Lawn Basics

iBook Lawn Care: The Easiest Steps to An Attractive Environmental Asset

Quick tips for a healthy and more ecological lawn.

1. Mow high, mow less.


Mow high. Lawns cut lower than 3 to 3 ½ inches will require more fertilizer and water.

Leave the clippings. Clippings are mostly water and nutrients. Leaving them in place lowers fertilizer and water needs. Mow often enough to avoid leaving clumps of clippings. A mower designed for mulching finely chops grass clippings and tree leaves.

Mow less.  Follow the clump rule. Mow often enough to avoid leaving clumps of clippings. This might be every 5 days during the flush of top growth in spring or every couple of weeks during the summer if at all.

Keep mower blade sharp. Dull mower blades increased fuel use and shred grass leaves. At the start of the season consider taking your mower in for a tune up and sharpen the mower blade. Monitor the appearance of your lawn and condition of your mower blades as the season progresses. Sharpen or replace mower blades 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.


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