Do it yourself: Searching for that low maintenance lawn? – Turfgrass Science at Purdue University

Do it yourself: Searching for that low maintenance lawn?

We get a ton of calls and email inquiring about low maintenance lawns. Simply put, there are no silver bullet grass species that are low maintenance and will also survive summers and winters in IN. That being said, hiring professionals to mow and maintain your lawn is the best method for reducing your input. Following are some tips for reducing the maintenance inputs in your lawn if you chose to do it yourself:

  1. Lower your standards. A perfectly green, weed-free lawn will take time and attention. A lawn with some blemishes here and there will require less work.
  2. Realize that other people may not appreciate your standards for better or worse.
  3. Divide you lawn into areas that need to perform better and thus require more maintenance than other areas, and then treat accordingly. Dog runs, high traffic areas, and highly visible areas will require the most maintenance. Conversely, low traffic areas in the side or back may not need to perform at a high level.
  4. Mow at 3 to 4 inches and often enough not to remove more than 1/3 of the leaf area.
  5. Fertilize as needed to minimize dollar spot, rust, red thread, and/or white clover. Fertilize primarily in the fall.
  6. Irrigate deep and infrequently if you chose to irrigate. Irrigated lawns will perform better than not irrigated lawns. However, turfgrass will easily survive typical summer dormancy as long as you limit traffic during dormancy.
  7. Aerifying annually or even more frequently will improve most lawns over the long term, especially those on poor soils. You will not likely see immediate benefits, but stay with it for better air and water movement, root growth, and drought tolerance. Use the largest hollow tines you can find and punch 20-40 holes/sq ft each time.
  8. If you chose to use pesticides, consider spot-treating as necessary. That being said, sometimes inputs and maintenance can be reduced by employing preventative applications. Preemergence herbicide for crabgrass is a good example.
  9. Don’t try to grow grass in the shade, period.  Opt for shade-loving ornamentals instead.
  10. When establishing a lawn, chose turf-type tall fescue which requires less N, water, and insecticide than Kentucky bluegrass (but it requires more frequent mowing than Kentucky bluegrass). Kentucky bluegrass is the next best choice and avoid any of the fine fescues at lawn height or perennial ryegrass (though fine fescues are great if you leave your lawn unmown, see photo). Don’t fall for the advertised promises of buffalograss because even though you may not need to mow it often, you’ll have to combat the ever-present weeds with the annual rainfall we receive in Indiana. Zoysiagrass will work well in the southern ¼ of Indiana, but mowing heights of 0.75 to 1.0” are required for best performance of this grass.
  11. Unless your lawn is in definite need of renovation, it’s not practical to renovate for the sole purpose of reducing maintenance. Since it takes tremendous time and effort to renovate, follow the first nine ideas first and evaluate how those work. Like all home improvement projects, renovation to more desired turf makes more sense if you are planning on staying in your house for many years.

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