Lawn Basics


Quick tips for a healthy and more ecological lawn.


1. Mow high, mow less.


Mow high.  The shorter you mow your grass, the more work you will have to do to keep it looking good. Try raising the height of cut to 3 to 3 ½ inches. Lawns that are cut too short often suffer from shallow, weak root systems that are not efficient at obtaining necessary water and nutrients from the soil.

Leave the clippings.   Contrary to popular belief, clippings do not create thatch.  Grass blades are mostly water, but they also contain important nutrients.   Over time, this can significantly reduce the amount of fertilizer you apply.

Mow less.  How often you mow will depend on a combination of things, including the weather (most growth in the spring), type of grass (fine fescues grow slowly) and height of cut (raise it to reduce mowing!).  Let the grass be your guide.  Mow often enough that you’re not leaving clumps of clippings behind.  This might be as often as every 5 days in the spring or as little as every couple of weeks during the summer.

Keep mower blade sharp.  Dull mower blades shred and tear grass instead of cutting it. This   isn’t good for the health of the grass or appearance of the lawn.  Check the blade at the beginning of each season to make sure it’s sharp.  Monitor appearance of the lawn and condition of mower blades as the season progresses and sharpen or replace them as needed.


2. Consider fertilizing or not.

If your lawn is thick with desirable grasses, has an acceptable level of weeds and color that is pleasing to you, your lawn does not need any additional fertilizer. Clippings left after mowing and previous fertilizations are providing enough nutrients. It is time to adopt practices that can make turf thicker only if your lawn is thinning out, bare soil is apparent and weeds are taking over. A thick lawn increases the water available to your lawn by allowing more water to infiltrate into the turf canopy and into the soil. It also helps reduce the potential for soil erosion and runoff that can threaten water quality.

Note:  The 2010 Nutrient Runoff Law prohibits application of lawn fertilizer from December 1 to April 1 in New York State and restricts application of lawn fertilizers that contain phosphorus.  For details, see more on fertilizing.


3. Watch your water.

It’s easy to do more harm than good. Wet grass invites diseases, so it’s best to water early in the day so leaves will dry quickly in the morning sun.  Avoid watering at night. During extended drought, stop watering and allow grass to go dormant. More on watering.


4. Take special care in shade.


Grass needs a minimum of 4 hours of direct sun a day— 6 hours if it gets much foot traffic. Anything less than this, you should consider other ground covers. In shady spots, plant fine fescues that are adapted to lower light, mow high and reduce fertilizer. More on shade.



5. Reduce/eliminate pesticide use.

Never use pesticides to control lawn insects or weeds simply as a routine practice.  Many pesticide applications made to lawns are unnecessary or ineffective because the pest was not accurately identified or the material was applied at the wrong time.  The best defense against insect and weed problems is healthy grass.  For more information on cultural practices to reduce weed populations and identify insect problems, see More on insect pests and common diseases.




All Lawn Topics: 


How Grass Grows

Grass Varieties




Insect Pests

Common Lawn Diseases of NY