Once you made the decision to DIY your lawn, you need to make some decisions on how to proceed. You will need to figure out your goal and then create a plan and figure out how to best execute your lawn care plan. But, before you start there are some things you need to know upfront.
They may be obvious, but you need to figure these things out.
Two Things You Need to Know to DIY Your Lawn
The first thing you need to know in order to do DIY lawn care is very basic: you need to determine what type of grass you have. There are two main types of grass: cool season grass and warm season grass. Cool season grass includes Kentucky Bluegrass (KBG), Turf Type Tall Fescue (TTTF), Fine Fescue (FF), and Perennial Ryegrass (PR).
Warm season grasses includes Bermuda grass, St. Augustine, and Zoysia grass (there are others but less popular). In another article, I will explain the benefits of each, but the focus of this article is simply letting you know that you need to identify which type of grass you have because that will dictate what products you can use, fertilization schedule, the growing periods for the grass and weed prevention products.
The distinction between cool and warm season grasses is rather simple. It tells you what type of climate the grass performs best in. A cool season grass like turf type tall fescue would not do well in Florida, while St. Augustine grass would do very poorly in Nebraska. Knowing whether you have a warm or cool season type of grass will let you know how much maintenance you are going to have to do to make the grass flourish.
It also may let you know that starting over may be your best bet. For instance, if you live in Nebraska and the previous owner planted St. Augustine to remind them of their childhood home in Florida, your best bet would probably be to renovate your lawn (start over) and sod or seed your lawn with a cool season grass (unless, of course, you want a major battle that will require huge amounts of time just to get a lawn that will not thrive and will most likely die - some battles are simply not worth the fight). Thus, knowing what type of grass you have is your first step. It will let you know what type of plan and lawn maintenance schedule you need to develop.
The second major thing you need to know in order to get started with a DIY lawn care program is how much of the grass you have. Not only do you need to know your lot size, you need to know what conditions exist in each section of your lot.
Figuring out your lot size is not difficult, but you need to know how much in square feet of land you have. Figuring out the square footage of your lawn is simple: length x width will give you that. Knowing what is the square footage of your lot will help you determine how much product you will need to get.
For instance, if you have a 20,000 square foot lot, and you want to spread Milorganite at the bag rate, which states one bag will cover 2500 square feet, you simply divide 20,000 by 2500 which comes out to an even 8. You will need to get 8 bags of Milorganite to cover your entire lawn. I will discuss the benefits of using Milorganite in a separate article. But knowing the total square footage of your lawn is simply the first part of this.
You also need to know where the square footage is and what the conditions are in that area. Using my lot as an example, I have a rather evenly divided lot that has almost the same square footage in the front of the house as my backyard does. The major difference is that my front yard is much more shaded than the backyard. My side yards are completely different. The East-side side yard is pretty much shade the entire day and the West-side side yard, although some shade, gets much more sun.
Each part of my yard have different needs and I need to pay attention to that. How to Map Out Your Lawn Mapping out your lawn is a very crucial step in DYIing your lawn. It will not only tell you how many square feet in total you have, it will also let you know what conditions exist in that part. Once you are done you will subdivide your lawn into zones or sections. Each part of your yard will have different conditions that you need to factor in to make that part a healthy and thriving part of your yard. Take for example my front yard map:
I know that I have approximately 9883 SqFt for my front yard. Other than telling me how many bags of fertilizer I will need, that number tells me very little else. I divided my yard into sections and each section is represented by a different color. The colors themselves mean nothing except that that part of my yard is different. It has the same grass type, but one section may get more shade, another more sun, yet another only morning sun then shaded by the house.
The yard itself will tell you which parts are different. Examine your yard. Are there more bare spots in a certain area? Is the grass thicker in an area? Is there a section that is thin? These are the types of questions you need to ask yourself when plotting out your yard map. The color sections tell me much more than the square footage does.
Now, don't stress. I am not saying that each section has to have its own individualized lawn plan. You certainly do not need to be extremely exact either. In reality I use my lawn map to know the rate I need to apply fertilizer, weed killer, the N-ext products.
I broke down my yard to manageable sections so I can, as Pete from GCI Turf would say, "get my rate right." However, I do use it to keep in mind why that section of the yard is performing the way it is and to understand that certain sections may be more or less susceptible to fungus or require a bit of extra irrigation and attention.
Final Thoughts on What You Need to Know to Become a DIY Lawn Guy
Knowing your grass type and creating a yard map are the first two steps you need to take if you want to DIY your lawn care. Once that is complete you can analyze the data and start understanding the behavior of your lawn. You need to observe it and take note of what it is doing as well as take note of the condition it is in.
Then once you have a good understanding of your lawn's behavior you can start creating a goal - what you want your lawn to look like: do you want your lawn to dominate the other lawns in the neighborhood, or do you just want to achieve a healthy, full lawn without spending every weekend maintaining it. Both are okay. But both will require a plan. I would suggest creating your DIY lawn care plan and writing it down.
And as you learn more about your lawn, the plan can be further refined. In an upcoming article, I will show you what I did to create my lawn care plan and the steps I am taking to execute the plan in order to achieve my goal for my DIY lawn.