RBC Extension Office: Time for smart care of the lawn

RBC I Interested in saving money on that water bill? These statements just may create some interest in using a few lawn care suggestions from your local Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Office.

Step 1: Simple cleanup: remove leaves, broken branches and just general trash. At this time of year, I like to rough-rake those areas suffering from last winter’s snow mold or just thinner turf.
Step 2: Power rake the lawn only if you have heavy layers of thatch. Personally, I have only seen a few lawns in Rio Blanco County that need power raking. It is mainly cosmetic and not needed.
Step 3: Aeration is often not necessary but it does provide an excellent, and probably the only, means of correcting or alleviating soil compaction. If your yard has heavy animal and kid traffic, you may need to consider aeration; if not, you probably do not need to aerate. Test by watering your lawn, if it puddles with water you need to aerate; if the water soaks in, you do not.
Today, there are two ways to aerate: the use of a machine or the use of soil polymers. I prefer the long–chain polymers that last for the season. Short-chain polymers only last for a few weeks and need repeated applications costing you more money. The long-chain polymers are reported to reduce overall water needs up to 14 percent, which is a really nice side benefit.
If you choose a mechanical aerator, remember compaction occurs primarily in the surface area of the lawn. A compacted layer, as thin as 1/4 to 1/2-inch, can greatly impede water infiltration, nutrient penetration and gaseous exchange between the soil and the atmosphere.
Aerating machines remove plugs of soil from the turf area, thereby creating an artificial system of large or non-capillary pores by which moisture and plant nutrients can be taken into the soil. A safe general rule for time of aeration is to aerate only when desirable grasses are growing vigorously.
Equipment having solid tines or spikes should not be mistaken for aerating equipment. Aerators always remove a soil core whereas solid tine spikers do not. Spikers actually increase soil compaction as the movement of the soil to all sides by the penetration of the solid tine forces the soil into a denser mass.
Step 4: Crabgrass preventer: No crabgrass has been identified in Rio Blanco County. Therefor use of preventers is not recommended.
Step 5: Fertilization is really easy using various sources of nitrogen. I like products with slow release nitrogen. This reduces the overall fast growth we dislike, yet provides for the quick green-up we desire.
Remember, nitrogen is not a brand name, so price shop. CSU suggests a rate of 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet for your first spring application. Phosphate is not usually necessary, however; a simple soil test will verify. Potassium applications due to high levels in local water is not necessary. Chelated iron may be needed.
Step 6: Smart Lawn Technology suggests you raise the mower height to the highest setting of 3 inches and return all grass clippings and chopped tree leaves to the lawn.
Why is mowing high good for my lawn?
It makes scalping (turf damage from mowing too short) much less likely to happen; It allows you to clip about 30 percent of the leaf blade each time you mow (the optimum proportion); It promotes establishment of a larger root system that is more drought tolerant; It provides broadleaf weed control by shading the soil surface; and It establishes a grub-tolerant lawn because of the larger root mass and more predators.
If you have questions concerning your lawn, please call me at 878-9494.