A beautiful home lawn is a source of pleasure and pride to the homeowner who has worked to maintain it. A healthy green lawn is perfect for lounging, great for ball games and cookouts, and a real asset to your home.

Healthy turfgrass provides feeding ground for birds, which find it a rich source of insects, worms, and other food.

Thick grass prevents soil erosion, filters contaminants from rainwater, and absorbs many types of airborne pollutants.

Grass is also highly efficient at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen. An acre of grass is equal to 70 tons of air conditioning!

If you do not believe me, just step off the grass and onto an asphalt drive in July.

Caring for your lawn properly can both enhance its appearance and contribute to its environmental benefits.

You do not have to be an expert to grow a healthy lawn. The secret is to work with nature to create conditions for turfgrass to thrive and resist damage from weeds, disease, and insect pests.

Following are 5 simple things that you (or your lawn care service) can do to create a healthy, beautiful lawn.

1) Mow grass at the recommended cutting height. Many yards around the state are cut too closely.

Recommended mowing height for commonly grown turfgrasses are: bermudagrass, 1/2 to 1 1/2 inch; zoysiagrass, 1 to 1 1/2 inches; centipedegrass, 1 1/2 to 2 inches; St. Augustinegrass, 2 1/2 to 3 inches.

You should mow your lawn often enough so no more than 1/3 of the plant material is removed.

If more leaf material is removed, the grass will become stressed and more susceptible to disease-causing organisms.

When cut too short, the yard looks bad. Also additional light reaching the soil surface encourages weed growth.

Keep your mower blades sharp. Dull blades shred leaf tips, causing turf to use more water, look ragged, and undergo undue stress. Raise the mowing height during stress periods such as drought.

2) Follow proper irrigation practices. Another problem commonly seen is irrigation systems that are improperly set. They come on 3 - 4 times a week and spray a tiny amount of water. Start applying watering at the first signs of moisture stress in the spring.

Signs of moisture stress include: dull and bluish-green leaf color, leaf blade folding or rolling, and footprints remaining after walking over the area.

Ideally, during the growing season you will apply one inch of water per week in a single watering (if no rainfall occurs).

You can check your sprinkler system by catching irrigation water in empty tuna cans spread around you yard.

A tuna can is one inch deep. Set your timers for how long it takes to fill the can.

An exception to this rule is if you have a lot of clay or compacted soil under your sod and water cannot penetrate fast enough before run-off occurs. The best time to irrigate is at night or early morning.

Irrigation after dew development and before sunrise is most efficient and will not increase disease problems.

3) Apply fertilizer and lime according to soil test recommendations. Get a soil test every three years to know the exact needs for your lawn. Do not fertilize too early in the spring. A general rule of thumb is to not fertilize your grass until you have mowed it twice. Remember that disease incidence is increased by improper fertilization.

Use a mulching mower to save fertilizer costs.

Considering that you mow your lawn at least weekly six to seven months of the year, leaving the clippings on the lawn and allowing them to decay and decompose in place is the equivalent of about three applications of lawn fertilizer.

Weed and feed fertilizer do not work well in Mississippi. The weed control chemical is needed about two months before your turfgrass is able to use the fertilizer portion.

By then a lot of your fertilizer has washed away.

4) Pay special attention to shady areas. Use adapted turfgrass varieties in shady areas. St. Augustinegrass is the best adapted warm-season grass for shady situations.

Even then it may be necessary to prune trees and shrubs to increase light penetration. I often tell people the only grass that does well in the shade is "Astro Turf."

Raise the mowing height in shaded areas to help the plant absorb the limited light penetrating the tree canopy.

Another option is to plant shade-loving ground covers in the deep shade areas. Possible choices include Asian jasmine, English ivy, hostas, bigleaf periwinkle, etc.

5) Follow recommended disease, insect, and weed control practices. Proper management practices will reduce pest problems and reduce the need for chemicals.

'Healthy turfgrass is the best form of weed control. Diseases commonly reappear in the same spot in your yard so once a pattern develops a preventative plan can be developed.

If these measures are followed and weed problems or diseases develop, consult your local county extension agent.

You can get appropriate recommendations, including cultural practices and chemical recommendations.

For more detailed information on growing your perfect lawn, contact your local extension office and request Pub. 1322, "Establish and Manage Your Home Lawn" or other turfgrass management publications.

You have worked hard to achieve this lovely, healthy lawn. Take time to enjoy it with your family . . . and envious neighbors.