Lawns — published on April 23, 2011

A Lawn of Curb Appeal

Revive your lawn after a long winter, and watch it thrive

Winter can be hard on your lawn. While a healthy layer of snow acts as an insulating blanket for your grass, the melting snow often reveals brown or patchy spots where cold, ice and wind teamed up to do damage.

“Spring maintenance using a proper top dress and environmentally-friendly weed control will restore your lawn from its winter slumber and prevent weed growth as the temperatures climb,” says Tammy Lawrence, president of Turf Revolution. “It’s important consumers and lawn-care contractors are aware of what they are spreading on their grass if they want to ensure they have a healthy, green lawn this summer.”

Here are some springtime tips to build the ultimate lawn this summer:

Core Aeration: Aeration in the spring will combat soil compaction, ensuring oxygen, water and nutrients to reach the roots.
Soil test A soil test will help identify the deficiencies in your soil, helping you pick the right product that will improve your lawn and ensure healthy growth throughout the year.

Overseed: Overseeding is a crucial step to achieve a thick, lush lawn. It is an easy way to fill in bare patches and to establish improved grass varieties and enhance your lawn’s colour and density.

Topdress: Turf Revolution’s all-natural Revive & Thrive 2-0-2 with Asco 3-in-1 Topdressing and Repair uses granulated compost from leaf and yard waste to support a certified seed blend and fertilized with a 100% marine plant extract to improve seed germination and promote root development. Application in early spring will enhance the beneficial microbes in your lawn, increasing the organic matter, and will prohibit the growth of worms. Its all-natural ingredients are safe for children and pets.

Fertilize: A 100% all-natural organic fertilizer is not only safe around pets and children, but it also encourages the growth of both grass and the organisms necessary to promote healthy plant growth.

Any spring lawn care program should also include a weed control aspect to prohibit the spread of unsightly weeds like dandelions and crabgrasses. Ontario residents have been unable, by law, to apply chemical pesticides and herbicides to their lawns since Earth Day 2008, meaning they have to find organic, environmentally-friendly alternatives if they want a lawn that is free from invasive weeds.

Phosphate-free Corn Gluten Meal 9-0-0 is a 100% natural alternative for weed control. Turf Revolution uses corn meal derived from the wet milling of corn, ensuring it has at least 60% inhibitory protein – making it among the most effective all-natural pre-emergent weed controls available.

“Corn Gluten Meal effectively stops root formation at the germination stage,” Lawrence says. “It is perfect for use on established lawns in large or small venues, from your backyard to the neighbourhood soccer field to golf courses to sod farms.”

For more information, visit www.turfrevolution.com.

Lawns — published on May 2, 2008

Lawns 101

Much has been said and written about whether or not we should rethink our passion for the home lawn. There is general agreement that where summer rains are adequate and a well-adapted variety of grass is grown, a lawn makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, summer rains are becoming less adequate to support a lush, green stand of grass in the Toronto area.

While acknowledging the validity of these points, no surface is better suited to outdoor living and game playing than a grass lawn. And few (if any) are more beautiful. Viewed from that perspective, the bigger the lawn, the better! The most practical and thoughtful opinions have suggested that a lawn is well worth the energy and expense it requires, if it is actively used as a surface for outdoor living and playing.

If, however, you do not intend to use the lawn for game-playing and entertaining, by all means consider planting another type of ground cover, one well adapted to your area. Once ground covers are established, they require far less maintenance than a lawn. Ground covers make perfect sense when all you require is an even visual expanse of green to fill in the area between the house and the fence.

If you determine that a grass lawn makes sense for your yard, planting the right variety of grass at the right time of year will go a long way in making yours a healthy, easy-care lawn. If the healthiest, best-looking lawn with the least amount of maintenance is your goal (and why shouldn’t it be?), here’s some guidance.

Practical, Eco-Friendly Lawn Maintenance

If you’ve decided on the traditional lawn, there are four steps you can take to reduce its high-maintenance requirements and all but eliminate any negative environmental impact.

Instead of bagging the lawn clippings, let them compost in place, right on the lawn. Research has shown that leaving the clippings on the lawn actually benefits the soil and the lawn. As the clippings decompose, they improve the structure of the soil and return nitrogen to the lawn.

