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Tips to get a better lawn for less money

Published: Sunday, July 13, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

Homeowners strive to have the best lawn on the block and, all too often, at the expense of their checkbook, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.  

“There are ways to improve how your lawn looks from early spring to late fall that will cost very little or that you can do for free,” said Richard Hentschel.  

Mowing is an activity that happens every year in every yard. Here are a few ideas that can help keep your lawn healthier and more competitive against invading weeds:

• Mow more frequently – Lawns that are mowed more often allow you to leave the clippings that will provide as much as a pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. A good rule of thumb is to remove no more than one-third of the grass blade at any one mowing.

• Mow your lawn higher – By leaving a taller leaf blade, you increase the food production of that grass plant. Studies show that a taller grass plant will develop a deeper root system and more rhizomes, tillers, or stolons for a thicker lawn. Grass plants with deeper roots survive droughts better. Try setting the deck up just one notch and you will see the difference.

• Mow your lawn with a sharp mower blade – A sharp blade will cut the grass blade cleanly. A dull mower blade tears the blade apart, leaving strands that will brown later and give the lawn a light tan look. Lawnmower blades will dull quickly and need to be sharpened once a month. This will have a cost to it unless you do this yourself.

• Keep the mower deck clean – This goes along with keeping the mower blade sharp. A clean mower deck will allow that sharp blade to more efficiently cut the grass blade and recut the clippings. The finer the clippings, the sooner they return nutrients to the soil.

• Mow when the lawn is dry – Mowers are much more efficient when the grass blade is dry. This is critical if your mower is set to mulch or you have a dedicated mulching mower.

“There are other ways to improve grass health that will take some resources,” Hentschel added. “Top-dressing the lawn with a quality black dirt or organic matter will improve soil health that will in turn feed the grass plant. Organic matter can contribute as much as 50 percent of the nitrogen your lawn needs during the growing season and will not burn the lawn or cause the lawn to grow excessively.

“Over time you will find that less inorganic fertilizer will be needed, as long as you continue to topdress annually.  Another technique that keeps the lawn full and thick is to expect to reseed thinner areas annually, especially those shadier spots in the lawn."

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