Making and maintaining a good lawn seems to be the subject of more conversation among home-owners than any other phase of gardening. Preparing the soil, fertilizing, liming, seeding, watering and weed control are never-ending subjects for discussion.
In fact, an attractive home lawn is an achievement of which any property-owner can be boastfully proud. A smooth carpet of velvety grass adds the needed finish to both house and garden.
Whether rebuilding an old lawn or making one for the first time certain basic practices are essential.
Fertile Soil Seldom Found
Fertile soil to a depth of 8 to 10 inches is ideal, but it is seldom possible to find it on most properties. Where it does not exist, topsoil can be purchased from reliable sources. Beware of “fly-by-night” experts who operate selling what appears to be rich, darkly-colored topsoil. It may be only well-oiled sawdust or something equally as bad.
Building your own topsoil takes time but it produces the desired results. However, many home gardeners are not willing to wait a year or two to build their soil by the green manure method. Purchasing large quantities of topsoil may be out of the question.
What then can be done to start a lawn? Peat moss, leafmold or well turned compost to provide a layer of at least one inch should be thoroughly mixed with the existing topsoil to make the seed bed.
On small lawns, mixing can be done with a digging fork, but for larger areas a power driven rotary plow can be rented to do the job. Careful preparation of the soil will more than repay the effort and expense involved.
Furthermore, the soil should be conditioned for seeding as soon as it can be worked.
New lawns made in spring need an early start if the colonies of young grass plants arc to form roots and develop quickly to compete with the crop of annual weeds which inevitably appears.
Most soils contain dormant weed seeds from the previous year and these germinate rapidly as soon as the soil warms up.
Equally important is the selection of grass seed. Buy seed of top quality from reliable dealers. The cost of grass seed is a relatively small part of the expense involved in making a lawn.
The making of a city lawn is indeed a problem to gardeners, home owners and park superintendents. With dogs prowling around and other undesirable company, it is something of a stunt to make a good lawn, And, yet, a satisfactory lawn is the starting point for any successful garden.
New lawns can be made in the Spring or Fall, although Fall is considered the best season of the year in the Eastern section of this country. However, no matter when you make a new lawn there are certain steps that must be followed if you want a deep root system and a thick, healthy top growth of sod. The success or failure of any lawn is dictated by the care and intelligence used in preparing the ground in which it is to grow. Either a clay or sandy loam containing an abundance of humus is the preferred soil. It. should have a granular texture and be friable enough to retain moisture without. remaining sticky. hut not becoming powdery when it dries. Such a soil, six to eight inches deep, will provide a most favorable home for grass roots. If the sub-soil needs correcting, it should he done at the time of setting the grade.
Soil Testing Is Worthwhile
How much loam and native peat to add to a heavy or thin sub-soil is an individual problem. I advise having samples of soil taken from different parts of the lawn and having the soil tested to see what is lacking. For feeding lawns, a complete fertilizer, such as 8-0-2, is usually best for established grass. We apply fertilizer at the rate of 20 pounds per 1000) square feet in the Spring, 10 to 15 pounds in June and 10 to 15 pounds in the Fall. A soil which has a pit of 7.0 is neutral; most grasses like a pH of 0.5 to 5.5. Kentucky Blue Grass is usually a neutral grass, but bent grasses are happy on the acid side.
A good mixture of grasses which stand well under city conditions is composed of Chewings Fescue, Domestic Rye Grass, Kentucky Blue Grass, Red Top and Colonial Bent. Sow the seed at four to five pounds per 1000 square feet.
If sowing by hand, sow half lengthwise and half crosswise. Your local seedsman can provide you with the best seed. It is wise to grub-proof your lawn before sowing. Roll to imbed the seed, and do this before and after sowing the seed to assure perfect contact between seed and soil. This step is essential, and should not be omitted. Then water thoroughly, using a very fine spray. Continue to water daily until seed germination is complete; then water as needed, but always thoroughly; light sprinkling encourages shallow roots.
Established lawns need regular care if they are to remain beautiful. This care includes such things as plant feeding, reseeding and proper mowing and watering. In the Eastern sections, the Fall offers an ideal season for renovating established lawns, since it enables gardeners to combine an effective weed control program with lawn care. I give three feedings to our lawn. I have used such fertilizers as 9-0-0, 8-0-2, 5-10-5 and cotton seed meat in the early Spring, the last of March or first of April. I always test the soil. Then in June, I apply a 4-12-4 formula at the rate of 10 pounds to every 1000 square feet. Do not stimulate your lawn during July and August unless you are forced to do so. In September, I give it either 4-12-4 or bone meal. This seems to take care of the rout system and keeps the turf flourishing.
When feeding a lawn in the Spring or at any time, be sure your grass is dry; then spread the fool and soak it in. I have never burned a lawn with fertilizer, because I have always looked out for that possibility. In mowing, do not cut your grass shorter than l i z inches. Your last. cutting of the season is usually rather short. so that leaves will not lie and smother the grass during the Winter; this practice prevents snow mold from developing.
Weed Insurance – Dense Growth
A dense, vigorous turf is the best insurance against weed infestation. A few years ago weeds were a major lawn problem. To- day, however, it is no longer necessary to spend hours of back-breaking labor pulling and digging troublesome weeds. With the use of various chemicals, dandelions, common plaintain, wild carrot and chickweed are easily eliminated; but be sure to “stick” to the instructions on the container. Crab grass control, in many instances, is a little more difficult.
