Help me have a happy lawn.
February 23, 2009 1:32 PM   Subscribe

Help me get a good start on my lawn

Here's the scoop:

* I live in north Texas.
* I have Bermuda grass that was planted as sod.
* The house is just under a year old, so this is the first spring that I'll have the stuff.

What should I do to prevent grubs and weeds, and what can I do to make sure that it's green and happy? It's still fairly brown but is starting to green up a bit.
posted by drstein to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you fertilize it, do it early in the season. Set your lawnmower height to the highest setting and mow more frequently. You should only cut off a third of the length of a blade of grass at a time to avoid stressing the plants. Grass that is grown high grows a denser network of roots that can prevent weeds from getting a foothold.

I'm not big on weed or insect killers, so this is typically all that I do.
posted by jefeweiss at 2:21 PM on February 23, 2009


Aerating, fertilizing, topdressing, and overseeding.

Aerating: Rent an aerator and punch little holes in the ground. This will cause it to accept water a lot better, and make the dirt looser to roots have an easier time of it.

Fertilizing: Early in the season, as jefeweiss says.

Topdressing: With and or peat moss or mixture. Rake it over the lawn fairly evenly, or as evenly as you can. This will even the lawn out.

Overseeing: Again, early in the season. Broadcasting seed, especially in thin spots will make for more blades per square whatever.

Water often, but do it early in the day.
posted by Danf at 2:29 PM on February 23, 2009


Be careful if you rent an aerator. Those things are heavy, headstrong and possessed.
posted by Morrigan at 2:58 PM on February 23, 2009


Seconding the aerating, as bermuda makes a very dense rootmass and more air & water to the roots is a good thing. On the watering, I'm going to have to disagree with Danf: watering less frequently and more deeply is simply better for the lawn than frequent, shallow waterings. This is especially so in hotter climates.

For overseeding, consider using a perennial ryegrass. It's a cool season plant and will tend to start browning out and dying back at about the same time your bermuda grass is really starting to green up and look good.

Bermuda grass will generally take care of most weeds on its own (cf."dense rootmass"). I'm not an advocate of herbicides generally, but talk to a local lawn & garden center for recommendations for home use. I recommend you do NOT go with one of the Chemlawn-type companies. Their applications aren't good for long-term survivability of your turf.

You can treat prophylactically for grubs, but I think you're better off letting well enough alone unless/until you've identified a problem.

On another note, you're welcome to as much of the bermuda grass in my lawn as you want. I hate the stuff and consider it an invasive weed.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 3:05 PM on February 23, 2009


You probably want to aerate first, since the soil is likely to have been compacted by the construction equipment. You want a "core aerator" NOT a spike aerator. You can either hire someone to do it for you, or rent an aerator and do it yourself. If you have a sprinkler system, mark the sprinker heads with little flags before aerating. You will destroy your sprinker heads if you happen to run over them with the aerator.

The healthier and thicker your lawn, the less trouble you'll have with weeds. The above commenter is correct - try to keep your lawn on the longer side especially during the summer and don't remove too much at once.

I generally hand-pull weeds, or spot-treat with weedkiller. I don't like drenching my whole lawn in weedkiller since it it pretty healthy.

I fertilize about 3-4 times a year. Avoid fertilizing during the hottest months. I am not familiar with your zone, but you can probably get advice on specific times to treat your lawn from your local garden center or extension office.

Water early in the day. I have my sprinklers set to come on at 4 am. This give the lawn time to soak up the water, without having the water droplets sit too long on the grass, causing mildew and fungus problems. Avoid watering in the evening or at night.

Water deeply! Don't just water for a few minutes every day - it is better to give your yard a good soak (30 min) 3X a week than it is to water for 10 min 5X a week. This forces the roots to go deeper.
posted by Ostara at 3:06 PM on February 23, 2009


Agreeing with Emperor & Ostara for the most part. I live in Las Vegas and have bermuda grass (which overtook and killed what used to be very nice fescue).

I water it 3 times per week in mid summer (for about 30 minutes) and it's always a beautiful green. I let it grow brown in the winter (first freeze kills it), but you could also aerate and throw down a more cold-weather-happy grass in late fall to keep green all year.

Bermuda grass is a weed, so a lot of fertilizing shouldn't be necessary -- just once early in the season. I've read that bermuda roots can often grow to depths of 3 feet or more, so it's an unusually hearty plant, hard to kill and nearly impossible to get rid of. I do get some occasional weeds, but that's pretty rare, and I just pull them by hand.

Set your lawnmower height to the highest setting and mow more frequently. You should only cut off a third of the length of a blade of grass at a time to avoid stressing the plants.

