Sunday, April 23, 2017
Easy Care Lawns My Way
I'm the sort of person who'll spend a significant effort in the short run to avoid far more effort and expense in the long run. So it has become with the management of the 2500-2800 sq feet of lawn on my 120' x 60' home lot. It didn't take me many years to become disillusioned with the more heavily media advertised lawn care products and redirect my attention to more "organic" options.
I've always been something of a techie and interested in the science of what I'm trying to manage in my life at any time. I found that there was significant knowledge of that sort related to lawns readily available with a little searching. In fact there is a lot of capacity to avoid effort and cost in lawn care available with relatively little knowledge.
The number 1 thing one needs to know about lawns as we Americans are lead to see them is that they are not something that can be found in nature with any regularity.
The number 2 thing to know is that you must assume that generally the heavier a lawn care product is advertised, the better your buying it serves it's maker and vendors versus your actual needs!
Fertilizers are an excellent example. By far the most heavily advertised lawn fertilizers are those with the highest Nitrogen content. Something that evades most folks attention when they approach the business of lawn care is that 79% of the air they breath is nitrogen! Lawn fertilizer that's 20% or more soluble nitrogen is not only wasteful and productive of leaching and runoff of contamination into ground and surface water but can often be toxic to the bacteria normally occurring in the soil that fixes atmospheric nitrogen. Too much of anything is toxic to something.
One other factor in managing a lawn that is not very often mentioned is soil PH, the acidity or alkalinity of the soil on a 1 to 14 scale. 7 is completely neutral PH. Most plants require a slightly acid PH (less than 7) Simply put most lawn grasses thrive at a higher PH than most broad-leaf weeds. Therefor you want to manage the PH to stable in the 6.5 to 6.8 range.
How? Granulated lawn lime is readily available at low cost. I mix about 1 to 2 pints of it per drop spreader load of fertilizer which is an ~ 50/50 mix of Lawn Restore and Milorganite. I usually include 1-2 cups of Ironite in the mix to add a little mineral content. In the fall I increase the lime content to compensate for the mildly acidifying influence of the autumn leaves. I mulching mode mow them down in tiny fragments to the soil surface where they fall. The leaf fragments are very good food for the indwelling beneficial soil building organisms..The Lawn Restore carries cultures of some beneficials.
Another example is the predominance of bluegrass in most readily available lawn grass seed mixtures. In fact bluegrass is by far NOT the only class of turf grass varieties that can produce that deep green lawn color we all know and love in lawn care commercials. Most bluegrass varieties tend to be some of the more shallow rooting grasses available and as such, much more susceptible to drought and heat damage.
Not many years into home ownership I turned to tall fescue varieties and then to endophytic tall fescues. Both tend to be some of the deepest rooting turf grasses with the enhanced nature of the endophytics the deepest rooting. Endophytic refers to having a beneficial fungus (the endophyte) transferred via spore in the seed that grows within the plant enhancing water and nutrient distribution and producing a plant eater toxin that kills all attacking bugs and grubs. The variety mix I generally use grows roots up to 6 feet deep.
After years of over-seeding with these grasses, I only water my lawn when a neighbors' large dog emptying it's bladder kills a patch that needs re-seeding and extra water to get going.
Just like virtually all things earthly there are a couple of disadvantages(?) with these grasses. The extremely valuable endophyte in spore form tends not to survive in the seeds for more than 1 -1 1/2 years after the seed is harvested. Seeds with dead endophyte will sprout as well as other types but lack the enhanced quality the endophyte would provide. Secondly, since the endophyte infuses the plant with plant-eater toxin, most concentrated at the base of the plant, ANY animal grazing on it will be rendered somewhat temporarily less healthy. Some friends of mine have well loved dogs that graze on their lawns almost like sheep. This grass is not a wise choice for them.
See the following previous posts related to lawn care: