4) Weekly Mowing
Mowing your lawn every week may seem tedious or like a lot of work but it will help your lawn in a number of ways.
Something many people are unaware of is that when you cut your lawn, you are only supposed to cut off a third of the overall length. For example, if you went on vacation and came back to a 6” long lawn, you would only want to remove 2”, leaving you with a 4” long lawn.
The reasoning behind this is if you remove more than a third of the length, it puts your lawn into shock. This means that the lawn puts all of it’s resources into growing back it’s grass blades to maintain photosynthesis. Since all of your lawn’s resources are going into growing back the grass blades, things like root growth are neglected. This creates problems because without a robust root system your lawn will struggle to absorb water and nutrients from the soil.
Another key benefit of weekly mowing is it can keep weeds under control if you bag the clippings. Since most weeds grow faster than grass, they are easily “nipped at the bud” by weekly mowing. As the weed grows, it tries to get high above the grass so it’s leaves can absorb sunlight for photosynthesis and so it's seeds are easily spread over a large area. When you cut and bag your grass weekly you will be removing the weed’s leaves and seeds, putting it into shock and stopping the spread of it’s seeds.
Much like a grass plant, the weed will divert it’s resources to replace it’s leaves and neglect the growth of it’s root system. While this is happening the grass surrounding it will be growing healthy roots and becoming thicker. As this happens the lawn’s roots will choke out the weed’s roots and thick grass will shade out the weed’s leaves, eventually starving the weed of water, nutrients and sunlight.
It is worth mentioning again that weekly mowing only helps with weeds if you bag your clippings. While mulching your clippings is a great way for your lawn to recycle nutrients, it will also spread weed seeds around your lawn, leading to more weeds.
What is mulching? It is also known as grasscycling and it means that the cut grass isn’t bagged and is left on the lawn to break down. This is something that you should only attempt if you mow your lawn weekly. If you leave it for too long and try grasscycling you will have what looks like a layer of hay on your lawn that can take weeks to break down.
Many people say grasscycling is better than bagging as it allows the lawn to recycle it’s nutrients and reduce it’s need for fertilizer. This is true but you will be leaving yourself open to weeds taking over your lawn. In our opinion, it is better to bag your clippings and fertilize your lawn than to grasscycle and rely on herbicides to keep the weeds in check. This is because as far as chemicals go, herbicides are far more toxic and bad for the environment than fertilizers.
Probably the most important thing you can do for your lawn is to make sure it gets enough water. Grass needs an inch of water a week to stay green and healthy. Failure to do so will lead to crispy, yellow grass that doesn’t grow and becomes overrun by weeds.
While it is important to make sure your lawn gets enough water, there is such a thing as too much. Too much water will wash the nutrients in your soil below the root system of your grass. Once the nutrients are out of the reach of the roots they are gone for good and you will have to fertilize again.
Another water related issue is a lawn that doesn’t drain properly. This is typically caused by compacted soil and can easily be fixed with core aeration. Tell tale signs of poor drainage are mushroom patches and patches of lawn that stay wet for a long time. Poor drainage is a problem because it can lead to disease and unhealthy grass.
If you end up needing to water your lawn, the best time to do it is early in the morning before the sun gets too strong. This allows the water time to soak into the soil before the sun’s heat starts evaporating it. It is also better to do one heavy watering than multiple short waterings. This is because a heavy watering will allow the water to soak deeper into your soil. This will encourage deeper roots which are important for the overall heath of your lawn.
Making sure your lawn gets enough water is easy even if you don’t have an irrigation system. All you need to do is put out an empty tuna can on your lawn as a rain gauge. If you don’t get an inch of water in the can from rain, water your lawn until you do.
Many cities have bylaws regarding watering so it is always a good idea to check with your city if you are using their water. These bylaws are meant to conserve water and the fines for disobeying them can really add to the cost of your lawn!
While updating this article for 2021 I realized I left out a few steps that also really help lawns in Calgary, they are listed below.
Bonus Step #1 - Top Dressing
Something that often gets over looked but really helps a lawn is top dressing. Simply put, top dressing is where you spread a thin layer of high quality top soil on your lawn. This helps restore the depleted top soil your lawn is growing in to improve the health of your lawn and reduce the need for fertilizer.
For an average size lawn in Calgary you will need at least a cubic yard of top soil. There are various grades of soil available but for top dressing it is best to use “black earth” garden soil or lawn soil.
In order to do a good job top dressing you will need to spread the soil evenly over your lawn using a rake. It’s important to thoroughly rake the soil in because if you leave big piles of soil on your lawn it will suffocate the grass. This is a pretty time consuming and labour intensive process but it is worth it.
