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Avoid These Lawn Missteps

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A lush carpet of green is easy to attain as long as you avoid a few common mistakes. We spoke with Gerald Henry, PhD, associate professor of environmental turf grass science at the University of Georgia, to find out what not to do when caring for a lawn.

Trimming Turf Too Short

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"It's tempting to lop off as much as you can, but make sure to cut off no more than one-third of the blades in a single pass," says Henry. "Leaving grass longer helps it process light and water and develop a healthy root system," which in turn leads to a fuller, more attractive lawn.

Forgetting to Test the Soil

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Most species of grass are quite hearty, but that doesn't mean they can grow just anywhere. Sending a soil sample to an extension service for testing lets you know exactly what conditions you're working with. "Turf thrives in soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5," Henry says. Sulfur or lime treatments can alter the pH to create ideal conditions.

Planting One Type of Seed

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Selecting the right type of turf grass is key, and planting a variety of species and cultivars helps your lawn become established as the seeds' strengths and weaknesses offset each other. In general, mixtures are more likely to survive adverse weather conditions, like heat and drought, than a single-seed lawn.

Cutting With a Dull Blade

If your mower blade isn't sharp, you'll end up with torn or bruised shoots, which can turn gray and then brown, leaving the lawn vulnerable to disease and pests. Expect to sharpen your blade about twice per season. If your mower appears to be pulling or trampling the grass rather than cutting, its blades are due for a sharpening. See How to Sharpen a Lawn Mower Blade.

Bagging Lawn Clippings

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Rather than collect newly shorn grass, use a self-mulching mower to leave shredded cuttings behind. Think of it as free fertilizer. "Anecdotal evidence suggests that returning clippings to your lawn may contribute as much as 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet," says Henry.

Watering Daily

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Lawns need an inch of water a week. Saturate turf all at once and it will run off; deliver too little and it will never reach the roots. Give grass a third of an inch of water three times a week (set out an empty can to collect it, then measure), in the morning.