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Posted by Sunset Garden Experts on



How to Maintain a Healthy Lawn

Since most pesticides came off the market in Ontario, many homeowners puzzle over the right strategy to keep their lawns healthy. Proper lawn care, done at the right time can help make sure that your grass is always the one greener on the other side! For a quick overview check out the chart at the bottom of our article.

Step 1 – Aerating and Thatch Control

Dethatching: When you remove part of the layer of dead grass that builds up in the lower layer of your lawn. Makes it easier for light to get down to roots in spring to warm up grass and help it start growing faster. It also allows soil from topdressing and fertilizer to get down lower in your lawn where it is needed. 

Aerating: Can be done by machine or manually by hand tool. It is essentially the process of punching holes in your lawn to reduce soil compaction and make it easier for grass roots to grow/spread.

  • Aerate or dethatch in the spring and fall before top dressing or fertilizing. Lawn care companies can provide these services.
  • Use only a core (not a punch type) Aerator if your soil is extremely compacted and heavy.
  • A well-growing lawn should be dethatched almost every Spring. You can dethatch with a rake if you want a good work out, or you can rent a dethatcher or better yet buy a dethatching blade for your lawn mower.
  • Aerating creates space in heavy compacted soil for penetration of air, water and nutrients.
  • A healthy lawn has 1cm (1/2 inch) of thatch – more than 2.5cm (1 inch) is too much.
  • Unhealthy amounts of thatch prevent water and nutrients from reaching roots and can harbor insects and diseases.

Step 2 – Improving Soil Quality

  • Grass grows best in a moist, fertile soil that is not waterlogged.
  • Sandy soil and heavy clay both need humus to improve the texture.
  • A deep dense root system is most important to support top growth in grass.
  • A minimum of 4 inches (10cm) of soil is needed. More soil = deeper roots.
  • The deeper your roots the better your grass will be able to handle periods of drought
  • pH Levels are the measurement of acid and alkaline level. The best level is between 6.0 and 7.0. Tests can be done by Agri-Food Laboratories, Imperial Rd. Guelph, 1-800-265-7175,
Topdressing: The process of adding a thin layer of fresh soil to the top of your lawn to improve its quality. It is added in a thin layer so that the grass can grow up through it and will not get smothered. 
  • You can topdress your lawn with good quality top soil (1/4 to ½ inch), consisting of loam, peat moss and compost will improve soil conditions. Triple mix (3-way mix) is a great thing that you can topdress your lawn with as it is the perfect blend.

Step 3 – Overseeding

  • Topdressing and over seeding are ideal opportunities to introduce drought resistant grass mixes.
  • Best time is early fall, but can be done in spring if there is winter damage.

What seed to buy?

Most grass seed blends are easy to choose as they will state on the packaging if they are good for sun/shade/overseeding/drought conditions etc. On the packaging they will have a breakdown of the different types in the bag.

If you are still unsure if the blend is right for you or not here is a quick breakdown of some of the commonly uses grasses in the bags you find in the store and what they are good for:

  • Red Fescue tolerates shade and drought conditions, requires low-fertility, grows well in the sun, has very fine leaves and spreads by runners.
  • Perennial Rye is drought tolerant, prefers full sun, but tolerates shade. Retains its green colour very well during mid-summer heat stress.
  • Many perennial Rye grasses contain levels of endophytic fungus. Hairy Chinch Bugs, Bluegrass Billbugs and Sod Webworms don’t like the taste.

Step 4 – Mowing

  • Mowing Height: 6 to 8 cm (approx. 3”)
  • Keep Mower blades sharp
  • Mow frequently – cut no more than 1/3 of shoot length
  • Leave clippings on the lawn to provide a natural source of nitrogen. Leaving them on the lawn in the summer also helps seal in moisture during times of drought.

Step 5 – Fertilizing

  • Very important to grass health. Provides nutrients to out-grow weeds.
  • Use a slow-release type and follow instructions on the bag. Use a spreader for even application.
  • Nitrogen needs to be applied each year. Phosphorus and potassium are stable in soil.
  • Late fall fertilization is best to increase fall and spring root growth. It also results in an early spring green up, and helps promote a thicker lawn.
  • Also fertilize in mid-Spring.

Step 6 – Check for Weeds and Insects

  • Pull any broadleaf weeds by hand.
  • Annual weeds – to prevent flowering – Hand pull and/or mow.
  • Apply Corn Gluten in early to mid-Spring to prevent weed seeds from germinating. (works well on crabgrass, and dandelions) Note that it will only stop seeds from germinating and not kill the weeds if they have already sprouted. So make sure to apply it BEFORE the weeds have started sprouting in spring
  • Perennial Rye grass mixes will minimize Chinch bugs, Bluegrass Billbugs, and Sod Webworms
  • You can spray on nematodes or spread grub-b-gone granules over your lawn to deal with grubs

Step 7 – Irrigating

  • Let a healthy lawn go dormant during extended dry periods. It can survive 4 to 6 weeks without adequate water. (Usually during the hottest part of the summer)
  • Water only if there's extreme drought or your lawn is under stress. If your lawn is dormant:
    • Check regularly for insect pests
    • Keep traffic off
    • Stop mowing
    • Do not fertilize
  • If you do water…
    • Water deeply: 2.5 cm (1 inch)
    • Water infrequently: Less than once a week
    • Water before 10am to avoid evaporation and for best health
    • Follow any regional watering restrictions.
    • **Watering deeply and less frequently helps promote deeper grass roots**


Month-by-Month guide


  • · Clean up, rake and investigate winter damage.
  • · Apply corn gluten for Crab Grass or other weed seeds.
  • · Wait 30 days to overseed


  • Aerate and dethatch if needed.
  • Top-dress and overseed if needed.
  • Pull dandelions and other weeds.
  • Fertilize with Turf Revolution Green Acres (5-1-5) or another fertilizer with a good level of nitrogen as this will help kickstart your lawn.
  • Apply Nematodes for Grubs


  • · Pull dandelions and other weeds
  • · Monitor Grubs


  • · Monitor Grubs
  • · Monitor Chinch Bugs
  • · Fertilize with Green Earth Summer fertilizer (9-3-4)


  • · Re-apply nematodes for Grubs
  • · Late August – Overseed with drought resistant grasses such as mixes with perennial Rye grass and/or Red Fescue


  • · Monitor and pull weeds


  • · Fertilize with CIL Golfgreen Fall fertilizer
    (12-0-18) or a similar fall fertilizer


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