Lawn Maintenance GuidelinesThe following information can be used as a guide for determining the maintenance practices required for a home lawn.
It is also useful in helping you choose a lawn seed mixture based on the type of maintenance and turf quality you desire for a new lawn. The maintenance guidelines have been set up into 3 programs. The dominant turf type listed for each program will usually respond the best to the maintenance listed for that particular program.
Minimum Maintenance Lawn ProgramThis type of a lawn maintenance program works best when the dominant type of grass is fine fescue.
A suggested grass mixture would contain 65-70% fine fescue, 15% Kentucky bluegrass and 15-20% perennial ryegrass. On Long Island a mixture containing 100% improved tall fescue cultivars could also be used. Since the lawn will not be irrigated it will go dormant during hot, dry summer weather. At this time it will be brown in color. Usually this will be for periods during June, July and August depending on natural rainfall amounts and temperatures. Pest problems are tolerated to a higher degree with this type of turf maintenance program. This lawn can be considered for sun or shade and dry soils.
Fertilizing: Fertilizer should be applied only once per year. This should be done in early September (Labor Day). Do not exceed one pound of actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet* and the use of slow release nitrogen fertilizers are highly recommended.
Limestone: Maintain the pH above 6.0. A higher pH (6.5 range), although not necessary, may enhance overall quality. Apply limestone when necessary as indicated by a soil pH test.
Supplemental Irrigation: Other than to establish a newly seeded lawn, supplemental irrigation is not recommended for this type of lawn maintenance program.
Insect Pest Control: Chinch bugs can be a problem in this type of lawn since these insects thrive in hot, dry, sunny conditions. To a lesser extent grubs may be a problem. Treatments would need to be applied into the injured areas since most fine fescue cultivars do not spread back into worn or injured areas. If quality is not a high priority, control may be waived.
Disease Control: A fungus disease called red thread is sometimes seen frequently on fine fescue lawns. It is usually more of a problem on lawns which are deficient in nitrogen. Treatments may be necessary depending on severity and/or the owner?s desired level of aesthetics.
Weed Control: With this type of a lawn weeds are usually tolerated.
Mowing: Cut this type of lawn high. It should be maintained no lower than 2", preferably higher. Removing clippings is not recommended. Clippings left on the lawn will provide nutrients back to the lawn. This type of lawn usually will require no mowing when it is dormant during prolonged hot, dry weather.
Moderate Maintenance Lawn ProgramThis type of a lawn maintenance program works best when the dominant type of grass used is Kentucky bluegrass, but also a moderate amount of fine fescue is used as well.
A suggested grass mixture could include 60% Kentucky bluegrass, 25% fine fescue and 15% perennial ryegrass. Dry spots and shady spots in the lawn may be dominated by the fine fescue. Wet spots or those not drying out as quickly may be dominated by the Kentucky bluegrass. For this reason a texture difference may be noticed and is tolerated in this type of a program. Irrigation is based on need and should not be scheduled. This lawn can be considered for dry to moist soils in full sun or light shade. Use shade tolerant Kentucky bluegrass where shade exists.
Fertilizing: Fertilizer should be applied once or twice per year depending on desired quality. When fertilizing two times per year this should be done in early September (Labor Day) and in late May (Memorial Day). Do not exceed one pound of actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet per application.* The use of slow release nitrogen fertilizers are highly recommended.
Limestone: Maintain the pH in the 6.5 range. Apply limestone when necessary as indicated by a soil pH test. Test soil every 2-3 years.
Supplemental Irrigation: This type of lawn is irrigated based on need and not schedules - usually periods during the months of June, July and August. The lawn can go without supplemental irrigation until the grass starts to take on a smoky gray color, at which point a need for irrigation exists. Watering slightly before that point is an option. When needed provide enough water to soak soil to a depth of 4 - 5 inches. Usually this amounts to 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water measured in an accurate rain gauge or straight sided container or can.
Insect Pest Control: Chinch bugs and grubs are the most frequently encountered pests. Control of chinch bugs would be necessary if the damage was encountered. Control of grubs, especially if they have been a problem in the past, may be desirable in late summer. It is recommended that you monitor the lawn for insect activity and only apply insecticide treatments when damaging population levels of insects are found. With time, Kentucky bluegrass can spread into injured areas of moderate size. This may be acceptable depending on the owner?s desired level of aesthetics.
Disease Control: Disease problems could occur and would need to be treated and/or prevented on an individual basis depending on present or past severity. With some diseases the need for control can be based on the owner's desired level of aesthetics.
Mowing: A cutting height of 2 inches or slightly higher is suggested. Removing clippings is not recommended. Clippings left on the lawn will provide nutrients to the lawn. Mow frequently during periods of active growth.