Chinch bugs on established lawns should be looked for in June and early July and again in August and September. The use of a stomach poison is ineffective as the chinch bug is a true sucking insect and so does not chew the vegetation. The method of directly checking the invasion is by contact poisons that suffocate the chinch bug. The lawn should be cut closely before treatment, so the dust will settle close to the grass crowns; brush the dust in briskly with a corn broom. Damaged areas should be raked out and reseeded with a good lawn seed in the usual manner.
During the past several years the Japanese beetles have done considerable damage to turf. The grass turns brown and dies. It is severed at the roots so that it can be literally rolled up like a carpet. If the sod is removed at the right time, a colony of the feeding grubs will be found. The presence of grubs is often disclosed by flocks of birds such as grackles and starlings. In the country, skunks are fond of the grubs; so where there are damaged lawns, the way to get rid of them is to destroy the grubs.
It’s lawn-cutting time as if anybody has to be told. At this time, though, the home gardener realizes more than ever how important it is to have his mower in good working condition: In my travels I’ve been asked a number of times about the care of mowers, how to keep them in good condition, so I decided to ask a man who should really know at my local lawn mower shop.
When I dropped in on Al Huttar he was literally up to his neck in mowers that were waiting for repairs. But he graciously gave his time for what he termed as “the good of the cause.” Here’s what he had to say:
“Most troubles can be avoided if the people take their machines to a competent service man once a year. Like most service men, we prefer to have them in the winter when we have the time to work on them. In addition to sharpening, we fix a lot of minor things which often saves a lot of trouble when the spring comes.
“A good many ills could also be avoided if the mower owner would leave well enough alone and let a competent man make the major adjustments. You know, it’s very easy to ruin a good mower if for example – the reel blades don’t meet the cutting blade exactly right. This is nothing for the gardener to fool with. One adjustment the gardener can, and should, make is the height of cut. On reel mowers this is done by raising or lowering the roller – raise the roller to lower the cut. On rotaries, this adjustment is made by changing the position of the wheels.
“The commonest cause of engine failure is definitely ‘tinkering.’ When a mower leaves the store it’s in good working condition; nine times out of ten it will stay that way if you don’t fool with it. I think more people would be happier with their power mower if they’d leave their screw driver and pliers inside when cutting the lawn.
“However, there are a lot of things you can do to keep the mower in good condition, although they may be a lot less glamorous than taking the carburetor apart.
Keep Mower Clean
“0ne thing you can do, even if you don’t know the first thing about machines, is to keep the mower clean. By this I mean that after you use it, remove any matted grass on the blade and also remove any grass that may have wound around the reel, wheels, etc.
“Also, I’ve yet to hear of any machine that was harmed by too much oil and grease in the right places. The instruction manual you get with the machine will tell you where you can oil and how often. If the manual is lost you can usually find it in PDF form at the manufacturers website.
“On gasoline engines you should frequently check to see that there is a little oil in the air filter. This is extremely important.
“It’s also important to check the oil in the crankcase, just as you do in your automobile. You may have to add some from time to time, but I don’t think you will have to change it but once a year.
2 Cycle Engines
“On two cycle engines, be sure there is the correct mixture of oil and gasoline. The best way to do this is to mix about 5 gallons at a time; this should be enough for the whole season. Be sure to use a clean can when filling your machine. We had one machine that came in so gummed up that the pistons wouldn’t move. We found out that the lady had used an old can for filling the gas tank. I don’t know what chemical reactions were involved, but boy what a mess that engine was in!
“It would be a good idea if you kept a spare spark plug around. Make sure, though, that it is the correct one for the engine. If the engine fails, try the new plug. If this doesn’t help, take it to a mechanic.
“Very briefly, that’s about it. By the way, how’s your mower working?”
Question: We are almost finished building our house. The next big project is the lawn. Is it too late to get started on our lawn or do we have to wait for spring before we can get started “building” the grass, yard and lawn. Allyson, Franklin, Tennessee
Answer: Allyson, summer is the season for building homes and early autumn still leaves time for building lawns. All through the land (even with the current rough economy), thousands of families are moving into new houses, stepping along wobbly planks, walking around piles of earth and wondering if the heaps of yellow clay surrounding their castles will ever be transformed into green, carpet-like lawns.
As the summer wanes, the homeowner looks with dismay at the barren earth surrounding their new home. If the sun shines, dust covers the immaculate newness of her cabinets, If rain and snow come, she sees muddy tracks of small fry across the carpet. “Hurry, hurry,” she urges the bedeviled contractor. “The lawn we must have now!” A long winter of muddy tracks and perhaps another summer of dust cannot be endured. Suddenly, the work is finished and lawn-making time is at hand.
Lawns Need preparation
If a lawn is to be magnificent, the preparations for it cannot be slighted. A lawn is expected to be a thing of beauty forever, and not a ragged foot mat kept barely alive by continual doctoring. It is expected to endure the vagaries of hostile weather and periods of vacation-time neglect. If a lawn is to live up to these great expectations, the lawn soil must be prepared properly before the seeds are planted.
Indeed, building a lawn means preparing the seed bed. And remember that no amount of subsequent dabbling with lawn sprinklers and fertilizers will completely overcome the evils of a poorly prepared soil. The secret of building a good lawn is the thorough mixing of lime, phosphate and potash into the soil before seeding – after the rough grading is finished.
Lime Acid Soil Lawns
In areas where soil is acid in reaction, agricultural lime should be added at the rate of 15 to 20 pounds per 100 square feet (150 to 200 pounds per 1,000 square feet). The neighbors will wonder what is going on when they see so much lime being spread on the soil. Their advice should be listened to – but, only with neighborly politeness!
In areas where soil is alkaline (mainly in semiarid climates), lime is not needed.
