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Lawn Care Tips

Proper and Improper Mowing

Improper mowing is one of the most common causes of weed invasion and insect damage. Mowing heights that are too short will result in weakened grass plants and weed encroachment. Short grass is susceptible to disease and drought damage. Ants and other insects prefer to live in grass that has been scalped short. Scalping is the removing more than one third of the grass blade at a time. Example: During the summer months when the lawn gets to be 6 inches tall, cut it to a height of 4 inches. (One-third of 6 inches is two inches. In this example, cutting off more than 2 inches would be scalping the lawn.)

Lawns should be mowed to a height of 3-4 inches during the hot summer, so set your lawn mower wheels at their highest or second highest setting. Turf mowed at this height will be greenest, because grass blades are their healthiest at this height, and are best able to perform photosynthesis. Individual grass plants provide healthy shade for themselves and each other at these taller heights, as well as shading the topsoil and roots better. Your yard will need less watering and will stop weeds from germinating.

Why do lawn mowers come with wheels that can adjust up or down? Because grass needs to be cut at different heights during the year! Here’s the long and the short of it. In March and April set your lawn mower wheels so that mown grass stands 1¼ to 2 inches tall, the shortest setting. In May and June grass should be cut to 2½ or 3 inches, so go up a notch or two. In July and August adjust wheels to cut 3½ to 4 inches tall, the highest setting. In September and October, 3 to 2 ½ inches gives optimum grass health, so back down to a medium height. In November and December cut 2 to 1¼ inches tall, again down to the shortest setting.

Why Mow It Short at the End of Fall?

The longer you mow your lawn high, the longer it will stay green. I keep mine as high as I can, as long as I can.

Late in the season (when day high temps drop to the low 50s) you should start adjusting your mower down a notch, and by your last cutting (after numerous nights well below freezing) the lawn should be cut as short as you can without scalping it. This is very important for the survivability of your lawn during the winter months.

The shorter the better, because…

  • Field mice (voles) are attracted to long grass during the winter, and they can do damage to your lawn. Voles are discouraged by lawns with short grass.
  • Shorter tops make it easier for the roots to survive winter stress. Roots will have a smaller job to do, compared to providing for a bigger plant.
  • Your lawn will have less winter damage come spring. Snow mold spots are found on taller lawns because the grass blades are bent flat along the ground and stay submerged in water or at least lie damp longer.
  • Standing water in spring evaporates more quickly in short grass than long grass.
  • Your lawn will green up faster in spring.
  • Short grass makes it easier to dethatch or rake in spring.

It is also important to clean up all leaves, sticks, and debris from your lawn before the snow covers it.

In summary, during the hot months, grass plants are healthiest and safest when they’re tall. In hot weather (July and August) higher mowing shades the lawn, retains moisture, encourages deep root growth, leaves more of the grass blade for photosynthesis, and deters insect infestation. Short mowing during cooler weather (April and November) discourages disease, funguses, and voles.

If you must mow the same height all year, make it high. And of course, do mow your lawn. A lawn left unmown looks uncared for and unsightly, and might be against local laws!

Keep your mower blades sharp. This means sharpening the blade at least once a year, and preferably three times: May 1, July 1, and September 1.

Alternate your mowing pattern each week. Mowing the same direction causes the grass to “bend” in the direction you mow and can even create wheel ruts. Alternating direction corrects this problem. Consider cutting your lawn in four

different directions. For instance, north and south, east and west, diagonally from northeast to southwest, and northwest to southeast. Use a different direction each time you mow. It might be easiest to just buy two or three new sharp blades that match the one you're already using. Blades are not expensive and you can put them on the mower yourself. Is it a hassle for you to wait for your local hardware shop to get yours sharpened? Why not bring all three blades to your repairman during the off-season and have three sharpened blades ready again before the snow melts.

Don’t scalp your lawn. Mow regularly and remove no more than one-third of the grass blade at a time. Removing more than 1/3 of the grass plant is scalping. Scalping removes the green, food-producing cells and a grass plant’s growth is stymied every time it happens.

Try to avoid mowing when the grass is wet. You’ll always get a better, more even cut, and the clippings will not clump up nearly as much if the grass is dry. Walking and pushing a mower in soft, wet soil can also create tracks on the lawn. Aside from the environmental benefits, the only reason you have a lawn – and the only reason you cut your lawn — is so your property looks good. So don’t try cutting your lawn when it’s wet. It won’t look good.

