Making sure the grass is always “Greener” for everyone!
You don’t need chemical pesticides to have a beautiful lawn… and it isn’t as complicated as you might think! With the provincial government’s position on traditional pest controls, it is now necessary to develop more in-depth agronomic strategies to achieve our goals of thick healthy – more weed free turf to Ontario. And let’s face it – all we really should be looking for in a lawn is a thick cover of turf that is nice to look at and safe for our kids and pets to play on.
These in-depth strategies are not really that complicated once we break them down to simpler bite sized components. Here is the best way to look at it. Everyone wants their grass to be green – to be thick – and to not have very many unsightly weeds in it. Sounds simple enough, now where to start?
Grass looks its best when it’s nice and green. It’s nice and green when it’s actively growing. How do accomplish that?
- We need to water it properly.
- We need to cut it properly
- We need to feed it because when we cut it we remove energy from the plant’s system and that needs to be replaced.
Its as easy as that. Now how much to water, when to water, when NOT to water – these are important questions…
When to cut your lawn, how to cut your lawn properly, when NOT to cut your lawn – these are important questions…
When to fertilize(feed) your lawn, how much to feed your lawn, what to feed your lawn, when NOT to feed your lawn – these are important questions…
As you can see, even when things seem simple enough, there are very important questions that need to be answered. Fortunately we have them for you.
Rethinking the “perfect” lawn
It’s time to challenge our conventional notions of what a lawn, specifically and ground cover, in general, should be and take a closer look at the various means at our disposal to keep grass healthy and strong. We need to come up with a new set of criteria for the “perfect” lawn and apply more environmentally friendly management techniques in green spaces everywhere.
Here is a five-step approach to maintaining your lawn
1. Aeration: letting your soil breathe!
Aeration is an often overlooked yet crucial aspect of soil maintenance. It helps compacted soil take in more air and let water and other nutrients penetrate deep into the root zone so grass can thrive. It also brings soil microbes to the surface to help break down thatch that can accumulate on a lawn.
Thatch is a dead layer of grass leaves an clipping that accumulate between the soil and the crown of the grass plant. When it is too thick the grass actually grows roots in it as opposed the soil beneath it and when a dry spell comes the grass withers and dies within days. Its like growing grass on a bale of hay. that “hay” also hold humidity adding to disease and fungal problems and is also where surface insects love to live, such as chinch bugs and sod webworms. Remove the thatch and you remove those pests. a small amount of thatch is actually healthy, however, because it acts as a mulch moderating temperature swings and maintaining a level of moisture in the soil.
This is the key to improving the structure of your soil, whether it is clay – or sand -based. Once your soil is adequately aerated, you can make other necessary corrections. An aeration should remove roughly 60 small plugs of earth per square metre. Two types of aerators are available on the market: manual aerators, for smaller areas (which actually compresses the soil more than it aerates it), and a mechanical core aerator.
Aeration is recommended in the fall between mid-September and late October. Aeration is preferred over dethatching, a practice that tears the thatch from the turf damaging the grass plants as well. Aeration will deliver the desired results by circulating those soil microbes and actually helping the grass roots grow stronger as well.
The secret: Enhancing the quality and structure of your soil and the root system of your lawn are essential to ensuring the proper absorption of nutrients.
2. Top dressing and Liming: obtaining a pH level of 6.5-7
Top dressing involves spreading a thin layer (0.5 cm-2.5 cm) of compost over the surface of your lawn. Ideally, this should be done after aeration so that the compost fills the holes left after the plugs are removed. It’s also the best time to over-seed your lawn. This will enrich the soil with:
- Organic matter, which will promote water retention and improve soil structure.
- Natural fertilizers, which will gradually be released into the ground.
- Micro-organisms, which will stimulate microbial activity. This is also the best time to check the pH level of your soil in case you need to make any adjustments.
- The pH should be between 6.5 and 7. If your soil is overly acidic (<6.5) or overly alkaline (>7.0), the necessary nutrients will not penetrate properly into the roots of your grass, even if they are present in the soil. It’s like being lost at sea in a row boat and dying of thirst.
- Correct the pH by adding lime or sulfur to the soil depending on what your results were.
3. Fertilization – It is important to keep your lawn properly fed throughout the growing season.
Back in the day, as they say, you could get away with not looking after your grass properly and when problems like weeds and grubs came up you could just “SPRAY” them and all would be well in the world. Those day are gone, thankfully, and we need a much more Holistic approach to keeping our lawns is good health. We can’t “drop the ball” anymore because once we run into trouble there are no more quick easy fixes to get us out of trouble. We now need to:
- Maintain the vitality of our lawns all summer long with proper nourishment
- Stimulate the micro-organisms in the soil to break down thatch and release nutrients back to our grass plants
- Water the lawns and gardens
Rule of thumb for fertilization – Fertilizers are labelled with three letters (N-P-K).
