A beautiful, well-manicured lawn is a source of great pride for many homeowners. Maintaining a healthy lawn takes work and hours of TLC, including regular watering, cutting, and laying down fertilizer. A lawn that’s cared for shows that you take pride in your home’s appearance. And all that curb appeal can really pay off when it comes time to sell your house.
However, your lawn can also become a source of gut-wrenching angst. Reason: Many well-meaning and proactive homeowners make mistakes in lawn care that produce dreadful and depressing results. A little too much love can be, well, too much.
If your lawn has been looking particularly sickly, you might be to blame. Reflect on your lawn care regimen and ask yourself: Have you made any of the mistakes below? The answer to solving your lawn troubles may be realizing you’ve been ruining it all along.
1. Improper watering
Water management is the No. 1 mistake made by homeowners with established lawns, according to Clint Waltz, professor and turfgrass extension specialist in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of Georgia. So just how much water does your lawn need per week?
“Watering just an inch of water a week is good if you have good rainfall,” Waltz says. If you’re in an area that doesn’t receive as much rain, then you’ll need to lend a helping hand with more frequent waterings.
To check how much water your lawn gets each week, leave several cups out and measure the water level at the end of seven days.
An irrigation system can help your lawn get the water it needs and maintain a consistent watering schedule. Some sprinkler systems even have rain or moisture sensors to detect water levels and turn the system on and off.
2. Planting only one type (or the wrong kind) of grass
Variety is not only the spice of life—it’s also a necessary ingredient for a healthy lawn, according to Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs at the National Association of Landscape Professionals in Fairfax, VA.
“When planting grass seed, choose a variety of seeds so your lawn is more likely to weather poor conditions like heat and drought,” she advises.
You also need to determine the best grass for your environment.
“Species selection is critical, and you have to understand which species fits in each site,” Waltz says. For example, he says, Bermuda grass doesn’t handle shady environments well. Also, if you live in the southern region with hot summers and mild winters, consider such warm-season turf types as St. Augustine grass, zoysia grass, and centipede grass.
However, if you live in the northern region and experience bitter cold winters, tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, and perennial ryegrass are better bets.
Some people live in regions with weather at both extremes. For those areas, Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, zoysia grass, and Bermuda grass are good choices. Waltz recommends checking with your local county extension agent or university specialist to find out which grasses grow best in your area.
3. Not taking soil health seriously
A healthy lawn starts below the surface, in the soil.
“If your soil is compacted or missing necessary nutrients, grass will not thrive, no matter how hard you try,” Henriksen says. She recommends aerating your lawn every one or two years, depending on your soil type. Aerating is the process of putting small holes in the lawn so water, air, and nutrients can reach the soil.
“A soil test should be conducted at least every three years to determine what nutrients are needed so the proper fertilizer can be used,” says Henriksen. Once you determine the correct type of fertilizer, she says, it needs to be applied correctly.
“Correctly means at the right time of year, in proper amounts, and with the correct applicator,” she says. “And you should consult manufacturer recommendations for guidance.”
4. Mowing the lawn at the wrong time
Contrary to what you might see on lawnmower commercials, most homeowners don’t get excited about mowing their lawn. But when the time comes, it’s important to mow your lawn under the right conditions.
“Generally, grass should be trimmed to 2½ to 3 inches, depending on the grass type, and no more than a third of the grass blade should be removed at one time,” says Henriksen. So if it’s at or below that height, hold off on cutting. Grass that’s too short stresses the grass blades and makes them more susceptible to disease, she says.
Mowing wet grass is another mistake many homeowners make. The moisture will weigh the grass blades down and make it difficult to get a clean, straight cut. The wet clippings will also clump up and make your lawn look uneven.
Also, failing to keep the mower blades sharp causes the cuts to be ragged, and this increases the chances that the grass will develop diseases and attract pests.
You should also refrain from mowing your lawn in the same direction every time; otherwise, you’ll end up creating grooves in the grass. (Grooves are not groovy.)
5. Not knowing environmental stressors
Environmental stressors are conditions that affect the ability of grass to thrive.
“These stressors include excessive amounts of precipitation, drought, temperature extremes, construction, and foot traffic,” Henriksen says, “and each can take its toll on the health of your lawn.”
For example, if you overwater your grass, the excessive moisture creates the perfect conditions for weeds, leaf mold, and leaf spots.
“Lawns that are overfertilized are also susceptible to weeds, while lawns that have heavy foot traffic can experience compacted soil, which is problematic for their health,” she explains. Too much foot traffic will prevent water from reaching the roots, and when that happens, you’ll be left with a brown lawn.