When we emerged from our winter cave this past spring, my husband and I looked glumly upon our lawn. Patchy grass, brown spots, weeds — it was not a pretty sight. We agreed something had to be done, but after some research we learned that spring is not the best time to jumpstart a lawn, at least in New Jersey, where we live. Prime time is early fall for much of the country. Here are some things you can do to achieve a lawn you’ll be proud of when spring rolls around.
And remember, as you work on improving your home, be sure to keep track of how it’s affecting your finances. (You can pull your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and view two of your free credit scores, updated each month, on Credit.com.) Carrying debt? See how long it will take to pay it off with our handy lifetime cost of debt calculator.
Weeds can kill an otherwise healthy lawn, so diligent weeding is a must. Mason Day, co-founder of GrowIt!, a social gardening app, says that weeding in the fall is crucial because it’s when many weeds spread their seeds. “If you neglect to take care of the weeds in the September/October time frame,” he says, “you could be dealing with way more of them next spring.”
But skip the clovers as you weed, advises Craig Jenkins-Sutton, co-founder and president of Chicago-based urban landscape firm, Topiarius. “While many see clovers as a weed, clovers add nitrogen to soil,” he says. “Nitrogen is the element that greens grass and plants. Clover is also drought-tolerant and resistant. It will be green when the rest of the lawn is brown.”
Day says it’s important to fertilize in September to encourage healthy growth in your lawn. “Summer is a high-stress time for lawns because of heat and drought,” he says, “so it’s important to help give your grass a boost after the stressful season. This will also help to give your lawn a good base for the upcoming winter.”
Timing is everything, according to Alice Marcus Krieg, co-founder of garden design firm, Groundworks Gardens in Brooklyn, New York. She recommends applying granular fertilizers or weed control in the early morning, as the dew helps to activate the chemical compounds. Note that Krieg also prefers plants to grass in general, because “lawns require LOTS of water and fertilizer and are considered ‘high maintenance’ in the world of garden design.”
As you can imagine, watering your lawn is essential to its health. But you can’t just water whenever you feel like it. According to HGTV’s Going Yard co-host Chris Lambton, a good 15- to 20-minute soaking in the early morning is ideal, as it allows the most water to get down to the roots of the grass.
As far as the method of watering goes, Jenkins-Sutton prefers natural rain, sprinklers and/or an irrigation system versus hand-watering. “Lawns need about one inch to one-and-a-half inches of water per week. Hand-watering doesn’t really work because no one wants to stand in one place that long,” he says.
4. Seed vs. Sod
Seed takes a long time to grow, so if you’re looking for quick results, sod may be the best option. However, sod is substantially more expensive.
Either way, you need to avoid the area after installation. Krieg recommends staying off sod for four weeks and avoiding fresh seeds for eight weeks. Also, she says that new plantings have weak and delicate root systems. If you see a bare spot, she advises to re-seed immediately.
5. Mow …
When it comes to grass height, the general consensus among the experts is that grass should be kept a bit long, like 3 inches or so. Cutting the grass too short can expose the roots to sunburn and cause the grass to dry out.
Instead of raking up cut grass, Krieg says to leave the clippings on the lawn, as they are a good source of nitrogen. She also suggests cutting the grass in varied patterns each mowing (diagonals one week, straight lines the next), which encourages healthy growth.
6. … & Rake
When leaves fall, Lambton stresses that they be raked up as soon as possible. “The longer you wait, the more opportunities the leaves will have to get wet with morning dew, and possibly rain,” he says. “When leaves stick together, they create a ‘blanket’ that covers the grass and breeds fungal diseases.”
7. Wait it Out
Last but not least, have patience! “Greening won’t happen overnight,” Jenkins-Sutton says. “Grass is actually one of the most time-consuming and needy plants we have at our homes, so it needs consistent care as well as long-term best practices.”
This article originally appeared on Credit.com.