9 lawn-care mistakes every first-time homeowner makes (and how to avoid them)


A proper watering schedule is just one aspect of maintaining a healthy lawn.

Aithema Tongloon

Your first time can be nerve-racking, rife with anxious buildup. You want it to be fun, safe, productive and long-lasting. You worry you’ll be judged. You’re keen to get it right.

Fret not, turf-care rookie. Ryan Bourne has you covered. He’s the former superintendent at Terradyne Country Club, in Andover, Kan., and a longtime member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America who now works in the chemical fertilizer business. We asked him to identify the most common mistakes novices commit when they try to grow in a lawn. Here are 9 you should avoid.

1. Planting the wrong variety of grass

Do you live in a cold or a warm climate? What’s your soil like? Is the site shaded and or sun-baked? How do you envision using your lawn? These and other factors will help determine the type of turf you should planting — a key factor in the long-term health of your yard. For more guidance, click here

2. Misapplication of fertilizer

If you’ve ever seen a lawn with zebra-looking stripes, there’s a good chance the owner botched the fertilizer job, failing to distribute the stuff evenly. There are machines to help you do this — like drop spreaders and broadcast spreaders — but learning to use them properly takes some practice. Also: all fertilizers come with precise instructions. Read them carefully! They include detailed info on how much to apply.

waterlogged grass
Douglas Sacha

3. Freezing and flooding

How much you water should change with the weather or the time of day, but a lot of homeowners fail to adjust. The result, all too often, is waterlogged lawns after heavy rains, or yards that look like ice rinks when the temperatures drop. For irrigation guidelines, click here.

4. Walking on a frosty lawn

There’s a reason golf courses have frost delays. Treading on frozen turf causes discoloration. But the impact isn’t always just aesthetic. Doing so can damage or even kill the grass.

5. Mowing too low

There’s more to cutting grass than just chopping it down. Superintendents follow the “one-third” rule, the thrust of which is this: Never cut off more than one-third of a leaf blade with a single mow. Lopping off too much off at once can lead to a host of short- and long-term problems, from browned-out patches to disease. Also, Bourne says, make sure your mower blades are sharp. Dull blades will tear your grass instead of cutting it, which is bad for the look — and the health — of the turf.

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6. Failing to do a soil test

Nutrient deficiencies. Lurking toxicities. The health of your lawn depends on what’s in your ground. And you can’t know what’s there without a soil test. Many state agencies and university research centers will do them for you, for cheap. You can also purchase kits and do it on your own.

7. Planting too much seed

More is not always better, Bourne says. Excessive seeding will produce an impressively lush lawn in the short run. But in the long term, could be in for trouble, as overpopulation can leave your grass vulnerable to disease. As with fertilizer, seed bags come with instructions. It pays to follow them to the letter.

8. Not seeking advice

The smartest folks in lawn care are those who acknowledge what they don’t know. When in doubt, Bourne says, don’t hesitate to ask an expert. There are plenty of them at your local home improvement store.

9. Expecting too much 

Go easy on yourself! Your lawn is a living, breathing, demanding organism. It takes time to master, so learn from your mistakes and enjoy the (mower) ride. 

Josh Sens

Golf.com Editor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.