MyFixitUpLife QuickTips: Growing Greener Grass
By Mark Clement, the host of 'MyFixitUpLife,' a licensed contractor and the author of The Carpenter's Notebook.

A deep carpet of a lawn is a thing of beauty to me.  And while the greener ones tend to be those maintained by an expensive lawn service, getting your own grass growing healthy and strong is a very doable, very affordable project.  Indeed, I've rescued several lame lawns using these very simple tips and tricks.

The first thing you need is a growing season.  While you can enter the cycle at any time, it's best if you enter it as the grass is defrosting from winter's grip.

Spring

Mower Maintenance. Spring and fall are when grass really grows.  Grass likes the cool nights and warm days.  So before the mowing season starts, I like to make sure the mower and other lawn equipment work.  I usually send the mower out to a shop for oil changes and such, but for little things like sharpening the blade during the season or cleaning the air filter, I do that myself.  Sharp blades work better.

Pre-Emergent Broadleaf Weed Control. One of the things that make growing grass difficult is weeds.  Weeds are aggressive; they compete for food and dirt.  And they're ugly of course.

The best way I've found to beat the weeds is to strike early with the proper weed barrier type fertilizer.  By and large ' and where I live, in the northern tier of the country ' this means the first thing the lawn gets is a nice feeding of pre-emergent crab grass and broadleaf weed control in the early spring.

The success of this fertilizer application is measured in August when the lawn isn't spotted with bright green crab grass patches.

Lime or Gypsum. The next thing to do is get your soil tested to see if its acid or base.  This is usually a very inexpensive test (like under 20 bucks) and your local university extension is the place to have it done.  They'll mail you a box; you fill it with soil samples and mail back.  They'll analyze the soil and send you recommendations.

The MyFixitUpLife turf likes limestone.  So with every fertilizer application I take a second pass with pelletized limestone in my spreader.  The lime gets the soil's acid levels right and is like a catalyst for the fertilizer, enabling it to work much more effectively.

Weed and Feed. In late spring, I apply 'Weed & Feed' according to the manufacturer's instructions and scheduling.  This gives the grass a nice vitamin dose and wreaks havoc on stuff like dandelions and other actively growing weeds.  And, of course, I accompany the application with lime.

Water. By and large, I don't water my grass, assuming it rains enough.
But when I mow after a soaking rain, I like to clean the clumped grass from the bottom of the mower deck.  If I've been Johnny-on-the-spot with mower cleanings, I hook up the hose's quick-release nozzle to my Troy-Bilt Deck Wash fitting and go to town.  Otherwise, cleaning the clumped grass out using a painter's '5-in-1' tool is the way I normally do it.  A clean mower works better.

Summer. Summer is grass's toughest season ' late July and August in particular.  Grass is a cool-weather plant and likes spring and fall the most.  Mostly, the grass goes nearly dormant after it heats up too much and requires less mowing.  While I try and mulch the clippings throughout the year, summer is the time the grass can really use those nutrients getting back into the soil.

I also fertilize in the summer with a low-impact, all-organic fertilizer like Milorganite® and limestone.

Late Summer and Fall

Right around Labor Day is the next big seasonal opportunity to make magic happen with terrible turf.

Aerate. And the magic machine for fescue that needs a foot up is a core aerator (which you can rent or tow behind your tractor). This unit pulls plugs of soil out of the lawn, which enables oxygen to get to the roots. I actually run it over the turf twice: once north and south, once east and west. I want to make sure I really cover all the ground.

Combined with ideal temperatures, late summer is my favorite time to add new seed, so it has had ample time to sprout and be mowed a few times before fall turns to winter.  Not all grass seeds are created equally, by the way, so check with your supplier about what you want.  Perennial rye grass, for example (often a staple in a 'contractor's mix'), comes up quickly but is brighter green than the blue grass-type seed.  And you want to match what you've got.  As for 'starter' fertilizer with the new seed, I go with a Milorganite-type product.  No lime.

The other reason I like seeding after aeration is that the seed has a bajillion little holes to hide in and is more likely to germinate.

Water.  Anytime there's new seed involved, there should be copious amounts of water happening.  New seed likes lots of agua.  I like to water 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening every day while the seed germinates, then tail off after the first mow or so.

Winter

Where we live, grass goes dormant of course. However, by completing this little regimen ' even if your lawn hasn't undergone the total transformation by this time ' you've set the stage for the following year when you can start all over again with a significant advantage over the weeds.

How's that for a few hours and a few bucks to make your neighbors green with envy over your great, green grass?