Home Grown

Tips and resources for farmers and gardeners

Cutting Lawn Care Costs

Lawn care can be very expensive or quite cheap depending on your approach, and there are many things you can do to cut back on costs while at the same time improving the health of your lawn.

Watering (irrigation) is something many lawn owners spend too much time, money, and natural resources (precious water) on, and  water bans by local governments will be increasing in the future.

You may notice your lawn turning a tan/brownish color when temperatures get warmer in June. Like many lawn owners, you may believe the lawn is either dead or on its way to dying because of this tan/brown color.

This is almost never the case. In fact, the lawn is going dormant, which is expected and totally natural.

Most lawns in North America are growing cool-season grasses such as Kentucky Bluegrass. Cool-season grasses grow actively in the cooler times of the year, primarily in the cool weather of spring and fall. The cool-season grasses go dormant during the hot summer months and the cold winter months. When the grass is dormant, it appears as though it is almost dead or dying.

Watering frequently when grass is dormant can be detrimental to the grass. Only in the driest periods, such as during a drought, is the grass suffering from lack of water, and only then is it necessary to water.

An easy way to determine if your lawn is suffering from drought stress is by walking on it. If you can see your footprints left in the grass after walking on it, the grass is suffering from drought stress and needs to be watered. Irrigate the lawn with about a half inch of water, slowly and deeply in the morning, about every 10 days during periods of drought.

Because lawns go dormant during the summer, they are not actively growing. Many people put down a fertilizer during the hot summer months. This is a mistake and can actually hurt your grass and encourage more weed growth.

If your lawn is dormant, there is no need to spend money on lawn fertilizer in the summer. In fact, you will be doing your lawn a favor by not fertilizing during the summer.

Lawn height (the height of the grass blades) is very important in growing a healthy lawn.

Many lawn owners cut their grass too short. It is tempting, because it looks nice and manicured, but cutting most cool-season grasses shorter than two inches is not recommended.

Grass cut too short leads to stressed grass, shallow roots, increased weed encroachment and competition, and overall poor grass health. Preferably, grass should be mowed down to about three inches in height, especially during the hot summer months.

When mowing, it is also important not to remove more than one-third of the grass canopy. Cutting more than one-third of the grass at any given time stresses the grass.

In summary, two ways to cut costs, improve lawn health, and be more environmentally friendly include minimal summer watering and no summer lawn fertilizing. Cutting grass at a higher height also improves the health of the grass and reduces weed competition.

Source: Matt Kostelnick,
University of Illinois Extension horticulture specialist

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