5 ways to keep your lawn looking its best

If the lush lawn you enjoyed all summer long is being overtaken by crabgrass and other weeds, join the club. A mild winter and wet spring have made for a particularly brutal weed season in many parts of the country. Fall is always the best time to fortify turfgrass, and this year more than ever. It's also when you'll find end-of-season deals on lawn care equipment, including mowers, tractors, and string trimmers. Keep these tips in mind as you take back your lawn.

When fertilizing, less is more. The five applications that fertilizer companies sometimes recommend is overkill. Your lawn will probably thrive with just one or two applications, especially if you mulch clippings when mowing, rather than bagging them. The one must-time for fertilizing is in September, using a fall formula with slow-release nitrogen.

Let the grass grow a bit longer. Cutting grass too short can compromise root development. But most domestic grasses can do just fine with 50 percent or more of the blade removed, meaning you can let the lawn grow to about 5 inches before mowing. That might result in a shaggier lawn than you're used to, but it will reduce mowing frequency by about 25 percent. You should continue mowing the lawn until it goes dormant for the season.

Learn to live with certain weeds. That includes dandelions, which don't actually harm the lawn. In fact, their penetrating tap roots might even improve the soil structure. Clover, which takes nitrogen from the air and feeds it to the soil, also has benefits. Crabgrass, however, should be eliminated since it promotes soil erosion; consider corn-gluten meal, an organic alternative to chemical herbicides. Grubs can devastate a lawn, so it's worth consulting with a professional about preventive measures, especially if you've had problems in the past.

Overseed bare spots. A thick lawn is always the best defense against weeds and disease. Choose grass suited to your climate, soil conditions, and lifestyle. Your local cooperative extension should have a list of recommended species and varieties, including low-maintenance options that need the least water and fertilizer.

Never lose sight of reliability. Sears is slashing prices on lawn equipment by up to 20 percent, while Lowe's is offering free delivery on outdoor power equipment. Those are tempting deals, but you need to make sure the products covered will hold up over time. In our surveys, Cub Cadet, John Deere, Snapper, and Husqvarna have been among the more repair-prone brands for self-propelled mowers. See our reports on mowers and tractors for more information, plus Ratings of dozens of models.

Daniel DiClerico

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Copyright © 2005-2013 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission. Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this site.