Lawn Replacement Therapy

from Garden Ideas
If a lawn fertilizer chart shows you’re spending too much on your grass, maybe it’s time to start over. Learn whether it’s necessary and where to start.

Maybe you recently built a home and you’re desperate to put an end to the dust and muck constantly being tracked onto your new carpet. Maybe weeds have invaded your once-lovely lawn. Maybe you just want a grass that is better-suited to your yard — or your time-strapped life. There are plenty of reasons to install a new lawn this season.

“Fall is the optimum time to establish grass by any means — sod or seed,” says Doug Fender, executive director of Turfgrass Producers International. “Fall establishment is best because you’re not competing with weeds as much. In fall, most weed seeds are dormant, so your grass has a better chance.” The cooler temperatures also mean less irrigation is needed.

Breaking New Ground
If you have a new home on a dirt lot, you have the opportunity for the lawn of your dreams. After your lot is cleared of debris and the fine grading is
finished, you can lay out bed areas and turn your attention to your lawn-to-be.

“Unfortunately, what happens with most new construction is that contractors turn the soil upside down,” Fender says. “They dig the home’s foundation, and the soil that was on the bottom is dumped on top. It’s like trying to grow in cement.”

There won’t be any better time — ever — to improve the soil. Bring in clean topsoil and compost. Just remember, Fender says, that the operative word is clean.

When Good Lawns Go Bad
If your existing lawn is more than 50 percent weeds, it’s more economical to make a fresh start than to pour expensive chemicals onto it. First, determine what went wrong with your old lawn. Survey the property to see if there are grass impediments such as shade, poor drainage, or steep grade, Fender says. “Then you get down to pH, fertility, and the physical structure of the soil. Look at what can be improved instead of going out and tilling it, throwing down some seed or sod, and saying, ‘OK, it’s done.’”

Fender recommends taking a soil sample to your county extension service for specific advice on what should be added to maintain healthy grass. Soil tests cost about $20. After you receive the results of the soil test, till in recommended fertilizer and amendments. This also relieves compaction and brings nutrients down to root level.

The Right Grass
Another key is to select the best grass for the job. Here again, the county extension service is invaluable for advice. Consider aesthetics such as color, texture, and winter appearance, as well as tolerance to heat, cold, drought, moisture, compaction, sun and shade.

Also, do a realistic assessment of the maintenance you’re willing to perform. Will you do the constant trimming, watering, and fertilizing needed for a refined turf such as bentgrass? Or would you prefer to kick back in your hammock and watch your buffalograss grow?

Grasses are separated into two broad categories: warm season or cool season. Warm-season grasses, such as Bermuda, zoysia, centipede, and St. Augustine, green up slowly in spring and hit their stride during the heat of summer. When the fall frost arrives, they go dormant and turn brown. If you want to seed or sod with a warm-season grass, it’s best to get started in late summer or early fall. Cool-season grasses, such as fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, and ryegrass, grow actively during the cool weather of spring and fall when temperatures range from 65°F to 75°F, so you can start them a bit later in fall.

Getting a jump on a new lawn is particularly important when seeding. The soil temperature several inches below the surface needs to be above 55°F for most types of grass seed to germinate. “You want seedlings to have some maturity before winter hits,” Fender says. “If you can have the seed on the ground about 30 days before your first hard freeze, you’ll be OK.”

Sod Versus Seed
Homeowners have two basic choices for creating a new lawn: seed or sod. Seed offers a wider variety of turf types and many seed mixtures formulated for sun or shade. With several grass varieties in a single bag, one or more is likely to thrive in your yard. Check the package label for named cultivars, a current “sell by” date, a germination rate of 85 percent or more, and a weed seed percentage of close to 0.01 percent.

The biggest draw of seed is lower cost. Depending on the variety of grass you select, you can seed a 1,000-square-foot area for approximately $20. It costs close to $200 to sod the same area.

Sod, however, does provide instant gratification. It only takes a few weeks for the seams to grow together into a picture-perfect lawn. Sod also prevents erosion on slopes better than seeding, and a solid blanket of sod over bare soil smothers most weed seeds. While fewer types of grass are available as sod, many refined hybrids are grown only that way. For example, common Bermuda grass is available as inexpensive seed, but the denser, fine-texture ‘Tifway’ Bermuda grass is sterile, so it only reproduces vegetatively (as sod).

After your lawn is in place, you’ll need to establish a maintenance regimen that includes mowing, irrigation, fertilization, aeration, and weed control. It might seem like a lot, but just consider all it does for you. Lawns absorb air and noise pollution, control erosion, generate oxygen, give kids and pets room to run, and best of all, they look great doing it.

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