There is nothing more unappealing to a prospective home buyer than a brown, weed-filled lawn.
So if you are planning to put your house up for sale in the next few months, here are some surefire ways to ensure that a green lawn is matched in kind by the kind of green that you can put in the bank.
In all but the hottest areas of the country, the best time to seed your lawn is late summer to early fall because there is less competition from weeds than in the spring, and because the new grass will have two cool growing seasons - fall and winter - before it encounters its first period of heat stress.
In the spring, soils may be too wet for good seedbed preparation, though in a year such as this one with a fairly dry winter and a cooler than normal spring.
In most northern climates, mid-October is about as late as you'd want to sow grass seed in the fall. These rules are not hard and fast, because the dates are based on a normal year, and the varieties you plant can help determine what time is best to do it.
When you sow grass seed, you try to mix several kinds -- the theory is that this allows you to take advantage of microclimates and cover all bases. But even when you sow only Kentucky bluegrass, you try to use three to five different varieties, because it guarantees a genetic diversity that ensures that the lawn will have a low weed content and is disease-free.
Moderate to partial shade requires mixtures of 40 percent to 50 percent each of fine fescues and 10 percent to 20 percent of perennial ryegrass, at four pounds per 1,000 square feet.
For heavy shade, with well-drained soil, it's 100 percent fine fescues at four to five pounds per 1,000 square feet; for poorly drained soil, use rough bluegrass at two to three pounds per 1,000 square feet.
Whether seeding or sodding, always properly prepare the soil first to ensure a healthy lawn and fewer chores in the future. Dig or rototill two inches of peat moss into the top six inches of soil, break the lumps and level the ground. After seeding, fertilize and water with a fine spray and top dress with one-quarter to one-half-inch layer of peat moss over the seeds. Water lightly.
Once the lawn takes root and begins to grow, it will have to be mowed, which is slightly ahead of leaf-raking on the list of least-enjoyable home-maintenance jobs.
Most people don't know how to mow, and that can cause serious damage to the lawn.
Kentucky bluegrass and fine fescues should not be cut lower than 1.5 to two inches. Shorter mowing reduces the leaf surface -- where the food for the grass is manufactured -- to such a degree that the plant may have to draw from its root reserves to initiate growth.
Doing this repeatedly will reduce the root system, and the plant will be weakened and unable to cope with adverse weather conditions.
If you mow infrequently, you tend to remove excessive amounts of clippings at each mowing, which can shock the plants. Not more than one-third to one-fourth of the total leaf surface should be removed at each mowing.
While a weed-free lawn isn't practical, weeds can be a sign of problems. Weeds love compacted soil, improperly fertilized plots, areas that are too wet or dry, shady spots, areas mowed too closely during the grass' dormant season, heavy use areas, and places where the thatch is more than a half-inch deep.
If the weeds make up 50 percent or more of a particular patch of lawn, then remove the weeds, amend the soil, aerate, overseed and top dress the patch. If it is less than 50 percent, it's not a big problem.
De-thatching a lawn discourages weed growth. Thatch is a tightly packed layer of organic debris that develops between the soil surface and the grass growth. It can keep water, sun and air from penetrating to the roots.
A regular program of aeration reduces thatch. When you aerate, the soil should be moist, not wet, so don't aerate in dry, hot weather. Insects that damage turf prefer a layer of thatch, so reducing thatch controls these pests.
Fertilizing does more to improve poor-quality turf or maintain good quality turf than any other management practice. Grass plants normally need nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in greater amounts than can be supplied naturally from the soil.