Lawn Maintenance

Healthy Turf

Pride and Pleasure in Growing a Garden of Grass

Bob Jacobus, Goodhue County Master Gardener

 A typical 1,000 square feet of lawn is made up of one million individual grass plants. This could mean that you are caring for and nurturing 3 to 10 million grass plants depending on the size of your lawn (garden of grass plants).  On a warm spring day there is just not anything as satisfying as looking over your freshly mowed lawn (your garden of grass) and marveling at a perfect job of mowing.

Yes, I know there are articles and books a plenty about lawn care and you have read most of the good ones, but let’s review just a few guidelines and tips that can help you build your pride and pleasure in a beautiful lawn.

Controlling Excess Lawn Thatch:

Thatch is a tightly interlaced layer of undecomposed plant matter located between the grass blades and the soil surface.  Lawn thatch is the result of dead organic matter (fibrous stems, leaves, and roots) accumulating on or near the surface of your lawn faster than it decomposes.  All lawns have some thatch, and a thatch layer up to ½” thick is usually beneficial.  A thatch layer over ½” thick will cause your lawn to feel spongy when you walk on it, and over ½” of thatch layer will prevent air, water, and plant food from reaching the roots of the grass plants.

What can you do if you have a moderate amount of thatch of ½” to 1 and ½” thick?   There are several choices, but only two are most generally used.  You can mechanically rake out the thatch layer with a de-thatching machine (vertical mower) or you can use a soil aerator which punches holes into the soil and removes small cores of turf, thatch and soil which is deposited on top of the lawn.  Dethatching or aerating should be done either in early spring or fall.  If you are using a spring application, be sure the soil is dry enough to work – avoid doing the application on very wet soils.  If you are using a fall application, the operation should be completed at least one month before grass growth stops for the season.  Mechanical de-thatching is a one pass operation and you will have a lot of debris to remove from your lawn.  If using a soil aerator, you can make two to three passes or more over your lawn in different directions.  Aeration will leave cores of soil and thatch on your lawn that will reincorporate into your lawn in a week or two.  Fertilize and water your lawn soon after opening up the soil.  If you are inclined to over-seed your lawn, do it at the same time.

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Soil Tests


It all starts with the soil, so getting to know yours is an important first step.

The University of Minnesota Soil Lab will give you recommendations to make your lawn or garden more productive for just $17. Download the form at and follow the instructions. You simply collect five trowels of soil from throughout your lawn or garden, mix it together and mail one pint of your sample to the University of Minnesota Soils Lab with the form and a check.

Two or three weeks later you will receive a summary of your soil texture, percent organic matter, pH, nutrients and suggested fertilization needs. With this information you are on your way to improving your garden soil.