Grass Care and Improving your Grass

March 20, 2014

With the arrival of spring and the eventual coming of summer, now is the time to consider beginning maintenance on your grass. Following a cold winter, Spring is the perfect time to start prepping your grass for summer. There are many tips and suggestions to use for proper lawn maintenance and while all of them are good, they are all not necessary. That being said, don’t be afraid to try to win that “Lawn of the Month” award.
Coming out of winter, a typical lawn can have taken some damage that might need some addressing. Luckily for us Texans, we typically don’t have to deal with the harsher winters that other states have to put up with. So if come spring and your grass still looks healthy and in good shape then there is little you have to address. A good place to start is when your grass is dry then you should give your grass a good raking to loosen the soil and to remove any dead leaf blades from the winter. After this is done then it is simply a matter of watering your grass appropriately. Typically in the winter you would want to water your grass once a week during the warmer periods as to avoid freezing your grass. However, in the Spring and more so in the Summer you would want to water your grass about every other day or at least three times a week, typically around sunset as to retain the most water in the soil.
Unfortunately, sometimes after a colder winter there are many issues your lawn can have. In this post we will talk about how some of these issues can be remedied very easily, while others will take considerably more effort. Another thing to stress is that while these are suggestions, none of these are requirements in almost all leasing agreements.

Soil Compaction
A problem that many lawns have is a thing called soil compaction. It is basically what it sounds like. When people, bikes, animals, or cars constantly travel across a section of grass then it and its soil becomes compacted and dense. Soil compaction is bad for a couple reasons. First, when the dirt is thick and compacted then it prevents water and vital nutrients from reaching the soil. This can make grass have short roots and become weaker and discolored. Secondly, when the soil is compacted it makes it harder for grass to grow but still allows for the hardier weeds to take their place. Then all you are left with is grassless weeds on your lawn.
I know what you’re thinking, “B-b-but how do I know if I have soil compaction and if I do then how do I treat it?” One practical way of testing for soil compaction is to get a screw driver or pencil and try to push it into your soil. If it is very hard to do then you might have some compaction. A more sure way of testing for this is to get a shovel and try to dig up a piece of grass and soil and look at its layers. For starters, if it is really hard to dig your shovel into your soil then you could have compaction. Now when you are looking at the different layers of your grass soil mix there are a couple things to note: The length of your grass roots and the length of the thatch. Healthy grass roots should extend four to six inches into the ground; if it is one to two inches long then it could signal a problem. The other thing to observe, thatch, is the thick intertwining layer of living and dead stems, roots, and leaves that exist in between the grass and the soil. Thatch is completely natural but can still make it harder for grass roots and water to extend naturally to the soil. Thatch should be no longer than half an inch.
So what can one do to combat against soil compaction? There are a couple remedies that work and some are more extensive than others. Perhaps the easiest solution is to stop or limit the amount of traffic over the grass. If it is a pathway then one solution is to get stepping stones that allow the grass to become healthier while still maintaining a walk able pathway. If you keep watering it then eventually the soil density will return to normal over time. Another solution is a process called aerating. This process involves drilling tiny holes into the ground to allow water and nutrients a direct path into the lower levels of soil. This can be done with simple devices that can be pushed or attached to lawn mowers, or you can purchase or rent larger mechanized aerators depending on the severity of the compaction. Some of these devices and machines can be rented from hardware stores for very little per hour. The amount of money and effort you put into your lawn completely depends on your own preference and desires and is in no way required.

Uneven Ground
Having uneven ground is rarely caused by the changing of the seasons but can still alter the way your lawn looks. Having some areas of your lawn higher than others creates a couple problems. First it allows poor drainage. Whenever your lawn collects water from either rain or from your hose it can make the water collect at lower areas while leaving higher areas with less water. When the lower levels collect the water and nutrients it can become oversaturated and can damage or kill your grass. The higher levels don’t retain as much water and nutrients and lose some of their much needed resources, this can lead to the higher levels needing more than they are receiving and can become weak or damaged.
A solution to this is usually completed in two ways. First you can use a shovel and try to take some dirt off the higher areas and try to flatten the lawn that way. Another is to buy dirt or mulch and apply it to the lower areas to build up the lawn to make it even. A combination of the two is ideal because it lets you take some off the top areas and raise the lower areas without having to go to extremes. An obvious problem with these methods is that it will clearly remove small to large patches of grass or bury them below a layer of dirt. This will make your lawn look incomplete for a month or so until new grass can be seeded and grown.

Seeding your Grass
After a cold winter you might notice that some of your grass has died and you might have some thin layers of grass. If you have thinned grass or are missing whole patches then it could be a good idea to buy some grass seeds. When you buy grass seeds, make sure you buy the same grass seeds that go with your lawn. Also try to make note of how many seeds are required or suggested per square foot. Typically these seeds can be distributed by hand, but for larger areas it would be a good idea to use a seed spreader. After you seed the grass then it is important to give it a chance to grow by watering it at least three times a week. However, most lawns in Texas have St. Augustine grass so coming across this type of seed is not that common. Most lawns with large patches of dead grass or dirt use sprigs or sod as a “transplant” and grow from those. This way is typically more expensive so it is not necessary. If you want to save money then the best way to develop a healthy lawn is just plain water. Always remember: a healthy lawn is a properly watered lawn.