Of course, the exact degree of acidity or alkalinity of a soil cannot be known unless soil samples are sent out for testing to determine your soil’s exact fertilizer requirements. However, excess lime never injured a lawn. Even when 25 per cent of the soil volume is pure lime, grasses and clovers thrive happily.
Grasses and clovers also require large amounts of phosphate to grow their best. Superphosphate (20 percent available phosphorous) should be added at the rate of 1,000 pounds per acre (2 1/2 pounds per 100 square feet, 25 pounds per 1,000 square feet).
Potash also must be added in many areas. The correct potash requirement is difficult to learn, but if 1-1/2 pounds of 50 per cent potash per 100 square feet are added, no grass will complain of being starved for this plant food.
Lawn Work Begins
Now the real work begins. The fertilizers must be disked deeply and thoroughly into the soil. Ideally the disk should cut about 8 inches into the soil, but since few lawn disks can cut so deeply, the golden rule of lawn building is to disk as deeply as possible. Five or six diskings are not too many. Remember that the better and deeper the fertilizer is mixed with the soil, the better the lawn will be, and above all, the less sensitive it will be to drought and summer heat.
Fine Grading The Lawn
Next, the fine landscape grading begins and the surface is made as smooth and even as possible. The final finishing touches are important. Surface irregularities will cause the mower to bounce about next summer as if it had springs for wheels. When the neighbors stop watching and cease commenting, the lawn bed is probably smooth enough.
Now that everything is ready, what kind of grass will make the best lawn? There is no better grass than good, old-fashioned bluegrass. Fancy seed mixtures usually lead in time to a pure stand of bluegrass anyway. Wherever bluegrass will grow, it might as well be planted on purpose and excused from preliminary competition with other species. A little white clover, of any common variety, gives an added touch of green during the first summer and stimulates the bluegrass to do its best. Within four years usually, the clover fades away, leaving a rich-carpet of bluegrass.
The Germinating Seeds
Right after seeding, by all means add a topdressing of ammonium nitrate at the rate of 3/4 pound per 100 square feet (7 1/2 pounds per 1000 square feet). Lightly rake the nitrate and seed together into the upper film of soil. This nitrogen gives the germinating seeds a start in life and enables them to put forth roots to hold the soil during late fall rains. Read ==>> 5 Steps To Making A Lawn
Someone certainly will advise the amateur gardener to finish with a layer of “black dirt.” Rarely is this necessary. The thorough mixing in of lime, phosphate, potash and nitrate will contribute more to the health of a lawn than any amount of black soil. Although this abnormal soil looks impressively fertile, frequently it is astonishingly infertile and almost always contains a fantastic number of weed seeds and fragments .of quack grass stolons. If it’s necessary to add soil when grading, an ordinary farm loam is infinitely better than the expensive black soil.
Rejuvenate An Old Lawn
An old, threadbare lawn is a sorry sight. The best way to rejuvenate such a lawn is to plow it up and plant a new one the way the plot should have been planted in the first place. But such a drastic procedure is expensive and often impractical. So if you must work with an old, worn-out lawn without disturbing it, simply resign yourself to the fact that mere treatment of a lawn – when it has been too longdelayed – can only be second-best.
An old lawn which has already seen its best days should be limed and fertilized, twice a year, just after growth begins in spring and in fall, The fall top dressing should consist of 5 pounds of agricultural lime per 100 square feet (50 pounds per 1,000 square feet) and 3/4 pounds of a 10-10-10 mixed fertilizer per 100 square feet (7 1/2 pounds per 1,000 square feet). The spring treatment should consist of the same amount of lime and 1-1/4 pounds of the mixed fertilizer per 100 square feet (12-1/2 pounds per 1,000 square feet). After two such fertilizations, reduce the amount of lime by one half.
All lawns, no matter how carefully they have been established or how perfect they appear, should receive a little fertilizer twice each year. The treatment for old and starving lawns has already been described, but even new lawns on well prepared, heavily fertilized soil should be fed a little. In fall, they should receive about 3/4 pound of a 12-6-6 fertilizer per 100 square feet (7 1/2 pounds per 1,000 square feet) and in spring 1-1/4 pounds.
Take care not to feed your lawn more often than this, however – and, also, don’t indulge in frequent light lawn watering or sprinklings – or you’ll find yourself in trouble. Roots grow where there is the most fertilizer and water. Too frequent top dressings with fertilizer, particularly with nitrogen, and too frequent light waterings result in an accumulation of feeding roots near the surface. Drought and summer heat then do their worst. Although light sprinklings may cool the gardener on hot summer evenings, they increase the sensitivity of the lawn to heat and drought. A cardinal rule in lawn watering is to soak the soil well or don’t water at all.
Weeds are the curse of almost all new lawns. However, a well fertilized lawn will gradually kill out most annual weeds the second season. But some weeds are tough and seem to thrive on competition and these often must he attacked with hotelier knives and weed-killing chemicals. Although it’s true that these chemicals are rough on clover, so are weeds. Therefore, drastic treatment with chemicals sometimes is necessary.
Correct mowing of your lawn is important. Most people thoughtlessly mistreat their lawns with improper mowing. Everyone wants a thick, carpet-like lawn and believes for some strange reason that the closer the grass is cut, the thicker and finer it will become. Nothing is farther from the truth.
Close mowing has ruined many a lawn. It weakens the vitality of the grass and its resistance to heat and drought. It also exposes every imperfection, weed and variation in soil surface. The even, velvety look that is the hallmark of a good lawn depends on the grass’s being clipped at a reasonable height. Two inches is ideal, and this is about the maximum height obtainable with ordinary mowers.
