You may spend the most time relaxing outdoors in spring, but caring for your lawn is a year-long job. There are no shortcuts when it comes to lawn care. It takes discipline— fertilizing can’t happen whenever it’s convenient, and weed control needs to be timed. Putting a plan in place can help you stay on top of what needs to be done at different times of year. But if the seasonal laundry list seems daunting, you may consider hiring a professional lawn care company.
Lawn care companies offer annual programs that can handle every task you may need, from fertilization to aeration, soil amendments, and grub control. This Old House Reviews Team recommends TruGreen, an industry leader that offers five separate annual plans in addition to a la carte services. With a broad range of plans, you can decide how much you’d like TruGreen to care for, and how much you’d like to take on yourself.
Spring Lawn Care
Months Included: March, April, May
Lawn care in spring is particularly busy, as your lawn transitions from winter dormancy to greening up. Here are the crucial steps to take when caring for your lawn from March through May.
- Clean up your yard: Rake up any fallen leaves, dead grass, and debris and dispose of it. This will prepare the way for the other steps.
- Test your soil: Healthy lawns start with a strong foundation. Spring is the perfect time to test the nutrients levels and pH of your soil. This is the season you’ll want to fertilize, so you need to assess exactly what your lawn needs. You can purchase an at-home soil kit, or work with your local cooperative extension, nursery, or university to get a sample professionally tested.
- Maintain your mower: You’ll be back to your typical mowing schedule now that winter is over, so you need to make sure your lawn mower is in tip-top shape. Start by sharpening your mower blades. Sharp mower blades slice the tops of grass blades off cleanly—dull blades tear or shred them, making your lawn more susceptible to illness. Next, tune up your mower. You can get a new air filter, and replace the spark plug if needed. Finally, get fresh gas.
- Aerate: This process alleviates soil compaction by introducing holes into your lawn, opening up pathways for air, water, and nutrients to reach your grassroots. You should aerate at least once a year—more if your lawn receives a lot of foot traffic, or people park on it. We recommend using a core aerator, a machine that removes cores of dirt about 2-3 inches deep from your lawn. Your soil will be able to breathe a lot better. Break up the cores and leave them on the surface of the grass to decompose back into the soil, reintroducing beneficial organic matter.
- Dethatch: Thatch is the layer of living and decomposing organic matter that builds up between the soil and growing grass. A thin layer of thatch is beneficial, insulating the grassroots from extreme fluctuations in temperature and helping retain moisture. But a layer greater than ½ thick can impede your grassroots’ ability to access the air, water, and nutrients they need. In spring, check to see if your thatch layer is over ½ an inch thick by digging up a patch of grass with a sharp spade. If it is, use a dethatching rake to lift and break up the thatch.
- Fertilize: If you have cool-season grass in your lawn, aim to fertilize in early spring. You can wait until mid-to-late spring if you have warm-season grass. Fertilize as your grass begins its most active growth period. We recommend using a slow-release fertilizer. Fast-release fertilizers will show faster growth, but are worse for your lawn in the long run. Organic fertilizers, composed of natural ingredients like blood meal and guano, are more expensive but will yield greener, thicker growth over time.
- Apply pre-emergents: Use pre-emergent herbicide to keep weeds like crabgrass from springing up in your lawn. You can apply pre-emergents when the soil reaches 58 degrees Fahrenheit.
Summer Lawn Care
Months Included: June, July, August
Depending on where you live, the summer heat can be brutal. It may not be the most pleasant time for yard work, but it needs to be done if you truly want to follow the best lawn care schedule.
- Mow grass high: In the summer months, you need to adjust your mower to its highest or second-highest setting to cut your grass higher than you normally would. Tall grass leads to stronger, deeper, healthier grassroots. This will help your grass compete more effectively with weeds. Mow as high as you can for your particular type of grass. As always, do not cut more than the top ⅓ of the grass blade each time you mow.
- Treat for grubs: Grubs are the milky white, c-shaped larvae of Japanese beetles that will munch through your grassroots, leaving dead patches in their wake—if you have too many. Grubs are a natural part of the ecosystem, and they’re only an issue if the population grows too large. If you suspect you have too many grubs, dig up a square foot of sod to inspect the amount. If you have less than 10 grubs, you don’t need to worry. If you have more, you need to apply chemical control, or use an organic option like milky spore or beneficial nematodes. The natural approaches will take longer, potentially up to three years.
