Proudly serving Topeka, Kansas!
1.) Lawn Care Schedule - What you should be doing to your lawn, and when you should do it.
2.) What does it take to have a nice lawn?
3.) K-State Research and Extension Reports
4.) Recommended Links
|Early Spring Seeding
|No need to start watering until late March.
|If core aerating lawn in spring and fall.
|If not already applied in March.
|If core aerating lawn in spring and fall,
and not already done in March.
|Season-Long Grub Worm Control
|If concerned about grub worms.
|Keep lawn watered as conditions become hot and dry.
|Continue watering lawn through hot/dry weather.
|Fall seeding can begin after August 15th.
|September is lawn month.
The most important time to fertilize your cool-season lawn,
and the best time to over-seed, and core aerate.
|The best time of the year to over-seed your lawn!
|The best time of the year to core aerate your lawn!
|Fall Seeding season ends on October 15th.
|The 2nd most important time to fertilize your cool-season lawn.
About the time of the your last mowing.
|Dormant Seeding season begins on November 15th.
|Clean up Leaves
|Piles of leaves left through the winter, will smother your
turf, and you'll be left with bare spots in the spring.
So, what does it take to have a nice lawn? Unfortunately, there is no simple and inexpensive method by which to obtain and maintain a nice lawn, that we are aware of. It's no accident that the people who spend the most time and effort on their lawns, usually have the nicest lawns. Of course, knowledge is also needed to ensure you are doing the right things, and not wasting time and effort. So, for those who enjoy working in the lawn, and have the money to put into it, a nice lawn is very attainable. For the rest of us, it will probably end up being some compromise between how nice of a lawn you'd like to have, and how much effort and money you're willing to put into your lawn.
1.) Water - The most important thing for any lawn is water. Grass clippings are 90% water, so you can tell what they need to grow. If you do nothing else, water your lawn as needed. People tell me, especially old timers - I prefer to rely on Mother Nature. My response is that Mother Nature is harsh. Droughts, floods, tornados, hurricanes, excessive heat, and excessive cold, are just a few things that Mother Nature is responsibe for. Mother Nature does not necessarily want you to have a thick, lush, and perfect lawn. To complicate matters, Kansas is located in what they call the transition zone. This means that neither northern, cool-season grasses; nor southern, warm-season grasses are particularly suited to our climate. The cool-season grasses do not do well in our summers, and the warm season grasses that can survive our winters have a short growing season, and don't do well in the shade. Most people end up using cool-season grasses for their lawn: Tall Fescue and Kentucky Blue Grass are the most common. Water, and sometimes a lot of water is needed to maintain these lawns in the hot,dry summer conditions. Some prefer to let their turf go dormant in the summer, but you will likely lose some of your turfgrass this way, and weeds can creep in. An automatic sprinkler system is a definite solution, but not an option for some due to cost. Automatic timers that fit on your hose end are a cheaper solution, but require more work from you. Another option is to over-seed in the fall, to replace turfgrass lost during the summer. However, daily watering is required to establish new seed.
2.) Regular Lawn Treatments
Fertilizing - Just as humans require certain vitamins and minerals to remain healthy, turfgrasses need certain nutrients for healthy growth and development. Turfgrass nutrients are classified as macronutrients (needed in relatively large quantities) and micronutrients (needed in smaller quantities). Most nutrients are present in the air, water, and soil in sufficient quantities, and do not need to be added. Some nutrients must be added periodically. Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium are the macronutrients that must be added most often. Iron is the micronutrient that must be added most often. The % of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), and Potassium(K) are required by law to be listed on the fertilizer label. They show up as N-P-K. (An example would be 24-18-6. This means 24% Nitrogen, 18% Phosphorous, and 6% Potassium.)
Nitrogen is the nutrient needed in the greatest quantities by turfgrass. It is essential for healthy growth, color, and density. Vigorously growing lawns use more Nitrogen than is available in the soil, so it must be replenished regularly.
Phosphorous is needed for growth of new roots and shoots, and is especially important for new lawns. And, it is often deficient in soils surrounding new homes. For this reason, starter fertilizers are high in phosphorous. For established turfgrass, however, it is often present in the soil in sufficient quantities.
