A beautifully-striped lawn mowed tight like a golf course fairway. This describes the dream of most lawn care fanatics. I’m going to outline the process I followed to create the lawn you see above. It’s taken a little over 2 years of blood, sweat, and fertilizer to get my lawn to this point. Although it looks pretty good, I’m always looking for ways to improve my golf course lawn.
My lawn started out as Tifway 419. It’s the cultivar most-commonly installed by contractors in my area. Over the past 2 years, I’ve overseeded the lawn with Princess 77 Bermuda to get a darker color while reducing water and fertilization requirements. In the photo above, the lawn at is mowed at .75″.
In order for your lawn to look like a golf course, it first has to be smooth like a golf course. Despite how flat your lawn may look to the naked eye, once you start mowing it lower all the bumps, dips and weird undulations will show themselves. To overcome this challenge, you’ll need to topdress your lawn.
Topdressing is the process of applying a layer of sand to the turf to smooth out the uneven surface. There are several types of top dressing. It can range from primarily organic material to pure playground sand. A 50-50 mix of river sand and organic material was used on my lawn. This has the advantage of leveling the turf while also adding nutrients.
A pure organic mix will eventually break down putting you close to back where you started. While enough topdressing mix should be applied to reduce the low areas, be careful not to over-apply. The tips of the grass should still be exposed allowing them to receive sunlight for faster recovery.
The process used for applying the top dressing was as follows:
- Scalp the turf to a height below .5”
- Remove as many of the grass clippings as possible
- Aerate the turf
- Apply a 10-10-10 starter fertilizer (brand doesn’t really matter)
- Apply top dressing mix
- Use a shop broom to work the dressing mix into the turf
Topdressing is pretty back-breaking work. Be sure to enlist the help of friends and family so the process goes faster. Alternatively, you can find a company in your area that provides this service.
If you decide to use a service expect to pay about $5.00 per square foot depending on what all they do. My lawn is approximately 12,000 square feet and the cost ended up being $2,425.00 when I had this done last year.
Approximately 5 weeks passed between topdressing and my lawn being completely green.
Core Aeration and Verticutting
Core aeration and verticutting are methods for opening up the canopy and removing thatch. I typically aerate in late March or whenever the grass starts coming out of dormancy. Core aeration punches 4 – 6 inch deep holes into the turf and removes plugs of soil. This allows fresh air and moisture to enter the soil which improves water and fertilizer uptake. It also strengthens grass roots. You can rent a core aerator or pay a service to come do it for you.
Verticutting thins out the turf by removing built-up thatch. It also promotes new growth since the grass is being sliced into 2 – 3 inch long sections. Each of these sections begins new growth of its own. The result is a much thicker and healthier turf in the weeks following the process. I recommend doing both aeration and verticutting at least once per season. To speed up recovery, I apply fertilizer after the procedure.
Depending on your lawn size, expect to pay $60 – $90 for core aeration and $100 – $150 for verticutting.
After topdressing, the mower you use is by far the most important aspect of acquiring and maintaining a golf course lawn. The primary reason most lawns don’t look like a golf course is because the owner is using the wrong type of mower to cut the grass.
A traditional rotary lawn mower is analogous to swinging a long knife to cut the grass. This hacking motion tends to tear the grass instead of cutting it cleanly. Traditional mowers are also much more likely to scalp the turf as mowing heights become lower. Any unevenness in the surface will cause the cutting disk to dip creating ugly-looking semicircles in the lawn.
For the mowing heights we’re after (.5” – 1.25”), you need to use a reel mower. A reel mower (also called a cylinder mower), cuts the grass by trapping the grass between the reel edge and the bed knife. This process cuts the grass similar to how scissors cut paper. They’re much friendlier to the turf since the grass isn’t injured as much during the mowing process. Pretty much all reel mowers also have the option for installing a roller which neatly lays the grass flat during the cutting process. This is what creates those glorious stripes we’re after.
