When it comes right down to it, getting a beautiful and lush DIY lawn comes down to following and correctly doing three steps. All of the other stuff you may have read or heard about comes to nothing if these three essential steps to maintain your lawn are not followed.
Following and doing them correctly, however, will go a long way in a successful do-it-yourself lawn. The steps are easy, but it is essential that you know when to do them as well the quantity involved. To achieve and maintain a DIY lawn, the three essential steps are: aeration, hydration and fertilization.
STEP 1: AERATION
The Importance of Aeration. Aeration of your yard serves an essential process; it provides much needed air, light and additional water to your yard. Without air, light or water, your lawn will be unhealthy, subject to fungus and disease. Your ground will be compacted which makes root growth much more difficult as well as the ground will not be able to take in as much water when it rains or when you irrigate.
Water will simply be much more likely to run off your lawn (causing additional problems such as wash out areas and areas of erosion). What little water that does penetrate will remain at the top of the soil since it will not easily penetrate to the depth needed to reach the grass's root system. The water that is at the top of the dirt will be subject to evaporation by the sun, depriving your yard of what little water there was to begin with.
But aeration cannot be done every week or two. I recommend that you aerate your lawn in late August through mid-September. You will want to aerate just before you over seed your lawn. If your soil is compacted when you aerate in the Fall, you might want to do an additional aeration in the Spring, around the beginning of March.
One tip about aeration is that the soil cores that will be pulled up by the aerator are to be left on the ground. They will eventually dissolve and reincorporate themselves into the ground. Very few homeowners aerate in the first place and if they do, they aerate either at the wrong time or not often enough.
The more your yard is used and walked on, the more important it becomes to aerate annually. Home owners don't aerate for a couple of main reasons: they don't think it’s necessary, they do not like the way the yards looks after aeration and if aeration is going to be a DIY project, then aeration is physically demanding.
The alternative to DIY aeration is hiring a lawn care service to aerate your lawn for you. But, depending on which lawn care provider you hire, that option can be expensive. Renting an aerator is a better choice and if you water the yard the night before you plan to aerate, the job will not be as hard. You never want to aerate on dry hard ground because the tines on the aerator will not penetrate the ground.
Also, it is important to remember to mark your sprinkler heads as well before you start aerating. If you accidently run over one, plan on replacing it. The importance of aeration cannot be overstated if you want a healthy DIY lawn.
According to the folks over at Gardens and Greenhouse, aeration does not only provide much needed oxygen to the soil, it also helps the growth of microorganisms that are beneficial to your yard. They state:
Another reason why oxygen around the root mass is so important is that beneficial microorganisms rely on oxygen-rich environments to live and reproduce. On the other hand, pathogenic organisms do not survive well in oxygen-rich environments. In fact, most pathogenetic microorganisms only thrive in oxygen-depleted environments, which is why they are considered anaerobic organisms. Oxygen around a plant’s rhizosphere directly affects the population of beneficial microorganisms that provide multiple benefits to a plant, including increasing nutrient uptake and protection from pathogens. source
STEP 2: HYDRATION
The Essentials of Irrigating Your Lawn. One of the main reasons a lawn fails is simply due to the lack of water. Homeowners either do not see the need for it, rely on Mother Nature (rain) to water their lawn, or find the installation of an irrigation system too expensive.
Throwing around a hose and a water sprinkler is just too much trouble and takes too much time. Even if they have an irrigation system or spend the time doing it manually, the cost of the water would become cost prohibited, especially in the summer months when irrigating the yard is most critical.
Whatever the reasons a homeowner has for not watering their lawn, it doesn't lessen the fact that proper irrigation of your yard is most likely the single most important thing you can do to have a healthy and lush yard. But just watering it isn't enough. You have to know when to water and how often and how much to water.
All three are essential when watering your yard. The first is when to water. A quick search around the internet will quickly reveal that there are many opinions regarding this. The fact is watering is what is important, whether that is early morning, afternoon or late evening.
