Tri-County Lakes Administrative Commission

Lawn Care

Lawn Care Tips

Liming is an important part of turf management. Lime helps by reducing the acidity and improving turf growth through the summer and fall. It is best to have your soil tested to determine if lime is needed and if so, how much to apply. The recommended time to apply lime is in late winter to early spring (January–March). Applying lime during this time helps the material break down before the next season’s growth. However, lime can be applied at any time of the year.

Fall fertilization enhances the quality of cool-season grasses. The advantages of fall fertilization include better density and root growth, less spring mowing, better fall-to-spring color, fewer weed problems, better drought tolerance, and less summer disease activity.

There are two basic types of fertilizer spreaders for use on the home lawn: the drop and the broadcast. The drop spreader “drops” a set rate of fertilizer. This type of spreader is best for small lawns. The broadcast spreader has a rotating disc that “throws out” a circular pattern of fertilizer as it is pushed. The broadcast spreader is best for large lawns. Both types of spreaders have settings for different fertilizer formulations. The settings are only approximate, and it is important to calibrate spreaders before using.

Sharpening your lawnmower blades promotes grass health. The recommended mower cutting height is about 2 ½ inches in spring and fall. During the summer months you will want to raise your cutting height to about 3 inches.

Grass clippings are a free fertilizer and will not cause thatch problems. If you utilize clippings on the lawn for two years or longer, you may be able to lower the amount of fertilizer you use by 25 percent or more.

Two points to remember:

  • Do not let the grass grow too high
  • Disperse grass clippings evenly over the lawn

Be aware that some turf species have natural dormancy periods, during which they may turn brown. Applying fertilizer to force a lawn to turn green during its dormancy period can damage the grass. Unless you have bluegrass, it is safe to let an established lawn go dormant during the summer. Dormancy is a natural survival mechanism, and your lawn will usually recover when rainfall returns. Dormant lawns continue to protect water quality by holding the soil and nutrients in place.

Guidelines When Choosing a Fertilizer

Have your soil tested. These tests provide important information about the fertility of your lawn. The test will indicate the specific amount of lime or fertilizer your soil may need to provide nutrition for the grass. You can pick up a soil test at your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office.

All fertilizers are labeled with three numbers indicating the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N-Ph-P) the three main plant nutrients. Nitrogen promotes the green color in your grass. Phosphorus promotes root growth. Potassium helps advance disease resistance and durability. Your soil test will recommend the correct fertilizer ratio (N-Ph-P).

When purchasing a fertilizer, also look for Water Insoluble Nitrogen, abbreviated “WIN.” This could mean that the nitrogen will release slowly over time. Slow releasing fertilizers are less likely to allow nitrates to wash through the soil into the groundwater.

Yard waste compost also makes a good fertilizer. Although it is low in nutrients, it can be used to enhance soil structure. Enhancing the soil structure will increase the effectiveness of fertilizer.

Another natural fertilizer is one that contains cottonseed meal, blood meal, bone meal, fish emulsion, and manures. These natural fertilizers contain low concentrations of nutrients, but add valuable organic matter to the soil.

Smith Mountain Lake Dam

Photo by Robert Houpt

For more detailed information on lawn care and fertilizers, please contact your local Virginia Cooperative Extension Office online or by telephone at:

Bedford County

Campbell County

Franklin County

Pittsylvania County