N: Nitrogen promotes greener grass.
P: Phosphorous helps strengthen the root system.
K: Potassium helps make grass more resistant to disease, insects and stress.
Depending on the time of year, the type of environmental conditions at the time, the temperature, the soil type and conditions and the maintenance level will dictate the type and amount of fertilizer to apply.
4. Seed or sod? Make a well-informed choice
Advantages of seeding your lawn
- More economical.
- Choice of different varieties of grass based on your requirements (sun exposure, traffic, plant diversity, higher quality cultivars).
- Some seed is sold mixed with beneficial fungi such as endophytes which are a natural deterrent to lawn-feeding insects like chinch bugs and mycorrhizae which promote the absorption of fertilizers at the root and maximize the impact of nutrients.
Drawbacks of seeding
- Requires six to eight weeks. Sloped areas can wash out in heavy rains.
Advantages of sodding
- Faster results for an instant look of a full lawn.
Drawbacks of sodding
- Somewhat higher cost, the preparation is the same for both
- Lower quality varieties of grass, more vulnerable to disease and insects.
- Requires more water initially
- Often not adapted to a particular location such as a shady area of a lawn
A Good Balance:
When you sod you should also plan to have your lawn over-seeded with the higher quality grass from seed so you can introduce those varieties to your lawn. This is a good thing to do for any lawn – older ones could also use the introduction of these higher quality grass types.
Which seed should you use?
If you top dress be sure to seed immediately prior applying the topdressing. This will cover the seed and protect it from birds eating it. It will also dramatically improve germination. Choose your lawn seed mix based on two criteria: sun exposure (shade or full sun) and usage (high or low traffic). Always buy the very best seed you can afford – not seed off the shelf at the local grocery store or hardware store – buy it at a quality garden centre or through us. Choosing certified seed also provides a higher percentage of germination and a lower probability of weed seeds being part of the blend.
When to sow Grass Seed
When you have a completely bare area then you can sow your grass seed in early May or between August and September. If you are over-seeding an existing lawn then the best time to introduce new grass to your lawn is August/September. In the spring the existing grass is coming out of winter dormancy and that level of competition is usually too much for weak grass seedlings to become established. As your lawn comes out of the hot dry summer it begins preparing for winter dormancy so the main process is food storage and root growth. this make the cool fall period the best time for new seed to establish.
Apply seed using a mechanical spreader to keep the application even. Gently rake the area to partially cover the seeds and then lightly tread on the soil or use a lawn roller to get rid of any air pockets and ensure the seed is in good contact with the soil for maximum germination survival.
Water the area using a fine mist sprinkler. Repeat daily for three to four weeks, if your using our high quality seed, to maintain the moisture level necessary for germination. Once the seed has sprouted, water less frequently but for a longer period of time to promote the growth of deeper roots. Grass seeds are very small and they contain enough energy to put out a root and a leaf of grass. If it dries out during that critical time it simply can’t survive.
Let’s talk clover
Adding white clover (2%-5%) to your lawn will help you increase its resistance to drought and produce nitrogen to fertilize your lawn all summer long. Keep in mind though, organic weed control that work on dandelions and other undesirable weeds will not be an option to you because it will harm the clover as well.
5. Watering: 2.5 cm of water per week – no more
There is one important rule to follow for a healthy, resistant lawn: water less frequently but for a longer period of time. This will promote deeper root growth and ensure greater draught resistance during drier spells.
We used to always say “If you don’t have the time to water adequately, it’s better not to do it at all.” That turned out to be a mistake for may people in Ottawa for the 2012 season. That draught was so severe that it actually went beyond putting turf into dormancy – it was killing lawns. Even lawns that were two or three years old were dying because their root systems hadn’t been developed properly. Frequent watering promotes the growth of roots on the surface and makes grass much less resistant to drought and disease. Deeper infrequent watering promotes stronger deeper grass roots.
Water in the morning only. Afternoon and evening watering can keep the leaf blades wet all night and promote fungal problems. Use a fine mist setting to help the soil absorb the water properly and avoid creating puddles and excessive run-off.
Tip: To know how much you should be watering your lawn, use a container that shows when you reach the 2.5 cm mark. An empty can of Tuna works very well.
Be sure to follow all municipal bylaws concerning water restrictions.