Lawn Types and Maintenance

The lawn is grass plantings consisting of short rooted small blades which when grown together create a turfgrass. Most lawns can withstand a reasonable amount of traffic once established. All different types of grass need some degree of sunlight, rain, fertilizer, and maintenance. Lawns generally become dormant in the cold months here, appearing brown or spotty.

Lawn types

These are the most commonly grown grasses in South Hampton Roads: Zoysia, Bermuda, St. Augustine, Tall Fescue and Ryegrass. Each type requires specific care. Some more than others. To decide what is best for you, read the following descriptions and determine what features you are looking for.

Zoysia is a warm weather grass, dense, low growing, creeping and dominant. It is dark green, wiry underfoot, and will crowd out weeds. Great for coastal areas because of its tolerance to salt spray and shade. Once established it makes one of the most beautiful carpeted lawns. Seeding is only recommended for new lawns. Existing lawns should use plugs instead, but keep in mind Zoysia grass is slow to establish, but aggressive. Cut to 0.5 to 1 inch high. See Zoysia lawn!

Bermuda is a warm weather grass which does best in full sun, turning completely brown at the beginning of cold weather, and extremely drought tolerant. Bermuda is dark green, creeping, medium to fine textured, salt tolerant and versatile, repairing itself quickly. Seeding is fairly easy and this grass will establish very quickly. However, it is very aggressive, which is great for weed control, but bad for nearby gardens which will get over-run easily if you are not diligent. It is also very hard to kill Bermuda. Even if you get the root out, many more are probably out of sight. Use a post-emergent herbicide like Round-Up several times to kill Bermuda grass, and even then it may “creep” up again nearby! Cut to 0.5 to 1 inch high. See Bermuda grasses.

St. Augustine is a coarse, wide bladed, dense dark green grass, which is does not handle cold weather well. It requires full sun to moderate shade. Currently, St. Augustine seed is unavailable anywhere. Sod, plugs and sprigs are the only way to plant this species. St. Augustine grass is salt spray tolerant. Cut to 1.5 to 3 inches high. See St. Augustine plug.

Tall fescue is a dark green, shade tolerant grass which stays green all year usually, possibly changing to light green in the extreme hot or cold parts of the year. They make for fast growing average lawns, requiring low maintenance. The turf-type tall fescue is a more attractive version, and more drought tolerant. Cut to 1.5 to 3 inch high. See a tall fescue lawn.

Ryegrass is not a standard lawn grown in this area due to our warm summers. However, an annual ryegrass is ideally suited for short term seasonal use on lawns with grasses that go dormant and turn brown in winter, or as a great fill-in to create green grass on new areas. Ryegrasses are bright green, fast growing and fairly easy to maintain making it very popular as as a year-round lawn in cold climates and as a winter lawn in ours. Cut to 0.5 to 1 inch high. See Ryegrass examples.


To keep your existing lawn healthy and beautiful, some steps have to be taken to maintain it. Mowing, watering, fertilizing and weed control are the primary responsibilities for a lawn. As you may realize, a neat and healthy lawn is the most inviting feature of your home and yard. Guests will appreciate it as much as you and your neighbors.

Mowing is your most frequent chore and it does more than keep the lawn trim and neat. When you cut grass, you are clipping off the tips of the blade, changing the photosynthesizing process in the plant. It is important to cut no more than 30% of the blade at any one time. Cutting 40% or more will prevent too much of the crucial carbohydrates from getting to the roots. Therefore, cut as often as needed or more often, but try to aviod frequent gaps in lawn cuts as that negatively effects the growth and overall health of your grass. Follow the appropriate mowing lengths listed above depending on grass type.

Mowing dry grass is recommended. If you mow wet grass, it tends to clump and clog the mower adding time and headache for you. Plus, it is actually detrimental to the grass. When grass is wet it does not tend to stand upright therefore mowing sometimes doesn’t clip the grass blades cleanly. Sometimes, all it does is bend the grass. When the blades are damaged instead of cut off, it opens the door for disease. Although one time probably won’t make a difference, try to avoid cutting wet grass.

