Tag: lawn

21st Century Lawn

In the midst of upheaval as the climate changes, one thing is certain: our weather patterns have turned severe. This shift has us modifying the way we garden so we can accommodate these environmental extremes and perhaps show Mother Nature a little TLC at the same time. The lawn in particular is seeing a revolution. From eco-friendly maintenance practices to alternative "grasses",� lawns are making the leap into the 21st century.

The first step toward growing a 21st century lawn is to change your image of what a lawn should look like. A lawn can be a mix of grass types or perhaps a groundcover. If you want the traditional turf, adjust your expectations from pristine to a more Zen appearance. During periods of drought, it’s okay for your grass to brown up and accepting that maybe a weed or two is acceptable if it means you can avoid using harsh herbicide. Does your lawn really have to be the uniform velvet green only achieved through heavy applications of chemical fertilizers? Additionally, a side benefit for your mental health is that it can be quite liberating to let go of the idea of the golf-course perfect, traditional lawn.

The contemporary lawn is low maintenance.

Maintenance of a 21st Century Lawn

Watering a Lawn

  • An actively growing lawn needs one inch of water per week.
  • Deep soak once or twice a week rather than performing frequent light waterings to promote strong root growth.
  • A professionally installed irrigation system is ideal, but you can easily set up a series of oscillating sprinkler heads connected with garden hoses.
  • Use a water timer and set it for between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m. This prevents moisture evaporation during the heat of the day and gives the lawn an opportunity to dry before nightfall, a time when fungi are most active.
  • If your city is under water restrictions and your area is experiencing a lack of rain, taper off the frequency of watering and let the grass go dormant. It will green up again when the rain returns.

Troy-Bilt Riding Lawn Mower

Mowing a Lawn

  • Raise your mower blade to cut a maximum of 1/3 off the grass. Mowing high keeps roots cool and helps the grass retain its moisture. The longer blades also increase photosynthesis making for a healthier lawn. Additionally, taller grass chokes out more weeds and is more tolerant of drought.
  • Mow once a week to stimulate growth when rain is plentiful. Conversely, cut back on mowing during a drought when the grass is stressed from lack of water.
  • Mow in a different pattern each week for a clean cut and to prevent grass from growing in one direction.
  • Mow when the grass is completely dry and leave the clippings to add organic matter and nitrogen back into the soil.

Nutrients for a Healthy Lawn

  • Your new mantra is to feed the soil not the grass. Healthy soil promotes healthy roots and healthy roots make for lush plants.
  • Top dress your lawn with compost to improve soil quality, increase moisture retention and increase organic matter. Rake a 1/4-inch thick layer of compost over the grass and water it in.

Ornamental Grass Groundcover as an Alternative Lawn

Grass Alternatives

The mono-species, carpet of green that most people envision when they hear the word lawn is a relatively new concept. Before WWII most lawns were made up of a mixture of grasses, clover and what, until the past several years, we’d consider weeds. The introduction of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides coupled with a heavy migration to the suburbs birthed the notion of a weed-free, plush expanse of grass. With the rise of organics and a preference for earth-friendly methods, the pre-WWII lawn is seeing a renaissance.

Alternative Grass Lawn at P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Farm

Drought-tolerant Varieties
Fine-bladed fescues and buffalo grass are just two of the many options available that are more able to withstand infrequent watering.

Mix Clover with Grass to Add Nitrogen

Miniature Clovers
Miniature clovers are popular because they are low maintenance and because they add nitrogen back to the soil. There has been resurgence of the pre-WWII lawn and a mix of clover and grass will continue to grow in popularity in the 21st century.

Moss is a Good Groundcover in Shady Areas

For a shady area with acidic soil, moss will do wonders as a groundcover. You can purchase moss starter mixes or just make your own by blending 1 part moss, 3 parts beer and 1 part white sugar.