Thee lawn should be mowed frequently, as often as the track of the mower can be followed. At the height of the growing season, fine lawns should be mowed every other day, and certainly no less than twice a week.
Clippings should be left where they fall. If the mowing is done often enough, the young and tender fragments of grass will quickly decay and disappear. If the clippings accumulate, forming a dense mat on the soil surface, it shows that the grass was allowed to become too mature before it was cut. This mulch of dead grass lessens the normal aeration of the soil and inhibits new shoots from emerging in spring, So if it remains in significant amounts through the winter-, rake it off in early spring.
Thus, by adequate initial preparation of the lawn soil, use of a tough and durable species of grass, frequent mowing at the 2-inch height, and two fertilizations a year, you can achieve a luxuriant grass stand that will be a joy for many, many years.
Question: Our Kentucky bluegrass really takes beating during the summer. How much should we water and fertilize? Do you have any lawn care maintenance tips you can offer? Marc, Franklin, Tennessee
Answer: Marc, summer is the real test for any Kentucky bluegrass-fescue lawn. No matter how well it thrives during cool weather, through the hot months protecting the turf from serious damage is about all that can be expected. Once warm weather arrives, opportunities for improving the lawn are limited, and treatments should be carefully chosen and administered, since carelessness may destroy the turf area already established.
Good Lawns Made in Spring and Fall
The most productive efforts toward maintaining a good lawn can be made in the spring and fall. Resolutions to fertilize and lime properly during those seasons are the best approach to summer enjoyment.
It is natural for Kentucky bluegrass and other cool-season grasses to turn rather yellow or brown when temperatures are high. Attempting to avoid this natural loss of color by fertilizing and watering throughout the summer may defeat the purpose by keeping the grass soft and more subject to disease and heat injury. It also encourages summer weeds such as crabgrass. The healthy lawn will not be injured permanently by typical summer weather, and the average lawn maker should relax rather than try such practices as regular watering throughout the season.
While most lawns will revive after prolonged hot, dry periods, those in very sandy soils or warm exposures and ones closely clipped may be ruined unless judiciously watered. Water should be applied slowly and uniformly until it moistens the soil as deep as it is dried out. This amount should enable the grass to survive 7 to 10 days of additional hot, dry weather. Apply the water only as fast as it will enter the soil. For areas that absorb slowly, a soaker hose or some other irrigation device to control the flow may be necessary. The sod on compacted spots can be opened by cultivation with lawn aeration.
Fertilizing The Summer Lawn – Wait
For best results, fertilize the lawn in September and early spring. Fertilization during the warm weather of late spring and summer may help keep the grass green, but it encourages weeds and sometimes leads to serious turf damage. The experienced turf grower may recognize occasional need for summer fertilizing, but he too must exercise great care in fertilizing at this time.
Shaded lawn areas or other problem spots may benefit from light applications of fertilizer during summer. However, beware of scorching the grass. For 1.000 square feet, 4 to 8 pounds of an 8-6-4, 5-10-5 or similar fertilizer might be spread and watered in without delay. Organic nitrogen fertilizers may be applied at slightly higher rates without watering. Or small amounts of soluble liquid fertilizer are sometimes applied as the lawn is watered.
Mowing The Lawn
High mowing is beneficial to shaded lawns since it permits more grass leaf area to remain for food production. Mowing closer than 1-1/2 inches may tax the grass plants so severely that they cannot survive the summer.
When grass nears the wilting stage it is particularly susceptible to injury from heavy traffic. Spreading the wear over the lawn helps avoid loss of grass and increases the service life of the turf.
With the best of care summer is likely to leave its disease, drought or crabgrass scars on the lawn, where even greater future troubles may start. Most lawns should be fertilized in late summer or early fall to encourage vigorous growth during the cool moist weather that follows. The amount of recovery a properly fertilized Kentucky bluegrass lawn can make in autumn is amazing.
In late summer also, reseed all bare areas or they are likely to revert to weeds next year. The right seed and correct fertilization are important. For the cool moist areas of the country. Kentucky bluegrass. Chewing’s or other red fescue and colonial bcntgrass are the main kinds of grass seed. Be sure the seed comes in contact with the soil even if this necessitates scarifying the bare spots and breaking through weeds and trashy litter at the surface. Turf cultivating tools, purchased or rented, may be useful for this purpose. The cool fall months give new seedlings plenty of time to prepare for the rigors of next year’s hot weather.
If your lawn is ragged, weedy, or has bare spots, now is the best time to renovate it.
Often the poor condition of a lawn is due to improper maintenance practices, such as mowing too short, irregular watering and inadequate fertilization. If a correction of these practices isn’t enough, you can improve your lawn by following a good renovation program.
Before attempting to prepare the bare spots and eradicate the weeds, mow your old lawn closely and remove all the clippings. If your soil is extremely low in nutrients, it would be a good idea to have the soil tested. Otherwise, an application of 5-10-5 at the rate of 40 pounds per 1000 square feet would be adequate. If your soil tends to be acid, add lime, also. Rake in the fertilizer and lime on the bare spots.
The simplest and most efficient way to get rid of the crabgrass that may have taken over your lawn is to kill it with a weed killer or pull it all out. Since this material will kill desirable grass as well as weeds and weed seed, it should be applied only where you plan to reseed.
Three weeks after treating the soil the area is ready to be seeded. Rake off the dead grass and weeds, and break any crust that may have formed. You should be careful not to stir the soil deeper than 1/2 inch, because the soil below this depth is not weed-free. Now the bare spots can be reseeded. Your particular conditions determine the best grass to use, but, in general, a grass mixture gives the best results. Scatter the seed, rake it in very lightly and roll the seeded area. If the bed is on a slope, apply a hay mulch.
