- Tier 1 - I just want something green - This is the basic level. Minimum efforts to get the best lawn in your street. A couple of simple practices (and avoiding some common mistakes) will yield a decent lawn. I will assume the use of big box stores (Lowes, Home Depot, Menards, Walmart) only in this group. This tier is a great place to start if you are new to lawn care and don’t have the time or inclination to do in-depth reading and learn a lot of new terms.
- Tier 2 - The lawn of the TV ads - Yes, the grass is greener on your lawn. The neighbor will say that you are making him look bad. The level of effort, cost and dedication does increase and you will likely have the best lawn in the neighborhood. But once the lawn bug hit, it is easy to become obsessed and jump to tier 3 [should we remove this previous sentence? It detracts from the flow]. This is a balanced approach that uses the best of both worlds.
- Tier 3 - The Wrigley Field - You research the lawn cultivar for your area, you kill your lawn with Round Up (aka renovation) and go after a monostand (single cultivar of grass). Mowing at least twice week is normal and mowing daily sounds just fine. This group wants a perfectly leveled lawn and a single weed is not acceptable. The risks are higher and so is the cost and time commitment, but so are the rewards. Don't jump into this tier until you have mastered tier 2.
Popular Cool Season Topics
Acronyms / Glossary
Fall Nitrogen Blitz (cool season grasses only)
Ferrous Ammonium Sulfate
Maintaining KBG or PRG at 1"
PGR + Cool Season Grass
Soil Surfactants/Wetting agents?
Turf Disease Identification
Weed ID Thread - What is it and how do I kill it?
Cool Season Overseed
Lawn care practices vary by cool season grass versus warm season grass and by cool season zone versus warm season zone versus the transition zone. Generally, cool season grasses are grown in cool season zones, and warm season grasses are grown in warm season zones. An area located in transition zones may grow either warm season or cool season grasses.
This how-to guide is for cool season grass and it is mainly geared for cool season areas . Some of the practices apply to cool season grasses the transition zone (TN, VA, NC).
Most of the guidance comes from reading multiple university research or publication and supplemented with experienced member collaboration of successful practices (see references at the end of this document).
These general guidelines apply to ALL tiers.
- One of the first things to do is knowing your lawn size. This helps to ensure how much product (e.g., fertilizer, pre-emergent, post-emergent, etc) to apply. A tape measure or this website will help determine it www.findlotsize.com. Then update your profile with the lawn size. It helps other members know how to help you when you post a question.
- Get your soil tested - Tier 2 and 3 - The soil provides nutrients for your grass. Getting the nutrients in balance gives the lawn a solid foundation. Understanding your soil will also ensure how to water it (sandy=more frequent).
Here are threads on soil test: Ridgerunner’s Soil Test Thread Purdue Article on Soils
The lab used for the test is important. In general you want a test that provides clear results with a guide on what to apply for the year. Doing yearly reports with the same lab, using the same test methods and the same sampling method will provide you with a trend of your soil. Soil Testing Services thread guides you in finding a local lab that knows your state typical soil/test methods. Waypoint Analytical has an easy to read results for a low price of $16.50(2018). More indepth knowledge : TheGrassFactor has a nice video for it. All about soils
- Keep the blades sharp - A sharp blade reduces leaf damage and watering needs (especially during the summer). Try to sharpen the blades every 2 months. This video shows the proper way to get a blade sharp (hand file). How to Sharpen and balance a lawn mower blade
- For most grass types, mow around 3.5in during the summer and gradually lower to 2.5 in the fall. Longer grass survives the summer heat better. Too long in the early fall promotes lawn diseases / fungus since it retains moisture. In the transition zone lawns are maintained at higher levels (3-4in) to aid in summer survival. Avoid mowing more than 1/3 the height of cut.
- Don’t bag, mulch. The clipping have nutrients and mulching them returns them to the lawn. It will also help increase the organic matter in the soil. Plus bagging takes more time and effort. Mulch em However, when grass is overgrown or with weed seeds, it may be best to bag or rake so that clumps do not smoother existing turf.
- Mulch the tree leaves. Tree leaves provide free nutrients and less work for you from raking. Go over the leaves multiple times with your mower. They will disappear in a couple of weeks. Mulching Mowing Leaves
- Finding materials at good prices is a challenge. In this Local Sources thread members share places they use close to them. Check it out. Otherwise, look for feed stores, SiteOne, Coop and landscape distributors near you.
- Start a log. Write down what you applied to the lawn and when. It helps understand mistakes and keep track of nitrogen levels. I use an online excel file that I could access from the phone. Here is an example of it: Log + Tenacity + Prodiamine Calculator
Dealing with weeds
Weeds are going to happen on any lawn. Applying a PreM is more cost effective than killing the weeds after they have grown. I can’t stress this enough: PreM is a must. A thick, full lawn is another way to prevent weeds from further developing.
