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Best Management Practices for the Lawn

Designed to encourage a healthy lawn while minimizing the potential for water contamination from fertilizers and pesticides


Maintaining a high-quality lawn means that fertilizer should be applied every year. To know how much fertilizer to apply, you should have a soil test performed on your lawn every three to four years. Your local Cooperative Extension Service Office can do the testing for you.

Here are some important things to remember about fertilizing your lawn:

bag of fertilizer

  • The rule of thumb for nitrogen application is one pound of actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet of lawn.
fertilizing the lawn

  • The best time to apply nitrogen is in the fall for cool-season grasses such as tall fescue and bluegrass. This helps build a strong root system, making grass more heat and drought tolerant. It also reduces a heavy flush of growth in the spring.

  • For a low maintenance lawn, apply nitrogen in October. For a medium maintenance lawn, apply nitrogen in September and November.

  • When applying fertilizer, it is important to calibrate your spreader. Handouts on calibration are available at your local Cooperative Extension Service Office.

  • If fertilizer lands on the sidewalk or street, sweep it back onto the lawn. It won't do any good to fertilize concrete and it can be washed away and may contaminate surface water.

  • Do not apply fertilizer when heavy rains are predicted. The fertilizer will be washed away, causing you to lose all its benefits and it may also contaminate surface water.

  • Be sure to thoroughly wash out the spreader after use. Fertilizer left in a metal spreader will cause immediate rusting. Be sure the rinse water drains on the lawn and not into sewers.


riding mower

Correct mowing techniques are also necessary for a high-quality lawn. Mowing too closely will make it susceptible to weeds and disease and make it less heat- and drought-tolerant.

Suggested mowing heights are:

Tall Fescue 2 to 3 inches
Kentucky Bluegrass 2 to 2-1/2 inches

  • Mow frequently enough that no more than one-third of the grass blade is removed at one time. This may mean mowing every four to six days in the spring.
  • If grass grows so much that you need to cut off more than one-third of the blade, raise the mowing height. Do not cut all the growth off at one time. Wait two or three days, lower the mowing height and now again.

  • Always keep the mower blade sharp. a dull blade chews the grass, making it more susceptible to diseases. A dull blade is also harder on the mower and uses more fuel. Sharpen the blade four to six times a year.

  • Mow when the grass is dry. Wet grass causes the mower to bog down and causes ueven cut.

Don't Bag It

Clippings are actually good for your lawn. Did you know they:

  • do not cause thatch?
    The collection of clippings has no effect on the accumulation of thatch.

  • are a natural source of fertilizer?
    Clippings return up to 25% of a lawn's annual needs in nutrients.

  • are a waste of your valuable time and money if you collect and dispose of them?

gardening If you must collect clippings, try using them as mulch around ornamental plants or between rows in the garden. Doing so reduces weed competition, conserves soil moisture and returns nutrients to the soil. If used in the garden, turn the clippings occasionally so they don't become matted. You can also use them in your compost pile. A composted mixture of clippings, leaves, wood chips, etc. are great to modify garden soil.


When watering the lawn, remember two things--water deeply and infrequently.

  • Frequent, shallow watering promotes shallow rooting and encourages crabgrass and disease. Watering once or twice per week is usually sufficient.

  • Water only during excessively dry periods. Apply about one inch of water per week if no rain occurs.

  • Early morning is the best time of day to water. Watering early in the day washes dew from leaves and allows leaves to dry faster, discouraging diseases. Watering in the middle of the day causes a lot of moisture to be lost to evaporation.roll of garden hose

  • Check to see if you have watered enough by placing a pie pan in the line of the sprinkler. When the water level in the pie pan measures about 2/3 inch to 1 inch, you have watered enough.

  • Watering is optional for lawns mowed high and lawns receiving only one or two fall nitrogen applications per year.

  • Watering is required for turf mowed close and fertilized in spring and/or summer.

Always Remember:

  • If you use pesticides on your lawn, read and follow label directions and keep children and pets off the lawn for the recommended amount of time according to the label.

  • Your local Cooperative Extension Service is available to serve you. If you need help with soil tests, weed or disease identification or have any questions concerning your lawn, please call or visit our office.

Developed by Karen Stiff, Master Gardener and Annette Meyer, Daviess County Extension Agent for Horticulture

Cooperative Extension Service, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture

Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people
regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.


Scoutcat logo courtesy of C. Ware, copyright 2000

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