Keep the soil moist until the seedlings are well established. As soon as the new lawn is high enough you can mow it. but remember that a bluegrass or fescue lawn should never be cut any shorter than 1-1/2 inches.
If this renovation procedure has been followed, you will have a good stand of strong healthy grass. However, all your effort will have been wasted if you give your lawn improper care. Mowing, fertilization and watering are most important. Mow your lawn to the proper height. Apply an adequate amount of fertilizer each spring and fall. Give your lawn a good soaking regularly so it never is allowed to dry out and wilt.
Summary: Dry weather can affect lawns and is not only a summer condition but also a winter one when freezes happen without snow protection.
If your grass has gone off-color and suffered more damage than usual this winter. Maybe the drought of last fall, has continued through the winter in your area, plus the effect of frequent freezes without snow protection, has been responsible for the ugly grayish-brown color.
One feature of a winter drought is its deceptiveness. Few are conscious of it except professional observers or farmers who are constantly alert to the effect of the elements on their crops. The homeowner often thinks only of drought as a summer or fall condition and not expected in winter. The reason is that they see the soft, wet surface whenever it thaws but what they does not see is the lack of reserve moisture that should be present in the subsoil.
The possibly the drought happens in many small sections throughout the country each year. Lawns may be damaged and the it is important for the spring lawn program to be planned accordingly. Here are some suggestions that may help alleviate the harmful effects of a winter drought:
- Apply a turf building lawn fertilizer as early as possible, preferably while the grass is still dormant. If it has greened up, then be sure the grass is dry. This will avoid burning and will prevent overly quick stimulation. A good supply of food in the soil strengthens grass roots and helps offset a moisture shortage.
- Make an early seeding to replace those plants that succumbed over the winter. Seed the whole lawn lightly, then give the bare spots an extra amount. Remember, freezing does not harm good seed and it’s better to have it in the ground early if possible.
- If available, topdress with a quarter inch of compost or organic material such as rotted manure or peat moss, or good loam. This will help conserve moisture.
- When it’s time to mow, follow a plan of relatively high cutting (except for Bent grass lawns) particularly as the weather gets warmer. The longer grass acts as a buffer and reduces the loss of moisture by evaporation.
- Now that there is not so much time or help available for lawn cutting, the usual lawn care suggestion for disposing of clippings may be due for a modification. To catch the clippings and carry them to the compost pile does require extra effort. If these clippings are allowed to fall to the ground, the lawn won’t look as neat for a day or two but there will be some benefit, especially in a dry season. The clippings will form a mulch which reduces evaporation and thus conserves soil moisture. If the clippings make ugly streaks the appearance can be improved by raking or brushing up the heavy mat and carrying it off. If allowed to dry for a day or so there will be less bulk to handle. During a wet season it is better to remove the clippings or they mat down and smother some grass plants and harbor disease fungi and spores. Those who have bent lawns should always catch the clippings.
One of the results of nature is the resurgent growth of grass in late summer and autumn when nights become cool and the soil gathers more moisture. This is the most opportune time for making or renovating the lawn. Weeds are less active, too.
Perhaps two of the greatest obstacles to a successful lawn are weeds and compaction of the soil. Walked upon continually, often rolled when wet and subjected to the packing effect of heavy mowers, the lawn surface tends to consolidate; air is shut off and the roots starve “in the midst of plenty.” For no matter what lawn fertilizer is applied, if air is lacking at the roots the food cannot be used. In this sense, a compact soil is a poor soil. That grass grows abundantly in a well aerated soil is good proof that it needs air. And, ironically, the very conditions that are unfavorable to grass seem to stimulate weeds.
Grass Roots Are Annual
There’s a reason for this. Grass roots are annual – that is, each year grass makes a new set of roots near the surface. Lawn weeds have perennial roots. But more than this, they have a faculty grass does not possess: they can extract the very nutrients they need from even a poor lawn soil and from the decaying roots of the grass itself. No wonder they are so hard to eradicate! A piece of root left in the soil when the weed is pulled out starts a new crop.
The present condition of your lawn will determine the program to follow. An old thin sod, especially if it is weedy, is better dug up and a new lawn started. In many cases, however, a top-dressing of some sort will suffice. This would suit a lawn made last spring which has not become well established before summer. The lawn with 60 per cent good grass can be renovated by top renewal.
Step #1 – Weed Elimination
The first step in any lawn program must be elimination of weeds. Chemicals are often the best means here. The weed leaves absorb the applied chemical (like roundup), which upon entering the sap stream is carried to all parts of the plant. If a strong application is made, only the weed tops may be killed since the chemical may destroy the vessels that could carry it to the roots. However, it is best to study, read and follow the manufacturer’s directions. Best results are obtained during active growth. When weeds reach the seed-forming stage the results are less certain.
Crabgrass will start forming seeds towards late August. One of the chemicals used to control this weed should be applied now.
Patching Bare Spots In The Lawn
If the lawn is in pretty good shape, a little patching of weed spots with seed and topsoil, plus an application of a fertilizer like 10-8-6 (20 pounds per 1.000 square feet) will suffice. Often times a more extended operation is needed. Top-dressing is not made on the average lawn as a general practice, but many a good lawn has thus been built.
If weeds have been removed there will be many holes and a much-pitted surface. Grade these spots as evenly as possible with a rake. Then apply a top-dressing. An ideal top-dressing is made by mixing together two parts of loam topsoil, one part coarse (not fine) sand, one part peatmoss and humus, half and half. To get a weed-free mixture.
Lawn Aeration Before Top-Dressing
Before the top-dressing is applied, the area should be perforated with a digging fork or with a tool devised for aerating , the soil. The top-dressing is then worked in with the back of a rake.