- Control weeds: This is the time to tackle any annual and perennial weeds that have sprung up with a post-emergent herbicide. Depending on the type of weed you’re dealing with, use either a selective or non-selective herbicide. Selective herbicides will target the weed, while non-selective herbicide can harm the grass around it—always read the directions and follow them exactly.
Fall Lawn Care
Months Included: September, October, November
Autumn is your opportunity to feed your cool-season grasses and prepare for the chilly winter months.
- Fertilize: Feed your cool-season grass to encourage strong root growth. Your lawn will store up the nutrients it will need as it goes dormant during the winter.
- Mow short: When late fall rolls around, adjust your lawn mower setting so that it’s approximately 1.5-2 inches shorter than you had it during the summer. In cool regions, this will help prevent snow mold, and in warm regions, falling leaves will have a harder time matting down shorter grass.
- Patch/seed: The heat of the summer and less-than-ideal growing conditions may have led to some thinning areas or bare patches on your lawn. When the temperature has cooled down, patch these areas with seed to restore your lawn’s thickness. Choose a grass seed that will thrive in your region and unique lawn, making sure it can tolerate shade or full sun, as needed. Remove any dead grass and debris. Use a trowel or spade to break up the soil, then work an inch or so of compost into it to add nutrients. Spread the seed over the soil, then work it in with a rake. Place a thin layer of straw over the newly seeded area—this will protect the seeds from the elements and curious birds. For the first few weeks, water this area more regularly than your lawn. It needs several mistings per day until the grass grows an inch tall.
Winter Lawn Care
Months Included: December, January, February
Across most of the country, lawns go dormant in the cooler winter months. Homeowners need to take some steps to protect it.
- Limit foot traffic: Walking on a tender, dormant lawn can compress the soil and kill your grass. Avoid walking on it if possible, do not park on it, and try not to store anything heavy on it if you can avoid it.
- Melt ice carefully: If your lawn has ice, you have to follow proper measures to de-ice it carefully. Some ice-melting products are specifically designed for use on lawns. Items like rock salt can damage your lawn.
Professional Lawn Care
This Old House Reviews Team recommends TruGreen for lawn care services. The industry leader is available in all states except for Alaska, and offers five different annual lawn care programs to manage your lawn schedule all year-long. TruGreen offers natural options as well as a la carte services including pest control.
TruGreen takes care of the major tasks to keep your lawn healthy, from aeration and fertilization to weed control and grub control.
Frequently Asked Questions
Our Rating Methodology
To provide readers with the most objective, accurate, and detailed recommendations, the This Old House Reviews Team continually researches lawn care service companies on the market. We take the following steps to obtain up-to-date information about the industry and each company we review:
- Analyze more than 100 customer reviews from third-party review sites, such as Yelp, the Better Business Bureau (BBB), and Google Reviews, for each company
- Secret-shop for lawn care plans and packages to get a sense of cost, offered services, and the overall shopping experience for prospective customers
- Speak with representatives on the phone to simulate the customer service experience from each provider
- Update information on a regular basis to ensure the most accurate information when plans or services change with each company
We use the data from our research to build an in-depth rating system that allows us to score lawn care providers on a 100-point scale. Here are the factors in our evaluation and their designated scores:
- Plan options (30): As one of the most important factors for homeowners shopping for a lawn care service, this one is weighted heavily based on each company’s lawn coverage. Companies that offer more options, such as irrigation, weed control, seeding, and aeration services in addition to a general plan, score higher than others.
- Trustworthiness (30): Each company’s reputation is another significant factor for homeowners to consider before signing up for a plan. We scored providers based on their BBB score, accreditation, and offered guarantees available with each purchase.
- Additional Benefits (20): We gave extra points to companies that provide a few additional services and benefits with their offered plans, such as organic treatments, pest control services, and a mobile app for digital communication and plan management.
- Customer Service (10): In this rating category, we awarded points to customer-focused lawn care service providers who offer weekend availability and easy communication through phones, online chats, and online resources.
- Availability (10): We also scored companies based on their overall availability, rewarding those that are nationally available over local companies only operating in select cities or ZIP codes.
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