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Slow-release and organic fertilizers
Organic fertilizers (Ringer Lawn Restore, Dr. Earth Lawn Super Natural Organic Lawn Fertilizer, E.B. Stone Nature’s Green Lawn Food, Bradfield Luscious Lawn Organic Fertilizer), Vigoro Lawn Fertilizer
To kill immature grubs (azadirachtin)
Safer Brand Grub Killer concentrate (for hose-end application)
Beneficial nematodes (Heterorhabditis bacteriophora or Steinernema glaseri)
Buy nematodes from your nursery or garden center, which will order them for you if they are not in stock. Or, order them online.
Mechanical dandelion puller
Fiskars UpRoot Weed and Root Remover
Soil analysis laboratories
Ask your nursery or garden center for a recommendation, or contact your county agricultural extension office
Check out some of the excellent sources of information on keeping your lawn healthy, such as the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program, http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/ PMG/menu.turf.html, and Beyond Pesticides, http://beyondpesticides.org/lawn/factsheets/index.php?pid=295.
If you don’t need an even, all-grass surface, you can replace all or some of your lawn with an attractive alternative that needs less water and less mowing, and attracts helpful pollinators to your garden.
Drought-tolerant lawn substitutes
Woolly Yarrow (Achillea tomentosa): Plant from flats or small pots, 6″ apart; mow in March and July to a height of 2″. Yellow flowers. Keep soil on the dry side.
Caraway-Scented Thyme (Thymus herba-barona): Plant all thymes from flats or small pots, 6″ to 8″ apart. Mowing is not necessary. Rose-pink flowers in early summer attract bees.
Creeping Thyme (Thymus praecox-arcticus): Mow to 1 1/2″ in July and fertilize; purple flowers in summer attract bees.
Strawberry Clover (Trifolium fragiferum): Plant from seed in fall; mow to 2″ in April, June, and August; white to pink flowers in summer attract bees.
Garden Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) combined with strawberry clover: Plant chamomile from flats or from small pots, 6″ to 8″ apart. Interplant with strawberry clover and mow both ground covers to 2″ in April, June, and August. In areas with heavy clay soils, chamomile may not grow. In those spots, combine the clover with either of the thymes listed above.
Unless your soil is very sandy, you should not need to add fertilizer (nutrients) to your lawn.
A completely weed-free lawn is… unnatural! But a healthy lawn will crowd out most weeds. Think about how many weeds you can tolerate.
A healthy lawn needs air, water, and nutrients reaching the roots. An old or neglected lawn, or one that gets heavy use, may have a thick layer of thatch, or the soil may be compacted so that roots cannot grow well.
A lawn’s root system needs air to grow, and grow deep into the soil. If you can’t push a screwdriver five or six inches into the soil, or if water pools on the surface, you should aerate your lawn. Areas where there is heavy foot traffic or where grass looks thin are good places to check.
Thatch is a matted layer of living and dead grass stems and roots that can build up between the green blades and the soil surface. A half-inch of thatch can help your lawn retain moisture and block weeds, but a thicker layer can keep air and water from reaching the roots. If you lawn has a bouncy feel when you walk on it, thatch is probably building up. Aeration can help with thatch.
If your lawn appears to be dead in patches or feels spongy, or if raccoons or possums have been rolling up your turf like a carpet, you might have white grubs. Or you might not!
Drought can cause grass to go dormant or die in patches. Dog urine can cause yellow spots in a lawn. Hungry birds, moles, raccoons, opossums, and skunks may dig in the turf looking for tasty grubs, but they might not find them. Before you take action against grubs, you should verify their presence in several places.
White grubs are an immature stage of several kinds of beetles that feed on grass roots. Grubs are C-shaped, up to an inch long, and often white with a brown head and three pairs of legs.
Dig around grass roots where you suspect grubs. In late fall through spring, look for whitish to yellow, wrinkled, C-shaped grubs. Look for yellowish-brown adult beetles in early to mid summer. You probably won’t see damage from grubs on the surface of your lawn until June or later—when the grubs have grown into beetles and finished eating for the year.
For more information about lawn pests in California, see: http://www.ipm.ucanr.edu/QT/lawninsectscard.html. For more information about beneficial nematodes and how to apply them, see: http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/TOOLS/TURF/PESTS/innem.html.
“Cool season” native bunch grasses (growing season is during cool weather)
“Warm season” grasses (growing season is during warm weather)
See http://www.deltabluegrass.com for trademarked native, low-water sod options in northern California; or http://www.ssseeds.com in southern California and the central coast.