When at complete lawn must be made, dig the area up to a 12-inch depth, if possible and worked with a rotary tiller. If the soil is heavy, work in a 4-inch covering of coarse sand to improve the porosity. For organic matter, use decomposed compost or a mixture of peatmoss and commercial humus. A 1-inch depth of either conditioner will improve the poorest of soils.
Lawn Seed Mixtures
Use a seed mixture which is suited to your soil and your region. The better lawn seed companies have mixtures for all kinds of soil and sites – sand, clay and loams, and for sunny sites and terraces. Be specific about your conditions when ordering the seed. Four pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet of lawn (two pounds for renovation) will be ample. Split the quantity in half and sow one half at right angles to the other for even distribution, Choose a still day to sow the seed and cover it by raking. Then roll the area to get the seed in close contact with the soil.
Soil should be moist as well as properly prepared if the conditions for seed germination are to he ideal. If the soil is very dry, defer seeding until after a rain, unless it is possible to water the area heavily and wait a day or two before sowing the seed.
How you gotten a bid on having a lawn professional service “make your lawn” recently?
If you have, you know that seed, fertilizer, soil conditioners (lime, peat, peatmoss) are not that expensive but that labor charges are high. You can beat them, however, by planting your own lawn, a much less arduous task than you think, thanks to modern gardening equipment available today.
The equipment you use in lawn making will be needed for lawn and garden maintenance over the years. So rather than pay labor charges, why not put that money into equipment? It can mean a big saving for you in the years to come.
The major job in making a lawn is to prepare the soil for planting, and for all but the smallest patch of lawn a power tiller of some kind is essential. If your house is on a half acre or more of ground, a riding tractor with a tiller attachment is not a luxury.
The labor charge for putting in a lawn of such size will defray a big part of the tractor’s cost. In the future, the tractor may be used with various attachments: lawn mower, cart, sweeper, snow remover, to name a few. Riding tractors – real beauties – start at approximately $1,000 and move up from there, with optional attachments at additional cost.
Walking tractors or tillers, good for small and large properties, start at about $150 and go to $1500 for heavy duty ones with features such as wheel drive and several forward speeds. Optional equipment for some models includes edging attachments to help you keep paths and borders neat and trim.
In deciding which type tractor will best meet your requirements, pay careful attention to the kind and construction of attachments.
Lots of information is available from manufacturers websites, garden centers or lawn mower shops. An online search should give you the name of the dealer nearest to you who handles their products. The dealer should be able to demonstrate and let you try out equipment without any obligation to buy.
The first step is to rough grade, contouring the ground so it slopes from the house for good drainage. This is usually done by the builder, but if not, or if the contour is not esthetically pleasing, a tiller or plow attachment will loosen the ground, facilitating the bulldozing of soil to correct the existing grade.
The entire area is then tilled or plowed to a depth of 6 inches – deeper if subsoil is not brought to the surface. Tilling breaks the soil into small particles. Don’t till when soil is wet, however, for clods of earth may form, defeating your purpose. It is wise to go over the area several times in different directions, taking out stones and debris.
Stones and debris having been hauled away in hand carts, wheelbarrows, or tractor-drawn carts, piles of peatmoss or peat are placed at intervals over the rough, unraked soil. It is then distributed so the soil is covered with a 2- to 3-inch layer.
Moist peatmoss is easier to work with than dry. The application of peat-moss is a time-honored practice and helps produce lush green lawns in summer, especially if the basic soil is not first rate – either too sandy or a heavy clay. The peatmoss improves the soil structure, increasing its moisture and nutrient-holding capacity. It is almost impossible to apply too much, even if soil is good.
After the peatmoss is tilled into the soil, lime and fertilizer are applied with a spreader similar to the one above or with one drawn by a tractor. Spreaders give an even distribution, the exact quantity of lime and fertilizer needed having been determined by a soil test.
The general recommendation is 10 to 15 pounds of a complete lawn fertilizer, and if the soil is very acid, 75 pounds of limestone to 1000 square feet. These are then raked or tilled into the soil, and the surface is smoothed for seeding. After the soil has settled the seed is sown with the spreader, then raked, lightly rolled, watered.
There are many types from which to choose. Power ranges from 10 to 15 hp, some have shiftless and clutchless transmissions, three to five forward speeds. Attachments are optional and include all essential lawn equipment mentioned below.
Moisture is essential for seed germination and the growth of grass. Fall rains are generally adequate in supplying it, but sprinklers, as noted on the next page, may be needed.
When the grass reaches a height of about 3 inches, cut it back to 2 inches. Either a sharp reel, power rotary, or hand mower may be used.
A tractor-drawn mower is not recommended for the first few cuttings. The tractor’s wheels may damage the tender seedlings and make ruts in the soft earth. If you plan on a riding tractor with a mower attachment for lawn cutting in the future, borrow or rent a light walking mower for the first few cuttings, until grass is strong.
Clippings and leaves, particularly the latter, will smother a young lawn if not collected soon after they fall. Grass catchers are a feature of some lawn mowers, but if the model you select does not have one, remember clippings, as well as leaves, may be cleaned off the grass with a sweeper or blower.
You may use a hand sweeper, a powered one, or those that come as attachments for tractors. All are timesavers. Leaf mulchers, optional equipment for some tractors, may also be used.
It would probably be best to wait until the lawn is well established before using them, because even light mulch of pulverized leaves may damage new grass.
After preparing the soil for planting as outlined, settle the soil by either watering it well or by rolling.
