Responsible Lawn Care

Source(s): Clint Waltz, Extension Turfgrass Specialist, The University of Georgia

Water is a precious resource that has long been taken for granted. However, the recent droughts and our rapid population growth has helped focus the need for better resource management.

Often overlooked, our landscapes can help reduce the environmental impact of urbanization. Plants reduce soil erosion, cool the environment, improve air quality, decrease water run-off, filter impurities from the water and enhance community character.

The time has come for everyone to share in protecting our precious water resources and the environment. The following lawn management steps will minimize water pollution from fertilizers, pesticides and sediment while maintaining a healthy, vigorous and attractive lawn.

Lawns and landscapes need water, fertilizers, and sometimes other chemicals to maintain good health. However, improper use of these products can pollute lakes, rivers and streams. In sandy soils, some lawn care products may seep into groundwater and pollute aquifers.

Regardless of whether you hire a commercial lawn care company or do it yourself, insist that the following steps be followed. Make sure your contractor has a Georgia Pesticides Applicators License if they are going to apply pesticides.

For more information, contact your local county Extension office. Additional turf management information is available on the Georgia Turf website.

  1. Prevent Problems
    • Plant the right grass. UGA Extension bulletin 773, “Lawns In Georgia”, explains which grasses grow best in Georgia. It also provides recommended establishment steps for a new lawn and maintenance practices for an established lawn.
    • Plant at the right time so that the lawn gets a good start. Sod is the most effective and rapid means of establishing a lawn. If you establish by seeding, cover with a straw or other type of mulch to prevent soil erosion.
    • Do not try to seed a lawn on a steep slope or in an area that does not drain well. Sod across the slope to protect the soil from erosion and runoff.
  2. Water it Right
    • Water only when the lawn needs it. Most grasses need about one inch of water per week of active growth. It is time to water when the grass appears a dull bluish green, the leaf blades begin to fold or roll and footprints remain as the grass begins to wilt.
    • Do not overwater. You should wet the soil to just below the root depth or generally to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Apply 1/2 inch of water to a sandy soil and about 1 inch to a clay soil. If runoff occurs during irrigation, stop and allow the water to soak into the soil for a few hours before applying more.
    • Water the grass – not the pavement or street. Place sprinklers and automatic irrigation heads so that the water falls only on the lawn.
    • Water in early morning to reduce evaporation losses and remove disease-enhancing dew.
    • Water newly seeded areas lightly and often enough to prevent the surface from drying out for the first 2 weeks until seedlings become established.
  3. Mow it Right
    • Mow regularly at the correct height (see Table) to encourage deep roots and help keep out weeds. Use a sharp blade and remove only a third of the grass height at one time. Mow when the grass is dry.
    • Leave clippings on the lawn. If you mow regularly and let the clippings decompose on the lawn, you will recycle about 25% of the nitrogen your lawn needs. If you remove clippings, compost them for use as a mulch.
  4. Fertilize it Right
    • Apply the right amount of fertilizer at the right time to maintain a healthy lawn.
    • Do not apply fertilizer before a heavy rain is expected.
    • Test the soil every two to three years to determine if lime, phosphorus or potassium is needed.
    • Choose a fertilizer with some slow-release form of nitrogen to reduce the potential leaching into groundwater, especially on sandy soils or to reduce loss from runoff.
    • Calibrate your spreader every time it is used to apply the right rate and get even distribution.
    • Fill the spreader on a paved surface so spills can be easily cleaned up. Don’t leave fertilizer on paved surfaces where it will wash off. Blow or sweep this fertilizer back onto the lawn.
  5. Use Pesticides Sparingly
    • Have weeds, diseases or insects properly identified before applying a pesticide. Follow the product label directions and time applications when the pest is most sensitive.
    • Do not apply pesticides when heavy rain is likely because some chemicals can leach through sandy soils and pollute shallow water tables or runoff sloping sites or compacted soils.
    • Calibrate your sprayer or spreader to deliver the correct amount of product and ensure even application.
    • Prevent spills. Mix liquid solutions and fill sprayers on grassy surfaces so no liquid spills on pavements. Mix granular materials on smooth, impenetrable surfaces so spills can be easily cleaned up.

**** Mowing Height for Lawn Grasses in Georgia ****
Grass Cutting Height (inches)
Bahiagrass 2 to 3
Bluegrass 2 to 3
Common Bermudagrass 1 to 3
Hybrid Bermudagrass 0.5 to 1.5
Zoysia 0.5 to 1.5
Centipedegrass 1 to 1.5
Carpetgrass 1 to 1.5
St. Augustine 2 to 3
Ryegrass 1 to 2
Tall Fescue 2 to 3

Resource(s):  Lawns in Georgia

Center Publication Number:  143

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