Deb Babcock: Steps to a healthy lawn

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Deb Babcock

Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.

Find more gardening columns here.

— The melting snow has given way to a lushness here in the Yampa Valley that many homeowners would like to capitalize on and maintain throughout our hot, dry summer. Keeping your lawn healthy and green involves a few simple steps. Once you've done that, your lawn pretty much takes care of itself.

Your first step is knowing what kind of grass you're growing. There are dozens of varieties and each has different watering, fertilizing and mowing needs. Chances are, you have a cool climate grass such as Kentucky Bluegrass, Tall Fescue or Perennial Ryegrass. And this means the grass has its greatest growing period in the spring and then a shorter growing period in the fall.

Fertilizer is one of the first maintenance activities that should be undertaken in the spring. Chances are, you'll need to add nitrogen to the soil to promote growth.

Apply nitrogen, according to label directions, during May to mid-June and again in mid-August to mid-September. A final fall application of phosphorus should be applied in September or early October as a final winterizing application. Phosphorus aids the grass in winter storage of nutrients, spring root growth and reducing spring disease problems.

It's best to fertilize when the lawn is completely dry or the fertilizer will adhere to the wet blades of grass and could cause damage. After applying fertilizer, water thoroughly to dissolve the fertilizer and allow it to seep toward the roots of the grass.

Speaking of watering, the key to a healthy lawn is to water only when it is needed and for a long enough period to bring moisture to a depth of 3 to 4 inches. Keep in mind that some portions of your lawn might have different watering requirements. Lawns on a slope and those in full sun will need more water than shaded areas. Watering less frequently but deeply helps your grass grow deeper roots and helps the lawn withstand our hot summer days. The best time to water your lawn is in early morning.

The grasses we grow here in the Yampa Valley generally do best when mowed to a height of 1.5 to 3 inches. It's a mistake to cut the grass too short or to allow it to grow too tall before cutting. Proper blade length helps sustain the health of the grass and grow thickly so that weeds will be crowded out. Consider using a mulching lawnmower so the grass clippings are chopped up finely and returned to the lawn for a source of nitrogen as well as mulch to retain moisture.

If you've let your grass grow too long before mowing, only remove the top third of the blade on the first mowing. Let it recuperate for a few days before mowing it again. Never remove more than a third of the blade in a cutting.

While the best way to a weed-free lawn is to maintain using the steps above, a weedkiller used properly also will get you there. Note the type of weed cropping up in your lawn - broadleaf, perennial weedy grasses or annual weedy grasses. Then use the appropriate herbicide for that type of weed.

A final maintenance item for a healthy lawn is to eliminate compacted soil by core-aeration at least once a year. Aeration allows oxygen and water to penetrate to the roots. It's best to aerate in the fall once the weather begins to cool.

Follow these easy steps and you'll have a healthy, lush lawn spring through fall.

Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825 or email: gardeners@co.routt.co.us

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