18 Things You Should Never Do to Your Lawn

Whether you have a green thumb or not, it’s easy to maintain a blissful, barefoot-worthy backyard. For starters, avoid these no-nos.

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Grass clippings in binPhoto: Shutterstock

Don’t remove grass clippings

Leaving grass clippings on the lawn after you mow can cause thatch problems, right? Not necessarily. Turns out, a certain amount of grass clippings can actually help with the overall health of your lawn. And (bonus!) that means less work for you when you mow.

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Aerating lawnPhoto: Shutterstock

Don’t skip aerating

Most lawns, whether seeded or sodded, are planted over a fairly skimpy layer of topsoil. Over time, lawn mowers, pets, and pick-up football games compact the soil, making it difficult for air, water, and vital nutrients to penetrate to the grassroots. Your challenge: to restore healthy soil conditions that nurture your lawn. To loosen and aerate the soil, rent a power core aerator. They’re available at rental centres, plus some hardware stores and garden centres.

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Sharpening lawn mower bladePhoto: Shutterstock

Don’t use a dull mower blade

Dull mower blades rip through the grass blades instead of slicing them cleanly, and that stresses the plant. You can always tell a lawn that’s been mowed with a dull blade because it looks brown on the top. Get on your hands and knees and you can actually see the damage. Be sure to sharpen your mower blade each season to keep your lawn in good shape.

Chances are, your mower could use some more maintenance. Here's what you need to know about lawn mower oil.

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Lawn sprinkler spraying water over green grassPhoto: Shutterstock

Don’t water every day

Did you know your lawn can actually get dependent and needy if it has too much water? Instead of watering every day for 15 minutes, choose one day a week to water the lawn for an entire hour. Your lawn will be watered deeply, and it will be healthier and more drought-tolerant.

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Pretty old house with azaleas in frontPhoto: Shutterstock

Don’t give up on shady areas

Growing grass under shade trees isn’t easy, but one key to success is choosing the right shade grass species and planting method for your region. In cool-season areas, you’ll get a better result using seed rather than sod. Sod is grown in wide-open fields under conditions that favour sun-loving grasses. Choose red and tall fescues for shady areas in Northern zones. Garden centres will have grass seed mixes formulated for shade. Late summer and mid-spring are the best times to establish cool-season grasses in shady areas.

Want a more vibrant backyard this summer? Add these colourful plants to brighten up your landscape.

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Tall green grassPhoto: Shutterstock

Don’t wait too long between mowing

If you came back from a vacation and the neighbour kid neglected to mow your yard, don’t try and mow it down in one day. Cut off some of the length and then wait a couple days and mow again. This will cause less stress on the grass. You may need three passes depending on how long the grass grew.

Find out why you shouldn't mow your lawn every week, either.

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Grass seeds begin to grow on new soil in gardenPhoto: Shutterstock

Don’t skip reseeding

Reseeding is a job you can do in a weekend if you have an average-size lawn. You’ll have to wrestle home a couple of engine-powered rental machines. And once your work is done, be prepared to keep the soil damp with daily watering for the first month or so.

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Mowing lawn with clippings flying everywherePhoto: Shutterstock

Don’t cut grass too short

Every grass type has an optimal cutting height, and you’re better off on the high side of that height. Here are a few reasons: The grass blade is the food factory of the plant. Short blades just can’t generate as much food as long blades. Long blades also shade and cool the soil. That means weed seeds are less likely to sprout, and you won’t have to water as often because water won’t evaporate as fast. Not sure what type of grass you have? Take a sample to a garden centre for identification.

Find out more lawn maintenance secrets you'll wish you knew sooner.

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Lawn mowerPhoto: Shutterstock

Don’t mow in the same direction every time

Instead, mow in a different direction every time: front to back, back to front, diagonal, etc. Repeatedly mowing the exact same way will cause the grass blades to grow at an angle, and you may develop permanent tracks from the mower wheels.

According to some landscaping experts, this is the most efficient way to mow a lawn.

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Green grass with dew Photo: Shutterstock

Don’t cut wet grass

Mowing wet grass can cause the mower wheels to leave ruts in your yard, and you could leave behind giant clumps of clippings that could smother the grass beneath. And the wet grass will carpet the underside of your mower deck with a thick mat that’s a pain to clean. Yikes!

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Grass fertilizerPhoto: Shutterstock

Don’t overfeed

If you apply too much grass fertilizer, especially in sandy soils, a good share of it will leach through the soil and make its way into our precious groundwater, lakes, streams and wetlands. Lawn grasses only need a certain amount of food. More isn’t always better.

Interested in going green? Consider these organic lawn care tips.

