Photo courtesy of National Association of Landscape Professionals/Greenleaf Services, Inc., Linville, North Carolina

We're full-blown into spring, and the indications are all around us: the flowers are blooming, the winds are warming, and the neighbors are beginning to shape up their lawns. The National Association of Landscape Professionals wants to make sure that you're not the odd one out on your block, so follow these seven secrets to a beautiful yard.

1. Test your soil before fertilizing. You may know you should fertilize your lawn, but when was the last time your soil was tested? Your lawn and garden require nutrients from soil that provide the best foundation for healthy growth. Only a soil test can determine if your soil is lacking in essential nutrients. In a soil test, samples are collected from the soil, and then sent to a lab to be analyzed. The results from this test can help you determine what blend of nutrients you should use on your lawn. For example, your lawn may need phosphorous, potassium or an application of lime.

2. Not everyone should fertilize their lawn in the spring. Recent research conducted by Harris Poll shows 64 percent of U.S. adults falsely believe that all grass needs to be fertilized in the spring. While Northern lawns with cool-season grasses can benefit from light spring fertilization, Southern lawns with warm-season grasses benefit from summer and early fall fertilizations.

3. Let your lawn breathe. The process of aeration allows air, water and nutrients to penetrate grass roots, helping them to grow deeply and produce stronger, more vigorous lawns. Aerating tools penetrate the soil, creating spaces that let in oxygen. Aeration can be completed any time during the year when grass is growing vigorously, typically in the spring or fall. How many times your lawn needs aerating depends on a few different factors, so contact a landscape professional to find out the timing that's best for your property.

4. You're probably keeping your lawn too short. Many people cut their lawns very short, hoping to extend the time between mowing. However, lawns kept at a longer, finished-cut height will need less water, be more resistant to weeds and have a deeper, greener color. The National Association of Landscape Professionals generally recommends mowing at a height of 3 to 3.5 inches tall throughout the summer. Never cut more than one-third of the grass blade at a time, and keep your mower blades sharp to prevent tearing grass. A crisp, clean cut will help prevent a "brown tip" appearance.

5. You don't need to water your lawn every day — and when you water matters. Overwatering can be just as harmful to your lawn as not watering enough. Watering your lawn deeply every few days is better than daily, shallow watering. Make every drop count by watering the lawn in the early morning or evening to minimize evaporation from the sun and to allow the water to penetrate deep into the soil. If you want to take the guesswork out of how much water your lawn needs — and save money — consider installing an irrigation system. Smart irrigation can save you 15 to 20 percent off your water bill.

6. Generally speaking, it's OK if your lawn turns brown. When grass blades are stressed — for example, during extreme heat or drought conditions — a lawn goes into a dormant state. Grass that has entered this state may be brown, but that doesn't necessarily mean it is dead. When the stress factor is removed, such as when a drought-plagued lawn receives water, the natural green color of the grass should return. If, after the stressor is eliminated, the grass still does not green up, its health should be evaluated.

7. The real value of lawns is not the aesthetic value they offer. Healthy grass is a vital part of a healthy environment. Lawns are beautiful places for families to play and relax, but they also provide health and environmental benefits, making proper lawn care essential. Grasses absorb carbon dioxide and break it down into oxygen and carbon. In fact, a 50-by-50-foot lawn produces enough oxygen for a family of four. Grasses also capture dust and pollutants from the air, can minimize noise levels by as much as 30 percent, and protect nearby bodies of water and prevent soil erosion by absorbing unhealthy water runoff. Lawns also play a critical role in our ecosystem, by serving as home to earthworms, fungi, soil microbes and other life forms that coexist within its grasses and soil.

For more lawn care and landscaping advice, tips, and inspiration from the National Association of Landscape Professionals and to find a landscape professional near you, visit