Potassium is needed for overall plant health and disease resistance. Many Kansas lawns contain sufficient potassium for turfgrass growth, but potassium may occassionally need to be added, especially on sandy soils.
It is recommended to apply about 1 pound of Nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. of turf area per fertilizer application. For a fertilizer than contains 24% Nitrogen, you would need to apply about 4 lbs. of the fertilizer per 1,000 sq. ft. of turf area. To determine the total amount of fertilizer needed for your lawn, you'll need to measure your lawn. This can be done by measuring the total area of your property, and then measuring and subtracting out non-turf areas like your home, driveway, landscaping, etc. For a second check, you can look up your property size on the Shawnee County Appraiser's website: Click here to go to the Shawnee County Appraiser's website. This will help you make sure you are in the right ballpark. Since Phosphorous and Potassium are often already present in sufficient quantities in the soil, it is best to perform a soil analysis to determine how much, if any of these nutrients should be applied to your lawn. The K-State Research and Extension performs soil sample analysis. Soil samples can be taken to the Shawnee County Extension office, and the report with recommendations will be mailed back to you within a couple of weeks. Often times, soil sample testing is free to Shawnee county residents, if grant money is available. If grant money is not available at the time, soil analysis costs around $10. You can acquire instructions for taking a proper soil sample, as well as borrow a soil plugger at the Shawnee county extension office. The Shawnee county extension office is located behind the Expo Center on the West side. Click here for a map of their location. In the absence of a soil sample, it is recommended that you apply a fertilizer that is a turfgrass formulation, at the rate of 1 pound of Nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. Turfgrass formulations are high in Nitrogen, containing at least 3 times more Nitrogen than Phoshphorous, and at least 1.5 times more Nitrogen than Potassium.
Fertilizing at the right time is just as important as what fertilizer you put down and how much. The K-State research and extension recommends applying about 2-4 lbs. of Nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. per season. The recommended months to fertilize cool-season lawns are May, September, and November. September is the most important application, as it aids in turfgrass recovery from summer stress. November is the 2nd most important application, as it helps the turf build food reserves and encourages root growth. It is recommended that the May application be slow-release, to encourage moderate, controlled growth as the hot weather approaches. Slow-release, though more expensive, is always preferrable to quick release, to prevent burning and excessive growth.
Weed Control - Weeds are typically the biggest lawn concern for most homeowners. Most of the focus is on herbicides, but your best defense against weeds is a dense, healthy, vigorous lawn, which can only be obtained through proper fertilizing, watering, and mowing. There are two main types of herbicides. Post-emergent and Pre-emergent. Post-emergent herbicides are for weeds that have already developed and are present in your lawn. Post-emergent herbicides can be applied to kill weeds, anytime they are actively growing. The herbicide is taken in through the green, leafy surfaces of the weed. For this reason, liquid, spray formulations are much more effective for post-emergent weed control than granular products. Some post-emergent herbicides contain a surfactant for improved results. If not, surfactant can be purchased and added to your spray solution, to improve the effectiveness. Surfactants provide better coverage of the spray over the surface of the weed, for better absorption. Always read the herbicide label before application, to ensure you have the right herbicide for the weeds you are trying to kill, are applying the herbicide at the proper rate, under the proper conditions, and always wear the recommended protective equipment. Always apply herbicides that are safe for turfgrass. Pre-emergent herbicides work by creating a barrier on the surface of the ground that prevents weed seeds from germinating and becoming new weeds in your lawn. Pre-emergents can be applied in liquid or granular form. Granules must be watered in before they are effective. Around here, crabgrass pre-emergent is typically applied in March or April, to prevent crabgrass and other warm-season weeds from germinating and invading your lawn over the summer. This is a very important application, because crabgrass is a very aggressive weed grass that grows vigorously in the hot, humid summer conditions. Once a pre-emergent has been applied, it is important not to disturb the ground, which would break the herbicide barrier. Core Aeration, dethatching and other ground disturbing operations should be delayed until the fall, once the pre-emergent has been applied. Also, seeding will have to be delayed until the fall, once the pre-emergent has been applied, because the pre-emergent will prevent the grass seeds from germinating as well. Pre-emergent rates are determined, so that they wear off by the fall, when crabgrass and other warm-season annuals die off. Barricade is the most effective pre-emergent that we are aware of.
