How to Care for Your Lawn
Photo Credit PLANET Philippe Nobile Photography
Canadians love their backyards. Your lawn not only looks great, but it also acts like an air conditioner, cooling the air around it; filters dust, absorbs pollutants, and reduces erosion; and provides oxygen. In fact, a 50-foot by 50-foot yard provides enough oxygen to sustain a family of four for one year.

How do you keep this valuable resource healthy?

Check your soil
A great lawn starts with the soil. Healthy soil is made up of adequate microorganism activity, drainage, and good oxygen flow. Make sure your soil has the proper pH balance. Check the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food website for a list of accredited soil testing labs in Ontario or contact your local lawn care professional to have your soil tested. You should test your soil approximately every three years. The test will tell you what nutrients you need to add to improve your soil and should be able to tell you how much phosphorus, potassium, and other nutrients your lawn may need.

Nitrogen is occasionally, but not always, tested in labs. When it is tested, the soil analysis results will be shown on a scale from very low to excessively high. The reason it is not often tested is because nitrogen is so unstable in the soil. A hard rain, hot weather, even mowing the lawn and leaving the clippings on the lawn will affect the levels. Levels of nitrogen fluctuate rapidly and the analysis would not likely be accurate by the time you get the results. Most soils contain adequate levels of phosphorous, so the Lawn Care Sector Group of Landscape Ontario recommends using a phosphorus-free fertilizer on established turf.

Select the best grass for your climate
You may not realize that there are many different types of turfgrass, and you may not have the same variety as your neighbor. Different grass varieties grow better in different climates. Rye, fescue and bluegrass are a few common varieties. Consult your local independent garden centre or lawn care professional to learn what type of grass you have and whether it is the best variety for your climate.

Plant grass
The type of grass you choose will determine the time of year you plant it. Some varieties are best planted in the spring and some in the fall. You can plant grass either by laying sod or by seeding. Sod has been shown to reduce soil erosion in new lawns. If you are seeding a lawn; mix soil, amendments, and fertilizers together before planting as recommended by your soil analysis. After seeding, cover the soil with a light mulch to help hold in moisture, prevent wind and water erosion, and slow weed growth. Make sure a new lawn is kept moist, but don't water excessively.

The decision to fertilize should be based on the nutrition requirements of your plant and soil conditions. Here are a few tips on fertilizing:
  • Lawns have different fertilizer needs. Do a soil test and have it analyzed to see if you need to add nutrients.
  • If your plants do need nutrients, make sure you choose a fertilizer that matches those needs.
  • Make sure you fertilize in the right season for your variety of grass.
  • In general, it is best to choose a slow-release fertilizer to reduce runoff and increase nutrient absorption.
  • Either using too much or too little fertilizer can be detrimental to your lawn.
  • Always read and follow the label instructions, and do not apply excess fertilizer.
  • Unless otherwise directed by the instructions on the label, water your lawn after fertilizing. However, do not allow water to run off into the street or a water source.
  • Store fertilizer properly, away from pets, children, and water sources.
Before fertilizing your lawn or plants, always check your the local regulations and bylaws. Professional, licensed lawn care companies follow local, provincial and federal regulations.

Practicing "4R" nutrient stewardship—the right fertilizer at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place—helps manage fertilizer use in a sustainable manner.

Your mowing practices contribute to the health of your lawn. Here are a few tips to get your started:
  • Give your lawn mower a check up. Make sure the blades are sharp and the oil has been changed. Also, drain last season's fuel and use fresh gas. Read the operating guide for your mower. Make sure you understand all of its safety features prior to use.
  • Don't cut your grass too short, particularly for cool season grass. Taller grass results in a deeper root system and a lawn that is less likely to encourage invasive weeds. It also protects your lawn from scorching. Determine your grass type and the best height for optimal health.
  • Avoid mowing when the grass is wet. Mowing wet grass can encourage mold and fungus and will quickly dull your lawn mower blades and chew up your lawn.
  • Change direction. Mow your lawn in a different direction with each mowing, especially with lawns of shorter grass types. Altering the direction ensures a more even cut since grass blades will grow more erect and will be less likely to develop into a set pattern.
  • Don't compensate by overcutting. Never mow more than one-third of the grass leaf at a time. If circumstances arise where a lawn gets too tall and you have to cut off a lot, do it in several mowing sessions with three or more days between cuttings.
  • Spread grass clippings on your lawn. If you use your grass clippings instead of bagging them, you will return nutrients to your lawn and help retain moisture; you will save yourself time and reduce the waste in the landfill.
  • Be safe. Keep children and pets away. Wear closed-toe shoes and long pants, as well as eye protection. Never cut the lawn when it's raining, lightning, or when grass is slippery. Do not push a lawn mower onto the pavement. The lawn keeps objects from being hurled at a high speed; there is no such protection on the pavement.
Control Pests
What is the first step in pest management? You need to identify the type of pest in order to choose the correct method to solve the problem. How you manage pests (insects, weeds, disease, etc.) will have an impact on the appearance, quality, and environmental conditions of your landscape. There are a variety of tools and alternatives, from chemical products to simple weed pulling or organic methods, to deal with pests.

Pesticides can provide effective control of serious pest problems, but application is subject to local, provincial and federal laws and regulations.  Professional lawn care companies are licensed and certified to identify the pest and apply products properly.

Effective pest control does not require the use of conventional chemical pesticides. There are numerous non-chemical practices and reduced-risk pesticides, such as biological controls, that can prevent and control pest infestations as part of an integrated pest management (IPM) approach. IPM is a strategy that focuses on long-term prevention or suppression of pest problems through a combination of practices, including proper plant care; regular pest population monitoring; site or pest inspections, and an evaluation of the need for pest control. Some steps in IPM include:
  • Maintain healthy soil by correcting soil pH, proper watering, fertilization, and mowing. A healthy lawn is less susceptible to pests.
  • Remove pests by hand (handpick weeds and insects) and use traps or lures when it makes sense.
Some of the material on this page was taken from the EPA's publication Environmental Guidelines for Responsible Lawn Care and Landscaping. PLANET contributed to the development of the publication.