We've all dreamed of having the perfect lawn--a green oasis our kids can run and play on for hours. Follow these steps to achieve that vision.
Know What You Need
If your lawn looks thin and weak, start the season off right by having the soil tested by your local Extension service. They'll analyze a sample and make precise recommendations for any additions that you might need. It may take a few weeks to get the test results back, so plan ahead. The info can save you time and money.
If your lawn doesn't have any obvious problems, a simple soil test kit from a home-improvement store can tell you how acid or alkaline your soil is (the pH). A pH of 7 is neutral, a higher number is more alkaline, and a lower number is more acid. Most grasses like a soil pH of 6.5--mildly acid. If the soil is too acid, lime is the remedy. If it's too alkaline, you may need other amendments such as iron sulfate to get the needed balance.
Grasses that stay green in winter are cool-season kinds; Kentucky bluegrass, fescue, and perennial ryegrass lawns are growing strong now. Feed them with a fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro Water Soluble Lawn Food 36-6-6 or Schultz Expert Gardener Fertilizer 30-3-4.
Bermuda, centipede, St. Augustine, Zoysia, and buffalo grass like warm weather and have just greened up. Fertilize them now with a product such as Scotts Turf Builder Lawn Fertilizer 29-3-4 or Sta-Green Lawn Fertilizer 29-2-5. Apply with a spreader according to the directions on the product label. If growing centipede, use a product formulated for that specific type of grass. Too much phosphorus (the middle number in a fertilizer analysis) is toxic to centipede.
Check the labels of all fertilizers, especially those with added weed preventers, to make sure that they are compatible with your type of grass. Many healthy lawns have been destroyed overnight by good-intentioned homeowners who didn't check the label. As with all plants, knowing the needs and growth habit of your particular type of grass will help you care for it correctly. Also, if you live in Florida, use a low-phosphorus (2% or less) formula if your soil test reveals an abundance of this element.
"Beautiful Lawn" is from the May 2006 issue of Southern Living.