Husker Hort

A Nebraska View of Horticulture

Common Turfgrass Mistakes

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yellow turfA lush, green lawn free from weeds and pests is what most of us want in our backyard.   On your quest for the perfect lawn, there might be some mistakes you are making along the way. Don’t let one of these common mistakes hinder your progress towards that lawn you have dreamed about.

Mowing is a task that everyone with a lawn has to do. One of the most common mistakes is improper mowing height. While some grasses can be mowed at 1” or less, that doesn’t mean they should. Common cool season turfgrasses like Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue actually do better and have fewer weeds when they are mowed closer to the 3-3 ½” in height. There is also a direct correlation between the height of the turf and the length of the roots. The taller the turf is mowed, the longer the roots and the more soil profile available for absorption of water.

Another common mowing mistake is removing too much leaf blade at any one time. The rule of thumb is to remove only 1/3 of the leaf blade during a mowing. Rains and fertilizing turf can cause the lawn to grow more quickly. Instead of sticking to a mowing schedule of only one day a week, let the turfgrass decide the mowing schedule. For cool season turfgrass, in the spring and fall consider mowing more often to accommodate the rapidly growing turf. During the summer, early spring, and late fall, mowing frequency can decrease as the turf isn’t growing as rapidly. Again the goal is to only remove 1/3 of the grass blade, not to only mow once a week.

Improper fertilization is another common turfgrass mistake. If a little is good, a lot will be better is not the rule to follow. Read and follow the label when it comes to applying any pesticide and especially fertilizers. Overfertilization can directly harm the turfgrass or contribute to diseases commonly seen in turf, not to mention the flush of growth it causes in the plant which often is compounded by improper mowing techniques. Timing is everything when it comes to fertilization. The turf needs to be fertilized when it can use it the most. Cool season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue are most active in the cooler months in the spring and fall. Warm season grasses are ramping up and actively growing when the weather gets warmer. Apply the fertilizers when the grass is actively growing; spring/fall for cool season grasses and summer for warm season grasses.

Turf needs water to grow. Whether it comes in the form of rain or if it is applied through a sprinkler, water is necessary for a nice looking lawn. Overwatering turf is a common mistake that many people make. Like with the mowing, let the turfgrass be the guide when it needs water. Instead of watering on a set schedule, take the weather conditions, soil type, and turfgrass type into consideration. If you have an automatic system, invest in a rain sensor. This will shut the system off when it detects ¼” of rain. Watering too frequently or for too little of time, discourages the turfgrass from developing a deep root system. The deeper into the soil the roots go, the more profile the roots have to pull water from. The goal is to water less frequently, but deeper into the soil profile.

The last common turf mistake is assuming that turfgrass will grow wherever you want it to. Areas with heavy shade, steep slopes, or with scorching heat might not be the ideal environments for all turfgrass. Do not try to make turf grow in an environment where it isn’t content because in the end, neither of you will be happy. Look at all landscaping options for locations. Don’t just focus on getting the turf to survive, pick a plant that will thrive in that environment.

There are several aspects to focus on, pay attention to mowing height and frequency, fertilize at the proper time and with the right amount, watch the watering depth and frequency, and try not to make turfgrass grow where it isn’t happy. By avoiding these common turfgrass mistakes, that picture perfect lawn of your dreams is much closer to becoming a reality.

Elizabeth Killinger is the Horticulture Extension Educator with Nebraska Extension in Hall County. For more information contact Elizabeth at, her blog at, or HuskerHort on Facebook and Twitter.

Author: Elizabeth Exstrom

A Nebraska Extension Educator out of Hall County with a focus in horticulture and sustainable landscapes.

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