How can we protect our well water and still maintain a healthy lawn? We...

Asked January 23, 2014, 1:13 PM EST

How can we protect our well water and still maintain a healthy lawn? We terminated our lawn maintenance contract 2 years ago and now large portions of grass have died beneath the summer crabgrass that prospered.

Howard County Maryland

1 Response

You may want to have your well inspected to check the intregity of the physical parts of the well. Have you had your water tested to see if you have water quality issues? [http://extension.umd.edu/learn/get-your-water-tested]

Keeping your lawn healthy starts with knowing what kind of grass you have and what that grass' life cycle is like. If you have warm season turf (bermuda/zoysia), your maintenance is focused on the summer. if you have cool season (fescue/bluegrass turf, your focus is on the fall. This is when you fertilize, seed and aerate.

Another consideration is what do you expect from your lawn and how much work/money are you willing to put into it. If you are looking for something resembling the putting green at golf course, it's possible but it will time and money consuming. If you're looking to reduce possible impacts on your well, a golf course lawn isn't what you want.

Does that mean you have to settle for a weedy mess? No. With a modest fertilizer program and proper cultural practices , you can get an acceptable lawn that has a few weeds (nature hates monoculture so no weeds is hard to achieve) and is otherwise thick and healthy.

Let's take crabgrass as an example. The best way to stop is thick turf that is mowed high (3.5-4 inches for cool season turf). This shades out the crabgrass before it can establish. You might get crabgrass at the edge of the turf, where it meets sidewalk or driveway, but that makes it easy to walk the edge once at and pull up any crabgrass you spot. Compare that to applying a pre-emergent for crabgrass which is only about 60% effective to begin with and may have to be reapplied over the course of the season.

The species of grass effects your fertilizer program. Tall fescue can get by on 2-3 lb of N per year. Zoysia can get by on 1 lb N per year. The available sunlight also plays a roll. If turf is not in full sun it won't grow as fast and won't need as much fertilizer.

Get your soil tested so your know what type of fertilizer to apply and if you need to add lime. Lime is NOT an annual maintenance chore and over liming can be just as bad as low pH.

Another important consideration is how big is your yard? Most people go with the lot size when applying fertilizer without consideration of the house, sidewalks, driveways, etc. I deal with many clients who used the 40-50 lb bag of fertilizer that after we measured the lawn found out the 15-20 lb size was more than enough for their yard. Measure your lawn so you know how much turf you need to fertilize. The calibrate your spreader to apply the fertiizer at the correct rate.