By Ken Pavely
We often don’t think of our lawns as a collection of plants, but that’s what a typical lawn is. In fact, a 4000 sq.ft. (approx. 370 sq. meters) lawn can contain as many as four million grass plants. Unless you have a perfect lawn, following these tips will be well worth the effort!
Lawns need nutrients
The majority of lawns need regular fertilizing to stay thick and healthy. If you are a do-it-yourselfer, your local Landscape Ontario member garden centre will have a number of high quality options for slow release fertilizer. An established lawn with a good root system can seek out phosphorous already in the soil. The Lawn Care Sector Group of Landscape Ontario recommends using a phosphorus-free fertilizer on established turf. Do yourself a favour and measure the square footage of your lawn before you go shopping, so you know how much to buy. Follow the directions to the letter to avoid disappointment and clean up fertilizer that hits your driveway, sidewalk or road. Never ever spread it by hand.
Seed, seed and more seed
The most effective way to combat weeds is to have a thick lawn. Applying a good quality seed, once in the spring and once in the early fall will pay big dividends. Over the course of a season or two, you will see a marked difference in your lawn. Be sure to keep the seed out of your flower and shrub beds, and off patios or walkways (otherwise you will be picking grass shoots out of your garden all summer). You can put the seed on with a spreader, or even by hand if you wish.
An essential part of keeping a lawn healthy is regular mowing. Generally speaking, mowing your lawn once a week will be sufficient. If you are feeling energetic, mowing twice a week during the month of May will produce a markedly thicker lawn, which is without a doubt, the best way to fight weeds. Regardless of what kind of mower you have, keep the blades sharp, and cut at a height of six to eight cm (two to three inches). Unless you want to give your lawn the slow kiss of death, mowing once every two weeks or less is really not recommended. A steady diet of infrequent mowing will cause your lawn to thin out—a lot! When it is extremely hot, do not mow during the middle part of the day.
This topic is a constant source of controversy. Lawns need an inch of water per week. Rainfall is always better than the tap, so if your lawn is hanging in there with Mother Nature’s elixir, there is no need to pull out the sprinkler. If though, your lawn has not seen any appreciable moisture for three weeks or more, it’s time to take notice.
It is customary to let your lawn go dormant in the summer, and that’s ok — to a point! If your lawn has gone three weeks or more without any appreciable moisture, it’s time to give it a drink. You don’t need to soak it, but leaving the sprinkler on for 15-20 minutes per spot, will give it enough water to stay alive, and once cooler temperatures and fall rains return, it will bounce back. Thousands of homeowners across the province lost turf due to drought last summer, and could have avoided the problem by giving their lawns a sip once a week during the dry spell.
If your lawn is rock hard, it needs a breather — literally. Aeration allows much-needed oxygen to get to the roots. Spring or fall is great time to do it, by either renting one or having a lawn service do it for you. If you rent one, go over your lawn at least twice.
If chunks of your lawn come up, and you see a white grub sitting on the soil surface, you have a problem. The only alternative available this year is the use of nematodes. These are tiny tiny worm-like creatures that when correctly applied, will do serious damage to a grub. You can can purchase them from your local Landscape Ontario member garden to apply on your own, or a lawn service can do it for you. Nematodes must be kept refrigerated until you apply them. If you buy from a store, be sure they have been kept refrigerated. A word of CAUTION: you must follow directions to the letter, because if you don’t, you will have wasted time, money, and your lawn.
If you have animals digging for grubs this spring, you can try applying nematodes, but control can be spotty. Applying nematodes in the early fall gives you a much better chance of controlling them. If you are applying nematodes yourself, be sure to speak with the experts at your local garden centre to make sure you are buying the correct species for Canadian lawns. Make sure you buy enough to apply 50 million nematodes for every 1000 sq. ft. of lawn, and follow the directions.
As mentioned before, a thick lawn is the best defense against weeks. There is a do-it-yourself product for lawns available at your local store. If you buy, make sure the label says it is for “use on lawns.” Lawn care companies are licensed to apply a similar product, and can effectively control most common weed problems.
Last year was an outstanding year for crabgrass. It was everywhere—so what can be done? There is evidence that corn gluten meal applied at very high rates will have some measure of effectiveness. You cannot seed those areas, though, for several weeks after treatment. An alternative is to overseed with a light topdressing of compost, early in the spring in the hope of thickening your lawn so it can out-compete the germinating crabgrass seeds.
Aside from grubs, there are other insects that can plague your lawn. If you have brown spots, and there has been sufficient moisture to prevent drought, you could likely have an insect problem. If you are unable to find the culprits, consult a lawn service for a detailed analysis.
Adding compost that is free of weeds can be very beneficial. You don’t need to bury the lawn…a light coating of a quarter-inch will be sufficient. Be wary of manures that are not composted—they could contain a lot of weed seeds.
For more information, consult the Guelph Turfgrass Institute at http://www.guelphturfgrass.ca/
Ken Pavely has more than 40 years in the turf industry, and has managed programs for over 150,000 lawns across Canada
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