Growing Grass in the Shade

What would be the best kind of grass to grow in an area that is partial shade?
Midgeville, GA

Your question is very timely because I just spent a few days at a grass research farm in Oregon and this very topic came up in a discussion.

In order to answer your question I think it is important to first understand the problem. In shady areas low light, poor air circulation and competition for water and nutrients combine to create an environment that is inhospitable to grass. Grass needs at least 4 hours of sunlight to produce enough energy for healthy growth and to defend itself against disease. If the area in question has less than 4 hours of sunlight I suggest planting a shade tolerant ground cover or consulting a tree trimming expert about removing a few limbs to allow more light into the space. If you have high shade, dapple shade or partial shade with more than 4 hours of light, you can grow grass. It won’t be as thick as a lawn in full sun, but based on the test lawns I saw at the grass farm it can be quite lovely.

A research technician at the grass farm gave me a few tips on how to grow a beautiful green lawn in shady areas.

Grass Selection
While grass does best with plenty of sunlight, some types have proven to be more shade tolerant than others. Here are some choices based on the region of the country where you live. Cool season grasses are typically grown in northern areas of the country, started from seed in either spring or early fall. Many southern gardeners can also sow cool season grasses in the fall for a green lawn from winter through late spring. Cool season grasses that do well in shade include fine fescue, turf type tall fescue, and perennial rye. Look for blends of cool season grass seeds designed specifically for shade. Warm season grasses are grown primarily in the south. They are grown in summer and go dormant in winter. The best warm season grass for shade is St. Augustine, but some varieties of zoysia such as ‘Cavalier’ will tolerate light shade. Warm season grasses should be planted in mid-spring to early summer.

Turf grasses grown in shade need about half the nitrogen as those grown in full sun. Apply the fertilizer at 1 pound per 1,000 ft2 in late spring after the grass has begun to green up. In the early fall feed again. If you are establishing a new lawn use a starter fertilizer. A soil test is recommended to help you determine the best starter blend for your situation.

When mowing the grass in shady areas, raise your mower blade so that it cuts the grass to about 3 inches tall. The extra grass length increases the amount of leaf tissue available for photosynthesis, the process that produces energy for the plant. But don’t allow the grass to become overgrown and scraggly. Removing more than 1/3 of the plant at a time will cause root shock. This slows root development and weakens the grass.

Grass is competing with neighboring trees and shrubs for moisture so you want to provide adequate water without over watering and promoting fungus. Water deeply to prevent shallow root development and then give the area some time to dry out between waterings.

To learn more about shade gardens, check out the video below!

Improve Your Autumn Lawn Plan

This morning I noticed the autumn dew collecting on the grass. The sunlight shimmering on the blades reminded me that it is time to turn my attention towards lawn care.

Taking a few simple steps now will ensure that my grass goes into winter with everything it needs to emerge lush and green next spring.

Here are a few tips for preparing your lawn for the upcoming season.

Fall Lawn Fertilizer

Most plants don’t need feeding at the end of the summer, but turf grass is an exception. An application of fertilizer at this time promotes strong root development – good news for your grass as we head into winter. For cool season grasses (northern states) spread fertilizer in early September. Feed warm season grasses (southern) in early September and mid-October. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and water thoroughly after applying.

To do my part to reduce chemical runoff I like to use an organic lawn food, especially one that is phosphorous-free.

Fall Lawn Mowing

If you dislike mowing as much as I do, then you know the inclination to lower the mower blade in the fall is strong. I tend to think that if I cut the grass down to the roots I’ll be done mowing for the year. For a healthy lawn, resist this temptation and continue to cut your grass to about 2 inches tall. It is also best to remove the grass clipping because cool, wet weather can turn them into mush.

Improve the Soil pH to Eliminate Mushrooms and Moss

If you have problems with moss or mushrooms in your lawn, fall is an ideal time to apply agricultural lime or dolomite to improve the pH and prevent these two problems.

