Grass, like other plants, exhibits seasonal behavior. The fescue in my lawn appears reasonably green in winter and fall, richly lush in spring, and something approaching dead during the heat of July and August. I’ve learned that watering the lawn to trick it into remaining active during the hot months is pointless. The dormancy gives the grass a break, and not mowing is not a problem for me. I find other ways to get exercise. For many years the grass has returned with the onset of cooler weather.
A web search on lawn care will return countless hits with advice ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. The inquirer should know that what works in the short summer of a northern city may not produce similar results in the humid south. Likewise talking to family, friends, and neighbors about lawn care can yield a wheelbarrow load of advice. Talk to the guy down the street with his plush wall-to-wall lawn to learn how he cares for his grass. Chances are good he will freely share his secrets.
Mix a great deal of patience into any lawn effort. Nature has numerous pestilences to unleash. I once battled a grub infestation that destroyed a lawn I’d worked hard to develop. And realistically, once the lawn is perfect, the power company or telecommunications company or the city or someone will be out with a backhoe to dig a hole. Those crews love right-of-ways that meander through pristine lawns.
Here, for what it is worth, are my tips on growing great or at least reasonable grass. These work for me. No warranty is expressed or implied. Use at your own risk. Void where prohibited by law. And so on.
Consider the children.
Baseball diamonds, troughs under the swing set, and footpaths worn into favorite travel routes will one day revert to grass after the kids are grown and gone. Will your child remember dad as the Lawn-Police or will he look back to his home life with thanksgiving that Mom and Dad raised children and not grass? Leave space for the kids perhaps by implementing the landscape plan in stages.
Grass needs deep roots.
Set the wheels on the mower high. Experts say that the roots extend as deep below the soil as the blades of grass extend above the soil. Fertilizer applied in the Feb/Mar time frame means I should expect to mow twice a week through the end of May. Once the nitrogen from that fertilizer dissipates the growth will slow.
I must mow often enough to avoid producing soggy clumps of clippings. By mowing often I can avoid bagging as the mulching mower does a great job slicing and dicing. That keeps the nutrients in play in the lawn rather than the trash bin or the compost heap.
Keep the lawnmower blade sharp.
The idea is to cut the grass not rip it. I asked a lawn professional how often he sharpens the blades on his mowing equipment. “Every week!” A sharp blade cuts quickly allowing the mower to do the job more easily. Listen to the lawnmowers in the neighborhood, and pick out the ones that have rarely been sharpened. The sound of a lugging engine is a good clue.
And on the subject of maintenance change the oil in the mower and replace the air filter in the spring or more often if the mowing job is large. Seriously, I don’t care how much you paid for your mower. The self-starting, self-propelled functions with the built in cup holder and halogen headlights rock, but running the same dirty oil month after month will reduce the lifespan of the mower.
Decide on a personal weed strategy.
Those ubiquitous weeds! No matter the level of our effort, weeds will sprout in our grass. Weed strategies fall into three general categories (and yes, I am ignoring the option of doing nothing!).
1) Manual extraction
2) Chemical carpet bombing
3) Surgical strikes using a hand sprayer
I work in the garden nearly every day and dread the pumper trucks lumbering up the street. That’s my signal to take cover. As the driver disgorges his load of toxic brew across someone’s lawn the chemicals float on the breeze and carry an odor that makes breathing difficult.
The products from the petrochemical companies may indeed kill weeds or at least prevent their germination. But will the chemicals affect the earthworm population, the bird population, and the many beneficial insects whose populations are in sharp decline? And though the spray dries on the grass in an hour or so what happens to residuals when the next rain pounds the lawn? Where does the storm sewer carry the chemicals? Is my weed-free lawn affecting the environment downstream?
I stopped the carpet bombing several years back when a pre-emergent product from a mainstream lawn supplier triggered an irregular heartbeat coupled with difficulty breathing while I was blitzing the lawn. For a couple of hours I waffled between resting on the couch and visiting the emergency room. Scary moments.
Later, as I rested on the porch swing, I watched the bluebird parents that I shelter and protect as they hopped around the lawn to pick up insects for the babies. Would that meal of insects include the herbicide I just delivered? I saw the light! Maybe I needed a friendlier weed control strategy?
I now use a combination of manual extraction coupled with some level of reseeding in the fall to thicken the lawn and choke out the weeds. And, yes, I will spot spray with herbicide if the weeds run amuck. But carpet bombings no longer fit into my multi-dimensional strategy.
This is not intended as a judgmental diatribe. My fellow gardeners, your choices about the weeds are yours to make. Each gardener must decide if his goal is a monoculture lawn or if consideration for native plants and pollinators might be tucked into the plan in some way.
Watch the fertilizer.
Nitrogen makes grass grow. Fast. Even faster with regular rain. And that growth pulls nutrients from the soil which end up in the clippings that are often bagged for the solid waste crew to transport to the city’s yard waste facility. I turned away from heavy nitrogen fertilizer two years ago and use only 13-13-13. It comes in a forty pound bag at half the cost of the Big Name Yard Products 28-X-X bag. I spread the fertilizer by hand as though I were sowing seed. I don’t have to be concerned about fertilizer laced with pre-emergent chemicals affecting the flower beds or the azaleas. The same 13-13-13 multi-purpose fertilizer can be mixed into my compost pile if I need a nitrogen boost to start the cooking.
These are my practices determined through experimentation with much failure and the occasional success. I’d love to hear what works in your lawn and about your gardening strategy. Why not use the comment facility below to continue the dialog?
The Scripture uses the analogy of grass in many applications.
As a sign of God’s blessings on Israel’s obedience:
“It shall come about, if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the LORD your God and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul, that He will give the rain for your land in its season, the early and late rain, that you may gather in your grain and your new wine and your oil. He will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.
Deuteronomy 11:13-15 NASB
As a reminder of the brevity of life:
As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, And its place acknowledges it no longer. Psalms 103:15-16 NASB
As a contrast to the eternal nature of the Word of God:
The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever. Isaiah 40:8 NASB
As an encouragement against the practice of worry:
But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith! Luke 12:28 NASB