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Senior dog sleeping on lawnPhoto: Shutterstock

Don’t ignore pet areas

Dog spots are round patches about four to eight inches in diameter with dead grass in the middle, encircled by dark green grass. They’re most apparent in the early spring when dormant grass first begins to turn green again. You have to replant your grass; it won’t come back on its own. But first, you have to dilute or remove the caustic urine from the soil. Thoroughly soak the area with lots of water.

These genius yard tool hacks will make your life easier!

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Man reseeding his lawnPhoto: Family Handyman

Don't fertilize shady areas more

People tend to over-apply fertilizer to shady areas because the grass is struggling. But that just kills it faster!

Many people really have two lawns—a lawn that gets full sun for most of the day, and a shaded lawn that may get only two to four hours of direct sun—and their water and fertilizer needs are different. The grass in shady areas needs less water because less evaporates, and it needs less fertilizer because with less sun it doesn't grow as much. When you go into shade, shift the controls on the spreader so you're spreading about half the amount.

Dealing with a tiny yard? These urban gardening tips are perfect for small spaces.

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Don't forget to check soil moisturePhoto: Family Handyman

Don't forget to check soil moisture

Common wisdom for establishing the correct length of time to water is to place a pie pan in the yard and note how long it takes the sprinkler to fill 1/2 in. deep. But experts prefer a more accurate method that takes soil conditions into account. Heavier soil doesn't absorb moisture nearly as fast as loose or sandy soil, so it needs to be watered longer.

After an extended warm, dry period (dry soil is the key) set up your sprinkler and set a timer for 30 minutes. Then turn off the water and check the soil for moisture depth. Do this by pushing a shovel into the lawn and tipping it forward to expose the soil. See how deep the water has penetrated. Moist soil will be darker. Your goal is to run the sprinkler until the water penetrates 3 to 4 in. into the soil.

If the water has not penetrated far enough, restart the watering and continue to keep track of the time. Check again in another 15 minutes. With trial and error, you'll eventually arrive at the optimal length of time to water for your soil type and water pressure.

Here are eight medicinal plants you can grow at home.

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Dethatching lawn with a rakePhoto: Shutterstock

Don’t forget to dethatch

Thatch is a layer of slowly decomposing grass stems, roots, clippings, and debris that accumulate at the soil surface over time. It can build up in your lawn and virtually choke it to death. Excessive thatch buildup is commonly found in lawns that have been overfertilized or overwatered and have never been aerated. Thatch buildup of 3/4 in. or more will restrict water and nutrient penetration into the soil (think thatched roof) and can harbour disease organisms that can increase the need for pesticides. Slice open a section of turf. If the thatch is more than 3/4 in. thick, take action.

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BroadleafPhoto: Family Handyman

Don't use broadleaf herbicides in extreme temperatures

You need to kill weeds when they're growing. That's because the herbicide is absorbed through the leaves and then sent throughout the rest of the plant. When the weather is too cool, the weed isn't growing and the herbicide won't be absorbed, so the chemical isn't as effective. Apply it when it's too hot, on the other hand, and the herbicide will stress the grass. The product directions will give you the best temperature range. Apply herbicides when rain isn't in the forecast; a soaking will just rinse off the herbicide before it can do any good.

Find out the best herbs to grow in every type of garden, according to landscape expert Carson Arthur.

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patchy lawnPhoto: Family Handyman

Don't discount compost

Top-dress your lawn with high-quality compost. Compost can bring depleted or damaged soil back to life, resulting in stronger root systems and happier plants. One teaspoon of compost contains a billion beneficial microorganisms that help create better soil structure and texture, which improves nutrient, water and air retention.

To apply compost, spread it over your lawn with a shovel, aiming for a layer 1/4 to 1/2 in. thick. Then work it into the turf with a rake. It's best to do this after aerating. Most garden centers sell bagged compost. But to cover an entire yard, you're better off buying in bulk from a garden centre. Don't worry about buying too much—any leftovers will benefit your garden and shrub beds.

Want to do your part to help the honeybees? Add these bee-friendly plants to your yard, garden or balcony.

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Raking leavesPhoto: Family Handyman

Don't remove all fallen leaves

Leaves have organic matter in them that is great for your soil. It works as a natural fertilizer, helping your grass to grow the following year. According to Sam Bauer, a turf grass researcher from the University of Minnesota, it can even suppress the growth of weeds as well. He recommends mulching the leaves by using a lawn mower (specifically with a specialized mulching blade, if you have one) over the leaves to cut them up. However, if you have huge piles of leaves on your lawn, it may be hard to mulch all at once (and yes, can smother your grass). Remove those piles until you have a good dusting of leaves around your lawn before mulching with your mower.

Now that you know the things you should never do to your lawn, find out our best-ever gardening shortcuts to save time and money.

Originally Published on The Family Handyman