This is wholly unnecessary with bermuda grass, as it grows creeping along the ground and doesn't have "blades" the way some other grasses do. I mow pretty low, which helps allow water to soak in.
posted by coolguymichael at 3:59 PM on February 23, 2009


I used to have a nice fescue lawn that was taken over by some nasty Bermuda. There was nothing I could do about it - it just kept moving over, slowly - like creeping death.

Eventually, I had a lawn of Bermuda. One thing I will say for Bermuda, when the yard was 1/2 Fescue and 1/2 Bermuda - there was an absolute night and day difference as to the amound of weeds that was in the Fescue than in the Bermuda. The Bermuda had, for all intents and purposes, no weeds in it whatsoever. So, you have that going for you.

But to think that someone laid down Bermuda as sod is just strange. drstein, is Bermuda unavoidable where you are at? Is that why it was laid down? I am just curious, I live in Wichita, KS and wonder if our climate/grass situation is similar.

I second the "water less often, but more deep". This seemed to work very well at keeping our grass greener in the dry hot summer. Apparently getting water deeper into the soil promotes a deeper root growth which allows the grass to obtain water from the wet soil that remains wet even during hot summer months. That could be me misunderstanding it, but this is what I believe to be true.

GOOD LUCK!
posted by Brettus at 5:19 PM on February 23, 2009


I mow pretty low, which helps allow water to soak in.

Lower mowing means the lawn loses more water to the atmosphere. A longer lawn shades the soil surface and keeps the base of the plant cooler. More leaf blade also equals more and deeper roots, as there is more photosynthesis to support a larger root system. A too-short lawn can easily get "wet wilt" when the soil is wet, yet evaporation is occurring at a high rate.

Water deeply! Don't just water for a few minutes every day - it is better to give your yard a good soak (30 min) 3X a week than it is to water for 10 min 5X a week. This forces the roots to go deeper.

This is totally true, though the time watering should vary according to soil type, sprinkler output, and weather. If your sprinkler put out more water than your lawn can take in, water twice in one day, a couple hours apart. Don't start watering until you need to in the spring- too much wintertime water just make it more difficult for the lawn to take in existing soil nitrogen. Letting your lawn go to a slight wilt in spring when there is still good atmospheric moisture will not damage your lawn, but will force the roots into deeper soil, making it more drought resistant.

If you really want to know what to do, 1) get a soil test so you know exactly what's needed and at what rate of application. There's no sense in just buying a bag of lawn fertilizer unless you know what you need. 2) Investigate your local cooperative extension. Here's Texas A&M's page on Bermuda Grass. They have many pages on turf management on their site.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:35 PM on February 23, 2009


Brettus: I'm north of Fort Worth, TX and it's what the landscaper has been using in the area. It looked OK last year but again, it was fairly new.

I can't mow it too low as it will scalp the stuff. i tend to mow a little higher. :)
posted by drstein at 11:21 AM on February 24, 2009


"Lower mowing means the lawn loses more water to the atmosphere. A longer lawn shades the soil surface and keeps the base of the plant cooler."

Chiming in much later to say that we're talking about bermuda grass here, which is totally different from regular grass.

Bermuda grass creeps along the surface, making a thick layer of horizontally growing grassy padding on the surface of the soil. This layer of padding can be self-defeating, keeping water from reaching the soil if you don't water for long enough periods of time. Mowing low can help the water reach the soil faster; it will not -- unless your mower can actually reach the soil itself, which would be foolish -- come close to exposing the soil, so water loss and cooling the base of the weed are non-issues.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:20 PM on February 27, 2009


I know we're talking about bermuda grass, I've maintained bermuda grass lawns for several clients, and that's why I linked specifically to a bermuda grass page from Texas A&M. What I said still stands, regarding any kind of turf: the shorter the lawn, the more water is lost to the atmosphere. Shorter lawns of any type are more susceptible to drought conditions. You can grow bermuda up to 1-1.5 inches and it will use less water and have better water infiltration and be more drought tolerant than a 3/4 inch lawn. If you have thatch buildup even at 1-1.5 inches, you can use a de-thatcher and core aerator. Frequent mowing also helps prevent thatch buildup and scalping- it doesn't mean you have to mow lower, you just want to remove 40% or less of the leaf blade. That is usually a weekly mow, sometimes more during the warmer part of the year when bermuda is growing fastest.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:44 PM on March 11, 2009


Thanks for the info, y'all.

Now I need to wage war against the Dallisgrass that's trying to grow...
posted by drstein at 10:02 AM on March 26, 2009


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