- The weed and grass needs to be actively growing. Avoid high temperatures and drought conditions. It might take multiple applications.
- First line of attack - Weed B Gon or similar - it is a mix of 3 or more active ingredients that would take care of most weeds. But timing is the key. Treat weeds when the grass is actively growing. An application of nitrogen also help the weeds grow and absorb the active ingredients.
- Second wave - If the weed doesn’t react in 2 weeks, then we use Weed B Gon CCO (chickweed, clover & oxalis) active ingredient - triclopyr. Adding a non-ionic surfactant helps and multiple applications are the norm.
- If that doesn’t do it or is a grassy weed, then most of the time round up (ai=glyphosate only) is the solution. Ask in the forum for advice if you reach this stage at the Weed ID Thread - What is it and how do I kill it? . A common one is quackgrass and the most effective way is round up. Other common ones: Weeds in Turf
I recommend buying these products in concentrate form and buy a small 1 gallon sprayer (HD/Lowes sometimes give it out for free with purchase). Dont use a hose end sprayer since the application rate is not consistent. It is significantly cheaper. For large properties (acre+) it is cheaper to buy online or at a farm/feed store (ie. tractor supply).
@Suburban Jungle Life developed a Herbicide Guide that list all the available products for cool season lawns and their uses.
- Watering - the goal is to apply 1in of water per week at once. This promotes roots going deep. In the heat of summer I do change to 0.5in every 3 days. Use a couple of empty tuna cans to measure how much you watered your lawn. Place the cans in the area you are watering and see how long it takes to fill up (~1in) An impact sprinkler will take a very long time to do 1in.
- Water in the morning (5-6am) to avoid fungus. The worst time to water (6-9pm) since it keeps the grass wet all night. Wet and warm grass are a petri dish for fungus.
- Try to get head to head coverage with any sprinkler head. Heads typically spread water away from them, but not near them. A second head should be used to irrigate near head 1.
More info at Irrigation Tutorial
The lawn is starting to wake up from the winter break. There might be some matted down grass and some snow mold. A light rake will help it not retain moisture. The winter winds could bring some debri so it is good to pick up any leaf piles. The mower could use some tune up and fresh gas.
If grubs have been a problem in the past or if you dont want any risk with them, then spring is the time to apply a grub preventer. GrubEx (chlorantraniliprole) is my choice. Apply as soon as your lawn greens up. A second product is imidacloprid, but there are studies that link it to environmental issues (bees). MSU Grub Article
Tier 2/3 - Collect your soil sample and get it analyzed. A soil test is the best way for you to know you are providing the nutrient the lawn needs.
Tier 3 - It is possible that you might see some Poa Annua. If you did the PreM in the fall, it should only be a handful, so pull them by hand. Otherwise, Tenacity herbicide is an effective tool. Using the 2oz rate, do a blanket application. This will turn the poa annua white so you could see it. Then do spot treatment applications at the 2oz rate every week for 2 weeks. A higher rate seems not to be as effective since it stops the poa annua from absorbing and it bounces back. YMMV.
One of the key activities to perform is applying a pre-emergent control of weeds. It is easier and cheaper to prevent the weeds from growing than to kill them later. A pre-emergent (PreM) product will last a couple of months and it creates a barrier that prevent seeds from developing (weeds or good seeds). The PreM should be applied when the forsythia blooms and/or use this tracker from MSU: GDD tracker Timing matters, so have the product at hand by mid February.
The best two PreM are prodiamine (brand name barricade) and dithiopyr (brand name dimension).
Tier 1 - Most stores (home depot, lowes, menards, rural king) will sell a Pre Emergent product mixed in with fertilizer. Try to find one with one of the names above and low on nitrogen. This is an old article but a good one: How to Select a Crabgrass Preventer Follow the bag directions.
Tier 2 - I would leave the option of going with the Tier1 approach or trying the Tier 3 granular dithiopyr.
Tier 3 - Two options
Dithiopyr is sold as water soluble and granular (apply at 0.5ai/acre rate). It is more expensive in granular form. It provides some post control to crabgrass. It is best to source it locally since shipping cost would be high (50lb bag). One of the advantages of granular is not dealing with water in the cold weather. Lesco Site One sells is as 0-0-7 at some sites (ask).
Prodiamine WDG is sold as a water soluble granulate (apply at the 0.65ai/acre rate for spring). It is applied in liquid form and it is the cheapest per area. It does require the use to a sprayer and the practice to do it correctly. It is best to practice in the summer with just water on your concrete driveway to get the handle of things. Once you have done it, it is easy. Here is a prodiamine calculator Log + Tenacity + Prodiamine Calculator
GrassDaddy shows How to apply liquid crabgrass preventer in this youtube video.
I’ve seen a couple of post of members being able to buy prodiamine in granular form (0-0-7). I did the math once (and I hope it is correct), but the Prodiamine WSG is around $0.15/ 1000 sq ft. Depending on the size of your yard, using granular will be expensive.
