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If you've just purchased a home, taking care of that new lawn can be deceptively difficult.
Are you worried about the grass being greener on the other side… of the street? Trying to avoid lawn scrutiny from the neighbors? Struggling to figure out the best way to maintain your lush landscape?
Taking care of your first lawn can be a bit more complex than just mowing it every weekend. Some lawns are unruly and require special attention, while others are a bit on the ugly side and need some freshening up.
Read on for a simple lawn care for beginners guide on how to maintain a green, healthy lawn all year round.
Identify Your Zone
Just what is a “zone”? Good question. In a nutshell, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones break down different areas by temperature. Each plant has a hardiness zone range, which dictates whether or not it will live year-round with that area’s temperature range. Note that annuals will grow anywhere that it warms up in summer – including super-cold places like Alaska – so zones are really referring to perennials, which are plants that will survive through winter.
Conduct a Soil Test
Great soil is the key to green grass and healthy plant growth. A soil test is a great way to find out the composition of your property’s soil and to determine what steps, if any, should be taken to improve the health of your lawn. You can buy soil test kits at your local home improvement store or you can bring in a landscaper to do a professional test.
Visit a Plant Nursery
Knowing what plants you have on your property and how to take care of them is critical. If there are any plants you’re unfamiliar with, take photos and go to your local plant nursery to get an expert evaluation. Their staff can provide advice on how to properly care for your plants throughout the year.
For example, some shrubs and bushes may need to be pruned back to ensure healthy growth, whereas others may not need any pruning at all.
Aeration is a process that breaks up the soil and helps oxygen penetrate and circulate better. This, in turn, is good for the health of the soil and any plants growing in it. You can either buy your own manual aerator or rent one from a local home improvement store. Ideally, aeration should occur once a year.
You may also just want to hire a professional to take care of this task.
Seed and Fertilize
Regular seeding and fertilizing is a must for maintaining a lush, green yard. Typically, lawn fertilizer should be laid down using a manual spreader at least once (and ideally twice) a year. This will help improve the health of the lawn. Grass seed should also be applied as needed on bare spots.
Invest In a Sprinkler
If your home doesn’t already have a sprinkler system in place, it may be worth considering investing in one – especially during warm and dry months of the year. Installing a quality sprinkler that connects to an exterior hose can make the process of watering a lawn easier. Just make sure you know how much water your plants need to survive – some may still need manual watering to keep them healthy and growing.
Choose the Right Plants
Once you know what zone you’re in, it’s time to select plants that will grow happily in your area. This means they won’t get too cold in winter or too hot in summer, both of which can kill plants and make them more susceptible to disease.
Plants that thrive in your zone will survive year to year and reproduce on their own, saving you some serious cash in the long term. Wondering about a specific plant? Check out the Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder, which allows you to input any plant species and check its specific requirements.
Pick Native Plants When Possible
It’s good to choose native plants, or plants that are original to your area, whenever possible. These plants are especially hardy because they’re fully acclimated to your local climate and conditions.
Again, going to a nursery is a good idea.
Plant Perennials & Easy-Care Plants
If you’re going to plant flowers or any other plants, stick to plants that you can count on coming back year after year. Specifically, perennials are typically the best value for your lawn and will save you from needing to re-plant each year. Research perennials that will thrive in your climate and strategically place them around your yard. You can also which types of plants thrive in your area with little to no intervention from you and can use what you learn to make sure your lawn requires little care to keep looking beautiful.
Pay Attention to Care Guidelines
Caring for your plants means more than simply heading out with a hose once in a while. You need to know what each plant’s requirements.
For example, you should know how often to water and mulch, what type of drainage is best for your plants, what soil to use and whether your plants need fertilizer, and shade or sun. Consider planting species with similar needs close to one another to save you time and trouble.
In a Drought Zone? Look Into Xeriscaping
While xeriscaping, also known as drought-resistant landscaping, was developed for the unique needs of the hot, desert Southwest, the concept has grown to encompass principles that work in any planting zone or climate.
Xeriscaping is a way of looking at your local environment and developing a plan that is consistent with the plants that naturally thrive there with little human help. Once established, your local xeriscape needs only periodic attention to look beautiful at any time of year.
Consider the Climate
It’s obvious that landscaping needs will differ from the seacoast to the mountains, from northern Minnesota to the Great Plains, and from a hot, humid environment to the sunbaked expanses of Arizona and Nevada. While it is possible to cultivate roses in the desert, or succulents in gardens in the salt-filled fog of Maine or South Carolina, it is much more sensible and environmentally wise to tailor your landscape to your geography’s climate.
The most satisfying landscapes look as if they developed naturally and can withstand the changing weather conditions of your particular area. If you’re unfamiliar with the locale, be sure to get advice from a local nursery; ask questions or snap pictures of yards that please you.
Also keep in mind water concerns. If your area frequently has to conserve water due to drought conditions, you don't want to add water-hungry plants to your lawn.
Combine Hardscape with Greenery
Have fun with your landscape and plan for privacy, sports, outdoor dining, activities that appeal to your family. Garden structures like trellises and gazebos can provide a place to read or relax. A sandbox is a great addition if you have young children. A fenced area can eliminate the problem of “doggie digging” or muddy feet.
Plan spaces that encourage family togetherness or add a little whimsy. Layer your landscape in front of a fence or wall and leave space for seasonal color if you enjoy spending time outdoors and like to “play in the dirt.”
Also consider that potted annuals generally require little water, and can be moved to take advantage of the sun and natural precipitation.
Use Mixed Materials
Hardscaping with bricks or pavers can be a great way to beautify your backyard and cut down on watering. Mulch beds also serve multiple purposes. For starters, they reduce the amount of grass that needs to be mowed. Second, they provide plants much-needed protection and shelter from the elements. Mulch beds also look appealing and are very inexpensive to install, making them an excellent addition to your property.
Less Is More
While you may be tempted to install a bed with dozens of different plants and flowers because it’ll be beautiful, there’s a downside. The more different plants you have, the more work you’ll have to put into meeting each individual plant’s care and maintenance needs. Instead, why not plant a few larger shrubs or even trees on your property? They’ll still be lovely, will require a lot less work and you can choose flowering varieties for if you want a few pops of color.
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