Insects and Diseases - Though less common, insects and diseases can threaten your lawn from time to time. We recommend using your Shawnee County Extension office as a resource, if you develop a problem with your lawn, and are unsure of the cause. They can identify insects, and can analyze samples of disease-damaged turf to determine the cause. Sometimes changing lawn practices can be the solution. Such as not watering at night, to prevent the development of fungus. Other times, insecticides or fungicides may be needed to correct the situation. Preventative applications may also be applied, if you are concerned about a particular pest. An example would be season-long grub worm control applied in late spring or early summer to prevent grub worm problems all season long. (Though present to some extent in most lawns, grubs are typically found in sufficient quantities to create noticeable damage, in only a small percentage of Kansas lawns.)
3.) Mowing - Proper mowing practices are necessary for a healthy lawn. Mowing affects turf density, vigor, water consumption, weed infestation, and resistance to weather stress. There are several aspects of mowing to be considered:
Mowing Height - Optimal mowing height depends upon the type of the grass. For cool-season grasses like Tall Fescue and Kentucky Blue Grass, 3 inches is a pretty good mowing height. Warm-season grasses such as zoysia and bermudagrass can be mowed shorter, but remember your lawn is not perfectly flat. The shorter the mowing height, and the larger the mowing deck, the greater the potential is for scalping the lawn in some spots. Raising your mowing height to 3.5 or 4 inches in the summer is recommended for cool-season grasses. This shades the ground, and prevents it from drying out as quickly.
Mowing Frequency - Mowing frequency depends on the turf growth rate, which varies by season and rainfall. It is recommended to remove no more than 1/3 of the grass blade with each mowing. This means that if your are mowing to a height of 3 inches, then you should mow the lawn when it reaches a height of no more than 4.5 inches. Typically about once per week is a good average. A little more frequent in the spring, and a little less frequent in the summer may be required.
Mower Maintenance - It is important to mow your lawn with a sharp blade. Dull blades tear the grass blade, resulting in a torn, whitish tip to the grass blade that doesn't look attractive. Also, with a sharp blade the mower is more efficient and uses less power. You can sharpen a mower blade yourself using a bench or angle grinder. Or, you can get it sharpened at a lawn mower repair shop for around $5. If the blade is damaged, or ground down from sharpening many times, it will need to be replaced. We recommend sharpening your blade after about every 8 hours of use. Also, grass clippings should be washed or scraped from the mower deck regularly, and the mower should have the oil changed and be tuned up every year, to keep it in good running operation.
Mowing Pattern - It is recommended that you change mowing directions each time you mow. This reduces turf compaction and turf wear from the mowing wheels. Also, choose mowing directions that require as few turns as possible. This will reduce mowing time, and reduce turf damage from mower wheels.
Grass Clippings - If the lawn is mowed frequently enough, it is recommended to mulch the grass clippings, and leave them on the lawn. Grass clippings are made up of 85-90% water, so they decompose rapidly, and do not contribute to thatch. Short clippings filter into the turf and return moisture and about 25% of the nitrogen applied as fertilizer. If the grass is allowed to get long between mowings, then bagging of the grass clippings is recommended. Long clippings tend to stay on top of the turf, blocking sunlight, and favoring disease development.
