Lawn Care For Beginners (in 13 Easy Steps)

close-up of a lawnmower cutting grass

If the thought of maintaining a living, breathing slice of earth turns your cheeks green, you’ve come to the right place. Whether you’re a new homeowner or you haven’t had the time to get your hands dirty, our guide to lawn care for beginners offers easy-to-follow tips. 

What time of year should you fertilize your lawn? What tools should you store in your garden shed or garage? We’ve got the answers to green up your lawn and your green thumb. 

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Get ready to have the best lawn on the block. Here’s what we’ll cover in the guide below:

1. Say Hello to Your Soil

picture of a soil test
Ryo Chijiiwa / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Soil isn’t just a mound of dirt from which grass magically springs. The health of your soil has a significant impact on the health of your turf. If your soil is low in nutrients and organic matter, then your turf will struggle to grow without the help of fertilizers. 

Soil texture also affects how you care for your lawn. For example, clay soils retain water much better than sandy soils, which means you won’t have to water a clay lawn as often. 

So before you start making decisions about your lawn care routine, you need to get to know your soil. How do you do that? By conducting a soil test, of course!

A soil test uncovers many mysteries about your soil, including: 

  • Fertility levels
  • Salt levels
  • Organic matter percentage
  • pH levels
  • Texture (relative proportions of sand, silt, and clay)

At-home soil tests are available, but they don’t provide as detailed results as a soil test performed in a laboratory. 

Most at-home soil tests will reveal your soil’s basic nutritional levels, but these tests don’t usually provide information on fertilizing the lawn and applying soil amendments. On the other hand, a laboratory test usually reveals the best fertilization regimen for your turf and how to improve your soil’s overall health. 

Your local university or cooperative extension may offer laboratory soil testing. Check the website or call to learn how to prepare and ship a soil sample to the office. 

How often should you test your soil?

Test your soil once every three years. 

2. Identify Your Grass

Close-up of a lush, green lawn
David K / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Grass is grass, right? Well, not quite. There are many types of grass, and each one requires a different level of care. Some grass types will thrive in your region’s climate, while others will struggle to survive. 

Grass species fall into two categories: Cool-season grasses and warm-season grasses. 

Cool-season grasses grow best in Northern states, where winters are long and summers are mild. Cool-season grasses actively grow in spring and fall when temperatures are low. They enter dormancy in summer and frigid periods of winter. 

Cool-season grasses include: 

  • Tall fescue
  • Fine fescue
  • Kentucky bluegrass
  • Bentgrass
  • Perennial ryegrass
  • Annual ryegrass

Warm-season grasses grow best in the Southern states, where summers are long and winters are mild. Warm-season grasses prefer warm temperatures and actively grow in summer. In autumn, warm-season grasses enter dormancy when temperatures drop below 65 degrees and green up again in spring. 

Warm-season grasses include: 

  • Zoysia grass
  • Bermudagrass
  • Centipedegrass
  • St. Augustinegrass
  • Bahiagrass

But what if you live smack dab in the middle of the country? This area is the transition zone, with scorching summers and frigid winters. You can grow either type of grass in the transition zone

Here’s what we mean: In the transition zone, if you have a green lawn in summer, your lawn has warm-season grass. If your lawn is brown in summer, it’s growing cool-season grass.

3. Fertilize Your Turf

Man seeding his lawn with a seed spreader

Before you go spreading fertilizer willy-nilly, refer to your soil test results to determine the best fertilization program for your lawn. 

Your lawn requires three essential nutrients to thrive: Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). Results from a lab soil test will often recommend an N-P-K ratio that’s best for your soil. 

Most fertilizers will list the N-P-K ratio on the label. If a fertilizer package lists the numbers 25-10-15, that means the fertilizer contains 25% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus, and 15% potassium. 

How often do you need to fertilize your lawn?

A healthy, established lawn can flourish with one fertilizer application a year. If your soil has poor fertility, a soil test may recommend multiple applications. 

When is the best time to fertilize your lawn?

