Gardens: Easy green
Lawncare takes a lot of work. Learn how Phil Lovett does it.
Story: Bridget Broihahn
Photos: Bridget Broihahn
Phil Lovett said that it’s fairly easy to have a great lawn.
“I’m just a regular guy, and if I can have a fantastic lawn, anybody can,” he said.
Lovett of Mahomet, At Home in Central Illinois’ go-to “lawn guy” says it’s not that hard to keep everything in the yard healthy and looking good during that summer heat. Lovett gave tips to At Home readers last summer and even showed them how to build a budget-friendly sprinkling system themselves. He said keeping a healthy lawn just takes a little forethought, water and fertilizer.
“I see people wasting tons of money seeding and watering in late summer and early fall to replace their burnt-out lawn,” he said from his lovely manicured lawn that looks like an emerald carpet. “If they had just watered weekly, they would have saved a lot of time and money.”
Lovett started at an early age appreciating the outdoors and nature. He’s also a really observant guy. He gets ideas from others and shares his ideas with others. He said that he rides his bike around, looking at what others do for their lawns. He notes how it ends up looking as the season progresses. Then, he makes note of those ideas. Along with a really green lawn, his flowers are timed to bloom so all of his berms and flower beds will have color in them no matter what stage of the growing season. That takes careful planning. For the lawn, however, he said it’s pretty easy to keep it looking good with a little maintenance.
Lovett said that it’s really important that lawns get an average of an inch of water a week. He recommends a rain gauge strategically placed in an area that will help measure this. He also said that a plain old can will make a nice substitute while sprinkling with a hose, if a rain gauge is nowhere to be found. So, if a lawn is not getting an inch this week, get out and water it.
“I’ll even mark down the rainfall on my calendar so I can keep track,” he said.
A green yard does not mean to oversoak it. That creates run-off. We’ve all seen the sprinkler that is watering the sidewalk, the street and the nice man who is walking his dog. Take the time to position the hoses so it hits the right spot. Lovett has his budget-friendly sprinkling system, but even he has used the hose and sprinklers for many years.
Another “grass guy” is Alan Arnold of Savoy. He agrees with the tips that Lovett has given. It’s obvious that he’s in line with Lovett’s thinking, because his lawn is a virtual carpet of emerald green, too. He uses an app call “My Lawn” provided by Scott’s. He also uses a rain barrel to collect water to use on his lawn. It cuts down on the water bills.
“It reminds me when to put down grub control, when to fertilize and it shows the rain totals for our area,” Arnold said from his back lawn. His little West Highland White Terrior, Toby ran around the yard in a frenzy over the bunnies that have been so crazy in Central Illinois this year. He uses a product called Liquid Fence.
“It smells but it keeps them away from my plants,” Arnold said.
Fertilizer is a good idea. Central Illinois is home to many “cool grass” lawns. These do best in climates that have cold winters and warm/hot summers. Central Illinois is located right on the line between what is characterized as warm summers and hot summers. So, fertilizing early is key and twice again in summer-if needed and if it is not too hot, as it will burn out the lawn. Fertilizing in the fall is a really good idea, too.
“I use four fertilizer applications a year: Halt’s from Scott’s- a crabgrass application, then in eight weeks I use fertilizer, then in another eight weeks I apply more fertilizer, and then in the fall I use a winterizer,” Lovett said. “I keep my lawn thick and pull-out any weeds by hand.”
Cool-season grasses include:
• Kentucky bluegrass
• Fine/tall fescue
• Perennial/annual ryegrass
These grasses thrive in 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit. When it gets a little warmer- or hotter- like it does during the “dog days” of late July and August here in Central Illinois, that’s when the Lovett “inch of water a week” concept is good to keep these grasses from stressing out too much. Yes, they will go dormant, but it is hard to tell that from “dead.” One has to weigh the higher water bill with the possibility of seeding and watering a new lawn if this one dies out this summer.
“Keep the grass tall and don’t mow if it’s a drought. And don’t fertilize at all during a drought,” Lovett said.
Lovett said using the highest setting on the mower so the grass shaft remains long is key during the hot days of summer. He said to only cut 1/3 of the grass blade off when mowing. It helps keep moisture in the turf and the grass has more blade for photosynthesis- the way it coverts sunshine into energy and nutrients. When it gets cooler, lower that blade so that fungi doesn’t develop from too wet conditions.
Considering fungi and other lawn pathogens, do not water at night. Then, the turf sits wet throughout the night and this is the perfect way to invite pathogens into the lawn. Water early so the sun dries the grass shaft and encourages even more photosynthesis, as well.
“Water heavy a couple of times a week and not a little every day,” Lovett said. “The grass expects it and you want to encourage the roots to grow deeper, so watering this way encourages them to do that.”