The Best Lawns Are Made In Fall

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Question: We are almost finished building our house. The next big project is the lawn. Is it too late to get started on our lawn or do we have to wait for spring before we can get started “building” the grass, yard and lawn. Allyson, Franklin, Tennessee

Answer: Allyson, summer is the season for building homes and early autumn still leaves time for building lawns. All through the land (even with the current rough economy), thousands of families are moving into new houses, stepping along wobbly planks, walking around piles of earth and wondering if the heaps of yellow clay surrounding their castles will ever be transformed into green, carpet-like lawns.

As the summer wanes, the homeowner looks with dismay at the barren earth surrounding their new home. If the sun shines, dust covers the immaculate newness of her cabinets, If rain and snow come, she sees muddy tracks of small fry across the carpet. “Hurry, hurry,” she urges the bedeviled contractor. “The lawn we must have now!” A long winter of muddy tracks and perhaps another summer of dust cannot be endured. Suddenly, the work is finished and lawn-making time is at hand.

Lawns Need preparation

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If a lawn is to be magnificent, the preparations for it cannot be slighted. A lawn is expected to be a thing of beauty forever, and not a ragged foot mat kept barely alive by continual doctoring. It is expected to endure the vagaries of hostile weather and periods of vacation-time neglect. If a lawn is to live up to these great expectations, the lawn soil must be prepared properly before the seeds are planted.

Indeed, building a lawn means preparing the seed bed. And remember that no amount of subsequent dabbling with lawn sprinklers and fertilizers will completely overcome the evils of a poorly prepared soil. The secret of building a good lawn is the thorough mixing of lime, phosphate and potash into the soil before seeding – after the rough grading is finished.

Lime Acid Soil Lawns

In areas where soil is acid in reaction, agricultural lime should be added at the rate of 15 to 20 pounds per 100 square feet (150 to 200 pounds per 1,000 square feet). The neighbors will wonder what is going on when they see so much lime being spread on the soil. Their advice should be listened to – but, only with neighborly politeness!

In areas where soil is alkaline (mainly in semiarid climates), lime is not needed.

Of course, the exact degree of acidity or alkalinity of a soil cannot be known unless soil samples are sent out for testing to determine your soil’s exact fertilizer requirements. However, excess lime never injured a lawn. Even when 25 per cent of the soil volume is pure lime, grasses and clovers thrive happily.

Grasses and clovers also require large amounts of phosphate to grow their best. Superphosphate (20 percent available phosphorous) should be added at the rate of 1,000 pounds per acre (2 1/2 pounds per 100 square feet, 25 pounds per 1,000 square feet).

Potash also must be added in many areas. The correct potash requirement is difficult to learn, but if 1-1/2 pounds of 50 per cent potash per 100 square feet are added, no grass will complain of being starved for this plant food.

Lawn Work Begins

Now the real work begins. The fertilizers must be disked deeply and thoroughly into the soil. Ideally the disk should cut about 8 inches into the soil, but since few lawn disks can cut so deeply, the golden rule of lawn building is to disk as deeply as possible. Five or six diskings are not too many. Remember that the better and deeper the fertilizer is mixed with the soil, the better the lawn will be, and above all, the less sensitive it will be to drought and summer heat.

Fine Grading The Lawn

Next, the fine landscape grading begins and the surface is made as smooth and even as possible. The final finishing touches are important. Surface irregularities will cause the mower to bounce about next summer as if it had springs for wheels. When the neighbors stop watching and cease commenting, the lawn bed is probably smooth enough.

Now that everything is ready, what kind of grass will make the best lawn? There is no better grass than good, old-fashioned bluegrass. Fancy seed mixtures usually lead in time to a pure stand of bluegrass anyway. Wherever bluegrass will grow, it might as well be planted on purpose and excused from preliminary competition with other species. A little white clover, of any common variety, gives an added touch of green during the first summer and stimulates the bluegrass to do its best. Within four years usually, the clover fades away, leaving a rich-carpet of bluegrass.

The Germinating Seeds

Right after seeding, by all means add a topdressing of ammonium nitrate at the rate of 3/4 pound per 100 square feet (7 1/2 pounds per 1000 square feet). Lightly rake the nitrate and seed together into the upper film of soil. This nitrogen gives the germinating seeds a start in life and enables them to put forth roots to hold the soil during late fall rains.