Proper and Improper Watering

Improper watering contributes to weed invasion, insect infestation, and drought damage. Frequent light watering is not good because it encourages shallow rooting in grass plants. It also produces weak turf, which becomes susceptible to insect and disease attacks. Furthermore, frequent light watering encourages germination and development of weeds, because many weeds need exactly those watering conditions.

Check the color of your lawn at midday when it is the hottest. When not provided with sufficient water, grass plants will wilt and become darker in color. Use the darker green color as a clue that your lawn is under drought stress. Next the grass will turn brown. Under extended drought the brown blades will become brittle. If you walk on such grass the blades will crunch and break off. You will be able to see your footprints easily. At that point it’s “next to dead.” But grass is surprisingly resilient and if given water at that point it will still come back. When it turns charcoal gray, it’s dead and will not come back. It will become a bare spot, which will remain that way or fill in with weeds unless you replant.

Water your lawn deeply, two to three hours on each area, 5-10 days apart, before turf grasses show signs of wilting or discoloring. This amounts to 3 or 4 times a month. If it rains one full inch, that counts as a watering.

Take a look at your lawn near the downspout. Your whole lawn would be that thick, green, and healthy if it received the same amount of water as that section of grass does. Most everyone has seen the damage drought conditions can do to a lawn. Not watering at all will kill your grass. If you don’t water your lawn, no amount of fertilizer is going to give you good results. Burned out lawns also invite infestation levels of insects that feed on dry grass and roots. Skunks, possums, and raccoons feed on grubs in your lawn, and these animals can rip up and destroy a large section of lawn in one night. Watering your lawn can be considered very INexpensive when you are faced with repair or replacement costs.

Kids playing in yard

The most effective time of day to water is at sunrise. Watering in the heat of the day is less effective at reaching deep into the topsoil. In sandy soil the water could “boil” the root hairs, or evaporate too quickly to be absorbed into the roots. Don’t water during the night. Sitting in water or staying wet all night can promote rust, red thread fungus, mold, and mushrooms. If there were only two facts, tips, or secrets to follow for the health and vigor of your lawn, the first would be to mow it long, and the second would be to water your lawn for 2 hours… in the morning… every ten days… in July… minimum.

Some areas of your lawn may need more water than others. For instance, some areas of your lawn receive full sun all day, and the soil in those areas will dry out much faster. Also, heat from cement and blacktop radiates into the soil and grassy areas by sidewalks, driveways, and streets. Even if the area is partially shaded, it will dry out much faster than well-shaded lawn. Sunshine can even reflect off your windows and leave noticeable brown squares of burned out grass. Some areas of your lawn need more water than others.

Grass surrounded by pavement needs to be 4 inches tall, and watered more often in the heat of summer, because heat radiates off the pavement.

For a beautiful green lawn, water properly! Two to three hours — this will amount to an inch of water — 5-10 days apart, on the driest areas.


Snow Mold

Winning the Fight Against Fungus

If you have a fungus problem, bag your clippings when you mow. Removing the fungus-infested grass blades will help prevent funguses from spreading. Mow the infected area last of all, so you don’t spread it to the rest of your lawn.

Unhealthy bursts of growth attract disease. That’s why a “time release” fertilizer applied a few times a year is better than dumping a bag of powdered manure on the lawn. Apply about six weeks apart, beginning in mid-April or early May.

To prevent disease, mow with a sharp blade. A dull mower blade increases the chance of disease by 20% because it shreds grass blades,
leaving an “open wound” for spores to enter.

Mowing high in summer gives you a beautiful, healthy lawn. High mowing shades the lawn, retains moisture, and encourages deep root growth. A thick lawn is not an easy environment for transient weed seeds or fungus spores to bud in. It’s like a new passenger not being able to squeeze into a crowded elevator. On the other hand, an empty elevator will pick up anybody that happens along.

Another valuable yearly practice is aerating. Heavy thatch layers are a natural “breeding” ground for many kinds of fungus. Aerating will help keep grass strong by breaking up thatch and encouraging deep rooting. If you do your aerating in the fall, by next springtime the cores will be almost completely dissolved into the ground. Spring aeration is your next best choice, but can sometimes become a muddy job and then coat your lawn with those muddy cores.


Why do mushrooms seem to grow in the same circle on my lawn each year? Mushrooms often are the visible result of wood rotting underground. Perhaps a tree was growing there at one time, and the roots are decomposing. The buried wood could be left from an old campfire, a fence post, or decorative wood chips.

