We started with way more yard than we have now. Also, way more trees. Despite cutting down about 50 trees, we probably have that many still in the yard. Why do I mention trees? Well, with trees comes shade, grass does not like the shade. I like the shade though, so together the trees, us, and the grass have come to an uneasy peace which suits all. It works because I fortunately have the time to baby the grass.
Fescue does the best in shade over all other grasses. Though you can't tell that to the errant Bermuda grass which self seeds into my nice green fescue lawn. I hate Bermuda grass because it is so invasive. But, that being said, I do not begrudge anyone their warm season grasses such as Bermuda, Centipede, St. Augustine (more common further south than here), and Zoysia, they just aren't for me. Since I only grow fescue, what works for me will be tailored to my fescue lawn, but the same basic principles apply to warm season grasses with the exception of mowing height, winter color, and seeding. I will try to mention some differences as we go along.
Fescue is a type of grass that clumps rather than runs with stolons, which is what warm season grasses do. Warm season grasses are so much more forgiving and quicker to establish because they do run. Since fescue clumps, it tends to get thin during the year, not just in the summer when it is likely to go dormant due to drought. I have seeded my fescue every year for the past four years. The best time to overseed a fescue lawn is in late September, then you should plan to add fertilizer or amendments such as lime in late October or mid November. I have done it many different ways and experimented with the timing so believe me when I say this is the best way to overseed. Overseeding is really the only way to have a great looking and thick fescue lawn. I don't mind really. It is all a work of love because I do love my lawn, you might call me a desperate lawn wife as I spend an awful lot of time on it. So, first tip for fescue, overseed each year.
The next and very, very important tip is to soil test! I was always a gardener who thought that with good cultural practices I did not need a soil test simply because my soil would be good. Yeah right. When I had a soil test done two years ago it showed a ph for the front yard was something like 5.6, and the backyard was like 4.9. Very low and acidic. Lawn grasses like a ph somewhere between 6.0 and 7.0, with about a 6.5 being ideal. The soil report recommended that I add 100 pounds of lime per 1000 feet. My front yard alone is 4000 square feet of grass so that would translate into 400 pounds of lime just for it. QUITE a bit of lime in my little Buick and too much for me at one time. I instead opted for 50 pounds per 1000 square feet that year, and this year I applied the other 50 pounds. It takes a long time for the lime to change the ph and I wanted to see if adding lime would make that much of a difference. It actually did and this year I expect even sweeter things from my lawn. I had tried to use chemical fertilizers and weedkillers to get the lawn grass growing fast and that had been my mistake. Chemical fertilizers, when used over time, have a tendency to acidify a soil, so they are best used in moderation. Say, once per year in October for fescue, in April or May for warm season grasses. So, tip number two for a great lawn is to soil test and adjust for ph if necessary. Use chemical fertilizers sparingly.
Prior to overseeding I always aerate my lawn, front and back. Lawns are one of those gardens where cultivation is not really an option. But we walk and play and garden on our lawns which causes damage to the grass and compacts the soil. Compacted soil is not a good situation for any growing thing. The ideal mix of your soil should be 25% air, 25% water, and 50% soil. Compaction drives out the air so plant roots are not able to breath or move through the soil. Grass growth is stunted. Aeration, while not a perfect solution to compaction does helps the situation. Small core aerators are that can be attached to the back of a riding lawn mower are very reasonably priced and are a great help when striving for a nice lawn. I use mine about three times a year and ALWAYS before overseeding or adding amendments. Aerating in the winter works best as the wet cool soil is easier to aerate than when it is hard and dry as the soil usually is in the summer. I leave the plugs on the lawn to be washed down by the rain and weather. It is extremely muddy for a week or so, then you would never know I had aerated the lawn. The holes left by mechanical aeration help to hold seed or lime or fertilizer and to get the amendments closer to the root system of the existing grass. Also, aeration has saved me from losing all of my newly laid seed one year when we had an unexpected thunderstorm. I was sure all the seed washed away and was delighted when I saw it sprouting in the little holes left by aeration about a week later. Tip number three for a nice lawn, aerate regularly and always before overseeding or applying amendments.
Another very important part of lawn maintenance if you are starting from scratch or worse, like I did, is to get rid of the weeds. Easier said than done. I have spent countless hours all throughout the year with a fishtail weeder in hand, a wheelbarrow in tow, bent over pulling those dastardly weeds! This winter is the first winter I have not had to literally spend hours each week and I finally feel my hard work has paid off. The weeds I most have to dig are: dandelions (you really need to dig deep and dispose of the weed-don't compost it!), plantains (I love hostas but minature hosta like plants in the lawn are not what I had in mind), goose grass (the absolutely worse-see the two small pictures above), nutsedge (likes the shady moist areas in my lawn). I feel you need to remove the weeds prior to them going to seed to prevent the next season's crop, and removing weeds helps ensure you lawn grass can compete on an unlevel playing field. In the shade lawn grass needs all the help it can get. I also have problems with wild strawberries (very difficult to deal with because of the runners), and wild violets. I am still mad about those violets. I had no idea they would spread so doggoned much into the lawn when I purchased that innocent looking violet at-of ALL places-a master gardener sale here in Montgomery County. I still sting to think I bought such an invasive plant from this plant sale. I learned my lesson almost to the point of being fanatic about invasive plants like obedient plant and artemisia being sold by master gardeners. I usually don't say anything but I will definitely NOT buy any plants there. There are perhaps easier ways of getting rid of weeds, but I like to try to be organic and don't like pesticides, therefore I have not used chemical sprays or such to get rid of the weeds, instead preferring to hand dig them. This is not for everyone and if you use pesticides that is certainly your right, just be sure to read the label and follow instructions to the letter. So, fourth tip to a great lawn, remove weeds.