Getting water on the lawn is what is important. Sure, a specific time of day to water may be more effective and beneficial than another, but, again, watering at whatever time is essential. I prefer early evening. The reason I prefer that is that I feel that is the time when irrigation is most effective. Early evening will not have as much, if any, evaporation that will take place if watering in the heat of the afternoon. Even the morning irrigation will be effected by the sun and thus some of that water will be evaporated as well.
I want as much water as possible to remain in the yard where it will reach the grass roots. Whatever time you decide to water, whether that's the most effective time or not, at least you are watering. I find it a bit ridiculous that so many people are so entrenched in their watering schedule.
It rains in the night, it rains in the afternoon and it rains in the evening. So those who say watering in the evening leaves too much water in the yard and therefore your yard will be infected by some fungus and die don't hold much weight because, like stated earlier, it rains in the evenings too. Others will say if you water during the afternoon, you will burn your grass because the sun's rays will be magnified by the water droplets on the grass leaves.
I've experienced an afternoon shower in the afternoon then ten minutes later the sun is back out. Guess what? My yard didn't burn to a crisp. So, whatever time you decide, remember the most important thing is that you are watering. The amount of water you should water and how often you should water are not up for debate. Your lawn needs at least two inches of water a week to thrive (and in the summer during particularly hot dry times, I would up that to three).
That is 2 inches a week, not 2 inches per watering. As far as how often you water, you should spread the two inches over the number of time you water. When it is hot and dry during the summer, I will water every evening just to keep the ground somewhat moist (or at least preventing it from turning into clay brick).
Twice a week though I will give it a good soaking with the yard receiving an inch of water.
Does it get expensive during the summer during the long hot and dry spells Alabama endures? It does. And be quite honest when those heat spells happen, it revert to life support for my yard.
I don't try to keep it looking great; I just try to keep it alive. I know Pete from GCI Turf would fall over if he knew that I life support my yard and don't soak it. He has a well; I'm on city water. City water is expensive. The good news is that all other times I irrigate my lawn strictly following the 2 inches per week, twice a week schedule.
STEP 3: FERTILIZATION
DIY Fertilizer Schedule. The third essential step to DIY lawn care is having a good fertilization schedule. I also include preemergents in this category. Fertilizing your lawn is essential because it provides your lawn with the essential nutrients it needs to grow and thrive. Preemergents help in preventing weeds being able to germinate and robbing your yard of thise essential nutrients.
It is important to know the N-P-K content of the fertilizer. When you go to a big box store to buy fertilizer you will have a myriad of choices. On the bag you will see 3 numbers, something like this: 24 - 10 - 7, for example.
Those numbers indicate how much of a certain nutrient is actually contained in that bag. It's the N-P-K number. These macro-nutrients are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) or NPK for short.
Basically, the N helps the blades of grass grow, the N helps the roots, and the K is an overall yard macro-nutrient that helps the entire grass plant function correctly.
Knowing the proper time when to fertilize your yard is extremely important and you want to use the correct NPK value for a certain time of year.
Applying a preemergent is also time specific and sensitive. A preemergent should be applied in February or March (for those living in the South). It needs to be applied before your soil warms up to 55 degrees because that is the temperature that weed seeds germinate and start to grow.
Even though you may not see the actual plant of the weed, it it establishing itself below ground and when temperatures warm even more, it will start the evasion of your yard.
A preemergent kills the weed as soon as it germinates and thus prevents it from growing.
Consistency is Key in Establishing a Healthy Yard
Following the 3 steps to a healthy yard is essential to DIY lawn care. Being consistent in those 3 steps is even more critical. Having your yard aerated once a year in early fall, watering your lawn to ensure it receive the water it needs, an establishing the proper fertilization schedule are all equally important in DIY lawn care.
Following these 3 easy steps will go a very long way for the DIY'er to have a healthy and beautiful lawn.