How to Achieve a Healthy Lawn

Nothing complements a neat house and a well-kept yard like a green, lush lawn. A properly managed lawn will stay green and attractive much of the year, minimize environmental impact and consume fewer resources. Properly cared for lawns can outcompete weeds and other pests requiring little or no applications of chemical pesticides. By taking a few easy steps, you can end up with the greenest, healthiest lawn on your block.

Irrigation is the most important component of lawn maintenance. In order for a lawn to thrive, it must have a strong, vigorous root system. In general, your lawn needs water when the top two inches of soil have dried out. If footprints remain visible after walking on the lawn or if the grass has changed color or has started to wilt, it’s time to water.

The best times to water are between 2 and 8 in the morning. At these times, water use is most efficient, water loss from evaporation is minimal, and distribution is usually good because of good water pressure and limited wind. During the afternoon, water is wasted due to high evaporation rates. Do not water during the evening or pre-midnight hours because grass blades are susceptible to diseases if they are wet during cool nights. Deeper, less frequent watering is best for most lawns. Make sure your sprinkler system does not produce runoff, especially on slopes. If you see runoff, use shorter watering times and repeat the cycle to allow time for the water to move into the soil.

Periodically, you should go out and manually turn your sprinklers on to check for leaks, broken or misdirected heads, faulty valves, and other malfunctions and make sure you are not watering the driveway, sidewalks, and streets.


You might not think there is much to mowing your lawn but proper mowing is critical for attractive, well-groomed lawns.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is mowing too short. Optimum cutting height is determined by the growth habit of a particular grass and its leaf texture. Mowing too low removes too much of the grass’s food producing area. As the grass literally starves, the lawn thins and looks poor. Conversely, mowing too high can hurt the appearance or usefulness of the turfed area.

No single mowing height is best for all turfgrasses; mowers must be set differently for each grass. Within its optimum mowing height range, each grass species will be healthier and have a deeper root system the higher the grass is mowed. Also, a grass that is cut higher is more tolerant of drought, heat, traffic, shade, disease, and pests than one that is cut lower.

As a general guide, follow the one-third rule: mow often enough so that no more than one-third of the length of the grass blades is removed at any one time. Do not drastically or suddenly change the cutting height. If the grass has become too tall, re-establish the recommended height by mowing more frequently for a while and gradually lowering the mowing height of successive cuttings, following the one-third rule.

Grass blades cut best when they are dry, wet grass sticks to mower blades and clogs the mower. When you are our mowing, try to change the direction of mowing periodically to prevent a “washboard” effect. You should sharpen lawnmower blades regularly for a clean cut. Dull mowers leave a ragged appearance from crushed or uncut grass blades and damaged grass may be more susceptible to disease.  Since mowing stresses the grass, do not mow a lawn under drought or other climatic stress conditions. Grass that is suffering from lack of water should be watered and allowed to dry before being mowed.

Grass clippings make up a large portion of California’s solid waste stream during the growing season. With few exceptions, it is actually best to leave the clippings on the lawn after mowing. This practice is called grasscycling. Grass clippings decompose quickly and release valuable nutrients back into the soil, supplying about 20% of the fertilizer requirements of most grasses.

Creating a fertilizer program that is right for your lawn involves many factors. Turfgrass species, type of fertilizer, climate, soil, desired quality level, and budgetary considerations all play a role.

A good nutrient supply is important for a healthy, vigorously growing lawn. Lawns that are discolored, slow growing, or have weeds or other pest problems might not be properly fertilized. Lawn fertilizers usually supply three main nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. However, nitrogen is the only nutrient that turfgrass needs on a regular basis. Too much or improperly applied fertilizer can injure lawns and can contribute to water pollution through runoff.

You should first identify the type of grass you have and select the proper fertilizer rate and application timing. A few days before you fertilize, deeply irrigate your lawn so that the soil is moist; the grass blades should be dry by the time you start your application. After fertilizing, irrigate just enough to wash the fertilizer off the leaves and into the soil.

Make sure you pour the material into your spreader over a driveway or other cement area where spilled material can be swept up (pouring over a lawn where spilling may occur can lead to burn); do not let excess fertilizer be washed into storm drains.

Our Master Gardeners are eager to answer you lawn questions and have more information to help you figure out turf species, the proper time to fertilize and can help with irrigation scheduling.  You can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can also be found on our website,

Information for this article was taken from the UC Guide to Healthy Lawns website.


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