Lawn care in Southern California

Keys to successful lawns in southern California include knowing when and how to fertilize.

Courtesy of Gerald Burke
I think that a neat and well-kept lawn makes any home more attractive.

Despite publicity from folks who don’t approve of lawns, I think they add a great deal of beauty to our SoCal landscape. I’m not sure that I favor huge one-acre lawns, but a tidy lawn on one or two sides, or the front of a dwelling enhances the beauty of the landscape and makes any home more inviting, in my opinion..

Every home we’ve ever lived in had a lawn. Even when I was away in the service and my wife lived in a small rental house, there was a little patch of lawn out front, miserable bermudagrass though it was, brown in winter, but decent looking from March through December. And she kept it mowed with a small push-type reel lawn mower, but I suspect she never fertilized it.

When to fertilize

Here in the land of fruits and nuts, even the lawn needs some fertilizer, and April and May are a good time to apply it, before really hot weather starts. In the desert areas such as Blythe, Barstow, or Palm Springs, May can be a little late for fertilizer, but if you didn’t apply it earlier, do so and then again in late fall.

Every fertilizer manufacturer says its product is best, but in truth, they’re all good, and for the lawn, what it appreciates most is around at least 10 percent nitrogen, the first number on the bag of fertilizer. You can spread granular fertilizer by hand, but that doesn’t spread it evenly, and a good drop spreader, or one that you turn a crank and it whirls the product onto the lawn, will do a more even job.

Some lawn grasses respond better to fertilizer than others, and bermudagrass, the variety most seen in the desert areas, generally responds quickly. If you have bermudagrass, and you overseed for the winter with an annual grass, such as annual ryegrass or meadow fescue, wait until the winter grass has sprouted and you’ve mowed once before fertilizing. For other lawn mixtures that are well established, you can fertilize in March on through May or June, and then again, if needed, in October or November.

Mowing advice

And remember that regular mowing is a must, with the lawn mower blade set a little higher in winter, mowing once a week through the hot weather, then maybe once every two or three weeks in the winter.

Don’t mow when the lawn is wet and soggy after a good rain (like some we’ve had this year), since that can compact the soil and leave tire grooves from heavy lawnmowers. The Lawn Institute has some interesting information on lawns on its website.


Gerald Burke is a freelance horticultural writer. He spent 35 years in the seed business, 30 of them with Burpee, and is a member of the Garden Writers Association. He regularly writes about gardening in Southern California for Diggin' It.

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