Many people find the process of caring for a lawn very frustrating and confusing. However, there are often very simple reasons the grass is not performing well. Those issues usually involve water, light, mowing and fertilizer. If those areas are taken care of, then having a lawn that is full and vibrant should not be much of a problem.
First, the most important thing to do is determine the type of grass you have. If you are new to the home and are not able to identify the grass easily, ask a neighbor, especially if the grass is similar. If not, take a sample to a local university extension office that has specialists to help with issues like plant identification, usually free of charge. Determining the type of grass you have is a key to care for it properly.
Watering issues can be very complicated---and making things even more confusing are communities that restrict the hours this can be done. Grass that turns brown and has stunted growth may not be receiving enough water. Grass that is yellow-green may suffer from oxygen deprivation and may be getting too much water. How long you should water depends on many variables, such as the type of grass you have, your climate and the time of year.
For those who find they have patches of very beautiful grass followed by bare spots, there may be another simple explanation---trees. Trees offer plenty of shade, but some types of grass are not very shade tolerant. The same effect can be seen in meadows and neighboring forests. Grass in the meadow may be several feet high, but just a few feet into the forest, there is none at all. It is all a matter of light. Taking care of this problem either means removing the tree, or planting a grass tolerant of shade.
This is a key area that many homeowners neglect. The problem often is not that they keep the grass too high, but that they keep it too short. Many weeds and undesirable grass species, such as crab grass, can move in once the grass is cut short. Longer grass lengths help block out some of the light the weeds need to grow. The recommended length will depend on your species of grass. (See Resource section.)
Choosing a fertilizer for home lawns can also be a source of confusion for many people. There are both quick release and extended release fertilizers, with extended release recommended in most cases. The fertilizer supplies three main nutrients to the lawn: nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K). The N-P-K ratio recommended is often 3-1-2 or 4-1-2.