Master Gardener: Secrets to a great lawn |

Master Gardener: Secrets to a great lawn

Gwen Swenson-Hale
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
A lawn makes playing outside even more enjoyable for the younger members of the family.
Peter Alfino/Courtesy photo

While massive expanses of turf aren’t common in Routt County, there are many reasons why a patch of green grass adds beauty to your landscape.

With little effort, your yard can be a place for your kids to play, pets to romp around, host a game of corn hole or be a place where you relax and enjoy nature.

Following are some top recommendations for general lawn care. At the end of this column, there is a link to 76 separate fact sheets covering very specific topics, including how to select the best type of grass for your landscape (there are eight types covered), and how to fix dog urine spots or improve a lumpy lawn.


Your lawn is unique and the amount and frequency of watering depends on the type of grass, type of soil, weather conditions and the amount of shade your lawn receives.

The goal is to always apply enough water to moisten as much of the grass roots as possible; typically about six inches. If your soil is mainly clay, and it might take about one and one-half inches of water to reach that six-inch mark. An easy way to see how far down your grass roots grow and how far down the water is reaching is to sink a screwdriver into the turf to check for water penetration.

Application: When watering, it is best done slowly allowing enough time to let the water sink into the ground without draining off to a sidewalk or street. If you have an irrigation system or the patience to move your hose around, two to three shorter passes through zones allows for the ground to absorb the water better.

Frequency of watering also depends on your lawn specifics. One lawn might require watering every couple days while another can go for two weeks before showing signs of stress.

A wilted appearance, when footprints remain visible an hour after walking on it or a purple-to-blue cast are good signs that your lawn is in need of water. A lawn which is overly drought stressed becomes more susceptible to insect and disease damage, as well as a haven for weeds.

Time of Day: Before 8 a.m. and between 10 p.m. and midnight are the best times to water (it’s not true that watering at night increases disease). It’s usually less windy, cooler and more humid at these times, resulting in less evaporation and more efficient use of water.

Turf can be a great landscape technique to bridge different sections of the landscape.
Pam Rolfes/Courtesy photo


Again, it depends on your type of grass, but the ideal height for lawns in Colorado is 2.5-3 inches high. This is true year-round (no need to mow shorter in the fall.) The lawn should be mowed often enough that no more than one-third of the grass height is ever removed at a single time.

This might mean mowing every three to four days in the spring, and once every seven to 10 days in the fall. If the grass gets too long, set the mower height so only one-third is being cut, then mow again at the desired height in a few days.

Leave the grass clippings on the lawn as they decompose quickly and provide nutrients.

Finally, keeping mower blades sharp (ideally sharpening every fourth mowing) will cut the blades of grass cleanly rather than shredding and fraying them, which results in a browning looking lawn.


The best way to reduce thatch build up (the tight, brown spongy organic layer of grass roots and stems above the soil) is by core cultivation or aerating. This should be done in the spring and fall with plugs close to three inches or longer for best results.

Leaving the plugs of soil on the lawn can be beneficial as this helps break down remaining thatch faster. Similarly, watering after aerating or very light power raking can also help the plugs decompose.


Nitrogen is the key ingredient to a healthy, green lawn, but again, types of grass require different amounts, types and timing of fertilizer. For instance, avoid under-fertilizing bluegrass and ryegrass, as these species can become unhealthy if not fertilized properly. However, overfertilization can contribute to thatch buildup and increased mowing requirements.

Once you’ve got the basics covered, you should be able to enjoy your patch of green with ease.

The public is always welcome to visit the CSU-Extension office from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday mornings for a free consultation or email questions to

Gwen Swenson-Hale is a CSU Master Gardener from the class of 2021 and while she doesn’t have a lawn now, she has tended Denver lawns for decades and loves to walk barefoot in a bit of grass.

For more info

Much more detailed information can be found at
Lawn Care Extension.ColoState.Edu/Topic-Areas/Yard-Garden/Lawn-Care-7-202/. For a complete list of all turf related information sheets (76 topics), go to

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