Gardening Topic for February 2005
A Healthy Lawn Begins Now

Provided by the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association

By Judy Lochbrunner, Master Gardener



Despite the snow and freezing temperatures, this IS the time to begin thinking about how you can achieve a healthy lawn that is free of weeds, resistant to insect pests, resistant to diseases and even drought-tolerant.

Now is the time to get out the lawnmower and give it a check-up at your home or at the lawnmower shop. Repair or replace any parts and perform routine maintenance. In particular, make sure blades are sharpened and that you know how to sharpen them during the growing season.  Also, check to see that you are able to raise and lower the mowing deck easily as you will need to adjust its height during the growing season.  If your mower does not past inspection, begin your search for a new or used lawnmower (preferably a mulching mower) now while the selection is at its best.

A reliable lawnmower that cuts grass cleanly (with a sharp blade) at the correct height (mower deck adjusted) is essential to a healthy lawn.  Check out these two articles for more information on why proper mowing is so important to a healthy lawn.

Another early-season task to complete is a soil test.  The pH of the soil needs to be close to 6.5 so that lawn grasses will be healthy and vigorous. If your pH is not within this range, soil amendments will need to be added this spring.

(For an explanation of what “pH” is: )

If you currently do not know the pH of your soil, take the time this spring to do a soil test soon after the soil thaws. The Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners will be conducting soil tests for pH at farmers markets this spring (check the WMMGA web site for times and locations).

Or for a complete soil analysis, contact one of these universities.

University of Massachusetts

University of Vermont

Cornell University

Remember that most fertilizing will be done in the fall.  However, now is a good time to begin scouting out retail sources for natural fertilizers.  Why natural fertilizers? There are many reasons to switch.  Most natural forms of nitrogen are water insoluble and they work slowly as the soil acids and microrganisms convert the nitrogen into forms the grass can use.   Natural fertilizers are full of micronutrients which feed the plants and feed the soil.  Soil is deemed healthy when disease pathogens are vastly outnumbered by non-pathogenic microfauna (amoebae, nematodes and insects) and microflora (bacteria, actinomycetes and fungi).   For example, studies have show that applications of manure can increase the disease-fighting actinomycete level in the soil.

The most common and competitively priced natural fertilizer is poultry manure that has been processed and packaged to be used in your regular fertilizer spreader.  The selection, pricing, and number of retail outlets for natural fertilizers is constantly increasing.

To give your lawn a healthy “jumpstart” (especially if you have not used natural fertilizers in the past), rake a thin 1/8 to ΒΌ inch layer of compost or apply a light topcoat of processed poultry manure.  This should be done in May or June after the first burst of spring growth has slowed.  Remember to water it well.  While the natural fertilizer will not burn your lawn, remember to always follow the instructions on the fertilizer bag for proper application.

An application of fertilizer in September/ October, or after the grass stops actively growing, will provide adequate nourishment for your healthy lawn.  An excellent explanation of proper fertilizing is found in this web link:

Grass seed selection is another factor in a healthy lawn.  Many new turf grass varieties have been introduced, For example, some are insect resistant or disease resistant. Mix with turf grasses that are drought resistant and you have lawn grasses that will not only survive but thrive.  Add these new varieties to your lawn by simply overseeding in the fall.  Plan to overseed 6 weeks before the first frost in your area.  Planting in the fall gives the young grass time to become established before the heat and drought of summer.

Consider overseeding:

*If your lawn is several years old

*If you have a lawn that was installed by a new home builder as most new lawns are seeded with a “contractor’s mix” that is blended for quick and fast coverage as opposed to long-term success and longevity 

*If you have any bare or “thin” spots

This fact sheet contains overseeding instruction:

Before locating and selecting the grass seed varieties and blends for your lawn, some “investigation” is needed.  For example, try to locate a retailer who handles grass seed and blends for your particular area.  If you decide to purchase packaged seed from a national retailer, look for a regional blend and read the label carefully.   Insist on good quality seed with no noxious weeds.  Consult this fact sheet for additional information on grass seed selection:

Lastly, keep this web link bookmarked to help you troubleshoot any problems that may occur in your lawn this summer as you work on growing a healthy lawn.


The Natural Lawn and Alternatives, Brooklyn Botanical Garden Record, Volume 49, #3, 1993

The Chemical-Free Lawn, Warren Schultz, Rodale Press, 1996

For other articles, check out our archives

Provided by the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association