Care for Established Lawns in the Piedmont

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With an establish lawn it is important to understand the type or types of grass that are present. The type of grass influences the factors affecting the health of your lawn and dictate the proper care needed for you get the best results. Critical care components for your lawn include maintaining proper fertilization, ensuring adequate moisture, and mowing. Lawns that that have too much or too little of these components are likely to struggle with weed populations.

Grass in a lawn

Types of Grass

North Carolina has three distinct growing regions; the Mountains, Piedmont, and Costal Plains.

Typically, cool-season perennial grasses have been used for lawns in the Piedmont regions of North Carolina. Examples of cool season grasses are Tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, fine fescues, and perennial ryegrass grasses. These grasses:

  • Stay green in winter
  • Perform best in spring and fall
  • Show signs of stress in the summer

Cool-season grasses are best seeded in early fall, but modest results can be reached by seeding in early spring (mid-February to late March in the Piedmont). Your Extension office or a local home and garden center are good resources to help you identify the type of grass that is in your yard.

Once you know the grass in your yard, Lawn Maintenance Calendars developed by Cooperative Extension are an excellent source to understand what your lawn needs to thrive.

Fertilization

It is recommended that a soil test should be made at least every two to three years to determine the amounts of lime, phosphorus, and potassium needed for your lawn. Without testing you will not know if you are under or overfertilizing which can result in lawn damage and contamination of storm water.

For Forsyth County residents, soil testing kits can be picked up in Forsyth County at the Demonstration Garden located at 1450 Fairchild Rd, Winston-Salem, NC 27105. he kits include 3 items: a brochure – how to test your soil, a form to include with your soil test and soil testing boxes. Kits can be found in the brochure holder below the Demonstration Garden sign.

You will need to mail completed kits to the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service’s (NCDA&CS) soil testing lab in Raleigh. Depending on the season, there may be a modest charge for the test. The NCDA&CS will email you the soil test results. Your local Extension agent can assist if you need help understanding the report. You can also find more information about soil testing on the NCDA&CS website.

Moisture

When a lawn has a dark bluish-gray color or footprints remaining for some time after walking, it is showing signs of stress and needs to be watered. Additional signs that watering is needed are wilted, folded, or curled leaves. Here are some suggestions to help you maximize your success in watering your lawn:

  • Watering in the early morning.
  • Water to a depth of 6 to 8 inches to encourage deep root development. One inch per week is sufficient.
  • Use a rain gauge to measure the amount of water being delivered.
  • If your soil is clay, water until just before runoff occurs and then wait 30 minutes for the water to be absorbed. Once absorbed resume until saturation is achieved.
  • This technique can be used on slopes and compacted soils as well.
  • Adjust automatic irrigation systems when there is substantial rainfall so that the lawn is not over-watered.

If you do not plan to irrigate your lawn in the summer, you can allow the lawn to enter dormancy. This can be done by allowing the drought stress symptoms to appear, by mowing high, and by not over-fertilizing with nitrogen. Brown, withered leaves are normal signs of dormancy, and you should not be concerned by them. Most grasses can withstand three to six weeks without rainwater or irrigation with minimal or no damage, depending on the situation.

If there is no rain in three weeks, water dormant lawns with a minimum of 0.25 inch to keep the growing points hydrated. Please note that even with irrigation, it is a challenge to vibrant green color in cool-season grasses during the summer. Watering helps maintain color, but it increases the risk of disease. For this reason, it is particularly important that cool season grasses not be over watered.

Mowing

Maintaining your lawn mower protects your lawn. When mower blades are dull, the blade tears the grass and torn leaf ends can wither quickly and provide easier exposure for disease.

How often you mow is determined by the desired grass height and by the growth rate of the grass. Growth rate will change depending on temperature, fertility, moisture conditions, season, and the natural growth rate of the grass. You should mow often enough that no more than one-third of the leaf surface is removed with each mowing.

Many people bag lawn clippings because of the myth that clippings contribute to the development of thatch. Grass clippings decompose rapidly and release valuable nutrients ultimately lowering the amount of fertilizer needed. For this reason it is a good idea to leave your clippings where they fall.

If mowing has been delayed for a reason, rake, bag, and remove the clippings. Excess clippings may be long enough to shade or smother the grass. These collected clippings can be used as mulch around trees and shrubs or added to compost. If persistent herbicides have been used on your lawn, however, do not use the clippings as mulch or in a compost pile as the herbicides may not break-down and they can impact desired plants.

Weed Management

Weeds in your lawn can be very disturbing but having some acceptance for weeds will keep chemical use to a minimum. Tolerating some weeds can also improve soil conditions and help support the ecosystem. For example, Clover has nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the roots, and its blossoms are a favorite of honey bees. Ultimately, a thriving grass lawn will naturally crowd out most weeds.

This article was prepared by Forsyth County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Jack Smith.