Turfgrass Lawn Maintenance

Turfgrass lawn maintenance requires fertilizer, mowing, and the right grass seed.

| 2013 Guide to Field and Lawn Care

Whether it be from our ancient history roaming grassy savannas or traced back to the managed meadows of medieval castles and manors, one thing is certain: Mankind has a love affair with lawns.

In 2002, the U.S. turfgrass industry estimated the total economic impact of the turfgrass (lawn) industry to be $57.9 billion dollars; that’s a lot of grass seed and fertilizer. Not to mention pesticides and herbicides, which are under constant scrutiny for their potentially harmful effects on animals and humans alike. This begs the question of what does this controlled ecosystem in our front yards really require? What fuels it, and how can I make the most of mine without breaking the bank or creating a biodynamic desert with harsh chemicals?

To truly understand how to grow a beautiful and healthy lawn, we first need to understand at least a little about the plant making up the majority of modern lawns. These plants all belong to a family of grasses collectively known as turfgrass. They are given this name because of their tendency, under healthy conditions, to form “turf,” which is the dense growth of grass, roots and earth that makes up the typical lawn. Imagine a slab of sod.

There are different strains, some of which do best in cooler climates with lots of rainfall, others that prefer less fertile soil and hot, dry summers. All are capable of self-propagating, or essentially cloning themselves, by means of runners that grow out either above ground (stolons) or below ground (rhizomes) from the base of the plant. As with all grasses, the turfgrass plants require high levels of nitrogen, and most have high water requirements as well. If we can account for these basic needs, our lawns will thrive and be as green as our neighbors’ envy.

Choosing the right turfgrass

As mentioned previously, there are a number of different turfgrass varieties available today, and while they are generally classified for cool or warm climates, modern grass hybrids and seed blends allow for much greater flexibility when it comes to selecting the right grass for your needs.

The primary cool-climate grasses used are Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrasses, and tall and fine fescues. These grasses can be grown in areas from the prairies to the cold regions of the northern Midwest and even in the cool, arid areas of the Intermountain West as long as irrigation is available. The growth of the cool-season grasses peaks in both spring and fall, with a sort of dormant period of minimal  growth throughout the heat of summer. Understanding this growing pattern is key to effective fertilization.

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