Garden

Lawn maintenance: how to do it right

Arne Schätzle

Lawn maintenance does not simply mean regular mowing and watering: your lawn needs the right care to ensure that it will remain vigorous and can withstand diseases, pests and all the usual stress. We show you how to keep your lawn looking lush green and attractive for a long time.

A family is taking care of the lawn in a garden.
© Getty Images / Tomas Rodriguez

In this article

Lawn maintenance measures

Lawn maintenance is always in season, at any temperature and any time of year: scarifying in the fall, fertilizing before the cold temperatures in the winter and spring, as well as sufficient watering in the summer. All these steps are important to ensure that your lawn will remain healthy all year round.

Maintenance measure 1: watering

A dry or even dried-out lawn not only looks unattractive. Lawn weeds spread quickly on a dry surface and require much less water than the lawn itself. For this reason alone, proper watering is important, especially at high temperatures in the dry summer period. Because once weeds have spread over your lawn, you will find it difficult to get a grip on them.

Very important: don’t wait until the blades of grass are straw yellow to start watering your lawn. You should switch on the sprinkler as soon as the first blades become limp and the green develops a slightly gray cast. Then there is still a chance that new leaves will form, and the area will soon turn green again. Of course, it’s best to water your lawn regularly so that it doesn’t suffer from a shortage of water in the first place.

When watering the lawn, it’s crucial to determine the right amount of water to use. This in turn depends on the nature of the soil: loamy soils require about 15 to 20 liters of water per square meter once a week. Loose sandy soils, on the other hand, should be watered with about ten to 15 liters per square meter every three to four days. If the amount of water is insufficient, it won’t seep deep enough into the soil and won’t reach the roots.

To record and control the amount of water your lawn is getting, it’s best to obtain a digital rain gage. A model like the TFA Drop wireless rain gage indicates the amount of water very conveniently on a display.

With a water quantity meter like the Gardena water meter, you will have to do some math to work out the amount of water needed: first, you determine the size of the area that the sprinkler is watering and convert the amount of water necessary per square meter to the total area. For an area measuring 100 square meters with a requirement of ten liters per square meter, this gives 1,000 liters. Unlike a rain gage, however, the system doesn’t take into account rainfall.

Alternatively, you can choose the simplest method and cut out a grass sod. Then measure how deep the dark, moist zone extends into the soil before reinserting the sod.

There is a sprinkler watering the grass; a second sprinkler can be seen in the background.

A dried-out lawn not only looks unattractive, but weeds will also spread over dry, bare patches. Watering the lawn regularly with a sprinkler can help.

Maintenance measure 2: cutting the grass

Regular mowing is important to keep your lawn intact. The required mowing frequency depends on the season. Generally, you should mow the lawn from March to October. In early summer, take the lawn mower out of the shed once a week. Don’t cut the lawn too short. Especially in dry periods, this is harmful, as short lawn stumps burn relatively quickly. Then bald spots will appear, where weeds can easily spread.

The ideal length of a blade of grass is between three and four centimeters. Is your lawn mostly in the shade? Then let the grass grow a centimeter longer to make sure the blades get enough light. If the sun shines a bit less in the fall, you can also let the lawn grow for a little while longer – there is nothing wrong with a grass height of 5 centimeters.

The following guideline values apply to the cutting height of the lawn:

  • Type of grass
  • Cutting frequency
  • Cutting height
  • Grass for normal usage
  • Once a week
  • 3 to 4 cm
  • Grass in the shade
  • Once a week
  • 4 to 5 cm
  • Ornamental lawns
  • Twice a week
  • 1.5 to 2.5 cm
  • Herb lawns
  • 6 to 10 times a year
  • 6 to 10 cm
  • Flower meadows
  • Year of sowing: once a year; Subsequent years: twice a year
  • 8 to 10 cm

However, if the grass gets too long, the lower part of the stalks can dry out quickly. Adjust the mowing height so that the lawn grass is shortened by a maximum of one third. If you cut by more than this, the shoots take too long to regenerate, which encourages weed growth and allows the lawn to burn more easily in dry conditions.

