This is the Custom Lawn Care Program that I use on my lawn to get the greenest grass on the block. It focuses on soil temperatures, slow release fertilizers, and the most effective weed prevention and control strategies.
This is my custom Lawn Care Program that I use every year on my cool season grass. I’ll make some tweaks and sub out some products from time to time since I enjoy experimentation, but for the most part this plan is the foundation from which I build off of. And in case you’re wondering, yes, I do have the best lawn on the block, and if that’s your goal then this plan can get you there.
Before we get started I want to point out that this plan is best for those of you with cool season grass. If you have warm season grass then check out this awesome program: Lawn Care Program Warm Season Grass
Why This Is the Best Lawn Care Program
1. What really makes this program stand out is the use of soil temperatures to determine when to apply pre emergent herbicides and fertilizers. Everything that happens in your lawn such as weed germination, summer and winter dormancy, and the specific nutrient requirements of your grass, are all driven by soil temperatures, not calendar dates. In the past homeowners have been intimidated about reading soil temperatures, but below I’m going to point out how easy it is using a simple website.
2. This program uses fertilizers that are slow, or slower release. This creates a more steady and prolonged period of growth in between feedings as opposed to the rapid and short lived growth spurts you can get when applying quick release synthetic fertilizers. It also prevents burning your lawn if you over apply product or enter a period of heat stress in the middle of summer.
3. This program uses pre emergent herbicides at 3 strategic times throughout the year. These applications are timed around soil temperature ranges in which crabgrass and other weeds germinate. Targeting these specific temperature ranges is a much better way at preventing weeds vs. the typical apply once at the beginning of the year strategy you see with a lot of the Step programs you find in the big box stores.
4. This plan uses a liquid post emergent herbicide to kill existing weeds in your lawn. Personally I’m not a fan of granular post emergent herbicides that you see in products like Weed & Feed. You will have much more success in killing existing weeds with a lawn safe, liquid post emergent.
Important Soil Temperatures in This Plan
As previously mentioned this plan is based around soil temperatures, not calendar dates. This requires you to get soil temperatures from your lawn and interpret the data. Luckily this is a lot easier then it sounds. A great place to check soil temperatures in your area is to use Greencast Online, which is a simple website that you plug your zip code into. I like to use the 24hr average number to see where soil temperatures are.
In addition to Greencast Online I like to stick a soil thermometer into my lawn in the top couple of inches so I can see what soil temps are doing in my actual lawn. Just note that the soil temps will increase and decrease pretty drastically from morning to mid day and then again at night. Think of the thermometer as just a gauge. It’s another piece of data that should be combined with the data you get from Green Cast. Ultimately you have to make the decision on when it’s the right time to throw down product. Luckily if you error on the side of being a little early you should be all set. Take a look at the important temperature thresholds below and what needs to be done at those thresholds:
1. 50 Degrees- In the spring when your 24hr soil temperature average hits 50 degrees it’s time to act because once your lawn hits 55 degrees weed seeds germinate and your cool season grass will start waking up. We want to be ready when things get going at 55 degrees so applying your first round of pre emergent and first round of fertilizer a little earlier at 50 degrees will mean that the pre emergent and fertilizer will be already in the ground for the important 55 degree mark. At the end of the year when soil temps head back down to this 50-55 degree range your cool season lawn is getting ready for winter and your winterizer fertilizer should be applied.
2. 65 Degrees- In the spring, with 65 degree soil temps your cool season lawn is definitely awake and should be growing. This is when you want to mow your lawn often (twice a week). This will also be when you want to apply your second round of pre emergent as well as your second application of fertilizer.
3. 70 Degrees- 70 degrees is an important soil temperature in late summer/ early fall. At this point, the peak soil temps of the summer months are behind you and things are cooling off. At 70 degrees you have to make an important decision. If you are planning on doing any kind of seeding in the fall then now is the time to do it. This includes core aerating and overseeding, or top dressing, or any other kind of lawn renovation that includes seeding. If you are seeding then you’ll be applying a starter fertilizer at this time. If you are not seeding then this is the time you want to apply your third round of pre emergent herbicides and also a time when you want to apply another round of fertilizer. Fall is when Poa Annua and other fall germinating weeds can cause problems so adding pre emergents at this time has many benefits. Just note that you are either choosing to seed and omit pre emergents, or you are choosing to throw down the pre emergent. It’s one or the other. If you apply a pre emergent when seeding the pre emergent will block grass seed from germinating and you will have wasted a lot of time and money.
