Lawn Care Basics


Taking Care of Your Lawn

A healthy lawn creates a sense of accomplishment (and a luscious green backdrop). If you are new to lawn care, keeping your grass healthy and looking good is not as easy as it may seem. Lawn care is one area where you will, for better or worse, reap what you sow. Whether you are looking for a striped, professional baseball field appearance or just want to avoid dead spots, these tips will help you achieve a healthy lawn.

Is My Lawn Dead?

Large dead spots, areas of dirt, yellow patches and weeds are all clues that the lawn is either in a state of dormancy or has died.

A dormant lawn can look dead for up to four weeks (longer when it is colder, such as in the Northeastern U.S. in the winter months), after which time the roots begin to die as well. Up to that time, many types of grass enter a stage of inactivity where the turf grass is still alive.

In a dormant stage, you still have to know how to care for the lawn. If the lawn is no longer viable, you may have to re-sod or reseed the area to introduce new growth.

Dormant Lawn Care

Some people allow their lawns to enter dormancy stages when a drought is projected. In this stage, a lawn can look yellow and dead. During a long heat spell, this conserves water and resources since the grass is using less of both.

Before and during the dry period, grass should be maintained at a slightly higher length than normal. It should only be mowed as necessary and mowing should be done in early morning or late evening. A sharp mower blade is essential in maintaining a dormant lawn. Sharp blades will make cleaner cuts and minimize trauma to the grass. Dull blades tear at the grass and damage the root system.

You do not want to apply excessive fertilizer during a drought period. Fertilizer can harm the grass or even kill it. Weeds tend to thrive in a drought when grass is doing poorly. Avoid the general use of herbicides, as they can stress the surrounding turf and healthy grass. Instead, pull weeds by hand and, if absolutely necessary, spot treat pesky weeds with herbicide in a bottle sprayer.

During a dormant period, limit traffic on turf areas. The grass is in a vulnerable state. Traffic crushes the blades and puts strain on the root systems.


Mow grass regularly when it is growing, as long as the ground is not iced over or water-saturated.

After the full winter thaw, begin mowing grass at a high setting and progressively lower the blades over a period of several weeks. This allows the growth to naturally accelerate and “wake up” with the plant.

If possible, use a mulching mower. Mulching mowers naturally compost the grass. If you don’t have a mulching mower, try to rake the clippings. Mowing thick grass and leaving it on the turf is harmful to living grass. It can choke it off from water, light and nutrients.

Picking up clippings ensures that weeds are not re-germinated and allows sun and nutrients to directly reach the grass. The average lawn should be mowed frequently enough so that no more than about one-third of the blade is removed during a single cutting. If the grass is cut too short, it will dry and burn. During the peak growing season, a lawn should be trimmed about once every five to eight days.


During dry periods, you should continue to water high quality lawns, freshly laid turf and newly sown grass. An established lawn needs watering when the blades lose their springy resilience after being stepped on. Most lawn care experts agree that a lawn can use about an inch of water per week, applied in two one-half inch applications.


The amount and type of fertilizer you use will depend on your soil composition. Overuse of fertilizer is harmful. It can lead to stunted growth and promote fungal growth. Fungi will compete with the grass for nutrients and water. Turf will not grow where grass fungi lives. The turf must be treated in order for the grass to regrow in the contaminated area.

The average lawn will require liquid or granular fertilizer at least once a year, preferably twice. Spring and summer nutrient provision should be high in nitrogen, to feed growing blades. In the fall, slowly transition to lower nitrogen but higher potassium content fertilizers. These assist the grass roots in the winter dormancy period. Never fertilize a dry lawn. If the weather is hot, wait until the late afternoon or evening when it is cooler before applying fertilizer.

To assist in feeding, apply the product by calculating an area roughly the treatment size on the product, then stake the area off. This will help ensure that you are applying the proper amount. You can use a calibrated spreader for larger lawns, but at the very least you will know how far the bag should get you with a smaller project.

If it does not rain within 72 hours of application, water the lawn to make sure the feeding takes and is not carried away. If you waited for the temperature to cool before fertilizing, go ahead and water the lawn after spreading the fertilizer. You can take soil samples to your local Agricultural office for additional advice.

Additional Resources




  • Lawncare for Dummies, by Lance Walheim, available in paperback
  • Lawns, by Scotts and Nick Christians Ph.D., available in paperback
  • Lawns, 1-2-3, by the Home Depot, available in hardcover

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