In this guide, we bust some common local lawn care myths and give you secrets for turning your lawn into the envy of the neighborhood by separating facts from fiction about proper lawn and plant health care.

Myth #1: Fertilizers are good for your grass.

You’re told you need to feed your lawn, so you go out and buy products labeled as “plant food” or “weed & feed.”

The truth is that these products are not plant food at all. Instead, they are elements (nutrient building blocks) your plants use to make their own food through photosynthesis. All plants need 16 essential elements to survive. When fertilizing, you do not need to apply all 16 elements, as many are already provided by Mother Nature.

The key to establishing a healthy lawn is first to understand which nutrients and in which quantities, your grass needs to grow healthy, strong, and beautiful.

Next, analyze your soil to see what it contains, and then apply the nutrients that are lacking.

Myth #2: It's best to mow your lawn short, as golf courses do.

Golf courses grow Bentgrass, which performs best when it’s mowed short. However, most lawns in Northern Illinois grow a mixture of Kentucky Bluegrass and Ryegrass, which grow best when mowed tall.

The University of Illinois recommends setting your mower on one of its highest settings, mowing no shorter than 2.5″ in spring and fall and no shorter than 3″ in summer.

You will enjoy a healthier lawn with fewer weeds, diseases, and other issues if you keep your lawn taller.

Myth #3: Leaving your grass clippings when mowing will cause thatch.

It is usually better for your lawn to leave clippings when you mow. Clippings break down quickly and return beneficial nutrients and organic matter to the soil.

The only time mowing can add to thatch build-up is if you mow so short that you cut off some of the grass plant stems. Stems do not break down easily like grass clippings and can lead to thatch build-up.

Use the 1/3rd rule: Never remove more than 1/3rd of the grass plant when mowing and you usually avoid cutting the stems.

Myth #4: Mechanical de-thatching is required to maintain a healthy lawn.

Thatch is detrimental to your lawn’s health because it traps vital moisture and nutrients on the surface and out of reach from grass roots.

Thatch is also a breeding ground for turf-damaging insects and diseases. The most important thing to know about thatch is that it’s a symptom of a larger problem. Thatch is an accumulation of dead and living plant parts (roots, rhizomes, and stems) that accumulate faster than the soil can break them down.

Mechanical de-thatching will remove some thatch, but these machines usually do more harm than good. Mechanical de-thatching does not address the source of the thatch, so it will quickly return. You need to have an expert diagnose why the thatch is developing.

Here are some common reasons for thatch accumulation:

  • Compacted soils
  • Fewer thatch-eating microbes & earthworms in the soil
  • Improper mowing, watering, or using the wrong fertilizers
  • Over-use of pesticides

Identifying and correcting the cause of your thatch will eliminate the need for de-thatching in the future.

Myth #5: Spring is the best time to start a new lawn program.

More than 70% of homeowners considering hiring a lawn care service do so in the spring. Why this happens in the spring is a mystery, as the best time to start a new lawn care program is in the early fall.

The types of grasses we grow in Northern Illinois are known as “cool season” varieties. Summer is hard on these grasses. Mother Nature relies on the fall season as a natural re-building time for our grasses. Fall is the time turf grasses start to develop new roots, side growth, and build defenses against disease, insects, and environmental issues.

If you want a healthy, beautiful lawn next year – one that can withstand the stresses of winter and summer – the best time to start working on your lawn is the fall. This will give you the best return for your efforts.

Myth #6: Chemical herbicides are the best way to control weeds & crabgrass.

Herbicides might be the most common way to kill weeds, but herbicides are not natural, nor are they the best for the environment or the health of your lawn. Herbicides also don’t address the reason your lawn has weeds in the first place.

While herbicides will eliminate existing weeds, if you do not address the underlying issue, the weeds will quickly return. Weeds and crabgrass are usually a symptom of a larger problem.

Thick lawns leave little room for weed invasion. If weed seeds do germinate, they are usually choked out by the much stronger, thicker turf.

Here are some common reasons for weed outbreaks:

  • Thin turf
  • Bare spots
  • Compacted soil
  • Overuse of chemical pesticides
  • Lack of proper nutrition
  • Improper fertilization
  • Short mowing
  • Frequent light irrigation (or no irrigation)

Myth #7: Spring is the best time to seed bare or thin areas of your lawn.

Late summer through early fall is the best time to over-seed most lawns.

Here are three reasons why:

  1. The warmer days and cool evenings of late summer/early fall allow for optimal seed germination.
  2. Your new seed will have less competition from weeds. In Northern Illinois, most weeds germinate in the spring. These weeds rob your new seed of beneficial moisture and nutrition. Weeds also mature faster and can choke out weaker seedlings.
  3. The cooler temperatures that are guaranteed to follow are perfect for new seed survival. Make sure you seed before mid-September, as your new grass needs time to mature before winter.

Myth #8: Frequent watering is best for a lawn.

Lawns perform best when they get sufficient water, so a common assumption is to water frequently.

However, if your goal is a strong, healthy lawn with fewer weeds, crabgrass, and disease, it is best to water deeply and infrequently.

When you water lightly and infrequently, moisture accumulates on the surface, causing shallow roots. Shallow roots can lead to thatch, disease, unhealthy turf, and turf that is less able to survive the heat and/or dry spells.

On warm, sunny, or windy days, surface water will evaporate quickly. But when you water longer, moisture penetrates deeper into the soil where it is better protected from the sun, wind, and heat.

Your turf roots will want to grow to where the moisture is stored. A deeper root system will develop if the moisture is deep in the soil. Deeper roots also get more nutrition, resulting in a thicker and healthier lawn.

Start watering deeply in spring and continue through the rest of the year. You will usually be able to maintain a healthy, beautiful lawn (even in the summer) while irrigating only once per week or twice during extended periods of hotter temperatures.

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