Sundial on a Grassy Terrace

Overseeding Grass in Fall

If you have bare patches in your lawn or wish to establish a new lawn, mid September is the time to sow grass seed. Check with your local county extension service for the best type for your area. Be sure to purchase top quality seed and prepare the soil by tilling and working in organic matter. Keep the area adequately moist while the seeds germinate and get established. When reseeding spots within the lawn choose a seed variety will match the existing turf in color and texture.

Laying Sod in Fall

This is a great time of year to create a new lawn or re-sod an old one. You just want to give your new lawn plenty of time to acclimate before it gets too cold. To prepare the area first kill any existing grass or weeds with a nonselective herbicide. Once the vegetation has died, till the area to loosen the soil. Sod will root best in moist soil so gently shower the area with water before you put down the grass down. It is easy to forget to water during the fall but you should keep the area consistently moist until the grass gets established.

Fall Leaves on your Lawn

Wouldn’t it be nice if fallen leaves insulated grass from cold winter temperatures? Unfortunately leaves left on the lawn are not helpful and can actually be harmful. It is important to remove dead leaves because over time they will form a dense mat that smothers your grass. So get out the rake, add the leaves to your compost pile and keep reminding yourself all the great rich soil that will come from your efforts.

Dethatching and Aerating your Lawn

Our lawns benefit from an occasional loosening up, so to speak. Over time the soil gets compacted and thatch builds up. Thatch is un-decomposed grass roots and stems that collect and compound, weaving a mat around the blades of grass. To check the level of thatch in your lawn dig down about 3 inches deep and remove a piece of turf. What you will see is a brown root like material sitting between the soil and the green grass. A thin layer of thatch, less than 1/2 an inch, is good for your lawn. It increases durability, prevents weeds and retains moisture. Anything over this amount needs to be removed. If you have a small lawn and less than 3/4 of an inch of thatch, you can remove it by simply raking it up.

If you have clay or highly compacted soil you may need to go the extra step of aerating your lawn. Be sure to do this before the end of September. It will take about 3 weeks for the grass to recover from the process. To aerate your lawn you can either rent a machine, hire a professional or, if you are working in a small area use, a pitch fork. Push the pitchfork into the ground at a 45 degree angle about 4 inches deep. Then rock the fork back and forth to loosen the soil.

Controlling Annual Lawn Weeds

My best advice about weeds is to know your enemy. Is it an annual, biennial or perennial? Apply a pre-emergent now to prevent annual weeds and a post emergent later in the season to kill annual weeds that escaped the pre-emergent as well as perennial and biennial weeds.

Controlling Perennial Lawn Weeds

One of the best ways to knock down many perennial weeds such as dandelions, clover and ground ivy is to use spot applications of herbicide. These types of unwanted plants are taking in nutrients to create food and storing it in their roots for winter. Herbicides applied in the fall go quickly to the roots right along with the nutrients.

Managing Lawn Diseases

Fungi often thrive during the cool and moist autumn weather. Diseases such as Brown Patch, Take-All Root Rot, Snow Mold or Fusarium Patch are prevalent during this time. Check with your local garden centers for the best treatments in your area.

Turf Grass 101

While I’m all about replacing a high maintenance lawn with more carefree plantings, I believe there is a place for turf grass in the garden. I like to use grass for paths, as a green divider between flower beds and it’s nice to have a small patch for outdoor entertaining or just lazing around watching the clouds roll by. Small scale lawns are easy to keep happy and healthy without making a big impact on the environment as long as you choose the right grass type, mow correctly, water and fertilize.

For starters, you want to make sure you are growing the right grass for your area. Like any other plant, you have to choose a variety that will work for your zone.

Close up of zoysia grass

Turf grass is divided into two basic categories – cool or warm season. Cool season grasses do better in climates with mild summers and cold winters. Warm season grasses do best with hot summers and mild winters.

Regardless of whether the type of grass you select is cool or warm season, another thing to consider is how much sun your lawn gets. Most varieties require full to partial sun, but there are a few that will tolerate shade. Foot traffic should be taken into account as well; some grasses are more delicate than others.

