Today I’m going to talk about grass. Now for those of you who followed me here from other locations on the world wide web, you probably know I hate grass. Don’t worry I’m not going to tell you to kill your lawn, even though if you did, you’d be much happier in the long run. My goal in life is to eliminate my entire lawn and replace it with flower beds. However along with being a landscape designer, I also did professional lawn care for several decades. So today I am going to give you some tips on how to have a beautiful lawn that requires little or no fertilizer.
First thing is to select a good type of grass. Now anyone who does lawn care for a living will tell you that the best grass to grow in most parts of the USA is “Turf Type Tall Fescue (TTTF)” This is available in any seed store and most hardware stores. It is usually sold by brand name but sometimes it is sold by the name of the hybrid. The Rebels is a good example of a hybrid of TTTF. If you don’t know what kind of grass you have because it came with the house, chances are it is TTTF. If you have Saint Agustin Grass all these tips apply, even the height recommendations. If you have Kentucky Blue grass the same thing. But let me talk about those two types of turf for a moment. Both Saint Augustine and Kentucky Blue grass can be cut shorter, Many people believe they have to be cut shorter or they wont grow as thick, but that is just not true. I’m not going to get into a long scientific explanation of why but just trust me okay, I know what I’m talking about. In fact I probably know a whole lot more than that guy working at the local chain hardware store. You need a little more fertilizer with Kentucky Blue grass (twice a year) but other than that it’s all the same. Lets start with the fact that it is spring and the grass probably needs a little help.
DO NOT FERTILIZE IT! Every year people go out and spend millions of dollars on fertilizer they don’t need. If you properly maintain your lawn (and I’m going to tell you how) You only need to fertilize it once a year in early fall. If you fertilize your lawn in the spring it can do damage to the roots and keep them from growing properly this will result in the lawn dieing in the summer. Basically what happens is you get this thick mat of roots at the surface of the soil and the deep roots get choked out, when the soil gets hot (in summer) the grass dies. If you feel morally obligated to waste your money on fertilizer, stay away from any that has the word “weed” in it. In other words don’t buy something called weed and feed or crab grass killer. If you lawn is thin in spots you can add some seed up until the middle of May in the North and up until the first week of May in the south. After that the grass wont grow long enough roots to survive the summer heat. It is best to do your reseeding in the beginning of September, but I know some of you didn’t do that, so get out there right away and spread some seed on those bare spots. By bare spots I mean places where there is no grass at all in an area bigger than ten inches across. If you just have a few tiny patches of dirt showing don’t worry, we are going to take care of that later.
Here is how you reseed your grass (it’s easy) First cut the grass pretty short, About ¾ of an inch to one inch high. Than rake lightly. The object of raking is not to clean up all the grass clippings, it is just to rough up the surface of the soil. A few (or even a lot) grass clippings aren’t going to keep the seed from growing. That crab grass killer will keep it from growing though, so if you already put it down, don’t waste your money on seed. Crab grass killer is designed to keep grass from germinating (that is a fancy word for sprouting) Which is why I recommend staying away from it. If you maintain your lawn properly you wont have crab grass so keep reading. Now spread the seed evenly using a spreader. You can buy a spreader fairly cheaply. They come in all types and levels of quality. For the average homeowner who fertilizes once a year and rarely reseeds the lawn, you just need a cheap circular spreader. In other words one that throws the seed (or fertilizer) in a circle as opposed to a drop spreader which drops it straight down. Spread the seed at the recommended density (it’s on the bag). THE best way to spread seed evenly is; Set the spreader dial on a low setting and walk in rows across the area to be seeded. Then go across those rows, in other words start out doing rows from front to back then change direction and go left to right. Now just go back over it lightly with the rake. Add water. You have to water new grass seed every day for about two weeks. You don’t have to water as heavily as if it was established grass. In fact you can water it lightly. The soil shouldn’t dry out completely between watering. Usually and twenty minutes with a good sprinkler is enough. Once it is noticeably growing you can back off on how often you water it. Don’t mow the grass for at about a month. Now back to regular maintenance.
How long do you cut it? This can vary throughout the growing season. You should never cut most grass shorter than an inch and a half high. Most turf grasses grow best if they are kept over two inches tall. Longer grass grows deeper roots. A good rule of thumb is, if you have a push mower set it at the highest setting it has and use that all year. If you have a riding mower, set it somewhere three or four notches from the highest setting now, and gradually (as it gets hotter outside) raise it one notch a month. The key is you want it to be as high as possible during the warm months. This will keep your lawn from getting baked in the hot sun. the tall grass shades the soil and keeps it cooler. This in turn prevents it from drying out as fast. Grass will look neat no matter how tall it is cut as long as it is all mowed at the same height, that includes those edges you cut with a weed whacker. One of th most common mistakes I see is, people get out a string trimmer (weed whacker) and cut the grass around the edges so short they wind up with weeds and dead grass. Another important aspect of cutting the lawn is what type of blade you use. You should be using a mulching blade. This is a flat blade which lets the cuttings drop down deeper so the don’t lay on top of the grass. Which brings us to the next subject.
