May Lawn Care

— Written By and last updated by Sarah Roberson

Proper lawn maintenance can help reduce the amount of money you spend in the long run. I’ll start with irrigation since it is often misused. Improper irrigation results in waste, added cost, and unhealthy plants. Water only when the lawn shows signs of moisture stress once established. A dark bluish gray color, footprints that remain some time after walking, and wilted leaves are all indications that it is time to water. Early morning before 6 am is the best time to water. The lawn has the entire day to dry out before nightfall. Less water is lost by evaporation in the morning. This also prepares the lawn for the stresses of eastern North Carolina summer days. One inch of water a week is adequate for established lawns in absence of rainfall. Because of slow movement of water into the soil, this may have to be applied in two one-half inch applications per week. Use rain gauges, cups or cans to determine how much is put out. There is no set length of time that everyone can use as a rule of thumb for irrigation. Output varies based on water pressure and type of irrigation heads. Spray heads put out more water in an area over a given period of time than rotor heads do.

Mowing is usually done with a rotary mower. It is important to always keep a sharp mower blade that will produce a clean cut instead of tearing the leaf blades. Properly sharpened mowers will also reduce vibration, lengthen mower life, and reduce fuel consumption by as much a 22 percent. Sharpen mower blades and change the engine oil every 25 hours of mowing. Never remove more than one-third of the leaf blades when mowing. Mowing is usually done weekly. With heavily fertilized bermuda or tall fescue, mowing may be needed twice a week.

If your grass gets too high to mow at your normal height, raise the mower so that it will cut off only one-third of the growth. Mow again in a day or two with the mower set to remove one-third of the growth again. Hopefully this will get you back to a normal mowing height. Centipede, bermuda, and zoysia should be mowed to 1 to 2 inches depending on how level the lawn is and the variety of grass you have. In general, mow these grasses as low as possible without scalping. St. Augustine and tall fescue should be mowed to about 3 to 4 inches.

           Thatch is made up of roots, stems, and the lower portion of leaves that are below the mower blade. The best ways to prevent thatch are frequent mowing and mowing when the grass is dry. Leave clippings on the lawn and they will quickly decompose and release nutrients.

           Fertilization rate and timing varies with the type of grass you have. Soil test should be done every two to three years. Take action once you get the soil test results and apply what is recommended. Centipede does not need much fertilization and it does not need to be fertilized early or late. Centipede in eastern North Carolina should be fertilized until June. Fertilize once with 3 pounds of 15-0-15 per 1000 square feet. Do not put any fertilizer containing nitrogen on centipede lawns after August. Bermuda grass can be fertilized now with 6 pounds of 16-4-8  or similar fertilizer per 1000 square feet. Zoysia and St. Augustine can be fertilized with 3 pounds of 16-4-8 per 1000 square feet.

           Don’t forget about dealing with compaction. Core aerating lawns is recommended once a year and may need to be done more often. Core aerating will allow better water movement into the soil, improve soil air space, and allow for better root growth. One of the best times to core aerate warm season lawns is in May.

If you are interested in having more color in your landscape than a lawn provides, come out to the Pitt County Arboretum Plant Sale on Saturday, May 18th, from 10 am to 12 pm. The Pitt County Arboretum is located at the Pitt County Agricultural Center, 403 Government Circle in Greenville. If you are a Friend of the Pitt County Arboretum or become one that day you can get in from 9 am to 10 am to purchase plants early. I will be at the plant sale along with many of our wonderful Master Gardener Volunteers to answer gardening questions you have. If you are interested in more information on lawns or gardening call the Pitt County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers at 902-1705 or email your questions to You can find more gardening and lawn information at and  The Master Gardeners will also be at the Pitt County Farmer’s Market on County Home Road today from 7:30 -11:30 am to answer questions.

Written By

Photo of Danny LauderdaleDanny LauderdaleArea Specialized Agent, Nursery and Greenhouse, Eastern Region Serves 44 CountiesBased out of Wilson County(252) 237-0111 danny_lauderdale@ncsu.eduWilson County, North Carolina
Posted on Jul 9, 2013
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