Growing a Lush, Healthy Lawn: Tips from the Pros

Helpful Tips from Professionals
When you're on a quest for the perfect lawn, you're bound to encounter challenges. But you can breeze over hurdles with helping hands from those who have gone before you. With the following insider tips from two pros in the grass business, you can grow a lush, healthy lawn to its very best, making all the effort and care you expend in your yard worth it.

Scott Woodward, Woodward Turf Farms, Remington, VA

Scott Woodard
As a leader in Virginia's sod industry for more than 50 years, Woodward Turf Farms is known for excellence. When it comes to bringing premium grass seed to maturity, owner Scott Woodward understands what it takes. While he operates on a larger scale than the average homeowner, this pro knows how to nurture lush, healthy grass in thousands of acres or a single lawn.

Woodward offers homeowners the following top four lawn tips:

1. Choose top-performing grass varieties.
In Woodward's eyes, seed choice is one of the most important aspects in growing exceptional grass and determining lawn performance. “The varieties that you have in your lawn are going to dictate what your lawn is," he explains. Drought-tolerant grass varieties, for example, produce drought-tolerant lawns, and proven performers deliver outstanding results.

Water conservation is a primary concern for Woodward's broad customer base and for himself in his growing fields, where nature provides most of the irrigation. Woodward looks to Water Star® grass varieties qualified by the Turfgrass Water Conservation Alliance® (TWCA) services, such as Pennington® Smart Seed® grasses.

“We only grow the TWCA water conservation grasses," says Woodward. “They are the most drought-tolerant, and they're tested for that." Water Star® grass varieties must demonstrate statistically significant water savings over conventional, same-species varieties to earn the TWCA qualification.

2. Always test your soil first.
For homeowners serious about lawn care, Woodward starts with soil testing. “Soil testing is the most important thing." he emphasizes. At Woodward Turf Farms, every field is soil tested annually, and anyone seeking lawn care advice from the business won't get recommendations unless their soil is first tested.

Woodward explains that soils vary, and knowing your soil pH through testing is critical to growing healthy grass. Without proper pH for nutrient transport and uptake, you can't get optimal results from your soil. “It can be worked with, but you have to know what you have," says Woodward. Soil testing provides that necessary starting point.

3. Know the exact measurements of the area you maintain.
Woodward stresses that you must have accurate measurements of your maintained grass areas in order to treat them effectively. “Knowing the size of the area that they're doing – the exact dimensions – is huge," he says. He finds that homeowners often look at their total lot size when calculating amounts of fertilizers or other treatments, and don't deduct for buildings, driveways and non-grass areas. He points out that when your home sits on an acre lot, the grass area you maintain is much less than an acre.

Whether tending home lawns or his own fields, where every square foot is managed by GPS, Woodward underscores that over-estimating your maintained area causes problems. Over-applying fertilizer or other lawn treatments can be detrimental to lawns, and expensive.

4. Consider working with a trained professional at first.
Woodward acknowledges his strategy differs from homeowners, in that he starts sod from scratch every year, but the same important principles he and other pros follow to grow healthy turf apply. “Water, fertilization, weed control and mowing. Those are the things that we do here, and we pick good varieties," he explains.

Woodward recommends learning from educational material available from reputable companies, but that's just the beginning. “If you don't know what you're doing ... I would definitely suggest a professional's help to at least get started," he advises. A trained lawn care professional may be the initial boost you need for long-term success.

Ben Ratsachak, 1st Green Lawn, Bentonville, AR

Ben Ratsachak
In Northwest Arkansas, many homeowners turn to Ben Ratsachak of 1st Green Lawn for solutions to their lawn care problems. A specialist in lawn treatments, including fertilizer, weed control, overseeding and renovations, this pro is known for his focus on grass health and his willingness to share his expertise — even with competitors. “I like the open communication," he says.

Ratsachak offers homeowners the following four tips:

1. Understand your soil and water requirements.
Ratsachak compares a healthy lawn to a healthy body, stressing the importance of what you put in it. “If you want to be healthy, you've got eat good food," he explains. But not all homeowners understand the important roles soil and water play in growing healthy lawns, so he puts those two factors at the top when assessing their lawns. “The first thing I look at is the soil, and if they have sprinkler systems," he says.

Ratsachak also points out that soil conditions and soil depths can vary considerably between neighbors, because builders may use different soils when grading. So, he cautions that homeowners shouldn't try to compare their lawns or lawn needs with their neighbors. Every lawn and its soil is different, and water and treatment needs vary accordingly.

2. Read and follow product instructions closely.
In Ratsachak's experience, a lack of knowledge and a misunderstanding of product labels cause many preventable home lawn problems. Some homeowners overuse products, such as fertilizers or weed controls, and over treat lawns; others fail to understand that timing is critical for herbicide and fertilizer applications. So, he suggests reading labels carefully and seeking help when necessary. “If you're not sure, learn from someone that knows."

Ratsachak also emphasizes that a healthy lawn takes time. While you may want to speed things up, over-applications won't help. “It's a process, not a one-time thing," he says. Patience pays off.

3. Adjust mowing height and frequency according to weather.
For simple steps to improve your lawn, especially if you don't use a sprinkler system, Ratsachak recommends changing mowing habits during warm weather. Mow higher, he advises, so the grass height helps protect the root system, and increase your mowing frequency when needed. “Make sure you mow your lawn high, at least 3 to 4 inches. Four inches is ideal," says Ratsachak.

He also cautions against mowing grass short in a single cutting in an effort to mow less often. “That will injure the lawn," he warns. Instead, reduce your mowing height by gradually lowering your blades over several mowings until you reach the desired mowing height.

4. Be willing to invest time and effort.
Ratsachak's final advice for serious lawn enthusiasts is to understand that lush, healthy lawns take effort. New clients often ask him to make their lawns golf course quality. He can do it, "but you have to do your part, too," he says. Golf course care is intensive and includes several mowings per week, something most homeowners won't realistically do. “Are they willing to spend the time on it? It's not going to happen overnight," says Ratsachak. Only those willing to sacrifice their time and alter their habits will yield rewards.

By drawing on the advice of these pros, you can put their knowledge to action and enjoy the benefits of their expertise in your lawn. Pennington Seed is dedicated to producing the finest grasses available and helping you grow the lush, healthy lawn you deserve.

Water Star, Pennington, and Smart Seed are registered trademarks of Pennington Seed, Inc.Turfgrass Water Conservation Alliance is a registered trademark of Nexgen Turf Research, LLC.
Grass 101