Kenneth Knepper: Lawn care tips for those with less than green thumbs

Kenneth Knepper

Years ago, it became painfully apparent I was no green-thumb gardener when a watering accident sent a cactus to that great desert in the sky.

At the time, I remember thinking I probably was destined to live out my remaining days in an apartment complex, well away from anything greener than a recycle bin. But, that changed with marriage.

Today, I’m constantly challenged to decide whether to water the grass in my yard, mow, thatch or add fertilizer, insect control and weed killer.

And this year has been no exception, as I watched enviably at my neighbors’ lawns, which seemingly grow a perfect blend of grass and shrubs with little or no effort on the part of the homeowner. Meanwhile, I’m stuck walking across my own lawn, carrying a sprayer filled with Roundup while seeking out a variety of greenery that doesn’t resemble grass.

I’m proud to state the idea of lawn care has not been completely wasted on me, however.  Although, to call me a green thumb would be a little like saying Congress is filled with bipartisanship.

I even put together a list of my personal lawn-care secrets, which may or may not enhance your own abilities.

1. Applying spring fertilizer: I learned the best time to apply fertilizer is immediately after soaking the lawn with water. This helps the fertilizer granules cling to the plant, where they eventually are absorbed through some process I can’t recall, because during science class I was too busy reflecting on how much I didn’t care about the science of plants.

The only problem I found through this idea stemmed (get it?!) from where I live. The wind blows constantly from the south at 48 mph, meaning any fertilizer that’s applied — no matter how wet the lawn — will wind up three blocks north on someone else’s ground. It results in a good deal of wasted money and labor.

I always thought it would be fun to send out an invoice for their lawn maintenance.

2. Apply fertilizer with a spreader: Back when my yards consisted of small patches of weeds, I nonchalantly tossed fertilizer by hand — in a gesture reminiscent of someone feeding chickens.

Today, thanks to my wife (who apparently was embarrassed by me standing in the front yard wearing a medical glove and tossing fertilizer) I have taken the process to a whole other level with a rotary spreader.

There’s a secret to the process, however.

Make sure you spread the fertilizer in a direction and then repeat the process at 90 degrees. Also, make sure your rotary spreader functions -- properly.

Once, I learned weeks later my spreader had not dropped fertilizer consistently, when burned areas began showing in the backyard, forming a mosaic design.

While it probably created an interesting conversation piece for air travelers, it didn’t enhance the growth of grass and ultimately led to replanting.

3. The best time to mow the lawn: One thing I can’t stand is the actual process of firing up the mower and descending upon the lawn, which only aids in grass growing more rapidly, meaning mowing eventually will need to take place every three days.

So, instead, I wait until the very last possible moment before mowing —  a time just before I would need to call professionals with machetes.

Or, until my wife finally stops asking when I will get around to mowing and does it herself.

As all of us know, the secret to a manicured-looking lawn is to mow in various directions, each time. This helps strengthen the root system and promotes growth — meaning you’ll get plenty of time to see your progress because you’ll soon be mowing every three days.

I hope these tips help you in your own lawn development exercises. Or, I’ll just loan you my spreader so you can also generate a few laughs from 10,000 feet.

Ken Knepper is publisher of The Newton Kansan and The McPherson Sentinel. He can be contacted at