Grass Seed 101: Maintenance

Meredith Gaines — Sep 12, 2022

Want the best-looking grass on your neighborhood’s block with minimal effort? We hear you and we want to help! After the initial step of starting your lawn from seed, you now have around a million little plants to keep happy, but don’t panic! It’s pretty straightforward, and with time and practice anyone can get the hang of it.

Mowing

For grass to stay healthy it needs routine cuts. Cutting grass stimulates new growth and keeps your lawn even and full. However, it’s a balancing game–if you cut too much you risk stressing out your lawn and killing it. But too little and you might have an overly sparse lawn. Take notes and read up on mowing before you start to gain some confidence. Mowing is one of the key things to get right for long-term lawn health and beauty. 

mowing lawn

The Mower

There are hundreds of mowers on the market, from ones you ride to ones you push. Find one that’s right for you and your wallet. As long as you can adjust the mowing height and have sharp blades, you’re good to go!

How to Mow

  • Time it right. Just like when you’re starting your seed you want to time cutting your grass right for best results. Be flexible with your schedule and aim to cut your lawn on cool evenings when the grass is dry and needs to be cut. Due to seasons changing and the weather you might experience more growth one week than another. This is totally normal–after all, plants are living things, not robots! 
  • Set the height–this is a big one. Start with the type of grass seed you have planted and determine the best height to cut at. In general, a standard lawn is kept around 2-3 inches high. Look at the table below for more specifics:

    Grass Type

    Minimum Mowing Height

    Bermudagrass

    .5-1 inch

    Fine Fescue

    2.5-3 inches

    Tall Fescue

    2.5-3 inches

    Kentucky Bluegrass

    2-3 inches

    Buffalo Grass

    2-3 inches

    Creeping Bentgrass

    .25-.75 inches

    Ryegrass

    2-3 inches

     

    FGT Pro Tip: If you’ve been on vacation or if your lawn has grown a good bit, don't just chop it back to your preferred height. Instead, gradually get the height of your grass down by taking off no more than one-third of the length. This will prevent stress on your grass and ease it back into your preferred height. 

    • Check your mower and your lawn. Nothing is worse than trying to get a task done but having a hiccup in your plans that throws your day off. Save your future self some trouble and make sure your mower is in good shape, is at your correct mowing height, and has enough gas. Walk your lawn and pick up any stray toys, rocks, sticks, or other debris that might be hiding. If you’re using a new mower, don’t assume it works like all the others you’ve used before. Take ten minutes to locate all the buttons and switches before you start. 
    • Map out your route and start mowing! Pick a spot to start and go for it. We suggest starting at a border or a line on one edge of your property and working in lines going inwards. Some overlap is good, but avoid going over your grass multiple times. Leave space around trees or hard-to-reach areas and clean those up with a trimmer afterwards. 

        FGT Pro Tip: If you have a slope or a hillside on your property, be sure to use extra caution. Use the roll bar on a riding mower if you have one, and work downhill to uphill. For push mowers, it’s generally safe to work in diagonals or side to side, NOT up and down. See below for proper mowing technique.

        mowing etiquette
        • Clean it up. Prolong the life of your equipment by properly cleaning it–wash the mowing deck (the blades) off and let it dry a little before storing it. 

          Mowing Tips

          • Should you bag your cuttings? This is up to you. Some like to leave the grass clippings behind to fertilize the lawn, while others prefer a neat and tidy look. As long as you don't have a pile of grass clippings that will block the sun from reaching your growing grass, you’ll be just fine. 
          • Feeling fancy and want to add a design to your lawn? Give it some time and practice. Grass is similar to velvet in that one side is duller or lighter than the other side, making it possible to achieve stripes or other fun patterns. If you want to experiment with designs, make sure you aren't damaging your lawn in the creative process. 
          • Struggling with shady areas? Sunlight is needed for grass to grow, and while shade grass can still be green, it's just not as tough as sunny areas. If you can avoid it, try to maintain lighter foot traffic in shadier areas and leave the grass a tad longer by about half an inch. Half an inch might not sound like much, but it really makes a difference and will allow shaded grass to harness more energy to grow. Plus, you won't be able to tell much of a height difference from other sunny areas. 
          • Don’t forget mowing etiquette. While the evening is best, it’s not the law. Use your best judgment, follow the regulations in your area and make sure you’re keeping your lawn cuttings on your property. 

          Watering

          Forget about what you did while getting the grass to sprout. When you’re germinating seeds you need to keep the area moist and light, and frequent waterings are the way to go. With an established lawn, infrequent and deep is the way to go. 

          Equipment

          Water will go where you direct it, so it's best to have a hose that reaches all parts of the yard, and even better, a sprinkler to evenly distribute it. If you’re fortunate enough to have an in-ground irrigation system, then you’re set, as the network of pipes under the ground get the water to where it needs to go. When looking at sprinklers, read the packaging and do your research before buying to make sure it fits your yard. 

