Give the grass a mow to help it grow

It is almost that time of year when we start to mow our lawns. I find it to be great exercise rather than a chore to cross off the weekly list. There is nothing like the smell of a freshly mowed lawn. Here are some suggestions about how to keep the lawn healthy while enjoying a freshly mowed lawn.

Healthy lawns have fewer disease, pest and insect problems. Healthy lawns are high maintenance. Like life, timing is everything with keeping the lawn healthy.

One easy reminder before starting to mow for the season, is to be sure to only mow off 1/3 of the blade of grass each and every time you mow. Why? The grass becomes stressed. Removing more than 1/3 of the blade each time encourages the grass roots to dry out and to have fewer cells to use for photosynthesis. Even though we fertilize the lawn, grass still transforms sunlight or radiant energy into sugars and starches for food.

Keeping the mower at a consistent height can help you with the removal of 1/3 of the blade only if, you consistently mow at regular intervals. If you decide to skip mowing for a week, the grass keeps growing taller blades. Then you are long past removing a 1/3 of the blade. If this happens, you could always mow and cut off some of the blade. Then return in a couple of days with the mower at three to three and a half inches and mow again. I am assuming you have not allowed your grass to grow several inches tall such as eight or nine inches or more. If the grass is about four and a half or even five inches, that is one thing. Any taller and it might as well be pasture.

Why is the number three or three and a half inches the proper height for grass in the summer? A three inch grass blade has the ability to shade the crown of each grass plant. This height will also allow the grass to hold more moisture. The greatest benefit on a very hot summer’s day is at three inches the grass can stay cooler. Benefiting from shade and coolness allows the soil moisture to go further. This is money in your pocket. Instead of watering frequently every day for 20 or 30 minutes, you can water maybe two or three times a week. In some cases, with clay soil, watering can be extended to maybe once or twice a week. Clay soils retain moisture longer, due to their structure.

Find out what type of soil structure you have. You can do this by getting a soil test done which is recommended every few years. Healthy grass needs the proper amount of water. Too much or too little causes issues. Again, improper watering causes stress on the grass. The best watering practice is to water deeply and less frequently. Understanding the soil’s structure gives you an indication of your soil’s water holding capacity. Sand drains quickly while loamy soils have good drainage while not draining too quickly. Loamy soils have more nutrients and moisture over sandy soils. Clay soils are high in nutrients but are dense and compact. Naturally, they will drain very slowly. So in terms of speed, sandy soil drains the quickest, then loam, then clay.

What is the best grass to grow in sandy soil? Fescue is the best grass for sandy soil. Kentucky bluegrass prefers a clay-loam mixture. Buffalo grass will grow in most any soil with the exception of very coarse sandy soils.

The grass will have a more developed and deeper root system in the soil when the grass is watered deeply and fertilized properly. The best time to fertilize your lawn is in September and October/November. This allows the roots to store the food in their root systems during the winter. This follows the natural cycle of how all plants behave in the fall. They send sugars and starches into the root system to store until conditions are right in the spring. Then these sugars and starches are used to grow vegetative growth in the spring. Adding more food/fertilizer on your turf in the spring increases the growth, adds to the mowing frequency, and does little to support a healthy root system. So late spring and early summer or summer fertilizations are not necessary. They stress the grass. This causes diseases such as dollar spot, leaf-spot and melting out diseases which are mostly spring diseases.

Here is how these diseases happen. You apply nitrogen to your turf in April or May when you start to see the grass growing. New grass blades begin to grow. New grass is vulnerable and more susceptible to disease. These diseases lie dormant in the soil until there is a change in weather or temperature. Applying more nitrogen to the grass encourages more new grass blades to grow. Then you have more grass that is susceptible to disease. This adds up to creating the environment to keep the disease cycle going. The grass is not actively growing in the fall as it is in the spring. This means there is less grass susceptible to disease. The grass behavior in the fall is to store food in the root system.