To get your lawn going, you will either want to seed or sod. Seeding is cheaper but takes longer to get established. Sodding provides an instant lawn but it’s more expensive and vulnerable to drought before it takes root. Regardless of how you go about getting your grass started, it’s important to fertilize to ensure the best possible results. I use Jobe’s Organic Lawn Food because it feeds my lawn naturally. It’s made without synthetic chemicals and it’s also phosphorus-free so it won’t harm the environment.

P. Allen Smith Pushing a Fertilizer

Once your lawn is in full swing, all it really needs is water, regular mowing and the occasional re-fertilizing.

Summer Lawn Care

The dog days of summer are just around the corner and these can be hard times for our gardens. When temperatures soar and rain becomes scarce I receive an influx of questions about maintaining a beautiful lawn.

Now, this is an understandable concern because lawns are a valuable asset, just as the other shrubs and trees around your home. If you don’t think so, just try spending the time, money and energy to replace one. It’s no small job. Here are a few tips that may help bring your grass through the summer.

When mowing, leave the blades of your grass slightly longer by just a couple of inches. This will help shade their roots and reduced moisture evaporation from the soil. So raise the blades on your lawn mower.

Next, it’s best to water in early morning, very early, like at 5 a.m. This gives the lawn an opportunity to dry before nightfall, a time when types of fungus are most active. This is also usually a non-peak time for most communities’ water supply. It’s also much better to water heavily a few times a week than to water lightly more often. You see deep soaking encourages deep root growth, where as light watering encourages the roots to stay close to the surface of the soil, making your lawn more susceptible to heat and drought.

Another thing to keep in mind is an actively growing lawn this time of year will require about an inch to an inch and a half of water per week. This of course will depend on your soil type. Sandy soils require more water; clay soils require less.

I hold off on the fertilizer this time of year, as this would only promote growth, which means more watering and mowing. This fall I will apply a fertilizer high in potassium to encourage strong root development and help prepare the grass for winter. It’s best to fertilize just after the lawn has been mowed and when the grass is dry. I use a spreader to get an even distribution. I set the gauge to a low setting and go over the area several times, overlapping each pass. Then I just water it in.

With all the traffic my lawn is getting I sometimes get sunken places and the lawn mower drops down and skins off the grass. But there is a simple solution for this that I picked up on the golf course.

Just mix five shovelfulls of sand to one shovelfull of seed to about a cup of slow release of fertilizer. And I like to add about a shovel full of sterilized topsoil from the garden center for a little more nutrition. Now if your lawn grass is the variety that puts out little runners or stolens like a hybrid Bermuda or St. Augustine, you don’t even have to bother with the seed just use the sand/topsoil mixture. Those little runners will knit together and cover it in no time.

Lawns can be a source of pride; just don’t let the summer heat get the most of it and you.

Rejuvenating Your Lawn

Whether you’ve inherited someone else’s less than perfect lawn or yours has just gotten away from you, early fall is the time to get to work on giving your turf grass a new lease on life. The soil is still warm from summer, but the air is cooler – perfect conditions for germination. Plus when grass seed is planted in the fall, the seedlings have the entire fall and spring to become established before hot, dry summer weather sets in.

Take a minute to evaluate the condition of your lawn to determine if you need to scrap the whole area and start over, revitalize the existing grass or just patch a few spots.

Patching Bare Spots in a Lawn

Sometimes a bare spots can develop due to foot traffic, pets, or weeds. Reseeding these areas is simple.

  • Mix 5 parts sand, 1 part sterilized, commercial soil and 1 part seed. To this add some slow release fertilizer. The instructions on the package will help you determine the amount but to give you some idea use 1 cup in 5 shovelfulls of sand, 1 shovel full of soil and 1 shovel full of seed.
  • Cut the existing vegetation close to the ground and loosen the soil with a rake. Remove any weeds.
  • Cover the spot with the seed mix about 1/4 inch deep.
  • Water.

