Lawn order

Things to do to make your grass grow greener

Anthropologists say Americans’ love of lawns comes from an unconscious desire to emulate the aristocracy, who were once the only folks who had lawns. Well, we’re all little kings and queens, dukes and duchesses in our personal castles. What’s to be ashamed of?

An ugly, weed-filled, scraggly lawn, that’s what. You may be comfortable with it, but if it’s in your front yard, the rest of us have to look at it, and we don’t like what we see. We like pretty, healthy, green lawns, and we want you to take care of yours.

This is a good time to get started. Lawns are coming out of their winter dormancy and summer’s heat hasn’t yet hit, so the grass is growing well. If you want your lawn to look good through fall, here’s what to do.

Aerate: Roots can’t penetrate compacted soil. If the grass in high-traveled areas of your lawn is looking feeble or water is pooling there, you need to aerate it by punching little holes in the ground. You can rent an aerating machine for big jobs or buy an inexpensive step-on tool for small ones. After aeration, consider putting a layer of compost on top. You may also want to reseed.

Weed control: The best way to keep out weeds is to keep your grass healthy by fertilizing it well. Weeds grow in bare spots. Hand-pulling them works best and is kindest on the planet, but you can also use a relatively benign herbicide such as Trimec and spot-spray the weeds.

Crabgrass: Apply a pre-emergent herbicide when the soil gets to 55 degrees and before the crabgrass appears. Keep your lawn mowed so crabgrass doesn’t go to seed. If you don’t want to spray (good for you!), hand-pull whenever you feel like spending some time on your hands and knees, smelling the grass and the earth and enjoying being outdoors.

Mowing: What’s with folks who think a lawn should look like a golf green? Short is not best. Follow the one-third rule: Don’t cut off more than a third of the length of the grass blades, leaving at least 2.5 inches. This will encourage roots to grow deeper and build a thick lawn that holds water better. Yeah, you may have to mow a bit more often, unless you let it grow to four inches or so, but you’ll enjoy the lawn you’re mowing more. By the way, now’s a good time to sharpen your mower blade—or replace it.

Dog burns: Blame it on Fido. Dogs have a lot of salt in their urine, and it can kill your lawn in the places where he pees, especially if he’s a big dog. On the other hand, if your lawn is underfertilized, he could create nice green spots because of the nitrogen in that same urine.

Shade: Grass likes sun. If you’ve got areas of lawn that get less than four or five hours of sun, consider a shade-adapted species. Your nursery can suggest a good one for this area. If it gets less than four hours of sun, plant a shade-loving groundcover.

Grass diseases: The best way to discourage them is to water only in the mornings. That allows the grass to dry out. Otherwise, check with your nursery person.

Fertilizing: The key here is getting the right amount. California lawns are year-round, so it’s important to fertilize for both winter and the warmer seasons. How often? Some experts recommend a schedule based on holidays, beginning with Easter and proceeding through Memorial Day, Labor Day and Halloween. That way it’s easy to remember when you’ve done it. Toss in the Fourth of July if you think the grass is looking peaked.