Tips for a Beautiful Lawn
by Michael J. McGroarty
A beautiful lawn does not come without some effort. Depending upon what type of soil you have, the amount of effort will vary. For instance when raising trees and shrubs, sandy or a gravel base soil is great. Landscape plants like well drained soiled. A lawn on the other hand is different. Lawn grasses grow constantly throughout the growing season, and need an ample supply of both nutrients and water. Regular watering and fertilization is required to keep a lawn beautiful.
If you’re lucky enough to have a lawn that was originally planted in good rich topsoil, you won’t have to work near as hard as somebody like me, who has a lawn that is planted in sandy gravel. The soil at our house has little nutritional value, nor does it have the ability to retain any amount of moisture. By mid May my lawn starts drying out. It is very difficult for us to keep our lawn looking nice.
Lawns are one area where a little clay in the soil is a good thing. Or course standing water is not good, but having soil that has the ability to retain some moisture is helpful. If you happen to be installing a new lawn, this is something to consider. Add lots of organic matter before you install your new lawn if you have sand or gravel.
Because most lawn grasses grow so vigorously, they need additional amounts of nutrients added in order to stay looking nice. Just use one of the four step programs offered by the fertilizer companies. Most of these programs also include weed control along with the fertilizer. Here in the north we basically have two concerns with weeds in our lawns.
Crabgrass can be a problem, and I do consider it a weed. In order to control crabgrass you must use a pre-emergent herbicide that will prevent the crabgrass seeds from germinating. In order for this herbicide to be effective you must apply it early in the spring while the soil temperature is still below 45° F.
Broadleaf weeds such as Dandelions are another problem, although fairly easy to control with a broadleaf weed control. Most broadleaf herbicides are mixed in with the fertilizers, and must be applied when the grass and weeds are damp. The wet foilage will cause the herbicide to stick to the weed, giving the herbicide time to be absorbed by the weed. Once absorbed the herbicide translocates through the weed plant and kills it completely.
These types of herbicides are considered “selective” since they seem to know the difference between a grass plant and a weed. That’s why they only kill the broadleaf weeds and not the grass itself.
However, many people have different kinds of thick bladed grass in their lawn such as quack grass, this stuff is on the ugly side, and can really detract from a lawn. The problem is, it is still in the grass family, and “selective” herbicides leave it alone because it is a card carry member of the grass family. So what’s a person to do?
In order to get rid of these thick bladed grasses you must use a “non-selective” herbicide, and “non-selective” herbicides don’t care who they kill. Well, at least that’s true in the plant kingdom. When you use a “non-selective” herbicide you must understand that everything that you spray is going to die, but it really is the only effective way to rid your lawn of thick bladed grasses. This type of treatment is effective if you have isolated areas that contain wide bladed grasses. You’ll have to spray all the grass in the area, then reseed with good quality grass seed. My herbicide of choice for this type of spraying is RoundUp®. It is believed that RoundUp® does not have any residual effect, which means that it does not linger in the soil. That means that the new grass seed or the young grass plants will not be affected by the herbicide.
Being a non-selective herbicide you must be careful when spraying, making sure that the spray does not drift onto other plants or lawn areas that you do not want to kill. To keep the spray from drifting adjust the nozzle so that the spray pattern is narrow with larger spray droplets. You do not want a fine atomized spray if there is danger of spray drift. It also helps to keep the pressure in the sprayer as low as possible. Pump the sprayer a minimum number of times, to keep the pressure low. You just want enough pressure to deliver the spray. Buy a sprayer just for herbicides and mark it as such. You never want to spray plants with a sprayer that has been used for herbicides.
Once you have sprayed the area you want to kill, wait three days before doing anything else. After a period of three days the grasses that you sprayed may not look any different, but if they have been properly sprayed, they will die. It takes three days for the herbicide to translocate throughout the entire plant, then the plants will die. So even though the weeds and grass plants look fine, you can start digging and chopping and not worry about them growing back.
If you happen to be installing a new lawn, make sure you spray all the weeds and thick bladed grasses before you start. Once you have the lawn installed, you sure don’t want to go through all the trouble of killing areas of your lawn and reseeding. If you make sure that all of these undesirables have been killed before you start, you’ll be way ahead of the game.