If you water, wait a day or two before sowing. After sowing, rake seed into the soil, barely covering it, and sprinkle or roll lightly and sprinkle. Then water daily to provide the moisture essential to seed germination.
When the grass shows green, water deeply once a week, as you would for an established lawn. Circular or square-pattern sprinklers are available.
Walk gently over the seeded lawn to place or change the location of sprinklers. The best time, incidentally, to install an underground sprinkler system is when you are in the process of preparing the soil for sowing.
Hand or tractor-attachment rollers are used to firm the seed bed prior to sowing and again after sowing to press the seed in place.
Heavy rolling should be avoided, however, and it is not a good idea to roll heavy clay-type soils. Sprinkling will also settle the soil and firm the seed in place, as noted above.
In sections where freezing and thawing over winter expose grass roots, they may be pressed back in place by a light rolling in spring. Get local advice on rolling.
The risk of seed washing off slopes and steep banks is minimized by laying erosion nets or burlap over the soil after seeding. As soon as the seed germinates (shows a fuzz of green) remove the burlap.
Erosion netting may be left in place. A product designed to provide a protective blanket for freshly seeded lawns. It is a spray applied with a sprayer or sprinkling can and forms a weblike, non-water soluble coating.
When grass begins to grow, it decomposes and washes into the ground. Especially useful on steep embankments.
Most lawn owners are struggling with forces beyond their knowledge. Many lawn experts talk over the heads of “Mr. and Mrs. Homeowner” who have not been trained in the ways of soils, plants, fertilizers, machinery and chemicals.
It does not seem feasible to develop a time-table for lawn management, because, Nature and water companies being what they are, one never can be quite sure of being able to stick to a pre-arranged program. “Across-the-hedge” advice always will be with us with its varying degrees of misinformation, but an understanding of why and how we do certain things to lawns will assure a greater chance for success.
A few facts about soils should be understood. Any resemblance between good soil and the stuff usually left by the contractor is strictly accidental and unintentional. Only a few contractors save the good topsoil to redistribute on the lawn area after the house is completed. Therefore, the majority of gardeners are forced to grow a lawn on the soil they have as money or good soil (or both) usually are not available.
Poor Soils Can Be Improved
Poor soils can be improved by periodic cultivation, aerifying or loosening. heavy liming and fertilization. Virtually all soils, sandy soils included, may become compact and crusted on top. Compaction and crusting are natural results of water and traffic. Crusted. hard soil prevents water from entering and the grass suffers because the water runs off. Fertilizer applied on such a soil can not enter, either, and may he washed away in a hard rain. Seeds which arc sown may germinate, but the tender roots cannot penetrate the crust, so seedlings perish. Oxygen, which roots need just as you and I, is prevented from entering the soil. The combined net effect is starvation, drought and suffocation, truly good reasons why so many lawns are poor.
Weeds come in and often are blamed for “crowding out” the grass. It just so happens that the weeds are better suited to the poor soil conditions. Change your conditions to suit the grass, and it will “crowd out” the weeds.
Changing Soil Conditions
What can you do to improve what you have? We are going to try to simplify lawn maintenance and improve-meal and concentrate here on those practices which have the greatest possibilities of producing results.
First, we should improve the physical conditions of the soil. Every gardener knows the value of a mellow, loamy soil, well aerated for deep. healthy root growth which leads to more drought tolerance for the plant. In a lawn this desirable condition can be gradually accomplished by periodic cultivation and aeration (mechanical soil conditioning). The deeper, sturdier roots which grow as the result of cultivation and eventually die. add organic matter to the soil and help to create mellowness. The soil plugs or cores which are brought to the surface by aerifying help by top dressing the lawn. The alternate wetting and drying inside the spooned-out holes is one of Nature’s best ways of creating better physical soil conditions. Better air circulation in the soil greatly stimulates the unseen helpers – bacteria and other microorganisms – which by their growth and death improve the soil in many ways. The increased oxygen supply in the soil also stimulates root growth and helps the roots to absorb more nutrients.
Add Some Lime
In the humid, high-rainfall areas of the country, soils tend to become acid. Lime corrects acidity, makes nutrients more available, and produces a more mellow soil condition. Lime also granulates soils, which lets them breathe, and improves them for most plants – except acid-loving plants, which do not include grass. Home gardeners may choose between two forms of lime. The safest for all-round home use is ground limestone, also called pulverized limestone and agricultural limestone. This form of lime is usually cheaper, too. It does not burn the skin and it can be safely used with all fertilizers and seeds. Hydrated lime, although faster acting. is difficult to use. It will burn sensitive skin and must not be used with fertilizers because it releases nitrogen as ammonia gas which burns foliage.
Fall is a very good time to apply ground limestone. One bag (80 pounds) of limestone to 1000 square feet is a good application which need not be repeated for three to four years. To use too much lime, or apply it too often, is about as bad as not using enough. Aerifying before liming is recommended so that improvement of the soil can he made in depth instead of just at the surface. Lime moves downward in the soil very slowly. Experiments have shown that aerifying greatly improves penetration of slow-moving materials deeply into the root zone where they can do the most good.
Physical soil conditions can be improved further by mixing into the soil such amendments as peat, sawdust or sand – or a mixture of these. Too often these materials are spread on the surface of the lawn where they defeat the very purpose they are intended to serve. To be most effective they must be thoroughly mixed into the soil. There are two ways to do this: First, destroy the lawn, plow it or dig it up to mix the materials and start all over – mud, weeds and all. Second, spread the materials on the surface and mix by thoroughly aerifying which leaves the lawn intact without destroying the grass. This is the practice now being used on many golf courses while still maintaining excellent playing conditions. Obviously, the second choice is wiser because the lawn can be used continuously and it is much more economical. The most economical way, though, is to simply aerify, lime and fertilize and let the grass roots be the soil conditioner.
