We all want a green healthy lawn to add beauty and consistency to our yards. Lawns can be a lot of work and hopefully some of our tips below can help to reduce the amount of work and frustration you might have with your lawn. It is also important to understand the amount of water and chemicals it takes to have a perfect green lawn. Because so many Americans own a lawn, if everyone did their part by reducing the size of their lawns and the lessen the of amount of chemcials we use, it could have a dramatic effect on our environment. Some of these tips will get you thinking a ways to use less water and chemicals and still have an attractive, healthy lawn.
How much lawn do you need? Lawns are great spaces to play on. They can tolerate foot traffic and they keep your yard from being muddy and dusty. However, lawns can be a lot of work. In the growing season, they need to be watered regularly, mowed weekly, fertilized every 2 months and treated for weeds, insects and disease. Other plants such as trees, shrubs. perennials and groundcovers require much less help from us to survive. The point is reduce the size of your lawn and replace it with plantings that are less maintenance wherever possible.
Soil – Having great soil is the key to growing a great lawn. Soil rich in organic material tends to me much healthier. You can usually tell by looking at your soil. Soil that is light in color is usually not healthy soil. Organic rich soil is usually dark, almost black in color. Older lawns typically have more organic material and are usually healthier. New lawns installed around newly built houses typically have a tougher time staying healthy because the organic layer has either been stripped during construction and/or compacted by all the machinery. It takes time to build that back up unless you add compost. Most builders and landscapers on the South Shore use a sandy loam when installing a new lawn. Sand can actually be good for lawns. Golf courses use lots of sand to ensure good drainage, which removes excess water. However too much sand will leave your soil with very little nutrients and living matter, which do a lot of the work for your plants root systems. Clay soil is the opposite of sand. Clay is made of of tiny particles and the pack together. This leaves little room for water to move and drain through the soil and it also leaves very little room for air. Roots need to breath and with clay soils, roots often perform poorly. If you have sandy or clay soil, the solution is the same, add compost. For major renovations bring in as much compost as you can afford the time or money to do. For patching and seeding smaller areas, even a light layer of compost will improve conditions. Make sure the compost is aged well and composted properly. Kennedy’s has a great source of compost.
Sunlight & Grass Seed types - All lawns prefer sunny conditions. Lawns do not perform well in shade, especially deep shade under large trees such as Maples. Some shade can be good to reduce water needs and stress during the hottest months. All grass seed varieties will grow in sun, but none of them will perform well in deep shade, despite what the seed packages say. If you have deep shade, you are better off using a groundcover that tolerates those conditions. The are all kinds of grass types out there. Researchers are constantly working to find prettier and tougher varieties. The most common variety of grass seed in Kentucky Bluegrass. It typically has the darkest, richest green color, but requires a little more work to keep it looking that way. Perennial Rye is used in most grass seed blends because it germinates quickly. Fescues are getting a lot of attention these days. Most fescue types require less water and therefore are less stressed in the summer, which often leads to less problems and better survival. they have not been as know to be as pretty, but the new seeds can be very attractive. Tall fescues are the ones with the deepest root systems and red fescues tend to be the most shade tolerant. At Kennedy’s “Cape Cod” is what we recommend for most people with sunny yards, especially if you do not have an irrigation system. “Pro-turf Shady” is what we recommend for areas with less sun. “Mass Turf” is an all-purpose blend for mixed conditions. “Pro turf” is the mostly Bluegrass mix. Lastly, “Quick Turf” is a used if you need to the grass to germinate quickly, if it is late in the season (before cold comes), you have a slope (worried about soil eroding before it germinates), or if you are having a party in need to fill in the lawn before the guests arrive.
Aerating – If your soil is compacted, get lots of traffic and/or made up of clay it may need to be aerated. An aerator is a machine that pulls plugs of soil out and leaves it on the soil surface. This process help improve drainage and allows roots to breath better. Aerating is done often at golf course where there is lots of traffic from golfers and golf carts. A machine can be rented to do this or many local landscapers offer this service. Call us at Kennedy’s for a recommendation. It is best to do this in the fall to minimize weed problems that may occur because of the aerating process.
Fertilizing – Come to the garden center to see your current options.
Liming – the major role of Lime in New England is to neutralize the acidity of our soil. A once or twice per year applications is common. A pH test should be performed to be sure you are doing the right thing. Inexpensive pH test kits are available at Kennedy’s. The other important thing to consider is Calcium. Most literature on lawn care suggests using calcium in your lawn. Calcium is a nutrient that most lawn love and many weeds do not. Adding calcium is a natural way to reduce weeds in your lawn. All limes have calcium, but typically magnesium counteracts acts that. Calcidic limestone is higher in calcium and recommended. It is now all we carry at Kennedy’s.
Thatching - Many people either rent machines and pay lawn care companies to either thatch or aerate their lawns. Thatching means to simple remove old grass and debris from the soil surface. Thatchers do this mechanically and very effectively. The old school of thought was removing thatch was necessary to make sure your fertilizer programs worked. The idea was your fertilizer, crabgrass control and insecticides would not work as fast or effectively with thick layer of thatch on the soil surface. The newer thinkingis that thatch is basically plant debris that contains a lot of nutrients. If you have a healthy soil, rich in organic matter and microorganisms that the thatch wil be broken down more quickly and turned into fertilizer. In summarising, if you use chemical fertilizer, you may want to de-thatch your lawn. If you use organic fertilizers such as Organcia, you may want to leave the thatch alone, unless you are seeding.
