5 Big Lawn Care Mistakes Most People Make

Lots of folks don't know what the heck they're doing with their lawn.

Lawn care can be ridiculously easy—if you know what you're doing. Otherwise, you're just asking for a blunderfest. Case in point: You think you're doing everything right but you're still having problems with patchy grass or weeds taking over. You mow every week and water every day, so that should do it, right? (Nope.) Or maybe the lawn looks okay—it's mostly green and there aren't too many weeds—but it could be lusher and you secretly suspect the weeds are just laying low while preparing to stage a coup. But still, you're not sure what you should be doing differently.

Fear not. Chances are there's something simple you're overlooking in your lawn care plan. After all, your lawn didn't come with an owner's manual. (Who reads those, anyway?) Turns out, there are 5 big lawn care mistakes that most people make. See, you're not alone.

Here's what not to do.

1. Underfeeding your lawn

2. Watering the wrong way

3. Mowing too short

4. Letting a few weeds get out of hand

5. Having unrealistic expectations for a new lawn

1. Underfeeding your lawn.

Grass uses a lot of resources to grow throughout the season, but especially at key times of the year. If you skimp on the fertilizing, it won't have what it needs to look great year-round. (And yes, even a dormant lawn can look good if it isn't patchy or full of weeds.) The ideal number of yearly feedings is 4—once each in early spring, late spring, summer, and fall. To save time and cut out the guesswork, you can get exactly what you need delivered right to your doorstep (sweet!) with the personalized Scotts® Lawn Care Program.

If you live in the North: 

Scotts® Turf Builder® Halts Crabgrass Preventer with Lawn Food to help the lawn start growing again after a winter hiatus while preventing crabgrass from sprouting. Scotts® Turf Builder® Weed & Feed is ideal for the late spring feeding, when the grass is really growing like gangbusters and weeds are looking to start taking over. Cool season lawns can take a beating in the summer, but Scotts® Turf Builder® Summerguard® Lawn Food with Insect Control will feed and strengthen the lawn as well as kill and prevent insects. Fall is another time of superb growth for cool season lawns, so apply Scotts® Turf Builder® WinterGuard® Fall Lawn Food to help grass grow deep roots and store sugars to help survive the winter. By the way, see the directions on the label? Follow 'em.

If you live in the South: 

Southern lawns follow a different rhythm. In the early spring, feeding with Scotts® Turf Builder® Bonus® S Southern Weed & Feed will prevent summer weeds from sprouting and help the lawn start growing again after its winter dormant period. Later in the spring, warm-season grasses start to hit their stride, so apply Scotts® Turf Builder® Southern Lawn Food to help protect the lawn from heat and drought and encourage it to grow deep roots. Summer is prime time for warm season grasses. Feeding the lawn Scotts® Turf Builder® Summer Lawn Food with EveryDrop® technology during the summer ensures the grass has everything it needs to form a dense carpet that crowds out weeds. As temperatures cool off in the fall, Southern lawns grow more slowly and put a lot of resources toward growing deep roots and storing sugars for the winter when they're dormant. Prepare them for the off-season by feeding with Scotts® Turf Builder® Bonus® S Southern Weed & Feed, which also controls winter weeds. Again, don't ignore the directions on the label. (Seriously.)

Of course, you also need a superior spreader to apply the fertilizer. Choose your spreader based on your lawn size. A hand-held version like the Scotts® Whirl™ Hand-Powered Spreader is perfect for small lawns, while the larger Scotts® Turf Builder® Edgeguard® DLX Broadcast Spreader is ideal for lawns up to 15,000 square feet. Any bigger than that and you need the Scotts® Elite Spreader, which holds enough product to cover up to 20,000 square feet.

2. Watering the wrong way.

The proper rule of thumb is to water lawns deeply and infrequently to encourage grass to grow deep roots. This means watering for anywhere between 20 and 60 minutes 2 to 4 days a week instead of 5 or 10 minutes every day. But how do you actually know when and how much to water so you don't goof it up? Start by keeping the weather in mind. Just because it rained a little doesn't mean the grass got enough water. An all-day soaking rain is probably enough to skip the next scheduled watering but a 15-minute sprinkle is not. And if summer days have been exceptionally hot and dry, your lawn may be thirstier than usual. (Check out our Lawn Watering Tips article for more info on watering.)

The easiest way to know exactly when and how much you need to water is to install a smart control device, which uses real-time weather data to automatically program the watering schedule for your sprinkler system. You can monitor and control it right from your smartphone, no matter where you are. And where you are is probably relaxing on the couch because hey, you don't have to lift a finger.

3. Mowing too short.

Okay, let's talk mowing height. First, a little science lesson: Grass plants grow root systems in proportion to their top growth, so when grass blades are too short, they can't make enough sugars for the roots to grow deeply into the soil. Grass cut too short will immediately start pouring its energy into growing its blades—at the expense of root growth. Shallow roots can lead to lawn problems during drought because the plants can't reach deeper water reserves in the soil.

Mowing much too short can also mean you cut off the growing points of the grass plants. This is called "scalping" because it basically gives your lawn bald spots—real attractive, right? As the grass thins (from scalping or shallow root systems), more bare ground becomes open to the sunlight, which gives weed seeds a good place to take hold and get themselves all comfy.

Avoid this lawn care blunder by setting your mower height at the right height for your grass type and never removing more than 1/3 of the grass blade length at a time. Every grass type has a different ideal height, but it generally ranges between 2 and 4 inches. (Many warm season grasses are happiest on the shorter side, while cool season grasses grow their best at 3 to 4 inches.) Not sure what kind of grass you have? Our Identifying Your Grass article will help.

4. Letting a few weeds get out of hand.

Just a single weed going to seed (and blowing thousands of seeds all over the lawn) can have a huge snowball effect, and a weed that spreads by runners can turn a sweet lawn into a patchy mess if allowed to grow unchecked. What's more, if weeds are allowed to spread and take over, by the time you finally get around to killing them, you'll be left with big, bare spots that act as "vacancy" signs for even more weeds.

Luckily, it's easy to break this vicious cycle. The most important step is to use the lawn foods recommended above, which control weeds while they feed. If you just have a few, you can also use Scotts® Spot Weed Control for Lawns to get rid of individual weeds before they set seed or spread (be sure to read the label directions first). Without hurting the lawn, it kills weeds down to their roots, which is crucial if the worst offenders in your lawn have deep, hard-to-remove taproots or spread by runners.

5. Having unrealistic expectations for a new lawn.

Hate to break it to you, but it takes time grow a primo lawn. When planting a new lawn from seed, it can take 7 to 14 days for the grass to germinate and several more weeks for it to really fill in. In other words, you've got no choice but to be patient. Of course, you want to make sure you're planting properly, too. Watch the weather and follow instructions on the grass seed package to make sure you're not planting too close to a predicted rainstorm. Hold off on pre-emergent treatments before you sow grass seed. (The pre-emergent package will give you timing instructions so that you can choose a good window of opportunity for planting.) Finally, know that the quality of your new lawn will depend on the quality of the seed you use. For the kind of lawn that will make passing cars slow right down for a closer look, use premium grass seed from Scotts®.

And that's it. Now that you know the 5 common lawn care mistakes most people make, make a few tweaks to your own lawn care plan, then sit back and wait for the neighbors to start asking you for pointers.