Cool-season grasses: If you’re growing cool-season grass, the best time to fertilize your lawn is in the fall. Spring is the second-best time to fertilize cool-season grasses. 

Warm-season grasses: The best time to fertilize warm-season grasses is mid-spring through summer

Lawn care tips: When fertilizing in spring, wait until your lawn has greened up. Otherwise, the turf will sacrifice healthy root growth for leaf growth. Also, never mow right after fertilizing the lawn. If you need to mow and fertilize in the same day, mow first and then wait a few hours before applying fertilizer.

4. Prevent Bald Patches

bald area of grass that looks brown
nedwebb / Pixabay

Your neighbor’s lawn is always dense and green, while yours looks patchy and thin. What’s their secret? They’ve probably been overseeding their lawn. 

Overseeding is the spreading of grass seed over an existing lawn to encourage new growth. The secret to overseeding is to overseed before patches occur instead of after they occur. In other words, it’s a good idea to overseed your lawn to prevent patches.  

When should you overseed your lawn? 

Overseed your warm-season lawn in spring or early summer. If you’re growing cool-season grass, overseed your lawn in fall. 

How often should you overseed your lawn? 

If your lawn is susceptible to thinning, overseed once a year. If your lawn maintains its fullness with ease, overseed every few years. 

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5. Rev Up the Mower 

Man enjoying cutting his grass atop a zero turn riding lawn mower

Cutting your grass might seem straightforward, but there’s a right and wrong way to do it. We’ll show you how to mow your yard the right way:

Keep the blades sharp

You wouldn’t cut your hair with blunt kitchen scissors, right? Well, you shouldn’t cut your grass with a dull mower blade either. Mowing with dull blades not only rips your grass and makes the lawn look untidy, but it also makes your grass vulnerable to pests and diseases. 

Sharpen lawn mower blades at least once a year to ensure a healthy, crisp cut. 

Don’t mow too low

Every grass type has a recommended mowing height (that’s why it’s so important to identify your grass type). If you mow below your grass’s recommended mowing height, you’ll scalp the lawn. Scalping stresses your turf and makes it vulnerable to pests and diseases. 

But remember, you don’t want to let your grass grow too high either. Pests and fungi love the moist environment tall grass creates. 

Follow the rule of one-third

This rule is pretty simple: Never mow more than one-third of your grass’s height in a single mow. For example, if your grass is 3 inches tall, don’t cut off more than 1 inch. Otherwise, you’ll harm your turf. 

Mow before winter

As winter approaches, you may notice your lawn’s growth slowing down. Once your grass stops growing, give it one last mow before winter arrives. If you let your lawn enter winter with tall grass, your turf may attract pests and diseases, especially snow molds. And who wants mold in their yard?

6. Water Wisely

Three in-ground sprinklers in-use on a side yard
Jannerfer An / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Poor watering habits can prove detrimental to your lawn’s health. But if you keep the following irrigation tips in mind, your lawn’s health will be right on track: 

  • How much to water: Most established lawns need 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week, depending on the grass type. 
  • Water your lawn before 10 a.m., ideally before 8 a.m. Watering in the morning gives your lawn plenty of time to absorb the water before it evaporates in the afternoon sun. 
  • Avoid watering in the evenings. The evening might seem like a good time to water because the sun won’t be coming out, but the lawn still needs the sun to help it dry. Otherwise, the water will cling to the grass blades throughout the night, which creates a moist, attractive environment for pests and diseases. 
  • Water your lawn less often and for long periods to promote a deep, healthy root system. Watering too often and for short periods encourages a shallow, weak root system. It’s better to water your lawn deeply once a week than water it briefly three times a week. 
  • Pay attention to signs of thirst. If your turf turns grayish-blue or your footprints are visible on the lawn, then your grass needs a drink. 

Pro Tip: If you don’t want to wake up at the crack of dawn to water your lawn, consider installing an automatic sprinkler.

7. Aerate the Soil

Man aerating grass using a riding automatic aerator
Vít Švajcr Dobré svě / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Aeration might sound like a spa treatment, but that’s because it is one – for your lawn. Aeration relieves compact soil and allows your turf’s roots plenty of access to water, oxygen, and nutrients. 