My current reel mower is a commercial Tru-Cut 25”. It’s an amazing bit of kit that does a great job keeping the lawn nice. I started out with a Scott’s push reel mower. While the Scott’s can work for smaller lawns, the Tru-Cut is a much better option. Because the reel turns so much faster, you obtain a better cut even at lower heights. It’s also much less work to operate a powered reel mower than a manual push mower. If you decide to get one, be sure to get a front roller since it’s required to create those beautiful stripes.
I prefer to use a blend of synthetic and organic fertilizers. For the synthetic I use a medium release fertilizer from Lebanon Turf. The specific product is their ProScape 25-0-5 with 1% iron and 51% MESA. MESA is their proprietary additive that feeds the lawn for extended periods while not causing excessive growth. One bag of this fertilizer is enough to treat 14,000 square feet of Bermuda. It can feed the lawn for up to 3 months.
For a slow release fertilizer, I like Milorganite. It’s organic and contains a bit of iron which promotes a very deep green color. I’ve applied it as heavy as 3X the specified rate with no burning. Your neighbors will hate the smell but it does wonders for your turf. Proscape fertilizer and Milorganite are a great combination that gives the turf a deep emerald green color.
This is my annual fertilization schedule:
- Early March: Full Milorganite application
- Mid April: Full Milorganite application
- Late June: Full Milorganite application
- Late June: Full ProScape 25-0-5 application
- Mid-August: Final Milorganite application of the year
4. Mowing Frequency
A big reason why golf courses look the way they do, is mowing frequency. The shorter the grass, the more frequently it has to be mowed to maintain the desired height. In order to have a green lawn between mowing sessions, it’s recommended that no more than 1/3 the length of the grass be removed. It also reduces the stress on the turf but to me this is secondary. Regardless of what you do to it, Bermuda is pretty difficult to kill.
This is the reason why putting greens are usually mowed daily while fairways are cut every other day. That’s what it takes to maintain green turf below 1 inch. For the home owner this translates to mowing at least 3 times per week; certainly not a small commitment.
During the summer months, (June – August), I usually mow the lawn every other day.
5. Pre-Emergent and PGR
Due to the low height of cut and mowing frequency, I don’t really have issues with weeds. That said, in mid-March I do put down a pre-emergent. I also re-apply in late June. The brand of pre-emergent I use is Spectracide. It can usually be found at your local big box store or Amazon for under $20 per bag.
The other chemical that I’ve recently begun using is PGR (Plant Growth Regulator). It inhibits the grass’ stalk from growing quickly while allowing the leaf to flourish. This has 2 great benefits. First, it reduces the mowing frequency because the grass isn’t growing vertically as quickly. Second, I get a darker green because the leaf isn’t being cut off as frequently. Older leaf is darker green than new leaf.
The brand of PGR I use and recommend is a variant of Primo Maxx called T-Nex. Depending on how much rain I get it’s applied every 4 – 6 weeks to control growth. My first application goes down in early June, followed by additional applications in July and August. It saves me about 1 mow per week and also provides the benefit of a greener lawn.
6. Fungicide and Insecticide
There are a couple of options for keeping grub worms, fire ants, and other pests away. I’ve recently switched to product by Syngenta called Caravan G. It’s a combination Insecticide and Fungicide. It does an excellent job of keeping the nasties away as well as eliminating lawn fungus like dollar spot. One bag covers around 8,000 square feet.
Bermuda only needs about 1” of water per week during the summer months to stay happy. If there’s no rain, that means running your irrigation system. Depending on your lawn size, water will probably be your highest expense.
Lower watering requirements is one of the primary reasons I made the decision to switch to Princess 77.
Tying it All Together
While it’s certainly a lot of work, the end result makes it worthwhile. Topdressing is by far the most difficult aspect of the process. Once you get past that it becomes all about fertilization and mowing.
Hope you enjoyed reading how my lawn was transferred from boring to awesome in just 2 short years. For those of you with golf course lawns, how did my process vary from yours? Are you using PGR to help control growth? If there’s anything I missed, please let me know in the comments below!