The best time to top dress your lawn is the spring but you can also do it in the fall. We typically top dress lawns in May and June so there is time for the lawn to recuperate before the hot and dry summer months. It’s also worth mentioning that you should only top dress your lawn on a dry day. If you try to do it on a rainy day it will just make a muddy mess and potentially do more harm than good.
Bonus Step #2 - Peat Moss
Probably the best kept secret of having a great lawn in Calgary is Peat Moss. The main benefit of peat moss is that it helps your lawn retain moisture. In addition to this, it will also help improve the consistency and texture of your soil and help retain nutrients.
Peat moss is applied in a similar way to top dressing. You basically want to get a nice uniform and thin layer of it over the whole surface of your lawn. Peat moss is usually sold compressed in blocks so you will have to break it up before you put it on your lawn. We typically just grab a small amount and rub it between our hands to break it up as we spread it. Its a good idea to rake it in after you have distributed it by hand.
The best time to spread peat moss on your lawn is near the end of spring. This is because it helps your lawn retain moisture, which is important during those hot summer months!
Bonus Step #3 - Over-seeding
Over-seeding is a great way to fill in a thin or patchy lawn. Basically all you are doing here is spreading a layer of fresh grass seeds on your lawn. It is a good idea to use a fertilizer spreader when doing this to achieve a uniform layer of seeds.
Since there are quite a few species of grass it is a good idea to try to match what you have. Fortunately most lawns in Calgary use a blend of seeds so just buying a big bag of All Purpose grass seed usually works fine. If part of your lawn gets a lot of sunlight it is a good idea to use a “sunny mix” as it is better suited for direct sunlight. Similarly, if part of your lawn gets a lot of shade it is best to use a “shady mix”.
When buying grass seed it is best to buy the nicest seed you can afford. While coated seeds are more expensive than uncoated seeds, they are more forgiving and retain moisture better. Another tip for buying grass seed is to check the date on the bag - you want fresh seed. It’s temping to buy last year’s seed while it’s on sale but old seed doesn’t germinate as well and you will have a higher percentage of seeds that don’t germinate.
If you decide to over-seed it is also a good idea to fertilize with some starter fertilizer. This blend of fertilizer is formulated specifically to help establish roots and will give you the best chance for success. Another good idea is to spread a thin layer of peat moss on top as this will help retain moisture.
The best time to over-seed your lawn in Calgary is May to June. Grass seeds need consistent temperatures of 15°C to grow so doing it before May is kind of pointless. If you do over-seed before May birds will just eat the seeds before they can sprout, which is obviously a huge waste of money.
We don’t recommend over-seeding after June for a couple of reasons. First, grass seed needs to be kept moist during the germination process. Failing to keep the seeds moist during this time is the number one reason for failure. If you try keeping a lawn’s worth of seed moist during the hot and dry summer months you will be paying a fortune in water and likely be ticketed for not obeying watering restrictions.
The second reason to not over-seed after June is if you over-seed too late in the season the fresh grass will not have a chance to put down a robust root system. A robust root system is essential for your lawn to make it through the winter. Without good roots their is almost a definite chance the new grass will die over the winter, leaving you back at square one!
Bonus Step #4 - Powdered Gypsum
If you have yellow spots on your lawn from dog urine or ice-melt salt you probably know that it can be very hard to correct. Basically what happens is the urine or ice-melt burns the grass, killing it. It also contaminates the soil preventing fresh seeds from growing. If the damage isn’t too bad you can try deeply watering these spots. Your goal here is to get the urine or salt to soak deep into the ground, below the grass’ root system, so you will need to use A LOT of water.
If that doesn’t work (it usually doesn’t) your next step is to apply some powdered gypsum to the area. Gypsum will neutralize the urine or salt contaminating the soil so it will be hospitable to grass again.
To apply powdered gypsum first you need to remove the dead yellow grass. This is best accomplished with a rake but you can also just rip it out by hand. Once the dead grass is gone, loosen up the soil a bit with a rake. Now apply some of the powdered gypsum and mix it into the soil a bit. After this you will need to plant some fresh grass seed. Like over-seeding, it’s a good idea to use some starter fertilizer and peat moss at this stage. Also remember that fresh grass seed needs to be kept moist during the germination process!
Powdered gypsum can be kind of hard to find. It is available at most garden centers but I have been unable to find it on numerous occasions. If you can’t find powdered gypsum in stores you can actually use drywall since the main ingredient of drywall is gypsum.
To make powdered gypsum from drywall first soak the drywall down with water. You are doing this so you can peel the paper off of the front and back. Once you have the paper off the drywall all you have to do is crush it into powder. There are obviously a few ways to do this but we just put it in a thick plastic bag and smash it with a sledge hammer.
Bonus Step #5 - Weed Control
Weeds can be a real issue for a lot of lawns in Calgary. If you live across from a “natural” park or green area, weed seeds will almost definitely find their way onto your lawn. The same is true if you have a neighbor with a weed infested lawn and a porous fence. To make matters worse, most weeds start growing at a lower temperature than grass, meaning they will have a head start on your lawn once spring arrives.
