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Spring Training for Your Lawn

The proper amount of water, good nutrition and the right equipment. It sounds like the perfect regimen for baseball players in spring training. According to Fenway Park's director of grounds and author David Mellor, the same program that works for the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox also applies to growing a hearty, healthy lawn.

This year, The Home Depot is teaming up with Mellor to give lawn lovers across the country the tools to hit a home run in their own yards.

Working with The Home Depot, Mellor has developed some sure-fire steps that can help take homeowners' lawns from little league to the majors.

Mellor recommends working from the ground up by beginning with an analysis of soil conditions, then using the proper feeding and fertilizing, adding grass seed, and finally, considering the power equipment options to maintain the lawn.

Digging Below the Dugout

Before a visit to The Home Depot for tools and supplies, spring training for the lawn should begin with a test of the soil. Each region of the country has different environmental elements that affect the make-up of the soil. For example, coastal regions may have a high sand content in the soil that dries out quickly, while other areas of the country are thick with clay that holds more moisture. Homeowners can get their soil tested in early spring by taking a sample to the local county agricultural extension. The test typically includes a nutrient analysis and a pH test, and determines the percentage of sand, silt or clay. The results will help determine the best fertilizing and watering methods for the upcoming growing season.

A Balanced Meal for Energy

Just as a slugger needs a well-balanced diet to keep the energy level high, the same applies to a healthy lawn. The keys to a healthy spring start are understanding the main nutrients in the soil and providing it with the food for growth. Fertilizers at The Home Depot, such as those from Vigoro(R) and Scotts(R), not only represent the three main soil components -- nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium -- by weight on the front of the bag, but also provide instruction on how to apply the product properly and in the right amounts. Both Vigoro and Scotts have a variety of products with special features, such as time-release feeding, that prevent surge-growth and make sure that the grass doesn't burn in the sun. In addition, some fertilizers are coupled with weed killer; so directions should be followed carefully to ensure maximum growth in the yard. To get the lawn looking as thick and uniform as an outfield, Mellor recommends fertilizing and, afterwards, laying grass seed. Seeding in the spring ensures growth to areas that have become bare or sparse over the past season. Scotts offers several brands of grass seed that are 99.99% weed free, and some are blended varieties for extra protection against drought, traffic, sun or shade. Be sure to read labels to learn when to seed -- especially if using a fertilizer with weed killer. Homeowners should research the grass type in their yards and be sure to seed with the appropriate kind. If planting new grass, research what kind of grass grows best in the various regions of the country.

Enjoying the Rain Delay

As Mellor knows well, fertilizer and seed are only the beginning to maintaining a healthy lawn all season long. The most important factor in a lawn's health is a simple chemistry equation: H2O. As a general rule, grass needs one to two inches of water a week, including rainwater. It's a good idea to set out a few rain gauges and keep track of what Mother Nature provides, as well as how the sprinkler system is distributing water. For a healthy lawn, Mellor recommends watering deeply but infrequently to train the root system to dig deep into the soil. If signs of a thirsty lawn are evident -- curling grass blades, visible footprints and a bluish-green tinge -- then it's time to get out the hose for a long drink.

Grooming the Lawn to Infield Perfection

Adding the finishing touches is a specialty of Mellor's. An award-winning groundskeeper, he's the expert in the field of, well, the perfect field. Mellor believes that the right mowing equipment comes into play when maintaining the lawn throughout the season. Whether purchasing new equipment or maintaining the condition of current equipment, attention to detail is key not only to the health of the grass, but also the safety of the operator. Homeowners can choose between riding lawn mowers or walk-behind units such as the Toro 22-inch Personal Pace(R) Recycler Mower. This popular model is a smart choice for homeowners with less than a 3/4-acre yard, and with a 6.5 HP engine, it's also powerful enough to tackle any yard challenges. For homeowners with more lawn and ample storage space, lawn and garden tractors are ideal. Most lawn tractor models offer variable speeds, transmission choices, instant mower deck engagement and ergonomic designs like high-backed seats. In addition, most models offer basic debris collection, mulching options and attachments for gardening.

Mower Warm-Ups Before the Big Day

When it comes to your mower and other outdoor equipment, maintenance is essential for several important reasons: it helps ensure the safety of the operator; it extends the lifespan of the equipment; and it protects the health and beauty of the lawn. Mellor recommends the following tips for proper care of the equipment: - A Sharp Blade: Mower blades need to be sharpened and balanced at the beginning of every mowing season. A sharp blade provides an even, consistent cut. A dull blade can shred the grass, creating entryways for disease. A blade should be kept at 1/64 of an inch for strength. After the blade is nice and sharp, make sure it is balanced. An unbalanced blade can cause engine damage. - Gas: Fresh gas is an essential, as the wrong fuel or gas that's been sitting for too long can damage the engine. - Oil: One of the most important things you can do to prolong the life of a gas-powered machine is to check the engine crankcase oil before each mowing. Check your owner's manual to learn how often to change the oil. Most recommend changing it every 25 hours of use. With these hints in mind, anyone can have fun and hit a home run in the yard -- and keep up the momentum well past the World Series.

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