Someone certainly will advise the amateur gardener to finish with a layer of “black dirt.” Rarely is this necessary. The thorough mixing in of lime, phosphate, potash and nitrate will contribute more to the health of a lawn than any amount of black soil. Although this abnormal soil looks impressively fertile, frequently it is astonishingly infertile and almost always contains a fantastic number of weed seeds and fragments of quack grass stolons. If it’s necessary to add soil when grading, an ordinary farm loam is infinitely better than the expensive black soil.

Rejuvenate An Old Lawn

An old, threadbare lawn is a sorry sight. The best way to rejuvenate such a lawn is to plow it up and plant a new one the way the plot should have been planted in the first place. But such a drastic procedure is expensive and often impractical. So if you must work with an old, worn-out lawn without disturbing it, simply resign yourself to the fact that mere treatment of a lawn – when it has been too longdelayed – can only be second-best.

An old lawn which has already seen its best days should be limed and fertilized, twice a year, just after growth begins in spring and in fall, The fall top dressing should consist of 5 pounds of agricultural lime per 100 square feet (50 pounds per 1,000 square feet) and 3/4 pounds of a 10-10-10 mixed fertilizer per 100 square feet (7 1/2 pounds per 1,000 square feet). The spring treatment should consist of the same amount of lime and 1-1/4 pounds of the mixed fertilizer per 100 square feet (12-1/2 pounds per 1,000 square feet). After two such fertilizations, reduce the amount of lime by one half.

All lawns, no matter how carefully they have been established or how perfect they appear, should receive a little fertilizer twice each year. The treatment for old and starving lawns has already been described, but even new lawns on well prepared, heavily fertilized soil should be fed a little. In fall, they should receive about 3/4 pound of a 12-6-6 fertilizer per 100 square feet (7 1/2 pounds per 1,000 square feet) and in spring 1-1/4 pounds.

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Take care not to feed your lawn more often than this, however – and, also, don’t indulge in frequent light lawn watering or sprinklings – or you’ll find yourself in trouble. Roots grow where there is the most fertilizer and water. Too frequent top dressings with fertilizer, particularly with nitrogen, and too frequent light waterings result in an accumulation of feeding roots near the surface. Drought and summer heat then do their worst. Although light sprinklings may cool the gardener on hot summer evenings, they increase the sensitivity of the lawn to heat and drought. A cardinal rule in lawn watering is to soak the soil well or don’t water at all.

Weeds are the curse of almost all new lawns. However, a well fertilized lawn will gradually kill out most annual weeds the second season. But some weeds are tough and seem to thrive on competition and these often must he attacked with hotelier knives and weed-killing chemicals. Although it’s true that these chemicals are rough on clover, so are weeds. Therefore, drastic treatment with chemicals sometimes is necessary.

Correct Mowing

Correct mowing of your lawn is important. Most people thoughtlessly mistreat their lawns with improper mowing. Everyone wants a thick, carpet-like lawn and believes for some strange reason that the closer the grass is cut, the thicker and finer it will become. Nothing is farther from the truth.

Close mowing has ruined many a lawn. It weakens the vitality of the grass and its resistance to heat and drought. It also exposes every imperfection, weed and variation in soil surface. The even, velvety look that is the hallmark of a good lawn depends on the grass’s being clipped at a reasonable height. Two inches is ideal, and this is about the maximum height obtainable with ordinary mowers.

Thee lawn should be mowed frequently, as often as the track of the mower can be followed. At the height of the growing season, fine lawns should be mowed every other day, and certainly no less than twice a week.

Clippings should be left where they fall. If the mowing is done often enough, the young and tender fragments of grass will quickly decay and disappear. If the clippings accumulate, forming a dense mat on the soil surface, it shows that the grass was allowed to become too mature before it was cut. This mulch of dead grass lessens the normal aeration of the soil and inhibits new shoots from emerging in spring, So if it remains in significant amounts through the winter-, rake it off in early spring.

Thus, by adequate initial preparation of the lawn soil, use of a tough and durable species of grass, frequent mowing at the 2-inch height, and two fertilizations a year, you can achieve a luxuriant grass stand that will be a joy for many, many years.

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