The shorter the clippings, the more easily they fall to the soil (as opposed to lying on top of the grass), and the more quickly they decompose. Optimally, you should never cut more than one-third off the total height of the grass. This means you may need to mow your lawn on a slightly more frequent schedule, but it’s a small price to pay for improving the health of your lawn while eliminating the effort involved in bagging and hauling clippings around the yard.

Second, never apply too much fertilizer at once, and use only slow- or controlled-release fertilizers. Look for a high percentage of “WIN” nitrogen on the bag (that stands for “water-insoluble nitrogen”), or chose fertilizers from natural sources, such as manure. Other forms of nitrogen may provide a quick green-up, but they are so highly soluble that much of the nitrogen leaches through to the soil without the grass ever having a chance to use it. These soluble forms of nitrogen, such as ammonium sulfate, have caused problems by polluting groundwater and nearby streams and lakes.

Relax your standards somewhat regarding what you consider to be weeds. No less than the great American horticulturist, Liberty Hyde Bailey, wrote in 1898: “The man who worries morning and night about dandelions in the lawn will find great relief in loving the dandelions. Each blossom is worth more than a gold coin, as it shimmers in exuberant sunlight of the growing spring, and attracts the bees to its bosom. Little children love the dandelions: why not we? Love the things nearest at hand; and love intensely.”

Instead of trying to achieve that nearly impossible perfect grass lawn, completely free of dandelions, crabgrass, clover, and whatnot, why not leave the herbicides on the shelf and simply enjoy what you’ve got? A lawn with a few weeds in it is not going to stop anyone from having a grand time playing touch football, badminton, or hide-and-seek. Leave perfection to the greenskeepers and their putting greens.

Finally, if insect pests become a serious problem in your lawn, opt for a natural control. Great strides have been made in the science of organic pesticides. Today there is an effective, natural control product available for every lawn pest. These products make sense not only from an environmental point of view, but from a personal one. All you have to do is imagine the number of times kids fall facedown in the grass during an active game of volleyball or football, or just how close babies or toddlers are to the lawn as they crawl or wobble across the grass, and the choice of insect remedies becomes clear-cut.

The All-Important First Step

Nothing, repeat nothing, is more important to the successful growth of any plant than proper advance soil preparation. Skip this all-important first step, and you’re asking for trouble. Abide by it, and you’ve taken a huge step in ensuring a thriving, easy-to-care-for lawn or garden.

Briefly stated, no matter what type of soil you find in your yard, from the sandiest sand to the heaviest clay, a liberal addition of organic matter works miracles. The organic matter can be anything form compost to well-rotted leaf mold, fine fir bark, or peat moss. Almost every community lays claim to some indigenous, inexpensive organic material, readily available to homeowners for free, the material having been made from the leaves gathered by municipal crews in the fall.

The amount of organic matter you add should be equal to the depth that you intend to turn the soil. If you’re preparing the soil to plant a lawn, whether from seed or sod, the minimum depth you should till is 6 inches; 8 or 12 is that much better. This may contradict some traditional advice, but experience has proved it to be very successful. If you intend to till the soil to a depth of 8 inches, then you should add 8 inches of organic material on top of the soil before you till to incorporate it to the full depth. This takes some doing, but it helps develop an extensive, healthy root system, resulting in a hardy, vigorous lawn that is able to withstand periods of drought and is more resistant to disease and pests.

Depending on the type of lawn you are planting and the characteristics of your native soil, you may want to add fertilizer and lime as you incorporate the organic matter. Explain your situation to your local nursery staff to find out if such additions are necessary.

After tilling the organic matter into the soil, rake the area smooth and sow the grass seed or roll out the sod. Keep the soil moist (but not wet) for a week or ten days. You’ll be amazed at the growth the lawn puts on in such superior soil, even in the first year, not to mention its long-term vigor, in both good years and bad.

Lawns — published on April 3, 2008

New Lawn: Seed or Sod?

Whether you are planning to sod or seed your lawn, for best results you need to start from scratch. The reason this is the best way to start your lawn and get the healthiest lawn is that you can eliminate bad grass, weeds and disease in your grass. If this is not all properly removed then most of the time it is a waste of time to seed or sod because weeds and disease will just creep back into your lawn.

