A plant pathologist for the Connecticut Agricultural Station in Windsor, LaMondia knows more than the average homeowner about what it takes to grow a green lawn.
To start your lawn revival, get rid of dead grass and leaves to allow water, air and nutrients to move through the soil.
``A good hard raking is tough on a big lawn, but it works,'' said Lance Walheim, a horticulturist and author of ``Lawn Care for Dummies'' (IDG Books, $16.99).
Although a dethatching blade on a mower can do the job, Walheim said, a power rake is best. Power rakes resemble lawn mowers but have blades that cut down to soil surface.
As you're cleaning up, take time to fortify your soil to help it sustain lush grass.
Know Your Soil
To find out what the soil may need, test it. The University of Connecticut Home and Garden Education Center will test soil samples for a fee, ranging from $2 to $10, depending on the type of test. Staff at the center will make recommendations based on the results, which will take a lot of the guesswork out of lawn care.
The center tests for the pH level, nutrients, organic matter and soil texture. The cost to test for pH, a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the soil, is $2. Other, more expensive tests determine levels of nutrients, organic matter and soil texture.
``It [testing] isn't absolutely necessary, but it is a good idea,'' Walheim said. The right pH level is important. ``Proper soil pH ensures that your lawn will be able to absorb the nutrients it needs and remain healthy and green,'' he said.
For a random soil sample, dig with a trowel straight down about 3 to 4 inches in 10 or more places in the lawn, said Edmund L. Marrotte, consumer horticulturist and director of UConn's Home and Garden Education Center.
Put the soil in a clean bucket, mix thoroughly and then remove 1 cup for testing. Seal the sample in a plastic bag that zips shut. If you are sending more than sample, label the bags. The center recommends testing more than one sample if the lawn has different degrees of slope, drainage or appears to contain different types of soil.
Treating The Soil
If the test determines a pH imbalance, the analysis will recommend adding either limestone (to increase alkalinity) or sulfur (to increase acidity).
Most lawn grasses do well in a slightly acid soil with a pH of about 6.5 to 7.0. If the test results are below 6.5, your lawn is too acidic and if it is above 7.5, it is too alkaline for most types of grass.
Testing can also provide specific information about how much fertilizer is needed and how often it should be applied.
The best time to apply fertilizer is in the fall. The next best time is in the spring, said Walheim. ``Proper fertilization insures a healthy, dense turf that is durable and resists weeds and other pests,'' he said. ``In truth, most lawns can get by with one or two feedings a year.''
But too much of a good thing can damage a lawn and the rest of the environment. ``Over-fertilizing can burn a lawn, increase thatch, cause pollution and require constant mowing,'' Walheim said. Too much nitrogen can run off and pollute groundwater, streams and lakes.