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Choose Your Level of Maintenance


August is a good time to fully consider the overall maintenance level for your lawn. Many acreage owners want a high-maintenance look, but are only willing to invest a low or medium level of time and money in it. Be honest with yourself. Identify how many hours and dollars you--and your family--are willing to spend on the lawn in a typical week, and base your design and planting decisions accordingly.

A high-maintenance lawn is generally mowed two or three times per week, receives 4 to 5 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. per year, and is regularly aerified and dethatched with power equipment. Nitrogen is a key element in encouraging turf growth, and high levels of nitrogen fertilizer make it necessary to mow more often. Pest control is given lots of attention, with regular inspections and both preventative and curative treatments. The lawn is watered as needed to keep the soil moist. In all, a high-maintenance lawn will require an average of 4 or 5 hours for a traditionally sized residential lawn, and 9-10 hours for most acreages per week. Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass are the species best adapted to this high-input regime. They will provide a beautiful emerald green color, with a thick, luxurious appearance, and they are especially durable under hard use.

A medium-maintenance lawn receives the same types of care as one on a more ambitious regimen, but at a reduced level. These lawns are mowed one or two times per week, receive 2 to 3 pounds of nitrogen per year, and are aerified and dethatched as necessary. Pest control is provided on an as-needed basis, if and when problems arise. The lawn is watered to keep the soil moist, except when cutting back to save money or conserve water. On the average, expect to spend 2 or 3 hours per week for residential lawns and 4-6 hours for acreages. This middle-of-the-road approach works well with Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, turf type tall fescue and zoysiagrass. The result should be a lawn that is green and healthy and very functional, with a moderate level of aesthetic appeal.

A low-maintenance lawn is mowed two or three times per month, is treated with about 1 pound of nitrogen per year, and receives soil aeration only if severe problems with drainage arise. In most cases, pest control is nonexistent; if high levels of pests build up, the approach is to simply hope that the grass will eventually regrow and spread into the affected areas. On the average, you'll invest just an hour or two per week on residential lawns and two to three for acreages. Choose from such species as common or unimproved types of Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, zoysiagrass and buffalograss. Because these lawns require minimum amounts of time, cost, and effort to maintain, they are good choices for people who travel regularly or have little interest in yard work.

Consider designing your landscape with lawn areas that differ in maintenance level. The very visible front yard might be high maintenance, the back medium, and the sides low. This is somewhat like combining the best of both worlds, because it still allows you to the freedom to concentrate on that which is most important in your life, such as recreation, family activities or volunteer service.

By John Fech, UNL Extension Educator