Carpet of Green
Published in the Toronto Star – April 8, 2017
The colour green is the most restful colour of them all. Makes sense, after all Mother Nature herself chose it to dominate her world.
We are attracted to the chlorophyll that creates green in the natural world around us. We crave it and we want more of it (especially after a Canadian winter).
The lawn in my ten acre garden is not the focal point, but it is important. I have three acres of cut grass. Truth is, nothing takes foot traffic quite like it. It is tough. It is cool, too. Come summer, you will choose to walk barefoot on your lawn, not your asphalt driveway. Guaranteed.
Lawns produce oxygen. An ‘average’ sized lawn, with a fully detached home, produces enough oxygen to support a family of four. In my opinion, let’s not disrespect it if it helps us breathe.
A healthy lawn sequesters carbon, filters toxins out of rain water and is a great place to throw a picnic blanket.
Trouble is, there is a lot of confusion about what works and what is hocus pocus. Let me help. Here are the facts and my recipe for a healthy lawn.
- Fertilize or not? There is a reason why your lawn looks its best early in spring. Our climate suits the needs of quality grass very well. There is lots of moisture in the ground in spring. The soil and evening air is still cool. Grass is a ‘cool season’ crop.
Fertilizer enhances the elements that occur naturally at the root zone of your lawn. Fact is, the ingredients in a quality bag of lawn fertilizer are not required to make your lawn green. Mother Nature will do that for you this time of year without any help. However, ‘quality’ is the keyword and a quality product can make a world of difference over the long haul.
Nitrogen (the first number in the analysis) is craved by your lawn more than anything each spring. If the nitrogen in your lawn fertilizer is ‘slow release’ it will green up quickly and stay that way for up to 10 weeks.
Iron provides the fastest possible green up. Look for ‘chelated’ iron as grass plants will absorb it efficiently. Not so with other ‘iron’ products. Also, look for iron that will not stain your driveway or deck.
- Lawn Recovery. Snow mould, dog burn ‘spots’ (yeah female dogs!) or thin patches of grass all need attention in April. A lawn recovery product is applied through your lawn fertilizer spreader. It contains fertilizer and features pelletized compost (the same stuff that you put out at the end of your driveway last fall, only reconstituted) and grass seed. After you spread it, the dry compost swells on contact with moisture (either rain or water that you apply) and provides a medium for the grass seed to germinate and grow. The fertilizer sustains the newly germinated grass plants for about 3 weeks, at which time you should apply a slow release lawn fertilizer.
‘Lawn recovery’ is a substitute for bags of lawn soil and grass seed. Mind you, if you would rather spread quality soil over thin patches on your lawn, apply quality grass seed, rake it smooth, step on it or roll it to bring the seed/soil in firm contact, then go for it. This method has worked for generations.
- Roll and aerate? Not likely. Only aerate your lawn if it is compacted. Heavy foot traffic will squeeze the air out of the soil and prevent the roots of grass plants from breathing. I recommend a small hand-aerator for this job. Rolling your lawn only compacts the soil further so forget about it.
- Grass seed? Applying quality grass seed to the thin patches in your lawn can really help to green it up and sustain it through the season but I emphasise ‘quality’. Remember that the pedigree of your lawn is in the bag. Buy the cheap stuff and get a cheap lawn. I use seed with ‘Surestart Xtreme’ as it germinates in 7 days and produces deeper roots than average grass seed.
The key to growing grass seed is to use soil that is weed free and contains lots of organic compost for the seed to root into and to keep it wet long enough to put a root down to sustain itself.
Let’s hope that we don’t get the extended drought that we did last summer. If we do, consider watering your lawn no more than once a week but water it deeply. If drought conditions persist I recommend that you not water your lawn at all. Let it go dormant and apply grass seed and soil come mid August when days are shorter, evenings cooler and morning dew is heavy.
If you fertilized your lawn early and late in the spring you may be surprised at how well it comes through a long hot summer. Satisfying long term results occur when you pay attention to lawn health at this time of year.