child playing croquet on lush, healthy lawn
Photo: Keller + Keller
Ah, spring, when longer days and wetter weather bring your yard back to life. All that greening up around you is sure to inspire daydreams of your favorite backyard pursuits—barefoot badminton? croquet with the kids?—and these may lead you to overcompensate for a lagging lawn-care regimen. Don't do it! Running the sprinkler whenever the sun shines, dousing turf with extra fertilizer, or clipping grass super short in hopes of restoring its velvety green can do more harm than good. They'll actually weaken grass, leaving it vulnerable to drought, weeds, and pests.

The good news is that you don't need to shift into overdrive to nurture lush turf. Turn the page for a bare-bones approach that will yield a more resilient and sustainable lawn—and save you time and trouble, too.

Let the grass grow a little bit
It's best to keep turf on the taller side: 3 to 4 inches high for cool-season grasses, such as fine fescues and Kentucky bluegrass, and 1 to 2 inches high for warm-season varieties, including Bermuda grass and centipede grass. Mowing lower than the recommended height, known as scalping, sends grass into shock. The shorter blades can't deliver as much energy to the roots, causing them to atrophy. Without a deep, vigorous root system, turf is less equipped to handle drought and crowd out competitors. Weed seeds easily take hold in the exposed, sunlit soil of a scalped lawn, and insects and diseases move in while the lawn's defenses are down. While you might think that cutting short buys time between mowings, the opposite is true; scalping a lawn actually speeds up growth because the grass is eager to replace the foliage that's been removed.

On the flip side, you can also do damage by letting grass become so overgrown that you're cutting off more than one-third of its length at any one time. Taking off that much top growth all at once also shocks the plant. Always set your mower blades at the turf's recommended height, and keep them sharp to ensure clean cuts that heal quickly.
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