Lawn Care

by Elmer Krehbiel, Master Gardener
July 26, 2002

The best kept secret for lawn care is to adjust the height up to the highest setting and leave the clippings.

The lawn has been the foundation of the landscapes in our country. However, many of our gardeners are complaining that it wastes water, fertilizers, chemicals and time that could be spent with more enjoyable activities.

There are other options to a large lawn, or change the method of maintenance. Many changes are not easy, and one must consider the economics vs. the benefits.

Mowing, Mulching & Fertilizing

During the last six years, I have mown our St. Augustine grass three inches high with a mulching attachment on the self-propelled mower. The "Dont Bag It Lawn Care Plan" saves a considerable amount of mowing time.

The taller grass provides more shade on the grass and soil. It should reduce some diseases, insects, weeds, and soil temperatures. The taller plants have a larger and deeper root system. Then they are stronger and more drought tolerant.

The clippings are smaller and forced into the grass. Texas A&M University's Dont Bag It Lawn Care Plan indicates the elements in the clippings are recycled with about one-third savings on fertilizers. I have applied some fertilizer (18-6-12+S-Fe-etc.) late in the fall. Now, my newest garden book suggests the one fall method.

During the last nine years, I have applied more gypsum on the lawn soil than commercial fertilizer. I was told that the best single thing to do for the lawn is to apply gypsum on clay soil. The gypsum should cause the gray-clay soil to become looser so more water and other elements will soak down.

Watering & Aerating

I use a screwdriver to determine when the soil needs more water. When the surface of the soil becomes dry, it forces the roots to grow deeper; and it is not favorable for some insects and weed seeds. Water is applied, during the morning and mid-day hours. The water soaks down deeper, and it does not need to be applied as often. I stopped using the sprinklers, and take time to use soaker hoses.

During that time, it has been aerated twice with a plugging machine. That allows the water and fertilizer elements to soak down into the root zone easier. That develops a deeper root system.

I have started and plan to continue to decrease the lawn area, and plant more trees, shrubs, groundcover and flowers. But that is expensive, and not easy.

The appearance of the lawn has been respectable, and I have no disease or insect problems... yet. The expenses and time have been less.

More on Lawn Care

Dr. Elmer Krehbiel is the former President of Keep Brazos Beautiful. See his column in The Eagle.