Sod lawn – Sod is used for those who want or need an instant lawn. Installing sod is easy and looks great right away. Calculate how much sod you need be adding up your square footage. Always add 10% to the total to figure for the trimming you need to do along the edges. Once the correct soil is in place, raked and leveled off you can apply lime and a starter fertilizer. The sod can then be rolled out. It can be cut using a sharp knife or flat shovel. Try not to cut small pieces (less than 12″) because they dry our easily. After the sod is in place water it twice per day for the first 7 days, then daily for the next two weeks.
Seeding – Growing grass from seed is relatively easy if you are willing and able to water it. Preparing the soil is different depending on what type of project you are doing. Major lawn installs or renovations are different than over seeding and fixing smaller patches. For new lawns and major renovations, it is best to make sure you have an adequate layer of organic material, discussed in our soil section. Rake the soil as level as possible. It can be rolled with a lawn roller, but try to avoid heavy equipment that will compact the soil to much. For large areas, it is easiest to apply the seed using a spreader. Use one of the lowest/lightest settings of the spreader, apply the sed in two directions, such as North and South, then East and West. This ensures good coverage. Go by the seed package directions to see how much seed you should use per square foot. If you have an existing lawn that is a little thin, you can use the directions for over seeding. This uses less seed. You need to prep the soil by thatching or raking your lawn hard to expose as much as the soil surface as possible before applying the seed. If you are patching, we recommend to apply a light layer of new soil or compost to the soil surface. This will help ensure the new seed has soft new soil for the tender new roots to bite into. If you plan to use any type of pre-emergent, you need to have a strategy because pre-emergent by definition keep new seeds (weeds or grass) from germinating. There is a type of new seeding fertilizer that has a pre-emergent in it that does not effect grass seed but it is just about cost prohibitive. If you use a pre-emergent, either do not apply it until your grass seed has germinated or wait until fall to do your grass seed project. The other option, that works well when patching, it to apply the pre-emergent, then a light layer of soil, then the grass seed on top of that. The soil layer will at as a buffer and allow the seed to germinate as long as it does not make contact with the chemical. Once the sed is down, it is a good idea to roll it. A roller is available for rent at Kennedy’s. A roller presses the small seeds into soil and make there is good contrast with the soil. Stepping on the seed work too, but it is not practical for large areas. You germination percent will be higher by remembering this step. If you have not limed the lawn, it can go down at the same (or before or after). Lime does not affect seed in any way. Starter fertilizer is also recommended, assuming you have not fertilized already. Use a starter fertilizr on the hole lawn if you are doing a lot of seeding, or use a regular fertilizer if you are just doing a little patching, it will not matter that much. It can be apply the same day as the seed. Once the news seed has been watered, try to avoid traffic on the lawn for several weeks. Do not mow the lawn until the seed has emerged and most of the lawn is 3-4″ tall. Make sure the blade is sharp so it cuts the grass and not rip it up. Minimize hard turns of the mower on young lawns.
Watering – New lawns need to be watered frequently using less water and established lawns are better off being watered less often using more water. If you have just planted new seed, it may need to be watered several times per day, especially on warmer sunny days. Use a sprinkler or turn your hose nosle to a misting setting. Misting and using less water will keep the seed from eroding away. Look at the color of the soil. If it is lighter in color is is dry and needs to be watered again. If it is dark, it may not need water yet. Water it frequently until the seed has germinated. As time goes by decrease the frequency and increase the amount of water. The goal is to train the roots to go down deep to get water. Increasing the water of water saturates the soil deeper. When soil dries out, it dries at the soil surface first, so letting it dry out between waterings will encourage the roots to grow deeper to get the water instead of staying at the soil surface. Many people who own irrigation systems water too frequently, encouraging surface roots. A water ban in this situation cankill an entire lawn. It is best to space the watering out to atleast every other day. Also the increased moisture encourages disease.
Insects & disease – Regular monitoring of your lawn for problems is important. Walk your lawn regularly. Anything that does not look right should be assessed and/or addressed. Some problems need to be addressed, others go away with time or new grass seed. Insect issues, such as grubs are most common in the sunny portions of the lawn. Disease problems are more common with during periods of frequent rain or high humidity. There are several earth friendly or organic methods available know to control insect and disease problems. Take photos or lawn samples into Kennedy’s for diagnosis.
Weeds - a weed is defined as anything that grows in a place that you do not want it. Aesthetically most plants that are now grass types are considered weeds. Clover is often considered a weed, but many lawn care experts think they actually do good things for lawns, such a replenish nitrogen. Most broadleaf plants are considered weeds. There are also a bucnh of grassy weeds, such as crabgrass that can cause problems. the trend in lawn care circles is to use less chemicals. This is good for kids and pets and for our environment. With so many people owning a lawn the effects of using less pesticides can be great. One way to reduce weeds without chemicals is to not give them a place to grow. It ti best to fill in bare spots in the lawn with grass seed. the other is to make the soil conducive to lawns and less conducive to growing weeds. Good soil is a start. See the information about soils above. Certain weeds have conditions they prefer. Many weeds thrive in bad soils and areas that lawns do not like. Crabgrass thrives in calcium deficient soils, dry sandy soils and soils effected by road salt. Many weeds do well in compacted soils. Try improving your conditions before resorting to regular treatments of chemicals.
The above was written by Chris Kennedy, MCH. Content was gathered using years of experience, reading articles and refering to the “Organic Lawn Care Manual” by Paul Tukey.