Caring for Grass: The Basics

­So,­ let's say you want a perfect lawn -- a lawn that looks like a golf course, a nice green carpet surrounding your house. Is this possible?

It's not only possible, it's really not that complicated, at least in most parts of the world. None of the advice that follows will help you grow a luscious lawn at the North Pole or in the middle of the Sahara desert, but it should do the trick in more temperate regions.

Like most plants, grass needs three things to thrive. It needs:

Additionally, it needs be largely free of destructive elements, namely:

  • Weeds
  • Disease
  • Bugs

If you have the right variety of grass for your area and you meet all these needs, a beautiful lawn should be a cinch. In the next few sections, we'll run down all the major elements involved in healthy grass and outline a course for proper lawn care.

Soil

No amount of water and sunlight will make your lawn luscious and green if you have poor soil, so this is a good place to start.

A grass plant's backbone is its root system. The roots soak up water, collect nutrients, anchor the plant and, in some species, spread out to grow new plants. A plant can only do these things effectively if the soil is right.

The soil needs to be loose enough that the grass roots can spread easily, absorbent enough that it will collect water and rich enough that it can provide the plant with nutrients. Roots also need a certain amount of circulating air, which means the soil can't be too compact.

Ideally, you want loam -- soil that has roughly equal amounts of silt, sand and clay (a "perfect" loam is about 40 percent silt, 40 percent sand and only 20 percent clay). Loam is fairly loose, but it has enough clay to absorb water effectively. Check out this page for a simple soil content test.

The soil's pH rating is also important. This rating tells you the relative acidity and alkalinity of the soil (this page explains the concept). The ideal pH level is around 6.5 or 7, but levels vary between different grass species and climate conditions. You can find out your soil's pH level with a home test or a professional test.

If you need to substantially increase the acid level, add sulfur. If you want to reduce the acid level, add lime (this page will give you the details).

To improve your soil, you can amend it with topsoil, compost or fertilizer.

Next to soil, the most important factor in lawn care is the grass species itself. In the next section, we'll see what's involved in picking the right grass.