Certainly, one way to cut costs is to maintain your turf yourself. But a lush lawn requires careful planning.
Take steps to avoid these nine common lawn care mistakes:
● Not doing a soil test
Your first step should be to do a soil test, says Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs at the National Association of Landscape Professionals. “Soil tests offer a snapshot of your lawn’s soil health, reveals deficiencies and shows what type of fertilizer you should be using,” Henriksen says.
You can buy a soil test for less than $20. However, John Kauffman, a research scientist at Memphis-based lawn care company TruGreen, recommends ordering a test through your local cooperative extension service. “Almost every county has one,” Kauffman says. (You can find the one nearest to you by using GardeningKnowHow.com’s extension services directory.)
Soil tests should be done once every three years, because soil conditions can change over time, depending on changes in weather patterns.
● Using quick-release fertilizer
Kauffman generally recommends homeowners use slow-release fertilizers. “They aren’t as likely to burn turf as quickly,” he says.
“Slow-release [fertilizers] also meter out nutrients over time, so they avoid the quick surges of growth that can come with quickly available sources, and they provide a consistent supply of nutrients over time.”
Most lawns require about an inch of water each week, Henriksen says. However, “people often make the mistake of running their sprinkler every day,” she says. Over-watering your lawn can also drive up your maintenance costs, Henriksen points out.
Most lawns require watering only about two days a week, says Christina Hoffmann, content manager at HouseLogic, an online resource for homeowners. If you don’t mind shelling out a little extra money, you can buy a smart sprinkler system such as Blossom ($149) that uses sensors to monitor moisture levels in the soil and distributes the right amount of H2O.
● Watering at the wrong time of day
Water evaporates as the heat rises, which is why Hoffmann recommends watering your lawn in the morning. “The important thing is to get the soil soaked to 6 inches deep,” Hoffmann says.
You can dig a small hole using a spade or shovel to see how long it takes for the water to reach that depth.
● Using dull mower blades
Want a professional-looking finish? A sharp lawn mower blade evenly severs grass — whereas a dull blade can tear and discolor your lawn, Hoffmann says.
To ensure you’re going to get a clean cut, take your blades to a hardware store. “You can sharpen them once a month during grass cutting season,” Hoffmann says.
● Cutting grass too short
The average American spends about 70 hours a year on lawn and garden care, according to the most recent American Time Use Survey. “If mowing your lawn isn’t your idea of a fun time, you might think you can cut the grass extra short so you don’t have to mow as often, but it starves the grass,” Hoffmann says.
Generally, grass should be trimmed to 2 to 3 inches. That said, “grass can grow at different speeds depending on the time of year,” Kauffman says. “You may have to mow more frequently during springtime than during the summer.”
● Ignoring basic safety precautions
Many people don’t take important safety measures when mowing their lawn, Henriksen says. To prevent injuries, remove stones, branches, sprinklers and other obstacles before you begin mowing.
Also, be sure to wear proper footwear (no open-toed shoes), safety glasses and earplugs. (According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. Lawn mowers can produce more than 100 decibels.)
● Not aerating your lawn
Aeration involves poking small holes in your lawn to allow water and fertilizer to penetrate through the soil surface. In other words, aeration helps your lawn to breathe.
Thus, “if you really love your lawn and want it to be healthy, aerating once in the spring and once in the fall is a good idea,” Hoffmann says. Although you can use a simple garden fork or spiked boots to punch holes, Hoffmann recommends renting a lawn aerator from a local garden center.
Pro tip: Most aeration machines only cover a small surface area, so you might need to make multiple passes over the most compacted areas of your lawn.
● Not using a fresh tank of gas
Lawn mower fuel that’s been left to sit over the winter can deteriorate and harm small engines. Your best approach is to dump stale gas and kick off the spring season with a fresh tank.
One caveat: Because the right type of fuel depends on your type of lawn mower, make sure you’re following your manufacturer’s instructions.