4. 80 Degrees- When soil temps hit 80 degrees your cool season lawn could start to go into stress mode and might even go into a period of summer dormancy. This is when you want to baby it the most. That’s one of the reasons I recommend low nitrogen, high potassium fertilizers at this time. You don’t want to push too much blade growth with nitrogen since it will only stress your lawn out more. Keep your lawn watered to the best of your ability and practice good summer lawn care strategies.
Recommended Pre Emergent Herbicides
I’m recommending pre emergents get applied 3 times during the season (only twice if seeding in the fall). There are 2 pre emergents that are my favorite. You can choose to use either one for all 3 of your applications or you can choose to mix it up.
1. Prodiamine 0-0-7
Prodiamine 0-0-7 is a pre emergent that is very effective in blocking crabgrass and broadleaf weeds. This product should be applied at 3 lbs. per 1000 s/f and should be watered in. This product also contains 7 percent potassium which is beneficial early in the season when lawns are coming out of winter dormancy. Apply this product when soil temps hit a 24hr average of 50 degrees in the spring, and again a couple of weeks later when soil temps cross 65 degrees. By doing 2 light applications within weeks of each other, you’re going to get a more even, longer lasting coverage in the spring and summer. You can also use this product at the end of the summer as soil temps start to cool and head back down to the 70 degree range or you can switch to another pre emergent (Dithiopyr) which I recommend below. The reason I like to switch to Dithiopyr for the last pre emergent application is because with Prodiamine you’re only supposed to apply a total of 9 pounds per 1000 s/f for the season. At 3 lbs per 1000 s/f for 3 applications we are at our max. I like to have a slightly higher dosage on this last application so by switching to the Dithiopyr I know I’m not breaking any rules.
2. Dithiopyr 0-0-7
Dithiopyr 0-0-7 is another great pre emergent that blocks a lot of the same weeds as Prodiamine. It too has 7 percent potassium. In addition to being an effective pre emergent, Dithiopyr actually has some post emergent benefits to it, meaning it can kill weeds for a brief period after they’ve emerged. This is a great option if you think you got a late start to the season and missed the important 50 degree soil temperature threshold where pre emergents should be thrown down. Application rates and timing is similar to the Prodiamine above just note I prefer to use this as the third and final pre emergent application of the season (when soil temps head back down to 70) since I like to apply a little heavier heading into fall to block Poa Annua and other fall germinating weeds. If you’re planning on doing any seeding then don’t apply this last round of pre emergent since it will block the grass seed from growing.
Recommended Post Emergent Herbicide
No matter what you do, no pre emergent plan is perfect. You are going to have weeds that grow in your lawn. Also don’t forget, pre emergent herbicides won’t help prevent perennial lawn weeds that are already existing in your lawn. These weeds must be dealt with using a post emergent herbicide. Having a good, all around liquid post emergent herbicide that is selective, meaning it will kill weeds without killing your grass, is so important. My favorite liquid post emergent herbicide for cool season grass is Ortho Weed B Gone Plus Crabgrass Control. What I like about this product is it is very versatile and can be effective in controlling a lot of different weeds from crabgrass to dandelions, clovers, plus more. I recommend having this product on hand and ready to use. Walk your lawn once every week or two and spot treat any weeds you see. Some weeds will take repeat applications but eventually you’ll win the battle. You can either purchase the pre mixed ready to use bottle with a wand applicator, or you can buy the concentrate. With the concentrate you will mix the product with water (per label) into a tank sprayer. If you have a lot of weeds then I recommend purchasing the concentrate since it will save you money and you’ll get more mileage out of it.
When applying post emergents, always read the label to make sure it is safe to use on your lawn, and always follow the recommended mixing instructions. Lastly, adding some Surfactant to your liquid post emergent herbicide will help the product stick to the leaves and will be more effective. This is especially true later in the season when weeds develop waxy leaves that makes it hard for the herbicide to stick.
Over the last couple of years it has been a serious struggle to recommend specific fertilizers since supply shortages have made so many products scarce. Luckily, the fertilizers I recommend below should be easy to find. In fact most of the fertilizers below can be purchased online and shipped directly to your house, usually free of charge!
Flagship 24-0-6 contains both immediate and slow release nitrogen. It also contains 3% iron that which will give your lawn a dark green color. This is a very well balanced fertilizer that I like to use throughout the season. In this program it will be used to start off the season, and we will go back to it again later as we head into fall. If you could only apply one fertilizer to your cool season lawn for the entire year than this would be that best choice in product (not that I’m recommending you do that). This product gets shipped directly to your house after purchasing online.