Miscellaneous: Thatch layers should be monitored periodically and appropriate action taken if necessary. Core aeration can be done if needed in compacted or high traffic areas or as a part of a thatch control program. These practices should not be needed on a yearly basis unless problems exist.
High Maintenance Lawn ProgramThis type of lawn is suggested if a high degree of aesthetics is desired.
To maintain a lawn in top quality condition a higher amount of maintenance will usually be required. Higher maintenance does not mean following excessive or wasteful maintenance practices. Besides costing you money these types of practices may contribute to pollution or could actually create problems for your lawn.
A blend of three or more improved Kentucky bluegrass cultivars with no more than 15% perennial ryegrass is usually the type of mixture suggested for this type of lawn. This is very similar to mixes used for growing sod or it could be a sod lawn. It should be considered for full sun or very light shade if shade tolerant bluegrass cultivars are used. It should only be considered when adequate water can be provided when needed.
Fertilizing: Fertilizer should be applied three times per year. This should be done in early September (Labor Day), late May (Memorial Day) and mid- to late November (Veterans Day to Thanksgiving Day). Do not exceed one pound of actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet per application* and use of slow release nitrogen fertilizers are highly recommended at all times especially during the late fall.
Limestone: Especially with this type of lawn, maintaining a pH level in the 6.5 range is very important. It would be wise to have a soil test run every 2-3 years and to apply limestone accordingly.
Supplemental Irrigation: In order to look its best this type of a lawn should not be exposed to any drought stress. This Does Not Mean That You Should Waste Water. Depending on the size of your lawn an underground irrigation system may be the easiest way to provide supplemental irrigation when needed. This system should not be set on automatic to run daily for short periods of time. Avoid frequent, light sprinklings. If needed, apply enough water to soak the soil to a 4 - 5 inch depth. This will take approximately 1 - 1 1/2 inches of water depending on soil type. In most cases, even during the summer months, the lawn will only need to be watered once per week (approximately every 5 - 7 days depending on soil type.) In very hot, dry weather the intervals between watering may need to be reduced. In slightly shaded areas the intervals between watering may need to be greater than in full sun. Supplemental irrigation in most seasons will be needed only during the months of June, July and August. Monitoring soil moisture during other months (especially May and September) may be needed. It is highly recommended that underground sprinkler systems be left on manual - and that they be set on automatic only when you will be away for an extended period of time.
Insect Pest Control: Usually injury from beetle grubs in the late summer and fall is the most common and/or serious problem. Control of grubs in August may need to be done on a yearly basis especially if problems have existed in the past, but it is recommended that this decision be based on monitoring for levels of grub populations. If grub populations exceed established damage thresholds a decision can be made to apply an appropriate grub control. Chinch bugs could also be a problem during the summer months and may need to be controlled.
Disease Control: Kentucky bluegrass can be susceptible to many different types of diseases, especially when encouraged by incorrect maintenance practices (ex. over watering, over fertilizing.) Many disease resistant cultivars exist and should be considered. Control of diseases may be needed during the season depending on weather conditions, severity of a disease in past seasons, etc.
Weed Control: Control of weeds should not be needed as long as correct maintenance practices are followed. This will encourage a thick lawn which is the best weed control. If broadleaf weeds become a problem treat in April or May and/or September or October. Crabgrass pre-emergent herbicides are applied in April or early May depending on your location in Suffolk County. Repeat applications later in the spring are usually necessary.
Mowing: Kentucky bluegrass can be mowed as low as 1 1/2 inches in a home lawn but will be easier to maintain at a 2 to 2 1/2 inch height. In most cases mowing will be necessary every 5 - 7 days during the growing season depending on temperatures, rainfall, etc. It is recommended that clippings be left on the lawn, and only removed if you fall behind on mowing and clumps of grass are being left behind.
Miscellaneous: Kentucky bluegrass lawns can be susceptible to thatch depending on the particular cultivar and maintenance practices followed. Monitoring thatch levels on a yearly basis should be done and steps to reduce thatch should be started if the layer exceeds ? inch. Core aeration can be done periodically if compaction, thatch, etc. are problems.
* To determine how many pounds of a fertilizer is needed to apply 1 lb. of actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet, you need to do some simple mathematics.
Divide the recommended rate of nitrogen per 1000 sq. ft. (in this case 1 lb.) by the percent nitrogen contained in the fertilizer you are going to apply. For instance if you have a 20-8-8 fertilizer divide 1 lb. by 20% (.20). This equals 5; or in this case 5 lbs. of 20-8-8 fertilizer per 1000 square feet will allow you to apply 1 lb. of actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet.
Resource: Home Lawns, Information Bulletin #185, A Cornell Cooperative Extension Publication.
Prepared by: Thomas Kowalsick, Extension Educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension - Suffolk County, 11/89.