There are 4 ways to deal with weeds. The first way to deal with weeds is outlined in step 4 above. This is mowing your lawn weekly and bagging the clippings. While this is what we recommend, it will only work if you have minimal weeds.
The second way to deal with weeds is to dig them out. This is the most effective way to get rid of them but it is also very time consuming and labour intensive. In addition to being this, you will also be left with a bunch of holes in your lawn that will need to be replanted with grass.
The third way to deal with weeds is to spray them. While this method is pretty easy to do, there are health risks involved. Herbicide manufacturers will tell you that their chemicals are safe but personally I don’t buy that. If you are curious, have a look at the recent “Round-Up” lawsuits. The anecdotal evidence provided by long time farmers and groundskeepers with serious cancer is pretty terrifying. Chemicals in herbicides can also effect your endocrine system, which effects your hormones and can really mess you up.
While this may not be much of a concern for an adult who sprays their lawn a couple times a year, it is a concern if you have small children or pets who play on the lawn. This is because of their smaller bodies, any chemical absorbed would be in a higher concentration than in a larger, adult body that isn’t rolling around on the grass.
Another concern with chemical herbicides is that they pollute the environment. Excess herbicide will soak into the ground and disrupt the microbiome of the soil beneath. Herbicide can also be washed into storm sewers, ditches and ponds polluting them as well.
If spraying seems to be your only option I would strongly suggest having a company that specializes in weed control take care of it. They are trained professionals who know what to do to keep themselves, you and the environment as safe as possible. At FT Property Services we have decided not to spray for weeds, for us the risks out weigh the rewards. If you decide to spray your lawn yourself please make sure to use the correct protective clothing. Closed toed shoes, gloves, long pants, long sleeves, a mask and safety glasses are a must. Make sure to put your clothes in the wash and have a shower as soon as you are done as well.
While spraying for weeds is the easiest way to get rid of them, if you have a significant weed problem expect to do multiple applications. A typical lawn in Calgary on a weed control program gets sprayed twice a year. If you have a major weed problem it may need to be sprayed even more.
Like fertilizing, it is a good idea to leave a month or so between applications and don’t apply herbicide in the hot and dry summer months. It is also a good idea to spray your lawn a week before fertilizing. This will kill off the weeds so they don’t end up sucking up nutrients meant for your lawn. Finally, if you are going to spray your lawn for weeds, do so on a day without rain in the forecast. Rain will just wash the herbicide off of the weeds before it’s had a chance to do it’s job.
The forth and final way to deal with weeds is to accept that most lawns have weeds and do nothing. If you have ever looked up the definition of “weed”, you know that a weed is a “wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants” (from Oxford Languages/ Google English Dictionary). By this definition even grass can be considered a weed if it’s growing outside of your lawn. It may sound kind of ridiculous but as long as you don’t think of these wild plants as a weed, they aren’t.
In closing, I hope this blog has been helpful to you. As of 2023, FT Property Services no longer offers lawn care services of any kind but I will be leaving this blog up as it contains some pretty useful information. Also check out this interesting article on Justin Havre's site about lawn care and home values. Definitely worth a read. Check it out here: neglected lawns cost calgary home sellers thousands in home value
Having a great lawn in Calgary can be tough. With our long winters, low spring temperatures and dry summers we really have the cards stacked against us. That said, it’s not impossible with a little work!
Most of the information about lawn care in books and online is from the US where they have a more favorable climate for a nice law. While a lot of this information still applies to us, much of it does not. That’s why I decided to make this blog, for those of us living here. I’ve gathered this information over the years of providing Lawn Care service in Calgary and it is proven to work.
So if 2021 (or 2023) is the year you want to improve your lawn, keep reading!
Lawn aeration improves the quality of most lawns in Calgary, even ones that are already pretty good. If you ignore the rest of this list and just aerate your lawn, you will most likely notice a significant improvement. Aeration loosens up the soil under your lawn by punching thousands of small holes in it, allowing water, nutrients and air to reach your lawn’s roots. This also frees up space for new roots to grow making your lawn stronger overall.
Lawn aeration is very helpful for lawns that see a lot of use and have compressed soil. If you enjoy using your lawn to play sports, host parties or you simply walk on it a lot, having your lawn aerated will make a huge difference. Lawn aeration is also very helpful in the spring to revive a lawn that has been buried under a heavy amount of snow all winter.
There are a few ways to aerate your lawn and not all are created equally. There are two main types of machines - spike aerators and core (plug) aerators. Spike aerators use spikes to make holes in your lawn while core aerators use hollow tines to cut plugs out of your lawn. While the immediate results of either of the lawn aeration techniques are similar (many small holes all over your lawn), the long term results are very different.