You should therefore check carefully when adjusting the cutting height. The information on the lawnmower is sometimes a little confusing: some models don’t have adjustable centimeters, but only steps. To be sure, it’s best to have a look at the instruction manual before mowing.

You shouldn’t mow the lawn when it’s wet. Not only because it puts more strain on the mower, but also because you can’t cut off leaves and stalks cleanly when the grass is wet.

Use either a sickle mower or a cylinder mower. A cylinder mower is better for maintaining a lawn because it trims every blade of grass precisely rather than cutting it off, as is the case with a sickle lawnmower.

Maintenance measure 3: fertilizing the lawn

Regular use, growth and mowing are essential to satisfy the high nutrient requirements of lawn grasses. If you want your lawn to grow densely and quickly, you must therefore fertilize it sufficiently. However, this doesn’t mean you have to use lawn fertilizer every time the lawn looks a bit worn.

It’s better to fertilize systematically, three to four times a year in total. If possible, you should use organic slow-release fertilizers, which enrich the soil with humus and have a natural long-term effect. The main nutrients contained in lawn fertilizer are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

It’s best to apply spring fertilizer in early to mid-April, then again in June, when the grass is undergoing its most intense period of growth. In August, when the lawn has been used intensively over the summer, a third application of fertilizer is also advisable. And finally, prepare the lawn for the winter with fall fertilizer so that the grasses will remain well supplied during the frosty season.

Before fertilizing, professionals carry out a soil analysis to determine the exact nutrient requirements of the grass. They then use a nitrogen-rich organic or organic-mineral lawn long-term fertilizer with high potassium, lime and iron content. You can find suitable products in specialist shops.

Maintenance measure 4: scarifying the lawn

Scarifying is the appropriate remedy against moss and thatch. Scoring frees up the clogged turf, stimulating the oxygenation and growth of your lawn. It’s best to get the scarifier out of the shed between mid-April and early May to get your lawn going again.

Adjust the scarifying height on the machine so that the blades score the turf to a depth of about two to three millimeters. If the blades penetrate too deeply into the soil, they will damage the root system of the grass. Move the machine length- and widthwise across the lawn to create a checkerboard pattern. Don’t remain in one place for too long, otherwise you will work the turf too hard and damage it.

A lawn aerator shoe is lying on the lawn.

The most economical method for aerating a lawn: lawn aerator shoes are simply attached under the soles of your shoes and pierce holes in the ground.

Maintenance measure 5: ventilating the lawn (aerating)

Regular ventilation or aeration helps to keep the air and water supply of your soil in motion: everyday use of the lawn and the weather conditions cause the soil to become compacted. By aerating the ground, you help the grass roots to get more air, which in turn stimulates growth. Rainwater can also run off better this way. This prevents waterlogging, which makes the soil acidic and considerably impairs the plants’ ability to absorb nutrients.

When aerating, prick holes five to nine centimeters deep into the lawn with spikes one to two centimeters thick to loosen the soil. If necessary, you can apply lawn seeds and fertilizer at the same time. Different tools for ventilation are available in stores, for example an aeration fork. You use this to punch holes in the ground by hand. There are also motorized aerators, in which hollow tines work their way through the lawn on a rotating roller, such as the Black & Decker lawn aerator. A third option is to choose nail shoes like the GartenMeister lawn aerator shoes, which are equipped with long spikes.

Aerating and scarifying often get mixed up. When you scarify the lawn, you only work at a level of about three centimeters below the grass to remove dead grass and thatch, whereas during aeration, you go deeper into the ground to improve ventilation.

Maintenance measure 6: liming the lawn

In order to grow healthily, your lawn needs a soil with a pH value of between 5.5 and 6.5. If the figure is lower, the soil is described as acidic. Acidic soils cannot properly absorb the nutrients your lawn needs.

To raise the pH value, you should apply lawn lime in the spring or fall. You can also obtain kits from specialist dealers to determine the pH value of the soil in your garden. Some retailers can also calculate the pH value for you on site on the basis of a soil sample. Experts recommend treating the lawn with lime about every two to three years, ideally in spring. This is the period when the lawn sprouts best and new, young seedlings emerge.

