I have at least two personalities when it comes to gardening. One is the practical, prudent, efficient type. To be sure, it’s the more intellectual one. The other is clearly motivated by emotion over sensibility, willing to sacrifice all but my first-born to the yard gods, in the name of beauty.
Personality number one looks for ways to save time, money and valuable resources at every opportunity. Planting mondo grass as a lawn alternative like my wise Master Gardener friend would be an example of this. Maintaining turf is clearly more like emotional personality number two.
Unfortunately, personality two is the one that shows up most often, bringing with it a lot more work. For example, the lawn I just reinstalled (for the second time in a year), demanded time, money and energy to prepare the soil and plant the seed. This lawn could be an ongoing maintenance nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be.
Nor will it, which is why I am able to reconcile my affinity to having a small but traditional lawn, in spite of its notorious, chemical dependant reputation. Fortunately, there are ways to ensure a great looking lawn this Fall and beyond while reducing the amount of resources invested there.
Get a reliable soil test
Grass that starts out in the right soil pH range has a better chance of establishing and thriving, meaning less work later. A quality soil test, available from your county extension service will tell you what is needed to get your soil ready.
Prepare the soil properly
This is a good time to add the amendments suggested in the soil test including compost or top soil. Loosen the soil enough to promote deep root growth while disturbing the ground as little as possible. This helps preserve the delicate structure of the soil food web below. Rake it smooth and remove any debris.
Add seed and keep it moist until germination
Apply the seed at the recommended rate on the package. Use a criss-cross pattern to ensure adequate coverage. The key to good germination is to keep the seed moist throughout the germination process. I use a timer on my sprinkler. It’s set to go on four times each day with each application lasting only a few minutes.
Top dressing your seed bed with a thin layer of wheat straw is optional. It helps to retain moisture, keeps the seed in place and deters birds from eating it. However, look for straw that is free of seed heads to prevent germination of it as well.
Let it grow
Weeds have a tough time competing for light within a lush stand of grass. Let your grass grow to the upper range of its preferred height and maintain it at this level.
Fertilize using natural options
Lawns have a reputation as being heavy feeders, especially nitrogen which gives it that rich green color. But nitrogen as well as other nutrients comes from many sources. Look for long lasting natural options such as compost, blood meal, aged manures and other organic sources that not only feed your grass but the soil as well. A packaged product that I really like as a natural fertilizer is Milorganite .
Apply pre-emergent in late winter
Get a jump on spring weeds by applying corn gluten, a natural pre-emergent herbicide, in late winter. The key to success is proper application rates. It takes 20 pounds per thousand square feet to do the job. You’ll also get the benefit of additional fertilizer because corn gluten contains about 10% nitrogen.
Fertilize by grasscycling
When you mow, allow the clippings to fall to the ground where they rapidly decompose. They are high in nitrogen and will reduce the need for it by about 30% each year.
Stop fighting the shade
It’s an ongoing battle to attempt to grow grass in shade. It can look good for a while but requires constant upkeep. Instead, consider making those areas mulched beds or groundcover. It will save you a lot of headaches.
The busier I get, the less time I have to devote to my lawn. Since I haven’t figured out yet how to be personality number one when it comes to my yard, at least I have ways to feel better about my vices.