A Little Patch of Green…
There is a lot of dialogue about replacing turf grass with plants that are less needy species. I get this concept, I really do. I get it from the standpoint that lawns have the reputation of requiring lots of maintenance, lots of harmful chemicals, irrigation etc. to look good. From a design standpoint, turf grass offers a bit of visual relief from the larger shrubs, trees and flowery stuff that also makes up the garden. I think this is an important characteristic of lawn and that it really offers an important element in residential garden design aside the aesthetic; it offers a place for people and dogs to play and a place to stretch out a blanket or set a lawn chair for sunning. I also know that for large areas, meadows are absolutely beautiful and once established (and within places that can have control burns) are absolutely the right way to go. I’ve even met a designer who specializes in creating meadows and his work is amazing.
Unless you have lawn irrigation, your turf is probably looking pretty crispy right about now. We do not have irrigation, but thanks to several years of good practice it honestly doesn’t look all that bad, all things considered. There are several reasons for this which are outlined below and so you can get your own turf back on track as fall is THE time to address this. We hire out the aeration and the mowing, but I spread the applications myself and have for years.
This newsletter topic is time-sensitive, in that early to mid September is the best time to begin to get a good lawn going for next year. The temperatures begin to moderate (I say that with high hopes,) there is typically more consistent rainfall–both ideal conditions for new turf grass seed. So get on it! Leaves are dropping even sooner because of the dry conditions.
From a natural point of view, turf, even though grass seed are sold typically as seed blends, it behaves more like a monoculture; and nature hates this. A monoculture is one variety of something. Nature loves variety! I love variety, too, but I understand the need for the visual relief of the green lawn so I try to work with nature as my team member instead of as an adversary. Monocultures are a problem for a few reasons: one being that if a pest or disease moves in, it will attack the whole of it. In a space where there are varieties, only one plant type might succumb. I have a decent tolerance for a bit of variety of what might be called “weeds” in the lawn, some clover, some dandelion. I do not need a golf course because to have this I would need to use a whole lot of chemicals I have no desire to use. This said, I like to manage it best I can because the less “weeds” in the lawn mean less in the planting beds. Since I’m on the weed thing, there are three main ways to out-wit weeds: applications either pre or post emergent (some are organic,) pulling, or out-competing. Out- competing is my preferred method meaning that I am making the environment un-friendly to less desirable plants by putting a “big dog at the bowl,” so to speak. Plants need light, water and nourishment to survive–this includes weeds. If there are stronger, bigger, and/or more aggressive plants nearby, the weed won’t stand as much a chance. In terms of the lawn, getting a healthy, robust turf going is your best bet against less desirable “weeds” in the lawn. So this means giving the turf what it needs and wants. And set your expectations straight: if you have mature trees on your property, grass will be a challenge if not an impossibility; the tree is “the big dog at the bowl” and grass just can’t compete with it for the above reasons. I will write about alternatives in another newsletter. I lime and re-seed my lawn every fall. Read the label on the seed bag. In our area, tall fescue blends are good. In recent years, I have looked for blends with rye as well–this has been a good thing as I have hot and dry conditions and the rye has performed well for me. I do not have irrigation and I am satisfied with the outcome.
What you will need: A broadcast spreader; purchase at your favorite garden shop;
Step one: hire someone to aerate your lawn area. This helps to break up any compaction that may be present in the soil and allow the compost and lime to get in a bit deeper.
Step two: Have your soil tested for pH. This is an easy thing and your local cooperative extension can provide it for you for a nominal fee. Proper pH for lawn is a neutral 7. The cooperative will also provide for you a recommended application volume of pelletized lime/100 square feet if your pH is low, which it frequently is in the Delaware Valley area.
Step three (optional): apply composted leaf mold mixed with composted animal manure (which has very little smell, if any.) You will probably not be able to apply this in a broadcast spreader as it will clog up the opening. A wheelbarrow and a shovel will be fine–a rake to break up the clumps. Be patient. a good lawn takes time and while you might not see the results super fast, the above methods will improve the soil, improve the health of the turf and you will be rewarded for your patience.
Step four: Apply the type of grass seed appropriate for your conditions. Cooperatives in our area recommend tall fescue blends, so read the labels at the garden center. In recent years I have used perennial rye grass blends which has performed very well in my garden. It germinates quickly and in my opinion has integrated well with the rest of the lawn. As a final note, please ensure leaves are removed from the lawn as quickly as possible; rotting leaves mean death to a lawn!
Do you care for your own lawn or hire it out? Would love to hear your comments about either experience below.