What DIY Lawn Care Really Costs

Remember when you bought your mower?  You may have had big hair, been looking forward to the newest episode of Friends, or it just may have been before you knew the name Kanye West... in other words, simpler times.

You learned the information necessary to know about DIY lawn care, (according to the Home Depot guy), and then proceeded to follow those instructions diligently only to yield this…

DIY lawn care


DIY Lawn Care

How can mow, water, fertilize, repeat be wrong?  The Home Depot guy said its pretty straightforward... but we all know it’s really not.  DIY Lawn care takes a lot of work, and lots of details matter.  Let’s discuss the five details of DIY lawn care that cost us more than we bargained for.



Over the years your mower has been a powerhouse.  You probably don't want to admit to your spouse all the things you ran over with it, or explain why it doesn’t start up right away anymore.  But all things considered, you're pleased the mower still runs.

Now after years of faithful service, how many times have you gotten the mower blade sharpened?  Once, twice, never? Cutting your lawn with dull or nicked blades results in something called “white tipping.”

white tipping

Dull blades cause grass blades to have dry, torn, and whitish tips, leaving your weakened lawn much more susceptible to disease and pest damage.

Another very common mistake is mowing at the improper height.  Never cut off more than one-third of your grass blade.  We know how tempting it is to mow super short, but cutting more to prolong the time between your next mow is more harmful than helpful.  Long grass blades mean deep, healthy root systems, thus creating a lush green lawn.  Properly cut turf also minimizes the chances of disease and pest problems arising. Not sure what height you're supposed to cut?  Check out Table 9-1 from North Carolina’s Cooperative Extension



Fertilizer is a fickle friend.  Too much or too little fertilizer can ruin the viability of your lawn.  Applying the correct amount of fertilizer at the wrong time can wreck havoc or just be downright wasteful.  According to the landscape professionals of The Southern Landscape Group: a soil test should be conducted every two years on established lawns.  A soil test provides homeowners with the information necessary to determine the exact lime, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium needs of the lawn.

There are general rules of thumb to know about lime and fertilizer.  The ideal pH for most turf is between 6.5 and 7.  Soil pH is key to a healthy lawn.  Unbalanced soil acidity can limit a lawn’s ability to access nutrients that exist in the soil.  Meaning that even if you fertilize perfectly, your pH may be holding your fertilizer hostage from your lawn.  It is best to apply lime in the winter when there is less foot traffic on your lawn, and runoff is minimal.

For warm season grasses like bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, centipedegrass, St. Augustine grass, carpetgrass, and bahiagrass avoid applying nitrogen in the Winter months as it may burn your lawn.  For cool-season grasses like tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, fine fescues, and perennial ryegrass avoid burning your grass by not applying nitrogen from February to September.

To apply 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet, divide the nitrogen content of the fertilizer by 100.  For instance, a bag labeled 16-3-7 has a nitrogen content of 16.  100 divided by 16 is 6.25, so one would apply 6.25 pounds of fertilizer to every 1,000 square feet of lawn.  To apply .5 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet, divide the nitrogen content of your fertilizer by 50.


Weed Management

We heard you say, “Finally!” when you saw Scott’s Four Step Lawn Care Program.  Weed and feed products just make sense for the average homeowner, but the truth of the matter is that these products should only be used when necessary.  If you don’t have an issue with dandelions, why are you treating for it?

To be perfectly honest, weed and feed products are really just a more inventive way to drain your wallet.  Half of the bag you have at home is fertilizer and the other half is pre or post emergent herbicide.  In the end your getting way less of what your lawn may really need, fertilizer.

To kill weeds, it’s essential that you identify your weeds before treating.  Bring a sample to your local landscape professional to properly identify, then decided your treatment options.  Treating for weeds also requires an understanding of weed life cycles, so take care in choosing who you get your information from.

weed management

If you're interested in taking up this task on your own, check out information on weed life cycles at North Carolina’s Cooperative Extension.

Treatment products should only be used if hand pulling cannot suffice.  Be careful when and where you apply herbicide. Avoid applying near trees and shrubs as it may cause damage to roots, also make sure not to apply herbicide if sowing a new lawn. Remember, pre-emergent herbicide stops weeds and grass seed from germinating, while post-emergent kills existing weeds.



Watering early in the morning reduces the probability of your lawn contracting a disease or losing water due to evaporation.  Established lawns need a moisture depth of 6 to 8 inches.  One inch of water per week should satisfy these needs. Homeowners typically apply a half inch of water every three to four days.

To make sure your watering appropriately, place an open can on the lawn for a period of time and confirm that the contents measure a half inch high.



Are you confident in the investment you made in lawn equipment? It’s a big investment.  Besides the initial layout, how do you know your equipment is calibrated properly or that you’re maintaining it correctly?  Make a point to inspect your lawn equipment before every spring.  Does your mower blade need to be sharpened?  Does that chainsaw of yours emit blue smoke every time it starts?  These are the kind of details that make DIY lawn care overly time-consuming, not to mention costly.

With all things considered, what is your time worth to you? We're not all gardeners.  It may be more cost effective for you to leave the lawn care up to the experts.