4.) Core Aeration - Core Aeration is the practice of removing small plugs (cores) of your lawn and re-depositing them back onto the surface of your lawn. Typically a machine called a core aerator is used to perform this operation. Core Aeration has many benefits, including:
- Loosening of Compacted soil
- Breaks up, and breaks down thatch
- Improves Water Infiltration
- Improves Fertilizer Infiltration
- Increases Oxygen supply to roots
- Releases carbon dioxide
- Encourages new, deeper root growth
Choosing the Right Grass Seed - When seeding or over-seeding your lawn, it is important to choose the correct grass seed. There are many different types of grass seed sold at the stores in this area, and not all are suited to our climate, or provide the most attractive stand of grass. Turf-Type Tall Fescue is the grass type that we recommend for most applications. It was developed as an improvement to the widely used K31 Tall Fescue, which has been around since the 1950's. The improvements were a finer grass blade and a darker green color. This simple choice of Turf-Type Tall Fescue grass seed over K31, will provide a much more attractive lawn. Tall Fescue is also a hearty turf, which can develop roots up to a foot deep, providing drought tolerance. There are always new cultivars of turf-type tall fescue being developed. Some claiming to be water saver, or self-repairing. These grass seeds are typically more expensive, and we cannot vouge for these claims, because they have not been sufficiently proven to our knowledge. And water saver does not mean you won't have to water, just that the grass may be a little more drought tolerant than others. Also, it's important to chose a grass seed that contains a blend of several different cultivars. They may all be turf-type tall fescue and look pretty much the same, but different cultivars have different characteristics. One may be more drought tolerant. One may be resistant to a certain disease. One may do better in the shade, etc., etc. This way your seed will hopefully work for all the different conditions in your lawn, and if a disease or some other problem arises, it won't take out your entire lawn. Most lawns even have a mix of different grasses. This is fine. We would still recommend over-seeding with the turf-type tall fescue. Unless your lawn is all one type of grass already, and you want to stick with that type. Turf-Type tall fescue can be used for full sun to moderate shade. If you have an area of your lawn that is shaded all of the time, then you may want to try a grass seed that is labeled as a shade mix for that area. Though, we have not had good luck with shade mix under trees, unless watered extensively through the summer. This is because the shade mix is not drought tolerant, and the tree roots take a lot of moisture out of the soil.
Preparing the Ground - When planting grass seed, much improved results will be achieved by preparing the soil. For new lawns, or bare spots, tilling will help to loosen the soil. For existing turf, core aeration is beneficial for loosening the soil. Also, planting the seed in the ground will provide much improved results over simply spreading the seed over the surface of the ground. But, not too deep. The seed only needs to be covered by soil about a 1/4" deep. Seed germination is all about seed to soil contact! For small areas, you can rake the seed into the soil. For larger areas, a machine called a slice/seeder is beneficial. These machines can be rented for around the same as a core aerator, or you can hire this work out to a lawn care company. Starter Fertilizer or the fertilizer recommended by a soil analysis is beneficial to apply after seeding.
Watering - Daily watering after seed sowing is necessary to achieve a high rate of seed germination. Straw can also be put down to aid in keeping seed moist, and has other advantages. After germination, watering is still needed to get the new seedlings off to a good start. Click here for our watering recommendations.
Timing - Planting seed at the right time, is also very important. The basic idea is that you want to plant cool-season grasses, so that they have as much time to establish and develop a good root system as possible, prior to having to endure the harsh summer conditions. For this reason, the ideal time to plant cool-season grass seed is right at the end of the summer. Anytime after August 15th, is a good rule of thumb. Generally, September is considered the ideal month to plant grass seed, with October 15th being the deadline for fall planting. Planting between October 15th and November 15th is not recommended, because the grass seed may come up, not become very well established, and winter kill. The next best time to seed is when the turfgrass is dormant. Anytime after mid-late November until mid-late March. While this is generally considered to be less desirable than the fall, it does have a couple of advantages. 1.) The freeze-thaw cycles over the winter cause the ground to heave, and tend to work the seed into the ground, improving seed to soil contact. 2.) The seed will lay dormant until the ground temperature rises sufficiently for germination to occur in the spring. The advantage is that typically the spring weather is very rainy, so very little watering is required from you to establish the grass seed. The problem with planting in the spring, is that the grass may not become established enough, and will burn up in the summer. If you plant in the spring, the earlier the better. When dormant seeding or spring seeding, the crabgrass pre-emergent treatment will need to be delayed. You'll want to read the label for the pre-emergent you are using, but for the one we use (Barricade), it is recommended that you wait until after the second mowing before making application to new turf. This could reduce the effectiveness of the pre-emergent. It is stated on the Barricade label that crabgrass germinates anytime after May 10th in this area, so you want the pre-emergent down and watered in before this date.
These are some of the reports we thought you'd be interested in. They are easy reads - just a few pages. More information and reports can be found at the Shawnee County Extension Office or on the K-State Research & Extension website. Click on the link to view the report.
Watering Your Lawn Watering New Lawns Watering Established Lawns
Fertilizing Kansas Lawns Weed Control in Home Lawns White Grub Worm Control
Mowing Your Lawn Recycling Grass Clippings
Aerating Your Lawn Thatch - A Hidden Lawn Concern
Planting a Home Lawn Turfgrass Selection Shade Tolerant Grasses