The next step toward a good lawn is to improve the nutrient supply. Most lawns are poor because they are starved. Well-fed grass will produce deeper, heavier roots which are Nature’s best soil conditioners. Therefore, indirectly, fertilizer acts as a soil conditioner by growing more organic matter. And, of course, it provides the elements necessary for healthy plant growth.
If you have either a compacted clay soil or a crusted sandy soil, fertilizer tends to lie on top of the soil where it has the best chance of being washed or blown away, and the least chance of getting down deeply into the, soil where the roots can get it. Aerifying to loosen and open the soil so that fertilizer can reach the roots is standard practice on most golf courses and on many athletic fields today.
How Much Fertilizer
What fertilizer should you use this fall? That question will be asked many times all over the country. There is understandable confusion because there are so many kinds available, ranging from the common everyday agricultural fertilizers to the highly advertised. special “Turf Fertilizers”. Soils differ as do the requirements of various turf grasses, so that there can be no “universal” turf fertilizer. For the lawn-owner the main features of a lawn fertilizer should be long-lasting effect, safety from burning, free-flowing and non-dusty texture. High-nitrogen content could be named a fifth point, because nitrogen is of the greatest importance in producing dense turf. Other nutrients (phosphorus and potash particularly) can he supplied by a single annual application of a complete fertilizer. Here arc a few examples of complete fertilizers to choose from, depending on your geographic location and available supply: 10-10-10. 12-12-12, 10-8-6, 10-6-4, 10-5-5, 8-6-4, 8-6-2, 7-7-7, 6-10-4, 5-10-10, 5-10-5, 4-12-4.
These fertilizers are best used once a year, either spring or fall, at a rate to supply one pound of nitrogen to 1000 square feet. Your dealer can give you the information on how much of a given fertilizer will supply one pound of nitrogen. You can figure it out for yourself, too. As an example, take a 10-6-4 fertilizer. The first figure is nitrogen. 100 divided by 10 equals 10. It takes 10 pounds of 10-6-4 to yield one pound of nitrogen. Another example is 5-10-10. The first figure is always nitrogen. 100 divided by 5 equals 20. It takes 20 pounds of 5-10-10 to yield one pound of nitrogen.
A lawn that has been fed 5-10-5 year after year probably suffers from acute nitrogen starvation and an overdose of phosphorous, the middle figure. The remedy for this is to use a straight nitrogen fertilizer for a couple of years at least. Organic nitrogen fertilizers are becoming more popular because they meet most of the requirements of a good lawn fertilizer. There are several kinds on the market, some derived from sewerage wastes and some derived from plant and animal by-products. The nitrogen content ranges from about 5 to 10 per cent. Monthly applications of organic nitrogen fertilizers, to yield one pound of nitrogen to 1000 square feet during the growing season, are becoming standard practice in some areas, particularly when the lawn contains one or more of the improved varieties of grasses.
A new long-lasting, non-burning type of nitrogen fertilizer has been developed by chemically combining urea and formaldehyde. Properly combined, the resultant product releases nitrogen slowly over a long period, similar in many respects to a natural organic material. One of these will be on the market this fall.
Fall Seeding and Reseeding
Competition is a word that applies to lawns as well as to the business world. In a starved lawn the individual grass plants compete for the available nutrients. Trees compete with grass (often unfairly) for sunlight, food and water. In a new seeding, young grass plants compete with each other – survival of the fittest. When rates of seeding are very high, the surviving plants may be so weakened that they cannot compete with the weeds. When fresh seed is sown on an established lawn. the new seedlings must compete with the grass that is already there. In many cases, a thin lawn can be thickened and improved by feeding, more easily and more economically than by reseeding.
One factor, more than any other, limits success in reseeding an old lawn. That factor is the seedbed. For instance, many lawns have been sodded with rough, weedy, ordinary pasture sod. There may be some good grass, but probably very little. Reseeding seems to he necessary. The usual practice is to scratch the soil with a steel rake. In theory, the advice may he good, but in practice it doesn’t produce results. The seed will germinate but the tender roots can not force their way through the dense crusted, compact soil. As a result, they die.
Aerifying, which is so beneficial for fertilizing and watering, is just as good for seeding. A seed which lodges in the loosened soil cavities is in the best possible position to germinate. It can send its roots down into the moist soil below and produce a sturdy plant which will add to the desired turf. It has been clearly demonstrated that with a proper seedbed, ‘ample nutrients and adequate moisture, less seed will be needed to produce desired results.
New seedings should be mowed as soon as there is anything to mow. Frequent mowing is important with any grass. The more often you mow an established turf, the better it will be, other things being equal. By all means remove the clippings. Accumulated grass clippings create ideal conditions for disease organisms and insects. The return of fertility from decaying grass cuttings is too small to be very significant on a lawn.
Water, if the water company can spare any for use on grass, should be applied generously at long intervals. Light. frequent sprinkling is a certain road to disaster. Good grass can wilt for several days without injury. When soil becomes dry, it releases more plant food with the next watering and it shrinks and cracks and lets air into the roots. Occasional drying is good for soil and grass. If the water runs off into the gutter, it is probably time to aerify again.
The basic principles of lawn management discussed here apply to practically all lawn grasses everywhere.
My final advice is to suggest that each reader call his county agent and ask for the latest circular or bulletin on lawns put out by the state college or university. Such a publication will contain complete local information that could not he developed in an article such as this. Requests for information on lawns gives real support to that phase of the university program and will assure you of better grasses and better lawns in the future.