I know next to nothing about yard work, but I know a lot of people that either have to or chose to do their own lawn maintenance. I did come across an interesting article on lawn care via lewrockwell.com: http://www.richsoil.com/lawn-care.jsp
Here is a quick summary:
-Set you mower as high as it will go (3 to 4 inches)
-Water only when your grass shows signs and drought stress and then water deeply (put a cup in your sprinkler zone and make sure it gets at least an inch of water) - water early in the morning or in the evening avoiding the hottest part of the day.
- Fertilize with an organic fertilizer in the fall and spring.
-Have the pH professionally tested. add lime if it below 6.0 and gardener's sulfur if it is above 7.0
-check how much top soil you have. See how deep a shovel will go into the soil. How deep can you dig a hole in one minute? Four inches is OK, eight inches is great.
I really like the counter-intuitive advice which makes sense with the explanation. Cutting grass lower will cause it not only to grow height faster, reduce root depth, but also promote weed grow. Since grass needs blades for food (photosynthesis) to feed the roots, cutting the grass lower will cause it to grow height faster (at the expense of the root system) since that requires more energy. Taller grass is healthier and the turf will thicken (as the grass can spend more energy on roots and new grass as opposed to height). Next, the sensitive grow point for grass is near the soil and for weeds the sensitive grow point is near the top. This is also why you should mow more frequently if you have a weed infestation. Lastly, leave the clippings on the lawn as it adds organic matter and nutrients back to the soil. Some people are concerned about "clumping" which can happen if you mow short or too infrequently.
In summary there are four perks to mowing higher:
1- More shade to soil leads to less watering
2- promotes deeper roots leads to less watering
3- thicker turf leads to fewer weeds
4- slower growth leads to less mowing
This forces the lawn to deepen its root system and will also prevent weedlings which tend to have shallow roots. Shallow frequent watering actually promotes weeds! (ha, unintended consequence of auto-sprinkler system!)
Two methods to tell when it is time to water:
1-The grass will start to curl before it turns brown. When it starts to curl, that is the best time to water. Anything after that is time for "intensive care watering" (water half an inch, wait three hours and water an inch).
2-Take a shovel and stick it into the soil about six inches. Keep the sun to your left or to your right when you do this. Push the handle forward. If you can see any moisture, wait. If it's all dry, water. If you can't get your shovel to go into the soil this deep, you need more soil.
The first method is the best - especially if you have not yet trained your grass to make deep roots.
Watering on a schedule does not help in the war on weeds.
A tip for lawn care experts: If you have a good feel for how often your lawn needs watering and it is almost that time and there is a rain shower - maybe a quarter of an inch - that is the BEST time to water your lawn and give it that other 3/4 of an inch. Remember, the grass roots are down deep and most weed roots are near the surface. The idea is to keep the top three inches of soil as dry as you can for as long as you can. That quarter of an inch might make it so that your top three inches is well watered but the lower 9 to 20 inches is on the edge of being pretty dry. This gives the weeds some advantage over your grass!
Another thing about lawn care watering: I have discovered that if you are going to water an inch, it is better to water half an inch, wait 90 minutes and then water another half an inch. Maybe do this once a month. Sometimes when the soil gets really dry, it will repel water. This is called "superdeflocculation" (I think Mary Poppins would be impressed with this word!). If you put a little water in first, wait, and then put more, the soil is better prepared to take in more water.
Imagine a dry sponge - so dry it is stiff. And another sponge, slightly damp - soft and well wrung out. Now pour a cup of water onto each. The water runs off of the first sponge and all over the table. The water is soaked into the second sponge, not a drop is lost.
Remember: water has a strange and powerful attraction to itself. It would much rather stick to itself than disperse through the soil.
Another perk: every time you water, you wash away soil nutrients. So the less you water, the more fertile your soil!
Again, this was taken from the excellent article at http://www.richsoil.com/lawn-care.jsp
Go there for a full discussion and further discussion on fertilizers.
I don't think I have touched a lawn mower in the last decade. Also, my dad hated mowing the lawn so much that each cemented over more and more each year until it was all gone in the little quarter acre house plot I grew up in queens.
Anyway, this one is for you Dave. Happy mowing.