It is also recommended to leave grass clipping in the grass. Allow them to fall and stay there. The only time you would really want to bag the clippings is if the grass was very tall and the clippings would smother the lawn. Otherwise, clippings are wonderful for your lawn. They supply natural nutrients as they decay which results in less fertilization needed.

Trimming and cleanup is the other part of the regular mowing maintenance. If you are going to get out there and get your shoes dirty, go ahead and finish the job right. Using fancy tools is not necessary. You can edge walks with an edger, weed eater, or just a flat shovel. Just cut about an inch or two out of the grass away from the concrete. Do this along flower beds and trees also. It will help keep grass from growing into these areas and give a neat finished appearance. Be careful of rocks which may shoot out and cause injury. Then either use a lawn blower or a broom to clean up the mess.

Fertilizing the established lawn is important and easy to do. The hard part is determining what kind to purchase, and when to put it down.

You can purchase fertilizers at the nursery or any home improvement store. Fertilizer packages give the nutrient ratio inside. You will see three numbers, such as 23-7-7 or 6-3-0. The first number is the concentration of nitrogen (for greening and leaf growth), the second is phosphorous (for building up the root), the third is potassium (to stimulate healthy growth and weather tolerance). The best rule of thumb for lawn fertilizing is to purchase a ratio with at least twice the nitrogen as the other nutrients (ex. 6-3-0). It is also recommended to buy a fertilizer with at least part of the nitrogen content in an immediate release form, and part in a slow-release form. Fertilizers are available with weed control already added in. This is perfectly acceptable to use. Follow the instructions on the package. If you buy fertilizer with the intent to save for a future date, be sure to store away from moisture.

An established lawn generally only needs to be fertilized in the spring and in the early fall in Hampton Roads. Fertilizing too late in fall will do more harm than good. It encourages new growth which will be damaged by the cold if the new growth hasn’t had a chance to establish in the ground well. And, like the fall, fertilizing too early in the spring will also be damaging. Be sure the weather is consistantly above freezing before the first fertilization of the year.

Spread your granular fertilizer the same as sowing seed. Using a spreader is recommended. A drop spreader is good if you are diligent to keep straight lines and make sure to walk at a steady pace. See the drop spreader drawing here. A broadcast spreader is easier so you can avoid missed spots. Follow the directions on the package as to what setting to use on your spreader. If it hasn’t rained two days after fertilizing, water the area to help adhere the granuals to the ground and active the fertilizer.

Aerating removes small slices of soil and turf and the remaining soil then has room to expand and valuable oxygen and water has room to be introduced. It is not needed very often unless your lawn is very compact. If there is a lot of foot traffic or vehicles on the area, the compact soils are difficult for new roots to grow in, and there will be less nutrient and oxygen flow through the soil. Plus, water will not soak in well, all of this making it a less desireable growing area. If you want to aerate the soil, you can use a handheld aerator for small spaces. But for a normal lawn size, it is in your best interest to rent a mechanical aerator.

Dethatching is the removal of some of the thatch (a layer of stems and roots, some dead and some living.) A thin layer is fine, but if too much thatch is present, the lawn may dry out faster and be more suseptable to disease. The simplest method of dethatching is just raking the lawn with a hard rake, not a leaf rake. Pull the dead thatch up and bag it up. Dethatching gives an idea if the growth of your lawn is too rapid. Thatch should be deteriorating at the same rate as new growth. If thatch levels are too high, cut back a bit on fertilizing or watering (use your judgement how much of which) to allow the growth to slow down a bit.

Establishing a new lawn can be broken down into parts. Each is as important as the others. Read some of our techniques for starting a new lawn. Or call us for advice. Or better still, let us do the work while you sit back and relax. But if you decide to take on the challenge, here is some advice and information to help make things simpler for you.

