Even if you installed Astroturf you'd still have "lawn" problems, because some of them are not associated with the grass itself, but an expanse of earth devoted to a single task.

Obviously, however, to keep the neighbors from rolling their eyes, most home owners don't roll out a carpet of green plastic -- except maybe for those select locations out of sight in the back yard.

So when the crown jewel of curb appeal is the real deal, upkeep costs mount. In 2005, lawn owners spend nearly $9.7 billion to keep their green verdant, lush, and uniform. That's 10 percent more than they spent in 2004 according to the National Gardening Association's latest statistics.

Consumer Reports says that's probably a greater expenditure than necessary. Less expensive preventative medicine is a lawn's best friend.

In a new report, the respected consumer goods and services rater, asked on-staff experts and turf scientists to identify the most common lawn problems and related lawn grower errors that persist.

The report also includes remedies for lawns that cost more green than they give.

Here's a brief look at what the CR experts suggest.

  • There's nothing like crabgrass to interrupt the uniformity of a lawn. Trouble is, home owners apply necessary pre-emergence herbicides too late, in the late spring or summer. Prevention is key. That means applying corn gluten meal in the early spring to both block crabgrass growth and fertilize the lawn. Later ample water, fertilizer and mowing -- your lawn's best friends -- will keep crabgrass down.

    Then keep crabgrass at bay by feeding the desirable grasses with ample water and fertilizer -- and by mowing high.

    Check Consumers Union's GreenerChoices.Org for more advice.

  • Unless you plan to make a crock of dandelion wine pour on the fertilizer to prevent dandelions. If they sprout, remove or kill the entire plant -- taproot and all -- to prevent resprouting -- before the flower matures.
  • Other weeds that give your lawn that ugly, patchy, clumpy look most often show up in lawn areas that are different from the rest of the lawn. Prevent dry, wet and shady spots on your lawn. Otherwise, moderately toxic chemicals and back-breaking removal are your only remedies.
  • Fungus among the blades of grass is tough to spot before it's too late. Too much irrigation, improper mowing, off-season fertilizing are primary causes. Fungicides are a waste of time and money, says Consumer Reports. After fungus takes a patch of green, replant.
  • Moss means there's too much shade, acidic, compacted or wet soil; or not enough fertilizer. Use shade-tolerant grasses in shady areas and mow them high to trap light. Keep nearby trees and shrubs properly pruned to reduce shade.

    Also for compacted soil, have it professionally aerated. Maintain proper drainage and adjust the soil's acidity. Moss prefers acidic soil, but alkaline soil will do just fine if shade and moisture come to the party.

  • Even so-called "shade-tolerant" grasses prefer the sun. Replace lawn beneath trees with shade-tolerant ground cover, using shade-tolerant grasses at the edges of the area. Trim back high hedges. Remove the shade wherever possible.
  • Compacted soil beneath the lawn is, well, basic physics. Gravity. Lawn traffic compacts soil even more. Compacted soil, however, repels water and fertilizer, preventing nutrients and moisture from reaching the roots. Soil, or core aeration is the only solution. It's a job for a professional.
  • Beetle larvae, milky-white, worm-like creatures with brown heads and three pairs of legs curled into a C shape -- grubs -- feed on lawn roots. If the lawn near the edge of a brown area comes up easily, like rolling up carpet, yuk, grubs have had their way with the roots. For mature grubs, you'll need Heterorhabditis nematodes (sold in paste-like form). Chemical insecticides should be used only when the grubs are immature.
  • You dog is responsible and well-trained. It's the neighbors who let their untrained hound run free and well, urinate on your lawn. Look for brown spots surrounded by dark green grass. You money is best spent on a motion-activated sprinkler system rather than animal repellents -- but delivery people, guests and others could get wet too.

    Talk with your neighbors. Most jurisdictions have restraint and or leash laws. You can always call the cops or animal control.

    The more likely headache is maintenance -- filling in browned out spots with plugs cut from sod.

    Bad dog.

  • Rodent-like moles dining on earthworms, grubs and ants can be stopped, somewhat, with chicken wire that extends about a foot around your yard, but not always. Trapping is the only way to be sure you've ended a mole's dig. Hiring a wildlife-control professional is the only way you'll know for sure if the mole is no longer in its hole.
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