The best way to treat your lawn is to use calcium carbonate – this is less aggressive than quicklime or slaked lime and is usually sold in garden shops under the name “garden lime”. Nowadays there are also granulated products available that do not generate as much dust during application. The best times to lime a lawn are in the fall and the spring, as soon as the snow cover on the lawn has melted away.

How to interpret the pH value:

  • pH value > 7 = alkaline
  • pH value 7 = neutral
  • pH value < 7 = acidic

If the pH value on sandy soil falls below 5.5, lime the lawn with about 150 to 200 grams of calcium carbonate per square meter. For clay soils with a pH value of 6.2, you will need twice this amount, i.e. 300 to 400 grams per square meter.

A person in rubber boots and work pants is spreading lime on the lawn by hand.

Your lawn will have difficulty growing on acidic soil, but lime will help.

Maintenance measure 7: mulching the lawn

During mulching, the cuttings fall to the ground where they decompose into humus. If you mulch your lawn regularly, not only will you save on fertilizer, but you will also provide your lawn with precisely the nutrients it needs. To do this, you need a mulch mower that shreds the cut grass appropriately. Grass cuttings from conventional mowers are too coarse and tend to clog the turf.

To mulch a lawn, it’s important to mow at very short intervals. A lawn mower with a mulching function should be used twice a week during the period of most intense growth. Dry weather is essential for perfect lawn mulching. Wet grass and infrequent mowing cause the cuttings to clump together. This means they are unable to fall to the ground through the stalks of grass to decompose.

Useful lawn maintenance tips

In addition to scarifying, watering and mowing – the standard measures for well-tended lawns – there are other tricks you can use to get your lawn in shape.

Take proper care of lawn edges

Bordering your lawn with a mowing edge made of stones or other materials will make it easier to cut the edges. Place the edge low enough so that you can easily roll over it with the mower.

If it is difficult to reach the lawn edges with the mower, cut them beforehand with special gardening tools, such as lawn shears or a lawn trimmer. Some gardeners prefer an English lawn edge, i.e. a seamless transition between the lawn and the flower bed or path. In this case, you must cut off the edges to keep them neat and tidy. Otherwise, the transition will become scruffy and no longer look as neat.

Lawn soil or lawn sand? Or neither?

The quality of the soil determines how well your lawn will grow, especially when you are reseeding, resowing or repairing the grass. Just like lawn fertilizer, lawn soil contains many valuable nutrients for the soil, which accelerate germination. The main components are compost (usually about 50 percent) and humus (30 to 40 percent), plus sand. As a rule, lawn soil should be between two and six centimeters deep, depending on the quality of the soil, but additional sand is not necessary.

Lawn sand is simple but extremely fine sand. Lawn sand is usually washed, lime-free quartz sand with a very fine grain size (between 0.1 and 2 millimeters). Sanding is a helpful method to prevent compaction of the soil, especially during aeration: the sand mixes with the topsoil and loosens it up. This is particularly important for heavy soils with a high clay content. The lawn will be noticeably more vigorous and moss growth will decrease considerably.

Attention if you have pets

You’ve done everything right, but do yellow spots with dead blades of grass regularly appear on the lawn? When it comes to maintaining your lawn, pay attention to your pets: when dogs or cats urinate on the grass, the urea from the animals causes stains like this to form. You will need to reseed these places on the lawn. If you keep an eye your pet when you let it out, you can spray the area with water from the garden hose as soon as they’ve finished their business, which will dilute the acrid liquid. If stray cats relieve themselves in your garden while you are absent, the only thing you can do is to make it difficult for the animals to access your garden.

Conclusion: it’s not sufficient to merely water and mow the lawn

If you simply mow the grass from time to time, and only occasionally turn on the sprinkler in the summer, you won’t be able to take advantage of your lawn for long.

Like many other plants, grass and the soil on which it grows need looking after properly. In addition to appropriate watering and regular mowing, a handful of other measures are required to ensure that you can enjoy a lush green lawn for many years to come.

The approach that is right for your garden depends on several factors. Thanks to our coach article, find out how to maintain your lawn properly and how to apply each individual step. We hope you will enjoy using your lawn!

You will find further valuable information in our main overview article on the subject of lawns.

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