Make Time for Your Lawn

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It has been delightful to have the cool days of spring extend all the way into late May. The flowers bloomed for a long time and the grass has greened up nicely. Now it’s time for our warm season grasses to really start growing.

Compacted soils lead to dead areas in lawn

Compacted soils lead to dead areas in lawn

May is the month for many maintenance tasks that can do severe damage to the lawn. For example, if you have a lot of traffic on the lawn area from parties, pets or parked vehicles, now is the time to aerate the lawn with a core type aerator. This aerator pulls plugs of soil from the lawn allowing the soil to expand and release some of the compaction. It makes a mess, but it also does wonders for the lawn providing places for the air and water to get down to the roots.

Centipede with a thick layer of thatch

A thick layer of dead grass stems (thatch) can prevent grass from rooting and getting water.

Dethatching the lawn is another May chore. Most lawns won’t have much thatch, because it breaks down quickly if the lawn is well maintained. However, if you have more than ½ an inch of dead grass stems under the green leaf blades, it’s time to dethatch the lawn. This involves ripping up those old, dead stems and making room for the grass to contact the soil and put down roots. This process can really tear up a lawn.

After either or both of these have been completed apply fertilizer to the lawn and let the rain wash it into the soil. If there is no rain in the forecast for three or four days, it will need to be watered in. This will give the lawn the nutrients it needs to grow quickly and fill in any gaps or holes before summer weeds have the chance to fill in. For summer lawns except Centipede apply 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn area. Centipede only needs ½ pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn area. If you aren’t sure how much that is, most granular fertilizer packages have a chart to let you know what setting to put the spreader on to deliver the correct amount of fertilizer.

Proper mowing height will also help the grass spread and fill in any gaps quickly. A good mowing practice is never removing more than 1/3 of the leaf blade at any mowing. This means if you set the mower at 1 inch, you will want to mow when the grass reaches 1 ½ inches tall. The math is fairly simple, take half of the height you set the mower deck to and add it to the mower deck height to get the height you want to let the lawn get to before mowing. So if the mower deck is set at 1.5 inches then the math would look like this 1.5 divided by 2 = 0.75. 1.5 + 0.75 = 2.25. So if the mower deck is set to 1.5 inches, mow the lawn when it reaches 2.25 inches tall. This will keep the grass growing vigorously.

If you would like more information on what needs to be done when to have the best lawn you’ve ever had this year, visit and find the Lawn Maintenance Calendar that fits your grass type. By clicking on the calendar you’ll open a list of instructions for what to do each season. It’s a great tool to help you make your lawn look better than any in the neighborhood.

Written By

Shawn Banks, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionShawn BanksCounty Extension Director & Extension Agent, Agriculture - Horticulture Call Shawn Email Shawn N.C. Cooperative Extension, Carteret County Center
Updated on May 16, 2019
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