Gardening: The Green, Green Grass of Home
Because of the early spring weather this year in our zone, lawns are greening up already and people are starting to think lawn maintenance.
Much has been said against lawns. Some people even advocate the eradication of grass all together in response to the various harmful chemicals previously used by lawn maintenance companies in this province (Ontario). But did you know that lawns do much more than beautify your home?
In fact, lawns help to sound‑proof both your house and your street and reduce the heat‑load on your house. Lawns also keep precious top‑soil from eroding away. As a hardy ground cover, and a safe surface upon which your children can play, a well managed lawn can’t be beaten.
Having a beautiful lawn is easier than you might think, and need not be “environmentally unfriendly” as the eco terrorists (as I call them) would like to have you believe.
Residential lawns roughly fall into three categories: high maintenance (the neighbourhood showpiece)
medium maintenance (the average);
and low/no maintenance (borderline acceptable).
Only about 2 per cent of residential lawns fall into the showpiece, lawn‑bowling‑look category (and those lawns are often maintained by mow-blow-and go teams, or sometimes, by the lawn owner themselves).
Most lawns however, about 60 per cent of them, are medium maintenance, with the remaining 38 per cent in the borderline category.
If you’re into keeping up with the average, all you will need is a modest budget and one to three hours of gardening time per week. A medium maintenance lawn will save you time, energy, and water. It will also tolerate more environmental abuse, more wear and tear, and less care than any other type of lawn, while still providing an attractive and hardy groundcover.
The most suitable grass type is the most common seed mix, a mix of creeping red fescue and Kentucky bluegrass, and possibly some perennial Ryegrass. Sod farms usually produce exactly this blend because of its versatility. Kentucky Blue is drought‑resistant and forms an attractive, thick carpet of dark blueish green. The red fescue is tough, takes some shade and tolerates high traffic. Perennial Ryegrass is hardy and grows fast, providing shade for the two slower growing grasses.
If you want to upgrade your lawn, you could top-seed with this blend, in the early spring or early fall. With this combination, and a medium maintenance program, you can reduce mowing from once a week to every 10 days. Watering, if properly managed, and depending upon your soil type, can also be reduced.
Simple guidelines for a medium maintenance lawn
* Resist cutting the grass until the end of May. Cutting too early (and too short…) jeopardizes strong root growth. When you do make that first cut, raise the mower blades to 3 inches.
* Fertilize in late May, June, September and mid October using a spreader. There are different ratios of fertilizer for the various application times. Remember, the numbers on the fertilizer relate, in order shown, to the ratio of Nitrogen (for plush, green growth) Phosphorus (for strong root growth) and Potassium (for the general well-being of the plant).
The bags are usually marked for the appropriate application time.
Water the grass only in the morning ‑ preferably before sunrise ‑ and give it a thorough soaking (install a sprinkler system and save on watering bills as well as trying to remember to turn the sprinkler on and off). A simple way to test when you have watered enough is to put an empty 5 oz can on the grass within sprinkler range. When the can is full, your lawn has received 2 inches of water, which is a “good soaking”. Avoid frequent, light waterings as this increases the chance for disease and fungus,and causes the roots to grow toward the surface, which will cause root burn in the warmer weather. Definitely do not water in the heat of the sun, since the water evaporates more quickly and you can burn plant leaves. Watering in the evening is also a bad idea, since the moisture remains on the leaves and can encourage molds and fungus.
* From July to August set mower blades to leave the grass at roughly 2 to 2 1/2 inches. Longer blade length allows the plant to devote more of its energy to root growth. A strong, healthy root base helps the lawn withstand weeds, pests and draught. Height keeps the roots shaded and helps protect them from drought. Do this and you can reduce watering frequency to as little as every 10 days, depending on type of soil (sandy soils need more frequent watering), weather and the amount of shade.
* Keep an eye out for infestations of Crabgrass — looks pretty, green and innocent when it first comes up… but spreads like wildfire
and act quickly to remove it — don’t let it go to seed,or you may end up with something like you see in this next picture.
A strong root‑base will help to prevent weed grasses like Quack (AKA Knot Grass) and Crab grass from flourishing. The growth of invasive broad leafed weeds such as Creeping Charley (Mint family), Clover
and Chickweed is also minimized and Plantain. With only a few weeds present, you can easily remove them manually.
Having a medium maintenance lawn does not imply that your lawn has to be an eyesore. Quite the contrary. In fact, your lawn will probably still be green when others have dried up. Also, with a good grass blend, you can step up your maintenance program at any time to improve the look of your lawn.
All the photos in this article are by Louise Peacock
The following texts were used to obtain information and references to validate the process analysis provided in this text.
Name(s) of Author Name of book or Text Publisher
Tucker, P.J. The Qualified Plantsman, Part 3 “Lawn Care”University of Guelph, Continuing Ed. 1976
Eggens, Dr. J.L. Introduction to Turf Management University of Guelph, Continuing Ed.1988.
Eggens, J.L. Thatch ‑Cause and Controls. Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Toronto, Canada. 1981
Pope, Ernest “Now is the time, Lawn care”, Trellis. V Civic Garden Centre. Toronto,Canada. 1982
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