When selecting grass seed, you should always use a blend that is recommend for your area. Here in the north a popular blend contains fine bladed perennial rye grass, fescue, and blue grass. Keep in mind that it takes blue grass seeds 28 days to germinate, while most perennial rye grasses germinate in 5 or 6 days, so you never want to plant a lawn that is 100% Kentucky blue grass. Before the blue grass seeds have a chance to germinate, every kind of weed imaginable will already be actively growing in your lawn. With a blend, the faster germinating grasses come up quick, and act as a nurse crop for the slower germinating seeds. Having a blend also gives you some protection in case some new pest comes along that attacks certain types of grasses.
People often ask if they have to have their lawn hydro-seeded in order for it to be nice. The answer is no. Hydro-seed is not some kind of magic formula. It is nothing more than a fancy way to apply grass seed. A hyrdo-seeder is just a machine that mixes water, grass seed, fertilizer and mulch into a slurry that is sprayed onto your lawn. The ingredients are exactly the same that you would use if you seed by hand, with the exception of the mulch. And contrary to popular belief, hydro mulch is no better than good old fashioned straw. In my opinion straw is a much better mulch. The primary advantage to hydro-seed is that the grass seed is thoroughly soaked before it is applied, which assures germination. That’s a huge advantage if your seeding along a freeway where it is not practical to wet the seed after it has been applied. At your house, it really doesn’t mean much. Hand seed works just fine.
With either method, you still have to water just as much once the seeding is done. Many people are lead to believe that hydro-seed doesn’t have to be watered as much as hand seed. This is a huge misconception. If you fail to water hydro-seed once it is applied, it will still germinate and little tiny grass plants will appear. But just a few hours without water on a hot day, and those little tiny grass plants will wither and die. This is a big problem because once the seed has germinated, it is spent. All the water in the world will not make that spent seed produce another grass plant. Hydro seed has it’s benefits, but for the residential lawn it’s not all that important.
Why do I claim that straw is a better mulch than hydro-mulch? Think about how the hydro-mulch is applied. It is mixed with the seed, fertilizer and water as a slurry, and sprayed on the lawn. The mulch has not been applied over top of the seed which is how mulch is supposed to be applied, it is all mixed together. Some of the seeds are under the mulch, and some of the seeds are on top of the mulch. Mulch can’t do much good when the seeds are resting up on top of it. They might as well be sun bathing!
Now think about the process of hand seeding. The seed is spread on the soil, then you should take a push broom and drag it backwards over top of the seeded area. This applies a very thin layer of soil over most of the seeds. Then you spread the straw over top of the soil. The pieces of straw are scattered in all directions, with many of them criss-crossing each other. Remember the movie, “Honey I shrunk the Kids”? This is what it’s like to be a grass seed under a mulch of straw. As the sun works it’s way across the sky the grass seeds actually receive filtered sunlight. Enough sun to warm the seeds so they grow, but also enough shade to protect the tender young grass plants. As the grass plants grow, they also raise the mulch with them to a degree, providing additional shade for the seeds that haven’t germinated yet. The shade that straw mulch provides also helps to retain the moisture around the seeds.
Another trait of hydro-seed is that as the slurry dries, it becomes a blanket over the lawn. In the event of a heavy rainfall, running water tends to get under this blanket and carry it away, leaving big areas with no seed at all. With hand seeding, each seed is independent, and they fall between the nicks and crannies of the soil. In the event of heavy rain, the running water must be severe enough to wash the soil away before the seeds can be moved. I’ve installed hundreds of lawns using both techniques, for the difference in cost I’ll take the hand seeded lawn any day.
If you have questions for Mike McGroarty visit his website, http://www.freeplants.com and post them on the message board where you can learn lots of gardening tips and communicate with other gardeners. While at his website you can learn how to start your own profitable backyard nursery. If you would like a copy of Mike’s booklet, “The Secret of Growing Landscape Plants from Scratch”, send $4.00 to: Garden Secrets, P.O. Box 338, Perry, Ohio 44081