Having the perfect lush and green backyard is every suburban homeowner’s dream. Getting the grass to spread and grow evenly, however, is a nightmare. So, how do you plant and maintain your grass to display such a picturesque backyard?
You can encourage grass to spread by applying high porous hydrogen or slow-release nitrogen fertilizers when planting your grass seeds. This will also support root growth for a more extensive lifespan. As the grass grows, you can apply higher nitrogen fertilizers to boost blade growth.
Here is an exciting guide I have been using over the years and which sure has provided me with great results.
How Does Grass Spread?
Grass is the common name for the plants pertaining to the Gramineae family. Grass has several uses, one of which is to improve the aesthetic value of homes. To understand how grass grows and spreads, let’s first look at its structure.
Grass plants have fibrous roots at the plant’s base (crown), which grow into the soil. Their stems, commonly known as culms, extend from the base of the plant upward and are usually hollow. The stems have nodes at small intervals from which leaves grow. Grass has narrow leaves which grow alternatingly (from left to right) on culms above each node.
Methods for Spreading
Some grasses develop additional stems above the ground (stolons) or underground ones (rhizomes). Grass uses these extra stems to spread out and develop new culms. Stolons and rhizomes support and nurture the new culms (tillers) until they are strong enough and sufficient structures to survive alone. A tiller can produce seeds from its inflorescence.
Rhizomes pop out of the ground a short distance away from the parent plant and form an entirely new plant that can develop rhizomes. For example, Kentucky bluegrass thickens by tillering and producing rhizomes, making the grass spread over long distances. Grass species that spread by developing additional stems create a dense lawn under the right conditions, saving you the hassle of having to sow more grass seeds.
Another way to reproduce and spread grass is by developing flowers, commonly known as florets. Florets grow in groups of spikelets that collectively form inflorescences. The flowers undergo sporulation, and once the conditions are right, pollinate to produce active seeds. Some of these seeds may drop and grow into new grass, thus making your lawn denser.
Grass tends to grow more vertically than laterally. So, if you want it to spread laterally, you have to constantly cut off the tips to inhibit the production of auxins, the hormone that inhibits the growth of lateral buds.
You must also understand your grass as some grass species grow faster and thicker than others and perform differently in different environmental conditions.
Does Cutting Grass Help It Spread?
Under the right conditions, grass will grow either vertically or horizontally. Like any other plant, grass will grow taller as it seeks out light while inhibiting lateral growth. As your grass will be spending a lot of energy growing taller, it will stop developing laterally. Mowing will remove the tips of the grass that contain hormones that inhibit lateral development. Thus, your grass will grow thicker and spread near the roots.
Mowing your lawn will also reduce the number of weeds competing with the grass for vital nutrients, giving your grass room to spread and grow healthier. If your grass becomes too long, you will have to mow it in stages. Cut less than a third of the grass since mowing huge portions to achieve the ideal height will damage the grass, and it will take the grass a long time to rejuvenate or may sometimes kill it.
If you properly mow your lawn and keep your grass at a 5 cm height, you will get a thick, carpet-like lawn in no time. I would also recommend that you mow in alternating directions. Indeed, changing the direction of cutting every time you mow will help the grass grow upright, thus creating more space for more tillers to develop.
Should You Cut Grass When It Is Seeding?
Many people let their grass overgrow and start seeding. Some of them give reasons such as, “I forget to mow.” Meanwhile, some claim that letting the grass seed and the seed mature is a natural way of thickening the lawn by overseeding. It may be a bit controversial, but there is no proof as to whether or not it is effective. Most grasses grow and spread faster using rhizomes and stolons than through seeding.
The idea of naturally producing seeds from overgrown grass is quite thrilling, but there are several reasons why you should not let your grass go to seed. First, overgrown grass may be a nuisance and, in some cities, even illegal. Second, it is also considered a hazard in case of a fire.
Here are some reasons why you should not allow your grass to go to seed and constantly mow your lawn.
- Weed Control
If you let your grass grow to seed, you will also be encouraging the weeds around it to grow. These weeds seed easily, and their seeds are more viable than grass seeds. Most weed seeds tend to grow faster than grass seeds, and most of the weeds in your lawn cannot survive regular mowing.
Growth occurs directly from the crown in the grass. Hence, after you cut, it will keep thriving. On the other hand, most weeds extend at the tip. Therefore, if you cut the plant, you are likely to get rid of it, especially if it is still young. However, getting rid of weeds once they mature is quite hectic.
I would advise you to mow your lawn constantly as frequent mowing cuts down the stem and leaves before they start seeding, thus inhibiting their growth. You will also be cutting down your use of herbicides and weed killers.