To start from scratch you need to first remove the old grass with a sod cutter. You can rent these from most home improvement stores. Once the sod is removed completely, you need to till the dirt and make the ground as smooth as possible. If you see any large rocks, you should discard of them as well. The next step is to check the pH level of your dirt and treat it if necessary. Then you should treat your dirt with a good fertilizer. The fertilizer will help give your sod or seeds a good start.

After your dirt is prepared for planting it is time to decide on laying sod or seeding. Before you start this process, you need to make sure it is the best time in your area to do this. Check with a local nursery for the optimum time of year to start a lawn. It is typically best to start a lawn in late spring or early fall. If it is too hot, the grass will not get enough water and it will dry up. If it is too cold the ground might freeze, killing the grass.

Once you plant seeds or lay sod, you need to make sure that your lawn gets watered regularly or all your hard work will have been for nothing. There is a fine line between too much water and not enough. The general rule of thumb is that, if there is no rain in the forecast, you should sprinkle the grass or seeds lightly 2-3 times each day so that the ground stays moist. If it rains heavily for a few days, you should not sprinkle the grass. A very hard rain right after seeding might wash some of the seeds away so you might have to seed again.

Depending on the type of sod or seeds you use, you might have to add fertilizer or water the ground with fertilizer. It is best to follow whatever instructions or tips you are given for that type of grass in order to have the best success. If you have any questions or are having problems, consult with a landscaping company. Since they are used to seeding and laying sod, they might have a simple solution to whatever your problem or question is. You might even consider having them help with the seeding or laying the sod. Whether to lay sod or seed is a personal decision. Whichever you choose be sure to research the needs of that particular grass before starting.

Lawns — published on March 22, 2008

The Green, Green Grass of Home

Having a beautiful lawn is easier than you might think.

Much has been said against lawns. Some even advocate the eradication of grass all together in response to the various harmful chemicals used by lawn maintenance companies. But did you know that lawns do much more than beautify your home? In fact, lawns help to soundproof your house and your street and take the heat-load off your house. Lawns also keep precious topsoil from eroding away. As a hardy groundcover, a well-managed lawn can’t be beaten.

Residential lawns roughly fall into three categories: high maintenance (the neighbourhood showpiece); medium maintenance (the average); and low maintenance (borderline acceptable). Well fear not. Only about two per cent of residential lawns fall into the showpiece, lawn-bowling-look category. Most, about 60 per cent, are medium maintenance, with the remaining 38 per cent in the borderline category.

If you’re into keeping up with the average, all you will need is a modest budget and one to three hours of gardening per week as a medium maintenance lawn will save you time, energy, chemical use and water. It will also tolerate more environmental abuse, more wear and tear, and less care than any other type of lawn, while still providing an attractive and hardy groundcover.

Thankfully, the most suitable grass type is also the most common, a mix of creeping red fescue and Kentucky bluegrass, and possibly some perennial Ryegrass. Sod farms usually produce exactly this blend because of its versatility. Kentucky blue is drought-resistant and forms an attractive, thick carpet of dark blueish green, while the red fescue is tough and tolerates high traffic. Perennial ryegrass is hardy and grows fast, providing shade for the two slower grasses. If you wish to upgrade your lawn, you could top-seed with this blend in early spring or fall. With this combination and a medium maintenance program, you can reduce mowing from once a week to every 10 days. Watering, if properly managed, can also be reduced.

Simple guidelines for a medium maintenance lawn:

Resist cutting the grass until the end of May. Cutting too early (and too short) jeopardizes strong root growth. For the first cut, raise the mower blades to three inches.

Fertilize in May, June and September using a spreader. Bags are usually marked with the proper application times. And remember, numbers on fertilizers stand for:

  1. Nitrogen (green growth)
  2. Phosphorus (strong root growth)
  3. Potassium (general lawn well-being)

Water the grass only in the morning – before sunrise – and give it a thorough soaking. A simple way to test when you have watered enough is to put an empty 5 oz can on the grass within sprinkler range. When the can is full, your lawn has received 2 inches of water, which is a good soaking. Avoid frequent, light waterings as this increases the chance for disease and fungus.