There are many kinds of mushrooms, and some kinds are caused by the weather… moisture, humidity, and clouds (vs. sunshine). This second cause of mushrooms is easier to deal with. When the weather changes back to sunny and dry, some kinds of mushrooms will disappear. The weather brings mushrooms… the weather takes them away. Aeration helps prevent mushrooms by puncturing the thatch layer and allowing the thatch to dry out.

Many people think mushrooms are unsightly, or at least, they look out of place on a lawn. How can I prevent mushrooms, or keep them from spreading? Mushrooms are not harmful to your grass.  Just mow them off, but bag the clippings when mowing the lawn. Even though mushrooms are funguses, most fungicides do not work on mushrooms and they are not approved for mushroom control. Fungicides will kill off the good funguses living in your lawn which are doing their job. Mow your grass regularly, bagging the clippings.  Mow the infected areas last, so you don’t spread fungus spores. Watering your lawn in the morning for one or two hours, every 5-10 days, actually helps. If you choose to dig up the buried wood, it might be a bigger job than you anticipate. In fact, you might actually spread the mushroom spores as you work.

Urine Spots

Dog urine and feces can often be frustrating problems related to lawn care. Both are high in nitrogen — the liquid form is an immediate overdose and the solid is more of a high-dosage time-release fertilizer. Small amounts may produce a green-up or fertilizer effect while larger amounts often result in lawn burn-out or dead patches. Because grass is such a resilient plant, most burn spots will recover with time and regrowth. But dead areas can be large enough in some cases to require reseeding or resodding. For homeowners who are also dog lovers, this can present a dilemma, particularly when one family member prefers the dog and another prefers a well-manicured lawn.

The best way to settle the conflict is to have a section of your property where you want the dog to urinate. Perhaps this is a small 5-foot by 5-foot section of your yard where you have put down stone, sand, wood chip, or gravel landscaping just for this purpose, and trained the dog to use it. Maybe you want to use just a bare ground area because it is easier to remove the droppings when using a shovel.     

                                                                                            Spot reserved for Dog

If your dog lives in the house, dog feces on a lawn should be picked up immediately. If your dog lives outside in a fenced-in area, feces should be picked up at least daily. It’s not only a plain matter of courtesy to other people, but also best for your lawn and your pet.

If you see the dog urinate on the grass, you could flush the area with water immediately, using at least three times the amount of water as the dog released. You might use an ice cream pail full of water. A green-up fertilizer effect rather than burn will be noted when the site is watered at any time up to 8 hours after the urination. When the delay in watering is extended to 12 or more hours, progressively worse burns will be seen.

The size of the dog also has something to do with the size of the burn. If your dog is little and is allowed to relieve himself every three or four hours, don’t worry about it… your lawn probably won’t show a burn at all. If he only goes outside three times a day, you might get a burn. If you have a big dog, you’ll probably see grass burn-outs because of the larger amounts of nitrogen spilled. If your dog drinks plenty of water, the burn will not be as evident. 

Even male and female dogs have different effects on lawns. Males have a need to mark their territory and mark it often.

The use of gypsum or lime on the burned grass has been advocated, but results are not always evident. Dark green spots and taller grasses, caused by the dog, may remain for several weeks. Lawn burn, when mild, will often repair itself over time, especially in the case of the turf grasses that spread by stolons and rhizomes.

Tall Fescue

Living With Tall Fescue

Tall fescue is a breed of grass that grows taller, faster, and darker green than other typical lawn grasses. The blade is wider, and the plant seems to grow in round patches the size of a small plate. Because it looks different than the rest of the lawn, to many mid-west homeowners it’s an unwanted grass or weed.

Tall fescue thrives in heavier soil with a lot of organic matter. Many varieties of tall fescue grow in northern states, but temps below 0°F will result in winter kill.  Because tall fescue is tolerant of heat and also shade, drought and also flood, is resistant to insects and broad pH levels in soil, grows so vigorously from seeds and has no thatch problems, it actually makes a great lawn… if your lawn is entirely tall fescue. People in southern states buy tall fescue seed and sod for their entire lawns.

The weed control used by most lawn care providers will not harm tall fescue, because it’s a regular lawn grass. The liquid product we use controls broadleaf weeds and allows grass (including tall fescue) to survive and thrive.

So – if you want to — how do you get rid of tall fescue? First, do not let tall fescue go to seed. That is, don’t go on a summer vacation and let the lawn go unmown for two or three weeks.