- Grass Taming
Most modern lawn grasses are hybrid breeds from various wild grasses. Because of hybridization, most of these grasses do not produce viable seeds. However, if they do manage to grow seeds, these new grasses are likely to exhibit wild characteristics from one or more of the parent plants.
I would advise you not to let your hybrid grass seed. It may be difficult to tame them, and they may not perform so well on your lawn. In this case, your lawn would start having grassless patches.
- Lawn Maintenance
Overgrown grass tends to thin out instead of thickening. When a grass exceeds its ideal height, it uses most of its energy in seed production, and very little remains for rooting and lateral spreading. The plant will then have to adapt and start accelerated absorption of nutrients from the soil. At some point, the nutrients significantly reduce, and there is not enough to support the grass. Consequently, the grass starts thinning.
You will also have to spend more money on fertilizers to replenish the soil, and it will be challenging to get your healthy lawn back once it lacks nutrients. Allowing your grass to grow too tall also exposes it to more pests and diseases.
Most grasses start seeding at 1ft. If you let it grow to this length, trimming it will be pretty tricky. You can only cut off the top third if you want your grass to survive a cut. You can then mow again after five days. If you cut more than that at a go, your grass will dry up, and your lawn will be patchy and unattractive.
Mowing your grass when it is seeding may help spread the grass. If you want your seeds to spread while you are mowing, you may need help from a professional mower or to learn how to adjust the blade depth in your mower. Seed dispersal usually occurs during the first mowing. So, if you cut your grass before the seeds are mature, the seeds will not germinate.
If you forgot to mow your lawn, are busy, or are not fond of it, try using slow-growing short grasses, which are low-maintenance. A good example of such is buffalo grass.
Is It Wrong to Let Grass Grow Too Long?
The taller the grass grows, the more nutrients it requires. The grass stem will also become thinner and your lawn patchy. Letting your grass grow too tall may kill weaker plants around the grass.
Grasses have a delicate balance between their blades and roots. When the blade length balances the root density, the grass is at its healthiest and can be quite resilient. However, if your grass grows too tall, its roots will not be absorbing enough nutrients to support them. As a result, your grass will grow thin, with some blades longer than others, and your lawn will look uneven.
Allowing grass to grow a bit taller (up to 4 inches) and constantly watering it will help spread the grass. In addition, the extra blade length provides more surface for photosynthesis. This provides additional food and energy for the plant and can sustain the grass during prolonged dry spells and heatwaves.
How Long Can You Let Grass Grow Before Cutting?
As grass is not the only thing growing in your backyard, most of it will tend to grow taller to outgrow other plants it will be competing with for light for photosynthesis. However, it is not advisable to let your grass grow too tall.
Cutting grass at a proper height brings about several benefits, like the easy control of weeds, conservation of water, and lower soil temperatures. With that in mind, when is the right time to cut your grass? It depends on the type and age of the grass. The recommended height for most grass is 2-3 inches.
If you grow cold-season grass, I would recommend mowing it to a 2.5 inches height in the spring and fall. Then, in the summer, you can clip it to 3 inches to provide more surface for photosynthesis.
Cold-season grass grows actively in the spring and fall and is dormant in the summer. If you cut the grass too low while it is inactive, it is likely to die because of the drought and heat stress. In addition, the grass will not be able to photosynthesize properly.
Thus, it is advisable to trim warm-season turf to an optimal 1-2 inches. It is dormant during fall and winter but actively grows in the summer and late spring. Cutting the grass to such a short length ensures sufficient air circulation and minimizes water loss. In addition, most warm-season turf like Zoysiagrass and Bermudagrass spread by stolons, and thus, grows faster laterally than vertically.
If you have just started growing your lawn, don’t be in a hurry to trim it. You have to wait until the roots develop properly. If you sodded, you would only have to wait for a month. If you seeded, you should wait for two months for the grass to be well-rooted. At this point, your grass should be a little bit longer than 3 inches.
You are likely to damage your lawn if you trim it before the grass roots properly anchor. Therefore, wait until you are sure your grass has matured enough before you cut it. This will ensure you preserve a lush carpet of grass over the years.
If you are growing a tallgrass species, you may have to mow weekly during the grass’s most active period. Again, only cut the top one-third of the grass at a time. Cutting more than this causes stress on the grass, making it susceptible to pests and, in some cases, stunting the growth.
It would also be great if you constantly changed the direction of your mowing. As previously mentioned, mowing in a single direction will make the grass bend, and ultimately, will make it very difficult to mow. By changing the direction of mowing, your grass is likely to grow upright, which will make trimming your lawn easier. The grass will also be compact, leaving space for others to develop.
I bet planting and maintaining a lush green turf doesn’t seem as challenging now as it was when we began this article. Although there is little research on lawn grass, I recommend that you experiment with your grass and see how it goes.