Revitalizing an Existing Lawn

In cool climates you can do this anytime in late August or very early September. In regions where summers are hot, wait until right after the heat breaks.

  • Mow the existing grass close and go over the entire area with a rake.
  • Dig out perennial weeds such as dandelions.
  • Loosen hard packed areas where the grass has died out.
  • Work compost or humus into the top few inches of soil in these areas.
  • Top dress the entire lawn with a mix of one part commercial manure, one part humus and two parts top soil. Apply the soil blend over the entire area about 1/4 inch deep.
  • Work the soil into the existing grass.
  • Water.
  • Broadcast the seed evenly. Use a grass seed that matches your existing turf or contact your local cooperative extension service for the best type of grass for your area.
  • Tamp down the area to ensure good seed to soil contact.
  • Water with a sprinkler so the area receives at least 1 inch of water. Place an empty tuna can on the ground to help measure how much water you’ve applied.
  • Keep the area moist until the grass is established. Don’t let the soil dry out even for a day. To help retain moisture apply a thin, even layer of loose, weed-free straw mulch.

Allen Examining Lawn

Planting a New Lawn

You can do the soil prep on this project in August and then sow the grass seeds in early fall.

  • Mow the existing vegetation close to the ground and dig it under. This will eventually decay and add nutrients back into the soil.
  • Remove stones and other debris.
  • Grade the area to smooth it out. It doesn’t have to be completely level, just evened out.
  • Work commercial manure or compost into the soil about 3 inches deep.
  • Before sowing seed or laying the sod, wet the area. If you prepared the soil in advance, break up the surface. Remove any weeds that survived the initial preparation.
  • If sowing seed, divide the area into large squares. Go over each square twice, the second pass at a right angle to the first.
  • Water with a sprinkler so the area receives at least 1 inch of water. Place an empty tuna can on the ground to help measure how much water you’ve applied.
  • Keep the area moist until the grass is established. Don’t let the soil dry out even for a day. To help retain moisture apply a thin even layer of loose weed-free straw mulch.

Things to Consider When Sowing Grass Seeds

Sow grass seeds about 45 days before the first hard freeze in your area.

For even coverage of the grass seed use a drop spreader. If you don’t want to purchase a spreader, most garden centers will rent you one for the day.

Germination time for grass seed varies from 7-21 days, depending on soil temperatures and seed species. During this time be sure to keep the area moist. If the weather is dry you may need to water lightly several times a day until the seedlings are about 1 inch tall.

Grass should be cut for the first time when it has reached 3-4". Mower blade should be sharp. After the third cutting, water 1-2 times per week, applying a total of 1" of water.

Most turf grass prefers a slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Test the soil with a simple pH soil kit to check if your soil is acid or alkaline. If acid (a pH of 6 or less), apply a fast-acting dolomite lime at the rate of 50 pounds per 1000 square feet. If alkaline (a pH of 7 or higher), apply a granular gypsum at the rate of 50 lbs per 1,000 square feet.


Technology has never been my favorite subject. All the new gizmos and widgets that supposedly make our lives easier are rarely on my radar, much less my shopping list. I’ll take pen and paper over a keyboard any day and a letter will always be my preferred form of correspondence.

But this embargo against the latest and greatest in technology stops short when it comes to gardening. I’m always interested in what’s new in the gardening world. Earlier this fall I was delighted to receive a demonstration in a process that I think will become very beneficial to home gardeners. It’s called hydroseeding.

Hydroseeding is not a new technology; highway departments and commercial developers have been using this method of seeding large areas for years. But within the last decade advancements in machine size and capabilities have made this process accessible to home gardeners.