Here’s how it works: An aerator is a tool you push similar to a lawn mower. The aerator pulls small plugs of soil from the ground to create holes in the lawn. The holes allow water, oxygen, and nutrients to reach the roots. When soil becomes too compact, it’s almost as if your lawn’s roots can’t breathe, drink, or eat. 

Don’t have an aerator? Your local home-improvement store may offer hourly, daily, or weekly equipment rentals. 

When is the best time to aerate your lawn? 

Warm-season grasses: The best time to aerate warm-season grasses is in summer.
Cool-season grasses: The best time to aerate cool-season grasses is in fall. 

How often should you aerate your lawn? 

Most lawns need aeration once every year, especially lawns with clay soil. If your lawn has sandy soil or is performing well without aeration, aerating once every three years is enough.  

8. Dethatch the Lawn

Manual dethatcher raking glass clippings

Thatch removal is another spa treatment for your lawn. Thatch is the layer of dead and living organic matter that accumulates between the soil’s surface and the grass blades (it’s kind of like dandruff on your scalp, but on your lawn). 

A thin layer of thatch is healthy for your lawn, and you don’t have to remove it. A thatch layer less than one-half inch acts as a mulch for the grass. But once the thatch layer becomes one-half inch thick, it’s time to remove it. 

Excessive thatch is attractive to pests and diseases and prevents water and fertilizer from penetrating the soil. 

How to dethatch your lawn

If your lawn has excessive thatch, push a dethatcher across the yard to remove the thatch. Dethatcher rentals are often available at home improvement stores. 

When should you dethatch your lawn? 

Warm-season grasses: The best time to dethatch warm-season grass is late spring through early summer. 
Cool-season grasses: Fall is the best time to dethatch cool-season grass. 

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9. Pests and Fungi 101

large white mushroom in grass
Famartin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Pests and diseases love weak, poorly maintained lawns. Tall grass, moist environments, thick thatch – these are recipes for fungus and bugs. Yuck!

If your lawn shows signs of uninvited guests, identify the culprit and execute a control method right away. 

Signs of pests and diseases include: 

  • Visible fungus, molds, or mushrooms growing on the lawn
  • Patches of turf discoloration 
  • Discoloration of individual turf blades
  • Dead or dying patches of grass

Many preventative and curative chemical treatments are available for pests and fungi, but the best treatments are often improved lawn maintenance. If pests and diseases are a recurring problem, your yard may have an underlying health issue that needs attention. 

10. Combat Lawn Weeds

closeup of a field of dandelion weeds

If weeds are taking over your lawn, you may have made your lawn inviting by letting your lawn care slide. Weeds have an easy time invading weak lawns, but healthy lawns stand taller and stronger against the interlopers. 

When weeds are a constant issue in your lawn, combine improved maintenance practices with a pre-emergent herbicide or post-emergent herbicide

Pre-emergent herbicide acts as a barrier that blocks weed growth before it occurs. 
Post-emergent herbicide kills existing weeds on contact. 

Why bother with weed control? 

Not only do weeds lower curb appeal, but they also compete with your grass for space, sunlight, nutrients, and water. If a weed invasion gets out of hand, it may eventually crowd out your grass. 

Common lawn weeds include: 

11. Rake Autumn Leaves

Red rake propped on bench beside pile of leaves
utroja0 / Pixabay

As the leaves pile up in your yard, it’s tempting to ignore them, but a thick layer of leaves on the lawn isn’t good for your grass. Here’s why: 

  • A thick mat of leaves, especially if they are wet, will invite pests and diseases. 
  • The grass will struggle to photosynthesize without access to sunlight and will eventually die. 

Remove leaves from your lawn every few days in the fall, but remove them more frequently if the layer of leaves is wet or suffocating your grass. 