This Turf Tip from Zac Reicher shows in a nice graph why to use the rates listed above. Both spring applications could be split into 2 spring applications. This has a couple of benefits. One is that it gives better control based on this 3 year summary report Sequential Applications of Preemergence Crabgrass Herbicides for Enhanced Control – Three Year Summary . Second, life happens. An unexpected very heavy rainfall and your 6month PreM washes away. With half rate, you still have another half rate available to apply. Half is better than none.
If you followed the fall nitrogen blitz, it is not likely you will need Nitrogen until May. In May apply 1lb of Nitrogen per 1000 sqft of lawn. Milogarnite or the local equivalent is a great source of organic nitrogen. It feeds the microbes in the lawn, provides iron and doesnt burn the lawn. During the summer it is a great product to use.
Tier 1 - Keep mowing and watering to survive dormancy.
Tier 2 - June and July normally do not need nitrogen. Nitrogen will force grow when the conditions are not ideal. The lawn is trying to survive the summer heat and drought conditions. Keep mowing using sharp blades. If it is a rainy summer, a light dose of nitrogen might be needed (0.5lb/N/ksqft) once.
Tier 3 - If you have irrigation, then you could maintain the lawn out of dormancy. A light dose of nitrogen could be use in June and July.
Fall is the best time for a lawn. The summer heat is gone and some rains are starting to show up. During this time the lawn will be hungry for nitrogen and it is the best time for it to spread and thicken up. Towards the end of the fall the lawn will transition into storing energy (carbs) in the roots for winter/early spring.
All Tiers - The fall practices are listed in this article. Fall Nitrogen Blitz
During the fall is also the best time to supress all the winter annuals weeds (ie. dandelion). They are actively growing and developing roots to survive the winter. Now is the time to spray them.
Tier 2 /3 - Poa annua is a weed that grows and develops in the fall. It also survives the winter and it shows up in the spring. The best way to handle it is with a PreM application in early fall (~August). The further south you are, then more you want to do a split application and extend the protection further into winter.
Watch the snow, watch Netflix and plan for next year. You could also watch Ware enjoy actually having a PRG lawn instead of bermuda weed.
Renovations and Overseeds
Spring is not the time to grow grass from seeds since it is really hard to keep the young grass alive during the summer. The best time is late summer (~August). Most new member research overseeding in early March. I get it, the yard looks bad from the winter and you want to do something about it. But throwing seeds in the spring is just wasting money. Focus on PreM and fertilizer and prep for the fall. This is the Cool Season Overseed Guide for more info into overseeding in the fall.
Like everything, there are exceptions. Sometimes you have to do a spring seeding (ie. new construction, utility company dig a hole, etc). It is possible to do the spring, but you need a robust irrigation strategy. You will not be able to use a PreM right away, so crabgrass will be a problem. Spring Seeding Tips . Tenacity will help with weeds for ~30days.
One question that gets asked a lot, “Could I overseed my mix/PR/Fescue lawn with KBG?” Many of us have tried and wasted our money. KBG is slow to grow from seed. You could mow your existing lawn low, use a grow regulator to slow the grow and plant the KBG seeds, but the existing lawn will continue to grow and it will outgrow the KBG. The young KBG will be shaded by the taller existing lawn, it will be walked on when you mow and it doesn't develops enough to survive the winter or summer. Sorry, if you want KBG, a renovation is the way to go.
Tier 2.5 - 3 Renovation
I think renovations should only be done once you have at least 1 year of robust practices and experiences. This means that your spray applications are even, you have a way to irrigate the area to keep the soil moist, can identify weeds/fungus and quickly react to them, etc. I’ve seen experienced members fail a renovation and have a mud yard due to one mistake or one strong rain. A how to renovation guide needs to be develop in a separate post. For now, search for renovations posts (ie. Pete1313 Reno)
This is a subject that brings a lot of opinions in favor and against it.
- Proper aeration with multiple holes will provide oxygen to the soil.
- Breaks the thatch layer of the lawn
- Reduce mechanical compaction
- Increases rooting
- Allows adding compost (organic matter) into the soil
- The exposed soil from the plugs makes an environment that could grow weeds
- Breaks the PreM protection in the soil
- In a healthy soil with good organic content and earthworm it is not needed, since the worms will aerate for you.
- The holes have to go deep (2-3 inches) and 20-40 holes per square foot. Most machines can’t do this without multiple passes and a very moist soil.
- The lawn has to be actively growing (Spring or Fall) for it to recover from the damage.
https://turf.purdue.edu/tips/2009/0220 ... ence.html
http://purdueturftips.blogspot.com/2015 ... from.html
Mowing, Thatching, Aerifying, and Rolling Turf
Maintenance Calendar for Indiana Lawns