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Lawn And Order: The Secrets Behind Green Grass

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By Mia Bolaris-Forget

Its been said (to me at least) that you can somehow tell what the people living in a home are like by the condition of their lawn. That’s right, apparently the lawn trumps the property and the (exterior) grandeur of the home, if your lawn has little curb appeal.

So, if you want your lawn to be green, and your neighbors green with envy, your first objective should be developing a green thumb.

· Choose Wisely: Experts note that when it comes to grass you should approach it as you would if planting any other type of flower or shrubbery. They remind all of us that lawns are made up of literally thousands, if not millions of individual grass plants and as many as up to 850 plants per square foot. Furthermore, they note that while all lawns may look “the same”, there are different types of grasses, each with a different level of insect and disease resistance; ability to withstand drought, shade, and foot traffic, as well as the their own temperature hardiness.

Most lawns are made up of a combination of various grasses, and choosing just the right mix for the climate and condition in your yard is key to a green and healthy lawn. They add that cool-season grasses fare better in temperature ranges of between 60 and 75 degrees and typically need less moisture and watering. But, summer heat can cause them to stress. On the other hand, warm-season grasses do much better in higher heat temperatures between 80 and 95 degrees, but, they tend to lose their colour when conditions get cooler. Still, they generally have deeper roots and can tolerate close mowing and heavy foot traffic.

Once you’ve decided on which variety will work best for you, the next step is deciding how to plant it. And, just as with any other type of annual or perennial you can start with a seed or by planting live plants in the ground. In lawn talk, that means sod. Sod say experts, tends to be the fastest and easiest way to start a new lawn. However, it is also the most expensive. Still, it offers a usable lawn in just a few weeks. And, while you may be able to plant some smaller pieces of sod on your own, larger pieces probably warrant professional installation and an added cost. Grass seed on the other hand, is usually significantly cheaper and can be a “do-it-yourself” project. But, it needs proper and extensive preparation, timing and follow up care. Plus, you’ll need lots of patients because it can literally take months to root and grow. Not to mention that some grasses don’t do well when starting out as seeds, making sod or plugs (small pieces of sod “plugged” into the ground) as your only viable options.

· Doing The “Dirty” Work: Regardless of whether you use seed of sod, the key to a beautiful lawn is grass-friendly dirt. And that means it should be deep, friable or crumbly), fertile, and well draining. And, if any of these components is missing you should look into them BEFORE starting up a new lawn. Experts suggest building up shallow soil with several inches of weed-free topsoil, improving friability and fertility by adding and working in compost, manure, and other organic matter, and taking care of drainage issues by changing the grade of your yard or installing a subsurface drainage system. More affordable drainage options include simple swales, baffles, and contours. Swales are described as long, narrow, shallow depression that redirect runoff; baffles as small pieces of edging buried half way in the ground to slow runoff and allow water to soak in; and contours as ripples or bumps in the ground that intercept water and redirect it through perforated pipes placed just under the surface.

And while water is KEY, too much may do more harm than good. New lawns typically need more water than established ones but be careful not to overdo it. Over-watering can keep the top layer of soil wet, spurring the development of weak, shallow roots that lead to quick injury in hot, dry weather. For best results, the pros recommend infrequent but deep watering.

· Timing Is Everything: Remember, lawns like plants and animals need food as well as water for the best results. But, its important to feed them well and to be strict about what you feed it. Experts suggest the overfertilizing can be just as bad for you lawn and plants as overwatering is. In fact, an overabundance of fertilizer actually leaves plants weak and top-heavy making them ideal targets for insects and disease. So, experts suggest fertilizing only if a soil test shows a deficiency, otherwise simply give your lawn a snack and only during growth spurts in the spring and fall.

Also, make sure the type of fertilizer you choose is good for the type of grass you have. Keep in mind that most mainstream commercial fertilizers are a mixture of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. And, of these, nitrogen is probably the most important for promoting leaf growth and healthy colour. By the way, you already have a great source of nitrogen in grass clippings, so leaving them on your lawn is an inexpensive way of fertilizing.

Take note that regardless of how well your fertilize your lawn, it may still suffer from weeds. Also note that any week can be removed by hand, but if you don’t extract the entire plant, you’ll likely have to remove it again. And, weeds over a large area may warrant chemical solution.

Furthermore, if you experienced a weed problem the prior year you should apply a herbicide in the early spring. A pre-emergent control can wipe out crabgrass by destroying the young plants as they sprout. Making another application in the late spring can help control dandelions and other broad-laved (non-grass) weed. But, this can be time consuming. So, if you’re looking to save time, weed and feed at the same time with a combination herbicide/fertilizer. And, if you are careful about chemicals, experts suggest soap herbicides as a less toxic solution. Plus, they caution against broadly applying any herbicide in summer, when it’s likely most stressed by the heat.

And, if all this work is too much after-hours work for you, consider securing the help of a reputable lawn service. Ask family, friends and neighbors who they use, then call around and start your comparison shopping before making a final decision.

· Accrue A Crew: Once you lawn starts growing, it will need to be groomed and that means moving. And, you’ll likely learn that you like your grass at a certain height, depending not only on your preference but also on the type of grass you have, since experts suggest each type thrives at a different height. Invest in a power mover to help you get the job done quickly and easily and make sure you don’t cut your grass too short. On the other hand, refrain from letting it get too long. The basic rule of thumb is never cutting more than one-third of the leaf blade, which may mean a once a week trimming. But, adjustments to your schedule may be necessary depending on the weather and growth spurts.

Note that it’s also important not to scalp you lawn. In the cooler months of fall and spring, grass should be cut to between 2 and 2 – ½ inches, but in warmer months you can let it stand at 3-1/2 inches for bluegrass. Keep in mind that taller grasses help keep the ground shaded, conserving moisture and preventing weed seeds from taking root.

And, if you don’t have the time or patience for all this work. Or, if you are second-guessing your abilities and capabilities, you should consider hiring a crew to take care of the upkeep.

· Water Wisdom(change this): Most areas are not blessed with perfectly timed rainfall so that means the onus of watering your lawn fall on you. Here are just a few helpful hints for smart saturation.

o Saturate lawn at infrequent intervals. Generally speaking lawns need about an inch of water per week allowing it to penetrate the soil to a depth of 4-6 inches. And, don’t forget to let your lawn dry out completely between intervals. You can even place cans around your yard to measure how quickly you system delivers water and to make sure you are achieving all-around coverage. Note that proper watering can take several hours, so be prepared.

o Try to water in the early morning or early evening when there’s typically less wind and heat. Cool, calm conditions keep evaporation to a minimum, allow for greater soil penetration and limit runoff.

o Remember that most watering systems deliver water to the soil faster than the soil can soak it in. Put your watering on pause if you notice puddles or runoff and allow the water to seep in before resuming. Keep in mind that water gets absorbed differently in different types of soil.

o Make sure to keep newly seeded lawns well watered and moist, especially during the germination process. Experts note that too much wetness can result in a poor germination process. Also, light mulch over the seed can help keep the soil moist. And, as the new lawn grows in, you can cut back on the amount of watering you do. In fact, experts suggest treating you new lawn as an established one after just four to six weeks.

o Newly sodded lawns should be soaked entirely for about two weeks after placement, watering them every day or two. This allows the root system to get firmly established.

Long Island Home & Lifestyle Articles > Lawn And Order: The Secrets Behind Green Grass

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