Pro Tip: Make your job easier by using a leaf blower instead of a rake. Or, spare your back and schedule professional leaf removal

12. Know Your Tools

A groundskeeper blows autumn leaves in Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh
Cbaile19 / Wikimedia Commons / CC0

Keeping your grass well maintained requires a few lawn care tools. A lawn mower and leaf rake are essential to have in your shed or garage. Other lawn care equipment to consider adding to your tool shed or garage: 

  • Leaf blower: Uses fast-moving air to help collect fall leaves.
  • Leaf blower vacuum: Sucks up leaves and collects them in an attached bag. Most leaf blower vacuums have a built-in mulcher. 
  • Weed eater: Trims grass in areas your lawn mower can’t reach. Other names for this lawn care tool include a weed whacker, weed wacker, string trimmer, or strimmer. 
  • Broadcast spreader, drop spreader, or handheld spreader: Spreads granular fertilizer across the lawn. 
  • Edger: Creates distinct lines and boundaries along walkways and flower beds. Edgers are available as manual and motorized tools.  
  • Bow rake: Levels out piles of soil, mulch, and gravel. 
  • Wheelbarrow: Carries heavy loads across the lawn, such as bags of fertilizer, mulch, or gravel. 
  • Shovel: Digs large holes in the ground and is useful for collecting soil.
  • Garden hose: Water the lawn and nearby flower beds. 

When shopping for lawn care tools, consider what power source you’d like to use. Take your pick among gas-powered, corded electric, or battery-powered tools. 

  • Gas-powered tools provide the most horsepower, but they’re harmful to the environment.
  • Corded electric tools are eco-friendly and affordable, but your work area is limited by the length of your power cord.
  • Battery-powered tools are eco-friendly and not restricted to a power cord, but they require frequent charging. 

13. Mind the Environment

two blue rain barrels next to a house
Jennifer C. / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

As you learn more about lawn care, it’s easy to get carried away with fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides. But these chemical products aren’t good for the environment, and it’s best to limit their use. 

A simple way you can increase your lawn’s eco-friendliness is by performing proper maintenance, such as good watering and mowing techniques. The healthier your turf, the less you’ll need to rely on chemical assistance.

Here are some ways you can practice lawn care with the environment in mind: 

  • Use no more than the recommended amount of fertilizer. Using too much fertilizer may harm your grass, and excess fertilizer will wash away and pollute local waterways. 
  • Install a rain barrel near your gutter system and use the water for irrigation. Harvesting rainwater helps lower your reliance on the local water supply. 
  • Prevent pests and diseases from invading your lawn with good lawn care practices instead of preventative chemicals. Aeration, dethatching, mowing, and leaf removal are natural ways you can make your yard less attractive to pests and fungi. 
  • Go organic with fertilizers: If you need to apply fertilizers and pesticides, switch from synthetic products to organic fertilizers
  • Don’t bag your leaves or grass clippings. Bagging and throwing away yard debris takes up space in landfills and removes nutrients from the environment. Leave your grass clippings on the lawn and shred your leaves to make a mulch (or compost them). 

Show Your Lawn Some TLC 

DIY lawn care isn’t rocket science, and it needn’t be intimidating. Maybe you’ve never tested your soil before, or perhaps you need to learn more about your grass type – that’s OK. 

It takes time to get to know your lawn. Make a note of which treatments your lawn needs yearly and which ones can wait. Every lawn is different, so remember to store a little patience in your tool kit (for yourself and your turf).

When to Call a Lawn Care Pro

Whether you’re a new homebuyer or you’ve enjoyed the same yard and home for years, tending to your lawn for hours in the sun might be the last thing you want to do. 

So let our lawn care experts take care of your yard for you. Hire a local lawn care professional who will mow, fertilize, and aerate your lawn. Who says you can’t have a healthy, beautiful lawn without lifting a finger? (Well, you do have to lift your finger to click a link or call to book your lawn care services, but that’s it.)

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Main Photo Credit: Skitterphoto / Pixabay

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell is an artist, writer, and nature lover. She enjoys teaching readers about the importance of eco-friendly lawn care, integrated pest management, biodiversity, and sustainable landscaping.