Grading is a good start for a new lawn. See that the grade is acceptable, although it usually is unless changes took place after construction. Just in case, make sure the ground slopes away from your house at not less than 1 percent grade. If you cannot tell by looking, try this trick: Mix simple blue food coloring with a gallon of water until it is a very dark mixture, pour onto the ground right at your home’s foundation, mark the area where the water was poured, and wait one hour. See if the blue water has pooled there, is running off even just a little, or has run toward your house. If it runs away, you are probably ok, although use good judgement. If for some reason, the water does not run away from your house slowly, you will want to add soil (fill dirt is fine) and build it up around the perimeter of your house or other building. Then add a layer of good topsoil above that for your new grass to root into. This will also help keep your crawlspace dry.

Clear the area next by either raking and removing debris, or killing the existing foliage. Even if there currently is no grass, it is a great idea to spray a postemergent herbicide such as Round-Up to kill any weeds. But rake and remove the dead debris too as some weeds have a way of reviving themselves.

Seed or sod? If starting from soil, you can either seed, or lay sod or plugs of grass. Seeding is generally less expensive, but does not provide the immediate results of sodding. Following our simple hints, you should be able to choose which is better for you, and learn some techniques to simplify the project.

Sowing seed, it is better to do so after a light rain, or water lightly after. This helps the seed get embedded making it less likely to run off, blow away or get eaten by birds. Follow the directions on the package to determine the seeding rate. Sowing by hand (tossing) is only practical in small spaces. The preferred method is using a spreader. A broadcast spreader is certainly easy and quick, however with new lawns, a drop spreader is more precise. Follow a pattern determined ahead of time to be sure no areas are missed. See below.

Mulch once the seed is in place to help keep the seed down and disquise it from the view of birds. A very light mulch of straw is the most effection means to do this. Be sure not to cover, just to toss lightly and thinly, so that the ground is still visible through it.

Sodding is another story. Sod and plugs are pieces of turf cut from the ground with the roots intact. You can lay sod anytime during the regular growing season for the grass you choose. It will create an instant full plush lawn, but still need much work before the project is actually complete! Sod and plug lawns requires the same ground preparation and planning as prior to seeding, completely clear of all debris and the dirt full of nutrients ready for the sod to attach to. If you want to know what quality soil you have, take a sample to a nursery for testing. (Call in advance as some nurseries do not offer this service.) The sod should be laid as soon as possible or it will deteriorate quickly, as soon as one day.

Lay sod strips for a fescue grass, (or plugs for the more vigorous grasses like Bermuda, Zoysia and St. Augustine) on the bare ground, staggering the strips so the ends do not create a line which will be obvious. Sod comes in long strips rolled up. You then unroll it directly where you want it. Plugs are much smaller, about 3×3 inches. Space the plugs evenly and the grass will fill in the spaces quickly. Once it is laid, use a lawn roller to ensure good contact with the ground, rolling in the opposite direction you laid the sod. Most lawn tools, such as a roller are available for rent. Or borrow a neighbor’s. Follow the standard irrigation techniques for a new lawn, and avoid activity on the sodded lawn for a couple weeks while the sod roots into the soil below.

Irrigation is very important for seeded and sodded lawns. For proper germination, water is essential. To ensure adequate moisture for the young seedlings or the transplanted sod, you may have to water 3-4 times a day for seeded lawns until the roots begin to grow and once a day for the sodded lawn making sure to water all the way into the ground below too, then as often as every 2-3 days. By the time your lawn is about 6 weeks old, if it rains one good soaking rain a week, that should be enough. Lawns only need 1 inch of water a week. However, if drought conditions are present, check your local authorities for water restrictions. Your city may make exceptions for a new lawn. Conserve water regardless of drought conditions by watering between 4-7pm so the ground can absorb the water while still having the benefits of daylight, but it has time to soak in without being evaporated by the warm sunny day.

Fertilizing a new young lawn for the first time should be mild, so use a starter fertilizer after most the seedlings are almost 2 inches tall. Follow the instructions on the package. Then water in lightly so the fertilizer stays put and is activated.

Mow when it appears needed, however, keep the blades long. Mowing is good for yound seedlings, but just clip the ends and do so only when the ground is dry to avoid pulling the young grass up. No need to let it grow long as commonly believed. Just be gentle in your mowing to avoid pulling grass up by the roots. However, young grass is more succeptable to scorching so avoid cutting low.

Then wait and enjoy the results!