RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina has approximately 2 million acres of turfgrass, most of which are classified as residential home lawns. Home lawns can be expensive to maintain, consume a large majority of the water use for a residence, and can contribute to stormwater pollution and/or sediment runoff. Healthy lawns can benefit all North Carolinians by slowing stormwater runoff, filtering pollutants, reducing nitrogen leaching, reducing erosion, protecting groundwater and supplying us with large amounts of oxygen. The best way to attain a healthy lawn is by using sound lawn cultural practices such as soil testing, feeding, mowing, and aerating.
Soil tests should be collected every 2-3 years to determine pH and nutrient availability in lawns. Pay special attention to the pH level and adjust according to your species of turf. Different grass species require different levels of pH. Utilize the nutrient information to formulate a fertilization program for your lawn for the ensuing year.
Feed your lawn at the correct rates and times. Lawns require 0.5 to 1 pound of nitrogen per fertilizer application, and should never be fertilized before green-up. When selecting fertilizers, look for slow-release varieties, commonly referred to as ‘controlled release’ or ‘water-insoluble’. These types of fertilizers are coated and extend the availability of nitrogen longer than quick-release forms.
Keep your lawnmower blades sharp. Mow your lawn at the correct height according to turf variety, and don’t bag your clippings. They contain free, valuable nutrients that can be recycled back into the lawn.
If your lawn is compacted, aeration can be a great way to get oxygen and water into the root zone. Aerate with a device that removes soil cores and distributes them across the lawn.
To determine the correct timing of fertilization, mowing heights, and aeration, find your species specific lawn maintenance calendar here, and see additional information on lawn care in the Lawns Chapter of the NC Extension Gardener Handbook.
–Brad Hardison, N.C. State Extension