Answers to your gardening questions
effective Deer Fence!
'Bout Time To "Do" Your
Welcome through Fred's Garden Gate! Cool weather is fast-approaching! Guess what grows best when the old thermometer dives for the 50s and 60s? That's right...GRASS! Most lawns put on a fall flush of growth rivaled only by that of early spring. Its amazing what cooler temperatures and a little water will do.
There's still plenty of time left to renovate your old lawn or plant a new one. Any time you can spare to deal with this year's problems and bare spots will not only improve the looks of the place, it'll pay off next spring with a lawn that'll emerge a rich carpet of verdant green. So this time let's look a little closer at one of the least-expensive, yet most cost effective ways to really dress up the front yard.
First comes an evaluation, which includes a quick soil test for pH. Litmus paper from most garden centers or scientific stores is an inexpensive way to get a rough idea of the acidity/alkalinity condition of your turf's bed. Some nurseries will at least, they should also test a sample for you - free of charge. Small electronic pH meters are reasonably accurate, and are available at under $20.
Chances are that some lime will be in order, considering acid rain, acid snow, acid fertilizers and the normally-acid condition of most New England soils. Adjust pH to about 6.5 to 7.0 with a calcium-based lime unless a professional soil test indicates that your soil has a magnesium deficiency. In that case, apply a magnesium-based lime.
Soil preparation is next on the agenda. Simply scattering a little seed on bare, unprepared ground won't cut it - there must be good soil/seed contact. Barely scratching the surface of bare spots with a rake before scattering seed won't cut it either. Dig down at least four inches, adding organic matter, a little sand and some high-phosphorus fertilizer. Smooth the surface, slightly above surrounding soil (the new spot will settle, in time), sow new seed evenly, lightly rake in and then cover with a thin layer of grain straw (oat, barley, wheat). Field hay isn't a good idea because it's usually full of weed and invasive grass seed. I dont recommend peat moss as a seed-cover because if the stuff dries out, itll take a lot to get it wet again.
If, however, your "lawn" no longer contains much grass, or has been devastated by animal urine or white grubs (the larvae of insects like June bugs and Japanese beetles), it might be best to rip the whole plot out and begin, again, from scratch.
An herbicide could be used to destroy all old, invasive weeds but, remember, they've produced seeds which are lying just below the surface, waiting for an opportunity to germinate. Ideally, old turf should be totally removed and the soil completely re-built and deep-spaded with new organic matter, sand, lime and fertilizer. A rototiller serves the purpose of final surface "finishing" best and, if you don't have one of your own, they can be rented from equipment rental businesses or local farm and garden stores.
Once amended and tilled, rake the surface smooth and level, and allow it to "settle" for a few days.
Use either a rotary or drop-type spreader to sow grass seed. Sow half your seed in one direction, then cover the same ground again in the opposite direction. That will insure uniform coverage. Lightly rake it in and cover evenly with grain straw at the rate of one large or two small bales for every 1,000 square feet of new lawn. You should be able to see about 50% bare ground after covering. Don't heap straw in random lumps or you'll end up with a "lawn" of random spots.
A seed mix of about one part Kentucky bluegrass and five parts tall fescue is a good performer. If your lawn is in heavier shade, add one part of fine-leaf fescue. Some gardeners like the appearance and flowers of clover, and that can be added to the mix as well. Clover not only looks nice, it also provides an extra source of nitrogen for the lawn. The down side: clover attracts bees; bees have stings and venom!
Consistent moisture is important for the first couple of weeks while seed germinates and sends its roots down. Gradually decreasing water as the grass grows will force roots to go deep, leaving you with a more drought-tolerant lawn.
In about three weeks after seeding and successful germination, feed again with a balanced fertilizer like 10-10-10 (or a natural equivalent), watered in thoroughly.
Put off mowing until the new grass has reached a height of four to six inches, and mow tall - setting the cutting blade to something in the range of 2-1/2 to 3 inches. You'll end up with a thicker, plusher lawn which will tolerate heavier traffic and tough conditions (like the gardener forgetting to water).
Allowing fall leaves to remain on a new lawn is not a good idea. A tip: if you mow leaves along with lawn clippings—into a grass-catcher—it's almost a perfect mix of "browns" and "greens" for active, hot, biological composting. There's also a full chapter on composting in Keys to the Garden Gate. Your complimentary copy is waiting for you.
Come spring, do a light, clean-up raking, feed again with a balanced fertilizer and your new or rejuvenated lawn is off and running... and looking great while adding aesthetic value to the entire neighborhood.
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