Help your lawn beat grubs and every other problem,

Water, aerate, fertilize, and deal with hot, dry areas.

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Water: Because lawn's number one problem is drought.

Grass must grow to fill in where feet, insects, weeds and fungus affect it. It can't do this when it's dry. It can die from drought alone -- starved -- even if none of those other problems exists.

  • Make sure the soil in the grass root zone does not dry out, especially during the hottest part of summer.
  • The average lawn needs an inch of water per week.


  • Do not follow the old adage that water should be applied all at once to soak in deep. It's bad advice, dying hard despite lots of evidence to the contrary.
  • The most current irrigation research proves that lawn grows better when that inch of water per week is applied in four or more portions, 1/8 inch or 1/4 inch every day or two to keep the upper two inches of soil moist. Look around and you'll see that this schedule in use by those with the biggest stake in great turf -- golf course greenskeepers.

Above, right: This lawn has dead spots and many weed violets. However, the problem is not disease, grubs or weeds. It's compaction and drought. Water runs off the hard packed soil here. What does penetrate is claimed by a thirsty maple. Aeration and more water in shorter burst are the answer.

Compaction runs a close second

  • Roots can't grow in hard packed, airless soil.
  • In addition, water runs off hard packed soil so irrigation can't do any good at all.
  • Aerate to bust compaction and improve soil porosity.

A core aerator punches into soil, pulls out plugs and deposits them on the surface.
(For more, see 'Add Air" in New Lawn From Seed.)

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The plugs dry, crumble and fall back into the pits over time. Air, water,
soil animals and microorganisms move into the pits and improve the soil.

Right: What about spiked shoes?
(Photo ©2013 JK c/o

Save your money. Spiked shoes don't aerate worth a darn. Those with solid spikes simply pack the soil even tighter around the holes they may make. Those with hollow spikes either don't penetrate or need unclogging at every step.


  • Topdress after aerating. Spread a thin layer of organic fertilizer, sand or compost.
  • You can overseed, as well. Use disease resistant improved varieties of seed to fit your site -- bluegrass in sun, fescue or rye in shade, improved tall fescue where it's dry, etc.
  • Don't stop with one aeration. Around most homes the soil is hard packed under the lawn and requires aeration once or twice a year for a year or two. Where soil has already been improved in this way, aeration is probably only necessary every two or three years, or annually in areas where feet, paws or wheels have passed.

Here are the cores pulled from a gorgeous lawn at one of the world's most beautiful and wisely tended public gardens. Each core is two to three inches long. Notice that the greenskeeper aerated only the most heavily trafficked area, along the walk, and pulled enough cores to temporarily change the color of the lawn.

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Water smarter

Adjust watering where a lawn is most dry: sandy areas, space occupied by large trees, slopes that face south or west, etc.

  • This can mean adding separate zones to an automatic system.
  • Where it's sandy, apply water a little at a time every day. Watering heavily on sand simply wastes water because it falls quickly below the lawn's root system. Roots cannot grow to chase the water, mythology to the contrary.


  • Near trees, especially at the trees' dripline where most tree roots concentrate, water more frequently and apply more water overall.
  • On slopes, watch as water falls. Note how many minutes pass before run off begins. Afterward, apply water in bursts of less than this amount of time so the soil can absorb all that falls. This can mean watering twice or three times in one day.
  • If an area can't be kept moist, replace the lawn there with drought tolerant groundcover or a mulched path.

Above: Early one spring on this south facing slope, lawn died from grub damage. The lawn was too stressed to handle even minimal insect damage. Our solution: Aerate, reseed, and water better. (More about this grub situation.)

Fertilize, since many lawns are starved

  • We cut off most of the leaf a grass plant grows. Fertilize to compensate.
  • Fertilize every spring and fall with an organic (carbon based) fertilizer. This provides nutrients for the lawn while also providing raw material (carbon) for the soil to improve.
  • If you also fertilize during summer you must keep the soil consistently moist.

Do not jump to conclusions about grubs

Only one in five troubled lawns has grub trouble. Even then, grubs are often confined to areas were drought, poor light, compaction or low fertility are preventing the grass from keeping up with normal grubbery.

If you do suspect grubs, verify grubs really are the problem and deal with them intelligently.













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