From July to August, set mower blades to leave the grass at roughly 2 to 2.5 inches. Longer blade length allows the plant to devote more of its energy to root growth. A strong healthy root base helps the lawn withstand weeds, pests and drought. Height keeps the roots shaded and helps protect them from drought. Do this and you can reduce watering frequency to as little as every 10 days, depending on type of soil, weather and the amount of shade.

Keep an eye out for infestations of crabgrass and act quickly to remove it – do not let it go to seed. A strong root-base will help to prevent weed grasses, like quack and crabgrass from flourishing. The growth of broad-leafed weeds, such as creeping Charley, clover and dandelion is also minimized. And fewer weeds means a reduction in the need for chemical deterrents. With only a few weeds present, you can easily remove them manually.

Remember, limited use of some garden chemicals is okay provided the warnings and instructions are carefully followed. But careless or excessive use is not only bad for the environment, it can be hazardous, especially for children and pets. Many of the chemicals used (diazinon, a pest killer; maneb and sulphur, both fungicides) release toxic fumes both when you apply them and afterward. If you plan to use chemicals on your lawn, or anywhere in your garden for that matter, wear protective clothing during the application. And because of possible chemical residue, keep children and pets away from the treated area for at least 48 hours.

Having a medium maintenance lawn does not imply that your lawn has to be an eyesore. Quite the contrary. In fact, your lawn will probably still be green when others have dried up. Also, with a good grass blend, you can step up your maintenance program at any time to improve the look of your lawn.

Lawns — published on March 19, 2008

Lawn Not Weeds

Simple Steps To A Weed-Free Lawn

A beautiful lawn is supposed to be thick and green. It’s not supposed to have bright yellow dandelions, red blooming clover and scraggly crabgrass and nutgrass.

Although it’s impossible to kill every single weed, most can be prevented. Weed control is more than making a pretty yard. Weeds compete with grasses for water and nutrients. A well-cared-for, vigorous lawn will resist weed invasions.

Here are five steps to keep your yard in top shape for weed resistance:

1. Mow high. Mowing at the upper end of the recommended height for your grass type encourages deeper roots and better heat and drought tolerance since the grass helps shade the soil to reduce evaporation and maximize soil moisture content. This can help reduce the need for more frequent watering. Set your mower at 11/2 inches high for common Bermuda; 1 inch high for hybrid Bermuda; 3 inches high for tall fescue; 21/2 inches for Kentucky bluegrass; and 21/2 to 3 inches for St. Augustine.

2. Water properly. Wet the soil down to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Shallow watering results in a shallow root system. To check the depth of moisture, insert a rod or screwdriver into the soil; it will stop when it reaches dry dirt.

3. Fertilize at the right time of year for your particular type of grass (usually fall or spring for cool-season lawns and late spring and early summer for warm-season lawns) and control insects such as grubs that eat grass roots.

4. Aerate (remove small cores of soil) and dethatch as needed for better water and nutrient penetration.

5. Kill weeds. Many products on the market require you to know what kind of weeds you have in your lawn. But some multi-purpose products work to including dandelions, clover and grassy weeds such as crabgrass — in one easy step without harming your lawn.

Lawns — published on March 14, 2008

Preparing your lawn for spring

With spring approaching it is the perfect time to get your lawn ready for another season. Here are some tips to help ensure your lawn gets a healthy start this season.

To ensure even thawing and prevent diseases like snow mould, remove snow piles from your lawn or spread the snow evenly across the lawn.

Clean unwanted debris that may have accumulated over the winter months.

Aerate and weed your lawn to improve water, air and fertilizer uptake. Choose a manual weeder like the Fiskars telescopic stand up weeder that removes the entire root of invasive weeds, eliminating the need for herbicide use.

Healthy, thick lawns naturally deter weeds and other pests. Choose a natural fertilizer, like Scott’s eco sense fertilizer, that is ideal for planting new lawns or repairing bare starts to give your lawn a healthy start.

In preparation for the spring gardening season, check your equipment to ensure it is in good working condition. Don’t forget to sharpen the blades on lawn mowers and weeders.

Purchase a composter and get started on turning household waste into organic fertilizer for your lawn and garden.