Here is how it works. The seed of your choice is mixed with a liquid called ‘slurry,’ which is made from recycled newspapers, green dye, water retentive polymers, and fertilizer. The slurry and seed are sprayed onto the prepared ground using a large hose. Everything is included in one step, so all you need to do is prepare the soil. The slurry dries into a paper mache-like blanket that holds moisture and controls erosion while allowing the soil beneath the covering to breath. Because the slurry stays in place, it is a great solution for gardeners trying to establish grass or wildflowers on a severe slope.

Depending on the rainfall, you should see germination within 2 or 3 weeks after hydroseeding and have a full lawn in 4 to 6 weeks!

5 Steps to Grow Cool Season Grasses for a Winter Lawn

Cool Season GrassesThere’s just something about a velvety lawn that captures the American heart. For me a swathe of lush green grass symbolizes leisure time – a place to set up a lawn chair and read, play a game of croquet or walk barefoot, feeling the cool blades between my toes.

In terms of garden design, lawns offer a smooth carpet-like texture to balance out the frenetic blooms and foliage in the beds and borders. In my own garden, I have a wide path of lawn that cuts through the middle of two mixed borders. And in the middle of the rondel garden, I have a large circle of zoyisa grass that anchors four bordering beds filled with colorful annuals and perennials.

In my zone 7 garden, I grow the warm season grass called zoysia Cavalier’. Similar to Bermuda and St. Augustine it stays green all summer, but goes dormant in winter. This year I’ve decided to try my hand at overseeding my lawn with a cool season grass such as fescue, rye or bluegrass. These types of grasses will stay green throughout winter and well into spring. If you live a cooler climate, these grasses will stay green for you all year round.

To get some advice about overseeding my lawn I visited the experts at Pennington Seed. I discovered that these folks know everything there is to know about growing and maintaining beautiful grass.

I toured their research farm in Portland, Oregon to get some tips for greening up my lawn for winter with cool season grasses. Here’s some of the information they passed along.

Autumn is the Perfect Time to Start
Late summer through mid-October is a great time to establish a new lawn or overseed an existing lawn. All warm season grasses can be overseeded in fall with the exception of centipede grass. Centipede resents the root competition. You’ll want to sow the seeds about 45 days before the first hard frost. Although cool season grasses can be sown in spring, fall is even better. The soil is still warm from summer, but the air is cooler – perfect conditions for germination. Plus when grass seed is planted in the fall, the seedlings have the entire fall and spring to become established before hot, dry summer weather sets in.

Test Your Soil
Test the soil with a simple pH soil kit to check if your soil is acid or alkaline. If acid (a pH of 6 or less), apply a fast-acting dolomite lime at the rate of 50 pounds per 1000 square feet. If alkaline (a pH of 7 or higher), apply a granular gypsum at the rate of 50 lbs per 1,000 square feet.

Prepare the Area
For overseeding a lawn, mow the existing grass as closely as possible.

Lightly rake or aerate the soil where the turf is growing to allow the new seed to make contact with the soil. If your lawn has a heavy thatch (compacted dead grass and roots) it will need to be removed.

Sowing the Seeds
For even coverage of the grass seed use a spreader. If you don’t want to purchase a spreader, most garden centers will rent you one for the day. A drop spreader is preferable to a broadcast spreader because it allows for better control of where the seed is distributed, which is especially important if you are sowing around flower beds.

Calibrate the amount of seed to be broadcast before you get started. You will find the recommended application rate on the grass seed package, adjust the spreader accordingly.

Rake the grass seed into the area to get good seed to soil contact.

Water the area.

Do not apply any type of herbicide or pre-emergent until approximately 3-4 weeks after planting. These chemicals can burn the tender seedlings.

Germination time for grass seed varies from 7-21 days, depending on soil temperatures and seed species. During this time be sure to keep the area consistently moist.

Water lightly several times a day until the seedlings are about 1 inch tall. At this point the grass should be watered thoroughly once a day. Maintain this schedule until the grass has been cut 3 times.

Grass should be cut for the first time when it has reached 3-4″. Mower blade should be sharp. After the third cutting, water 1-2 times per week, applying a total of 1″ of water.