          Frequency 

          Many factors affect how frequently you’ll need to water your lawn like humidity, temperature, soil type, rainfall, and the kind of grass you have. So, it's best to take a look at your lawn and see if it needs water before you actually water it. Overwatering can lead to a poor-looking lawn, diseases, and other issues. 

          You know you’ll need to water your grass when it turns dull and it starts to curl up on itself. A dry lawn can also look limp and not spring back when compressed. If you start seeing brown, the lawn is VERY thirsty and in need of some water. 

          lawn sprinkler

          How to Properly Water your Lawn

          1. Get an early start. The best and most effective time to water is in the early morning (this goes for all plants, by the way!). If you can avoid it, don't water in the evenings or the grass will stay too wet, and don’t water in the middle of the day or the water will evaporate too quickly.
          2. Set up your watering system or sprinkler. It won’t matter what kind of sprinkler you own as long as you’re providing water to the areas that need it. If you have a stationary sprinkler system you might have to move it around to cover the areas needed. For moving sprinklers, lay out the path you want it to take. 
          3. Let the water soak in. Try to saturate the top 6 or so inches of soil but not flood your lawn. The time this takes depends on your water pressure and the type of sprinkler you have, so when you first water your lawn, see how long it takes. 

          FGT Pro Tip: If you live in a water-restricted area but still want a beautiful green lawn, there are some things you can do to maximize your water usage. Try using a wetting agent to make your water go further. A wetting agent is a product that acts like a microsponge to prevent runoff and force more water into the soil and the plant.

          Next, water in the early mornings when it’s cool to prevent evaporation. You want to have a watering system that stays low and prevents unneeded water from going into the air. Lastly, if push comes to shove, stop watering the grass and let it become dormant. This is best done with a variety of grass that goes dormant and bounces back. 

          Fertilizing

          Equipment

          Remember the spreader you used to plant grass seed? Get it back out when it's time to fertilize your lawn. You can spread by hand or by using a hand spreader setting, but this is best for smaller lawns. 

          Choosing a Fertilizer

          When it comes to choosing a fertilizer you need to focus on the formula and the form that it comes in. Use the product packaging to determine how much fertilizer you will need and how frequently to apply it. 

          The formula is the first thing you want to focus on. Plants need three main nutrients in large quantities to perform their best. These nutrients are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. When looking at a bag of fertilizer, look for the three numbers on the bag to tell the formulation of it. Grass needs a lot of nitrogen to support its leafy green growth, so look for grass-specific formulas or one with a larger first number on the bag. See below for an example of fertilizer and the key nutrients to look for. 

          XX - XX - XX                     N-P-K
            % Nitrogen (N) - %Phosphorus (P) - %Potassium (K)

          fertilizer

          Once you have your formula, choose the form it comes in. The most common and easiest way to fertilize your lawn is in a granular form. These will look like little beads that are then scattered around your lawn and break down over a period of months, feeding the grass. Another popular form is liquid. Most often you’ll need to dilute a concentrated formula according to the instructions and apply it to the lawn as you water. 

          Application

          We recommend applying fertilizer in the same path you mow your lawn in so you don't miss any spots. Start with the edges and fill in the gaps. When it comes to garden beds and trees that are within your lawn, be careful not to accidentally fertilize those areas too. Grass fertilizer is higher in nitrogen and might decrease flowering in other plants. 

          spreading grass seed

          Each lawn is different, but in general, start feeding your lawn right before it starts to grow. This would be spring and fall for cool season grasses and late spring and summer for warm grasses. Kentucky Bluegrass, St. Augustine, and Bentgrasses are heavy nitrogen feeders (need a lot of nitrogen to stay green), and will need more fertilizer compared to grasses like fine fescue, centipede grass, or tall fescue. 

          Lawns take effort, and beautiful lawns take even more effort, but the work that goes into your yard should work for you and provide results. The secret to a great lawn? Learning how to read your grass. This comes by mastering the basics like mowing, fertilization, and watering. Over time, you’ll be able to better understand and anticipate what your lawn needs. For now, just focus on the simple care practices! 

          Be sure to read through the rest of our
          Grass Seed 101 Course so you can achieve the lively lawn you’re after! 

            Meredith Gaines

            Meredith's love for plants started at a young age, and only grew when she started working in the Desert Exhibit at the South Carolina Botanical Gardens and the Historic Filoli Estate in the Bay Area. After graduating from Clemson University (GO TIGERS!) with a degree in Biology and Horticulture, she found her niche in the FastGrowingTrees.com family as a horticulturist and has grown in her current role as Senior Plant Expert.

            She currently resides in her hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, and enjoys spending any time she can outdoors. She learns new things about plants every day and loves sharing her plant knowledge and tips with those around her. Her favorite plant is constantly changing, but her long-time favorites are peonies, oak trees, and ferns.

            Questions? Contact Meredith at information@fastgrowingtrees.com.

            download block image
            Register for our Grass Seed 101 course!
            There's nothing like a lush green lawn! Learn all about growing a healthy, thriving landscape with our Grass Seed course. We'll be covering how to choose and plant your grass seed, how to maintain and care for it, and how to troubleshoot any issues. Subscribe below to get this course sent directly to your inbox!