A home's lawn brings people together. It's a place for kids to play, for adults to relax and for friends and neighbors to socialize.

"Lawns and stands of managed turf are important components of society because nearly everyone interacts with them in some capacity, either directly or indirectly," said Mark Schmidt, principal scientist at John Deere.

What constitutes a great, green lawn depends on how you want to use it.

"Ultimately, a great lawn is a healthy stand of turf that meets the needs of those engaged with the lawn," Schmidt said. "As research shows, a properly managed lawn provides many diverse benefits, including environmental, aesthetic, recreational, psychological and a wide range of other factors."

Managing a healthy lawn depends on proper turf selection, mowing practices and fertilization, plus proper planning and year-round care, Schmidt said.

Know signs of drought

A lawn's water needs can be tricky. Instead of watering on a preset schedule for a preset duration, look for visual cues, Schmidt said. Signs it's time to water include turf starting to brown and a decreased growth rate, he said.

Or, use technology. Sensors placed in the ground can measure soil moisture to determine plant water needs, Schmidt said.

"Regardless of the method used, turfgrass plants can survive and function on less water than we often think the plants may need. Also, when turfgrass starts to turn brown and go dormant, that is often an appropriate response to environmental stress or normal seasonal changes," Schmidt said.

Keep thatch small

Thatch — the layer of living and nonliving material such as shoots and stems that accumulates at the soil surface under the turf canopy — is generally caused when organic material is accumulated faster than can be broken down or degraded. 

"Contrary to a common belief, grass clippings from proper mowing generally do not accumulate and contribute to thatch," Schmidt said.

A small amount of thatch can be beneficial, providing insulation from temperature and moisture variances, but too thick of a thatch layer can be harmful. Excessive thatch can cause mowers to scalp and lead to increased pest problems and improper root formation, Schmidt said.

The right mower

To keep your lawn in top shape, match the mower to your turf needs.

"The right mower is the one that is sized correctly for your need, offers the performance and convenience features that will enable proper mowing and provides all necessary safety features," Schmidt said. 

Prepare to be overwhelmed with mower choices, from lawn tractors to zero-turn and walk-behind mowers. Customizable features include different deck types and widths tailored to specific types of mowing applications and different turf species and uses, he said.

One of the main choices is whether the mower will mulch, discharge or bag clippings — each with its own pros and cons, Schmidt said. Mulching is an environmentally friendly option that disposes of clippings in a beneficial way, returning nitrogen to the soil as the finely mulched clippings decompose on the soil surface, Schmidt said.