A spike aerator makes holes by stabbing solid spikes into your lawn. Each time a spike enters your lawn, the soil around it is compressed to accommodate it. Due to this compaction of your soil, the long term benefits of spike aeration are minimal.
A core aerator makes holes by cutting plugs from your lawn with it’s hollow tines. Since this process actually removes the soil in the hole instead of compressing it, it has far better long term benefits. The plugs that are cut from your lawn are left on the surface where they break down and return nutrients to the soil.
Lawn aerators are available to rent from most tool rental services. That being said, lawn aeration is often best left to the professionals for a number of reasons. First, a lawn aerator is a large machine that weighs over 300 lbs. You will need either a truck or a trailer to get the aerator from the store to your property. Secondly, if you are thinking of aerating your lawn, chances are many others in your area are as well. This usually results in all the aerators at the rental store being booked for weeks. Thirdly, aerators are powerful and dangerous machines. If not operated by someone with experience, personal injury and property damage are very real possibilities. Finally, for about the price it costs to rent an aerator you can have a professional, insured company aerate your lawn for you.
The best time to aerate your lawn is either in the spring or the fall. Aerating your lawn in the hot and dry summer months should be avoided.
2) Power Rake
Power raking is another thing you can do to improve your lawn. Much like aeration, if you were to ignore the rest of this list and just power rake you lawn you would likely notice a significant improvement. Power raking removes material called thatch from your lawn’s root system. This gives the lawn’s roots room to breathe, grow and absorb water and nutrients. This translates to a greener, thicker lawn.
Power raking is done with a specialized machine called a power rake. This machine is the best tool for the job when it comes to removing thatch from your lawn. Don’t be fooled by “Power Rake” lawn mower blades. These do not remove thatch effectively and can really damage your lawn! I’ve seen a client use one of these on his lawn and it basically just ripped the grass out and left the thatch.
While you can rent a power rake from most tool rental services, they are dangerous machines that can really chew up your lawn (and you) if you haven’t used one before. On top of that, power raking your lawn will generate a lot of thatch that you will have to rake up and dispose of.
If you want to power rake your lawn but don’t want to deal with the power rake, you can hire a professional lawn service to take care of it for you. While most legitimate lawn care services use an actual power rake and clean up the thatch, some don’t so make sure to ask!
The best time to power rake your lawn is in the spring. Power raking puts a lot of stress on your lawn so you should avoid doing it in the summer when it is getting a lot of sun and limited water. You should also avoid power raking in the fall as your lawn will have no time to recover before the winter, leaving it open to damage and disease.
Your lawn needs three primary nutrients to grow: nitrogen, phosphate and potassium. As your lawn grows, it pulls these nutrients from the soil, leaving it depleted. If these nutrients aren’t replaced your lawn will eventually run low on food and struggle to stay healthy.
When used in conjunction with the other steps listed here fertilizing will help your lawn green up quickly, thicken up and put down a robust root system. It can make the difference from having an okay lawn to having an amazing lawn you want to walk on with your bare feet.
Fertilizing does have its dangers though. If fertilizer isn’t applied properly it can burn your lawn and actually kill it. If over-applied, fertilizer can wash into storm drains and damage local ecosystems. It can also discolour concrete and brick pathways if it is spilled on them and not cleaned up. Fertilizer should always be applied with a fertilizer spreader to ensure an accurate, uniform distribution on your lawn.
There are a number of different lawn fertilizers available to use. If you’d like to go the organic route you can use fertilizers made of animal manure or another decomposed biological matter. Organic fertilizers are good because they are a natural part of the ecosystem. The downside of organic fertilizers is that they have less nutrients per pound than chemical fertilizers, meaning that more of it must be applied to achieve the same result. Organic fertilizers also have an inconsistent distribution of nutrients which can lead to you lawn not getting enough of what it needs or too much of what it doesn’t.
Chemical fertilizers yield better results than organic fertilizers because the desired nutrients are more concentrated and in the correct proportions. Once you factor in the amount of fertilizer needed to do the job and the time it takes to apply, chemical fertilizers often end up being the cheaper option.
If you want to fertilize your lawn but don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, a professional lawn service can help. They will take care of everything, from making a fertilizer schedule to selecting the right fertilizer to applying it correctly.
In Calgary people typically fertilize their lawns 4 times a year, 3 times in the spring/ early summer and once in the fall. It’s a good idea to leave a month between fertilizer applications to avoid burning your lawn. It’s also a good idea to not fertilize in the hot and dry summer months as this can also damage your lawn.
5 STEPS TO A GREAT LAWN IN 2021 (Plus 5 More Bonus Steps)
Written By Steve Hyde | Updated February 24, 2023 | Calgary, Alberta
HELPING CALGARY'S PROPERTIES REACH THEIR POTENTIAL