Milorganite 6-4-0 is a slow release fertilizer made from bio solids. It is almost completely organic which makes it nearly impossible to burn your lawn if you over apply it. Milorganite contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and also iron which gives your lawn a deep green color. Personally, this is my favorite fertilizer that exists. I feel no other fertilizer gives such a long lasting deep green. It’s a great product to apply while your lawn is actively growing and needing nitrogen.
You’ll notice this product is different from other fertilizers you’re used to putting down since it requires a lot more product to get the full nitrogen dosage we are looking for, however the price per bag is a lot cheaper than other fertilizers that are richer in nitrogen.
Milorganite can pretty much be applied anytime during the season but in this program we are going to use it heading into summer and again later in the fall. Slow release fertilizers like Milorganite are great to use heading into summer since summer is a time of stress for your cool season lawn and slow release fertilizers are a lot less likely to burn your lawn and create more stress. Milorganite should be available at your local Home Depot, Lowes, or hardware store. If not in stock you might be able to choose a ship to store option.
Stress Blend 7-0-20
Stress Blend 7-0-20 is the best product to use when your cool season lawn is in it’s greatest time of stress, which is mid summer. This fertilizer is low in nitrogen (7%) and high in potassium (20%). It’s the potassium that really helps your lawn stay strong when it is being hit with dry, hot weather. Also, the little bit of nitrogen is 100% slow release. This is good since the last thing you want to do when your lawn is stressed out is give it too much nitrogen. Nitrogen will encourage blade growth. We’re not looking to force blade growth during the mid summer. Instead we need to baby our lawns and nurse them along until soil temps cool back down. Summer can be a really tough time for those of us with cool season lawns so it’s important to do everything you can to protect your summer lawn.
Double Dark 16-0-0 (Optional)
I’m going to list Double Dark 16-0-0 as an optional product. This product contains (16%) nitrogen and 6% iron and it’s perfect to throw down any time during the year (except if there’s heat stress). If you’re someone that prefers to fertilize your lawn more often, say every 4 to 5 weeks, instead of every 6 weeks, then you’ll probably need to add 1 or 2 applications to the program outlined below. Working in a couple of light feedings of Double Dark 16-0-0, will give your lawn a boost of nitrogen and iron and as the name implies it will make your lawn very dark green. I recommend applying this product at 3 lbs. per 1000 s/f when you feel your lawn needs a little extra boost.
Lastly, in addition to the macronutrients (NPK) I talked about above, these fertilizers contain several beneficial micronutrients and bio solids that increase microbial activity in your soil. It’s one of the many reasons I prefer these fertilizers over typical store bought products.
Lawn Care Program for Cool Season Grass
Before using this lawn care program I can’t tell you enough how important it is to have a real understanding of fertilizer application rates. If you’re relying on spreader settings listed on the back of a bag of fertilizer then you need to read this post: How to Fertilize Your Lawn. Also, when the plan calls for an application of pre emergent and an application of fertilizer don’t mix the two together. Apply them separately but on the same day.
** This plan mentions using a winterizer fertilizer in step 7. For more information on winterizer fertilizers check out: Winterizer Fertilizer.
It’s important to point out that this program makes no mention of lawn disease. Honestly, you might not have to worry about it but there may come a time where you need to work it into your overall plan. In the meantime I suggest you check out this post to be ready in case you need to act: Treating and Preventing Lawn Fungus.
Also this plan leaves out Grub Control. Once again you might not need to worry about grub control and I do try to apply an Integrated Pest Management approach. But this means you should always be on the look out and ready to act if necessary. I recommend checking out White Grubs Prevention and Treatment so you can spot problems and act before they become widespread .
For cool season lawns, late summer/early fall is the perfect time to do a number of renovations. Core Aeration and Overseeding is one of the best ways to turn around a troubled lawn, even if its a complete disaster. It’s especially effective when combined with Top Dressing. No matter what, just remember that fall renovations begin when your cool season lawn hits an average temperature of 70 degrees after the heat of summer is gone and things cool down. If seeding during any of these renovations you have to omit step 5 in the program above. Don’t apply the pre emergent, instead just apply a starter fertilizer at the same time you seed.
Do A Soil Test
I want to point out that the plan above is a great general plan, but you should definitely make adjustments based on a simple soil test. Check out the easiest way to get a soil test of your lawn and how to interpret the data: Soil Test for Lawn
Lastly, if you’re looking for an easier lawn care program that uses less products, and uses a combination fertilizer and pre emergent then check out: Lawn Care Program Using Only 3 Products
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