The secret to every beautiful yard is a consistent lawn care routine.

Every neighborhood has that one standout home with a beautiful carpet of rolling green lawn that draws “oohs” and “ahhs” from passers-by – and that makes yours look like abandoned property by comparison.

Tired of peeking through the bushes to see what your neighbor is doing that makes their lawn so lush and green? Here are a few things you can do to “green” up your thumb and put your turf back on track.

Lawn Care Basic: Choose the Right Grass Seed

A beautiful lawn doesn’t just happen. Like most things in life, it starts at the beginning and simply requires doing a few fundamental things at the right time along the way to keep it going.

For starters, an often-asked question is “which is best” – seed or sod? Seed is the most economical way to start a lawn. But it requires a great deal of attention and nurturing to get it successfully underway. With seed, there are four important things to remember:

  1. Buy only top-quality seed. Bargain purchases often contain weeds and odd grass blends that grow in weird “mystery” clumps. Both spell trouble that you’ll have to deal with down the line.
  2. Prepare soil properly. Till to create small clumps from pea to marble-size. If soil is too fine, the surface will crust over after watering and dry out too quickly. Also level the area to keep seeds in place.
  3. Seed and fertilize the same day to get seedlings off to a strong and healthy start. Use a drop or rotary spreader, and it doesn’t matter which you apply first.
  4. Water often, rather than deeply. It is critical to successful germination. Only the top
    one-inch need be kept moist until seedlings are well underway.

If you’re in a hurry or have a difficult area to seed (such as a slope), sod is the answer. But, it is also more expensive. Some species, such as warm-season grasses, should only be started with stems or sod. If in doubt as to which is best for you, consult an expert at a local nursery or garden supply dealer.

Water the Right Way

The next lawn care area of concern is watering: when, how much and how often. If you leave footprints in the grass, it’s a good indicator your lawn needs watering. Moist grass springs right back – dry blades do not. Also, a lawn that appears silvery-blue indicates severe lack-of-water stress, and, if not promptly watered, will soon turn brown.

Wondering if you are over or under watering? One-half inch twice a week (one-inch total) from rain or watering is sufficient. To measure it, use a plastic rain gauge from the hardware store. The best time to water? From 6-10 a.m. Contrary to popular belief, daytime watering will not burn or cook grass – rather it cools it down. Avoid windy days though as it speeds surface evaporation.

And, if you tire of hand watering and dragging hoses and sprinklers around your yard, you may want to look into an automatic sprinkler system. Most dealers offer free planning services with layouts showing where each sprinkler head goes and what type is needed for that specific area. They’ll also tell you what depth to install your pipes, what water pressure is needed and what permits are needed. The biggest cost is labor. Plastic PVC pipe is easy to install and doing it yourself saves big bucks. Then add an automatic timer, set it and forget it.

Perfect Your Mowing Technique

Once the grass is well underway, mowing is the next area of concern. It is the difference between a ho-hum lawn and the neighborhood superstar mentioned earlier. One trick to remember is not cutting off too much at one time. The rule of thumb is never trim more than one-third the length of the blade in a single mowing. When too much is cut – especially in hot summer weather – the sun beats down cooking the tender base and drying out the topsoil.

If mowing is way overdue, and blades are overly tall, mow high at first. Then lower the blade setting and make a second pass.

On average, mowing once a week is sufficient. In heavy growth periods, like spring, twice a week may sometimes be needed. As for clippings, they should be removed after mowing as they can smother the grass. If you want to leave clippings, only do so using a mulching mower so its finer residue settles down at ground level.

One of the more common lawn care problems is a grayish cast that appears after a lawn is mowed. The cause: the lawnmower blade is dull, and is ripping the blades off instead of making a clean cut. The resulting ragged ends not only discolor and look bad, but they also provide an easy entry for all sorts of sneaky turf disease.

Today, there are a number of ways to keep a lawnmower blade sharp and balanced. You can either remove it and hand-sharpen using a file or hold it to a bench-mounted grinding wheel. Simpler (and more foolproof) methods now abound as well. One is an inexpensive sharpening attachment offered by many manufacturers of small hand-held rotary tools. The easy-to-use guides are pre-set at a proper 30-degree angle and generally cost fewer than ten dollars. As always, be sure to disconnect the spark plug wire before attempting to inspect or remove the blade.

Maintain a Lawn Care Routine

The final word to remember is maintenance. Beyond watering, fertilizing four to five times a year helps produce a thick, green carpet of grass. Twice a year (in Spring and Fall) should be the minimum. Mower maintenance is important too – especially at the start of each summer season.

It’s easy to make yours that one standout home with a beautiful carpet of rolling green lawn that draws “oohs” and “ahhs” from passers-by. Do these things, and watch your neighbors start peeking through your bushes to see what you’re doing that makes your lawn so lush, beautiful and green.

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