Add compost. This will improve your soil and eliminate pests and diseases, which means less money spent on fertilizer and water. Apply a quarter-inch of top-dressing compost once or twice a year, including right after your lawn has greened up. Going over the lawn with an aerator first will help mix the organic matter into the soil.
Water wisely. An established lawn needs about 1 inch of water per week in the growing season. A light daily watering will encourage shallow root systems. Instead, water thoroughly once a week, using a 1-inch deep empty tuna can as a makeshift measuring device. Early morning is best, say before 8 a.m., when evaporation rates are low and more water is absorbed into the soil. Also, don’t be afraid to let grass turn brown during dry spells. Most species can easily go a month without water. It’s time to water again when the grass goes from tan-brown to straw-colored.
Mulch, don’t bag. Your grass clippings are a free source of slow-release fertilizer, so let the mower discharge the clippings back onto your grass rather than bagging them. This can cut fertilizer costs by up to 30 percent. The only time to bag clippings is when your lawn is having a disease breakout, often signaled by irregular brown patches or rings in the lawn.
Try low-maintenance grass. Slow-growth, drought-resistant grass species save water, fertilizer, and time. Your local cooperative extension can help you find species that are right for your climate, soil, and lifestyle. Tall fescue is a low-maintenance alternative in the Northeast that can withstand heavy foot traffic, good for homes with active kids. Zoysia and seashore paspalum are easygoing newcomers in the South, while buffalo grass is popular west of the Mississippi.
Maintain your mower or tractor. Sharp blades cut cleaner and faster, and along with basic engine maintenance can reduce fuel costs by up to 25 percent. Dull blades also stress grass, making it more susceptible to disease. For best results, sharpen and balance the blade three times during the growing season.