NEVER COLLECT THE CLIPPINGS! Grass clippings are approximately 80 % water 15 % Nitrogen and 5 % cellulose (mulch) . These are all things the grass needs to grow better. When you add fertilizer, it is to add nitrogen to the soil. When you collect the clippings, you are removing the fertilizer from the grass. Plus those clippings act as mulch and keep weeds from growing and hold water in the soil. There is no horticultural reason from removing grass clippings. Some people do it once or twice a year, just so they can add the clippings to their compost pile, but that is a whole different blog, I’ll write that one later.
WATER IS ESENTIAL TO ALL LIVING THINGS! That includes grass. Grass has evolved over the centuries by growing in barren areas. In its natural state, grass gets watered once or twice a week then dries out. That is how you should do it in your yard as well. Water it very heavily about every three or four days. Than don’t water it. If you water the grass with a sprinkler and have to set it up and move it by hand it doesn’t hurt to water one part of the yard each day. They sell a wonderful device which will turn off the water after a certain time (they are adjustable) Set it for thirty minutes then look at the grass. You should see puddles. If you don’t see puddles try another twenty minutes If there still isn’t any puddles try another twenty minutes. If you still don’t see puddles after an hour and ten minutes, you have really sandy soil and are very blessed, you can grow anything in that stuff, why are you growing grass. Oh wait I promised I wouldn’t do that, back to the grass. Once you figure out how long you need to water the grass, You can set your timer for that long, set up your sprinkler and walk away. The next day move the sprinkler set the timer again and walk away. Just move it to a different spot each day. If you need to move the sprinkler to more than three spots you might need to do more than one spot a day. The key is let the lawn dry out between watering. If part of the lawn is so big it needs the sprinkler set up in two spots, do them both on the same day if possible. If you do water the same place every day two things happen. One the grass becomes susceptible to all kinds of diseases. Two weeds will grow. Remember the section about reseeding, where I mentioned watering the seed every day for two weeks? That is because if you want seeds to grow you water them every day and don’;t let them dry out. If you have weeds and you water the grass everyday, the weeds will germinate and grow in your lawn.
The above three rules are the secret to having a healthy lawn. Just in case you weren’t paying attention I’ll repeat them:
1 Never collect the clippings.
2 Cut it long.
3 Let it dry out between watering.
Now I need to talk about fertilizer. When you buy fertilizer there are three numbers on the bag. Usually something like 40-10-10 Or 10-10-10 The first number is the percentage of the fertilizer that is Nitrogen. Nitrogen is the one thing grass needs. Nitrogen makes the grass green. The other two numbers are Phosphorus and potassium in that order. They are important for most plants, but they are needed more in the fall than in the spring. That is why we aren’t going to fertilize until fall. Now I mentioned that grass clippings contain nitrogen, now you know why it’s important (You want green grass). The way grass absorbs Nitrogen is through it’s roots. Soil is traditionally low in nitrogen unless it was added somehow. That is why most people buy fertilizer. But there is a much better way to do it. I want you to relax and open you mind as wide as it goes, Because your about to read something that probably contradicts everything you’ve ever learned about lawn care. I want you to go out and but some weeds. Not just any weeds but a plant called “White Clover” sometimes sold as “Dutch Clover”. Clover is what is known as a legume. Legumes take nitrogen from the air and release it through their roots, into the soil. Nitrogen is about 75% of the earths atmosphere. If you ever look at a abandoned field with grass growing in it, you will almost always see clover growing as well. Grass and clover have evolved together, they maintain a symbiotic relationship. The grasses roots hold the soil together and the clover fertilizes the grass. Over the years we have been taught to eliminate all weeds from our lawns and in doing so we eliminated the clover. This in turn requires us to add fertilizer to make up for removing the clover. Clover (which spreads) will fill in any thin spots in your lawn. Unless you look very closely you wont be able to tell the difference. It will just look like a nice thick green lawn. Now clover does flower and for a few weeks towards the end of may and the beginning of June there will be some little white flowers (hence the name white clover). The flowers are barely noticeable and go away pretty quick. White clover grows at the same rate as TTTF so if you plant them together you will have a lawn that grows for years requiring nothing but mowing. You may notice this is done in most parks and even many large estates. Anywhere they have acres upon acres of lawn, they usually grow a combination of clover and TTTF. You can add Clover to the lawn in late May or early June. All you have to do is spread it across the lawn. In order to buy it you will have to go to a real seed store. Chances are the local chain hardware store wont carry it. You need to find a feed store, someplace that sells corn in fifty pound bags and lots lots of stuff for horses and cattle. If you’re in the right kind of store they will take you right to it when you ask for white clover. If you’re in the wrong kind of store they will look confused and probably try to sell you weed killer.
Well good luck with your lawn and stop by here again. But I gotta warn you; I’m going to spend the rest of the year showing you ways to replace the lawn with flower gardens. Flower gardens are so much easier to maintain and… Okay I broke my promise again. I’m outta here.