Another important chore for a great looking fescue lawn is to remove leaves in the fall. The warm season grasses are better equipped to deal with excess leaves since they run, but fescue will smother under leaves and debris and will not bounce back. Weeds will set in and you will be back at square one. Tip number five is to remove leaves from your lawn in the fall and compost.
The last tip is probably the most MOST important tip. It is also the easiest and simplest way to ensure you have a great looking lawn even if you don't follow the first four tips. Are you ready?! Mow your lawn properly and often. These two simple tasks are where most homeowners fail in their endeavors to have a good looking lawn. Even if they do all of the above it is all for naught if they don't mow properly. For fescue lawns it will mean mowing AT LEAST twice weekly from early March well into November. If you have a lawn person mowing your lawn, I understand it is VERY expensive to do so and you may not want to spring for an extra mowing, this would be the time to supplement the mowing with your own mowing. I can't stress this enough. In the past four years that I have been intensively gardening (since I retired from the Army), I have faithfully mowed my lawn at least twice a week with the exception of this past summer when my lawn finally turned completely brown and went dormant. In that case I only mowed about once a week. Fescue should never be mowed lower than 3 inches in the summer time. Additionally, you should never mow more than a third of the grass blade off at any one time. Therefore you need to mow the lawn when it has about an inch of new growth. This doesn't take long, especially if you fertilize and if we have plenty of rains. Even in the shade my lawn tends to grow quickly. For fescue, I do mow a little lower in March and April to encourage tillering. Once the weather starts getting hot though, the cutting heighth of the mower comes up. My lawn probably always seems like it needs to be cut but for fescue you truly want it long. The length helps to shade the grass roots and the soil. Sometimes weed seeds are not able to germinate because of the shade provided by long grass, additionally water is not lost as fast when the lawn is cut long. Now, for warm season grasses you can cut them much shorter but you still want to cut regularly and not let them get too long. Bermuda should probably be cut to a heighth of 1.5 inches or so. You can plan on cutting it when it reaches about 2 inches or so, keeping in mind that you do not want to cut off more than one third of the grass blade in any one cutting. When you cut your lawn frequently and properly, make sure you leave the grass blades on the lawn, they will quickly decompose and add much needed nitrogen to the soil. I recently heard or read somewhere that when you leave a season's worth of grass clippings on your lawn, it adds the equivalent of 1 pound of nitrogen to the soil! Now, if you don't cut properly and have gabs of grass, make sure you rake the grass clippings up for your compost so it does not smother the grass. This is not the proper way to mow and you will have many weeds and weak grass if you mow in this manner. The last and final tip of this very long post, is to cut your lawn frequently and in the correct manner prescribed for your type of grass.
If you follow these tips you will be sure to be the envy of the neighborhood (never a problem for me since most of my neighbors can't see my lawn-the way I like it!). Yes, lawn grasses take a lot of time, but it is worth it to have the beautifully maintained house with super curb appeal. Additionally, great lawns really set off the gardens. Believe it or not, in my yard even with all the gardens, the thing that takes the MOST amount of time and maintenance and money IS the lawn. That is one reason I try to take out lawn and put in gardens (hubby doesn''t agree-but then again, he does not maintain the yard-I do!). Lawn mowing, overseeding, fertilizing, raking, and weeding all take a tremendous amount of time and sometimes money, but lawns require it.
Enjoy the video. I thought it fitting since cows also like grass, not to look at, but to chew! They do a great job of fertilizing the pasture too and I really enjoy my neighbor's cows out back of my garden. I have included a couple of pictures of my lawn grass. The first picture was taken in August 07 and even without watering you can see the grass (fescue) is a lovely shade of green! I do think the shade may help, but proper mowing is the biggest, simplest, easiest thing I do for my lawn. The second picture was taken in 2004 and the lawn was not quite where I wanted it to be. It was well on its way though after having been infested with 6 foot tall pokeweed and who knows what else just three years before. Like I have said before, gardening takes time and anyone who thinks they can create an ideal garden overnight either has an awful lot of money (then the garden only looks good for a short time because you still have to maintain it!) or is a bit naive about the nature of gardening.
in the garden....enjoying the green, cool, soft grass underfoot.