for some homeowners. Finally, clover is slow growing, so you don’t need to cut it as often as grass and, when you do need to cut it, clover can withstand low mowing yet still remain green.
The Case for Letting Grass Grow
At some point in modern history, well-manicured lawns became a ubiquitous part of home ownership. But as we realize the negative aspects of turf grass, there is a movement towards natural lawns.
Lawns are not nature’s choice and the amount of work it takes to maintain them proves it. As a result, lawns damage the environment in a host of different ways. First, there is the removal of the natural habitat, preparation of the ground, and seeding of new grass.
Maintaining short lawns requires aerating, fertilizing, watering, mowing, and dethatching. Each of these steps contributes to a devolving ecosystem. Biodiversity is erased. Reduced natural habitat affects wildlife.
Fertilizing adds toxins to the soil and water, as well as contributing to air pollution and issues with human health.
Grass isn’t all bad, though. It does provide fresh air (if grown organically), reduces erosion, and maintains surface temperatures. So the goal is to find something that offers soil stability, water and carbon retention, and photosynthesis without requiring loads of water and chemical applications.
Enter what is known as a natural lawn. This is simply a lawn of growing materials that don’t require chemicals or copious amounts of water.
While it can be grass if that’s what grows well in your area, a natural lawn is often a blanket of other greenery, such as creeping thyme or clover. It can also be a mixture of native plants or even a vegetable garden.
The point is to give consideration to alternatives other than traditional grasses to conserve resources as well as time spent managing a lawn.
Discover other useful tips in our related articles Lawn Landscaping Basics and Organic Lawn Care 101.