To eradicate your lawn of tall fescue there are four alternatives – none of which do we recommend. 1) Dig each cluster of tall fescue out by hand. The reason we shy from recommending it, is because it is such a lot of hard work. 2) Round-Up will kill it. But Round-Up will also leave a noticeable brown spot on your lawn. Take out the dead grass, put in potting soil and grass seeds, keep it watered for 2-3 weeks until the grass seeds grow and fill in the bare spot. Again, a lot of work. 3) You could re-sod parts or all of your lawn, but that will be pricey. 4) Go online and find a product that kills tall fescue. You can find anything online. Again, it will be pricey. Lawn care companies do not tell you that they will get rid of your tall fescue because most customers would not afford it.

In a hundred years, tall fescue will have completely taken over your lawn. At that time, your lawn will look great. However, you and I won’t be around to see it. In the meantime, just live with it and learn to enjoy having it. Appreciate its hardy qualities.

Why Are We Bagging the Clippings?

Some lawn mowing machines catch the clippings for you. Some homeowners rake up the clippings after they mow. Other folks just let the clippings lay on the lawn. There is a right time and a wrong time for bagging the clippings. Your goal should be to let the clippings lie there.

If you have a healthy, well-kept lawn, do not bag the clippings. What are the clippings? Clippings are the upper 1/3 of each grass plant that you have mown. They are made up of mostly water, with the solid part being mostly nitrogen (an important fertilizer). Grass clippings will decompose and turn into the soil in a short time, usually before you mow again. In a sense, clippings both water and fertilize your lawn along with providing shade. (However, if you mow, water, and fertilize your lawn properly, your lawn won’t be missing anything if you have to bag your clippings.)

Do not confuse clippings with thatch. On your lawn, living and dead stems, roots, rhizomes, and plant crowns which develop between the layer of green vegetation and the soil surface are called thatch, because they intertwine together and they’re plant parts. Clippings are not thatch.

An excessive abundance of grass clippings is harmful to a lawn. If your lawn has grown a lot since your last mowing and now you’re faced with chopping 3, 4, or more inches off the top of your grass, clippings will bunch up and leave a thick mattress sitting on top of your lawn. Such a huge amount could suffocate the grass beneath it and keep live plants in darkness. The smothering grass plants will turn yellow because they cannot perform photosynthesis. Your normal levels of fungus and bacteria will escalate, but the load of clippings will be too much to decompose at a time. This choking overload of clippings will settle into heavy thatch. Too much thatch (over ½ inch) will become a water and air barrier on your lawn, and a breeding place for fungus, bacteria, and disease. Bag your clippings when this overabundance of grass clippings is the alternative.

Another time to bag your clippings is when you need to stop something from spreading. If your lawn has a problem with red thread fungus, mold, mushrooms, a disease, or weeds that are going to be dropping seeds soon, bagging the clippings will remove most of the problem.

In summary, there are two cases when you should bag your clippings: 1) when you would create an overabundance of clippings which will make your lawn look bad and become unhealthy, and 2) when you need to stop something from spreading.

Your goal should be to let your clippings lie. There are three reasons you should not bag your grass: the clippings provide water, nitrogen, and shade to your healthy lawn.

Fill in Bare Spots

September is the best time of year to fix any bare, bald spots in your lawn. The quickest, easiest way to do this is with an all-in-one lawn repair mixture. Sold at most garden shops and home centers, this ready-to-use mixture contains grass seed, a special quick-starter lawn fertilizer, and organic mulch.

Use a garden rake to scratch loose the soil at the bald spot in your lawn. Then spread a thick layer of the lawn repair mixture over the area. Lightly compact the mixture, then water thoroughly, and continue to water every other day for two weeks. A two-hour rainfall counts as a watering. If you’re overseeding a large percentage of your lawn, aerate it in September before you overseed.

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STORM – The Lawn Pro is here to help!

Regular feeding and weed management allows your turf investment to reach its full potential. Thick healthy grass discourages weed penetration making them easier to control year after year. Balanced seasonally time nutrition keeps your turf green and better able to resist stress, drought and wear.

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Our fertilization service will keep your lawn looking great all season long. So, what are you waiting for? Make your lawn care dreams come true today. Call STORM – The Lawn Pro for a Free Estimate and turf consultation and experience the difference that the dedicated professionals at STORM – The Lawn Pro can make for you. Dependable and responsive service that goes beyond your expectations is what we’re all about.

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Through the implementation of our 5-Step Fertilizer Program as well as services such as spring and fall clean-ups, de-thatching, core aeration, over seeding, liming and winterizing fertilizer, we have you covered.

Call STORM – The Lawn Pro to ask us about our 5 Step Lawn Fertilization Program or our fertilization services.


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