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Love Your Lawn Grass

September 21, 2008

By MARY REID BARROW

By Mary Reid Barrow

Correspondent

So, you’ve spent most every summer weekend mowing your lawn.

Now you’re about to spend your fall weekends fertilizing and planting grass seed so you will have even more grass to mow next spring and summer.

Growing grass is kind of like doing the laundry. It’s never done.

But aren’t there limits to how much lawn work we should do?

Around here it’s hard to plant a carefree lawn because fescue and other lawn grasses don’t grow naturally. Grass in Hampton Roads needs babying. If you want a perfect lawn, you’re in for a beating.

Fertilizers and weed killers that make for pretty lawns are good only for grass and don’t do much for the rest of the world around us. In fact, some are downright harmful to the environment, the experts warn.

Many of us love a pretty green lawn, but you can’t pick a lawn and arrange it in a flower vase. Butterflies and hummingbirds don’t enhance the beauty of a lawn. About the only critters attracted to a lawn are moles, and the sight of a molehill conjures up the image of even more work.

Today we have pulled together some tips on seeding, fertilizing and mowing from various folks and groups in the know to help you decide what you want to do – keep on growing grass, or not grow as much, or even maybe not grow any at all. Some of the following ideas will save you time and money, and perhaps alleviate your guilt if you decide the time has come to part ways with your vision of a perfect lawn.

GET TO KNOW YOUR GRASS

First find out what kind of grass you have in your yard by giving your extension agent’s office a call and then taking in a sample for identification. “You’d be surprised at how many people don’t know what kind of grass is in their yard,” said Susan French, Virginia Cooperative Extension agent in Virginia Beach.

Only fescue and other cool-season grasses should be planted in the fall. Wait until spring to plant warm-season grasses such as Bermuda.

If you want to plant rye over your warm-season grass, remember that overseeding requires more intensive management because you have set up a competition between two grasses.

For your sanity, remember that neither warm- nor cool-season grasses are ideal for Hampton Roads. They don’t tolerate this climate well because Hampton Roads is on the dividing line between north and south.

Give up trying to grow grass on bare areas under trees, because it doesn’t want to grow there. Mulch or plant moss or ground cover instead.

You can choose not to seed at all like Master Gardener Gail Farley and extension agent Mike Andruczyk.

“I don’t seed,” Andruczyk said. “I just deal with what’s there.”

Do seed bare spots to prevent runoff and give the weeds some competition.

FERTILIZER DO’S AND DON’TS

If you decide to fertilize your lawn, have your soil tested to find out just what kind of fertilizer you need. You may not need any or maybe not much. You can find soil test kits at your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office and at many libraries.

Fertilize during the right season for the kind of grass you grow – cool-season grasses in the fall and warm-season grasses in spring or early summer.

If you leave grass clippings on your lawn when you mow, nitrogen in the clippings will fertilize your lawn and you won’t need as much store-bought fertilizer.

Don’t fertilize if rain is in the forecast, and don’t let fertilizer spill onto the driveway or other paved surfaces. If you do, your work will be for naught, because the fertilizer will just wash away into storm drains.

Apply fertilizer according to package directions. Overfertilizing won’t help your lawn and it will harm the environment. When fertilizer ends up in the storm drains, it flows directly into the waterways, spurring algae to grow. The algae uses up oxygen and causes fish and other species to die.

GRASS ALTERNATIVES

Plant more trees and pour mulch around them if you don’t like to garden.

Pull up your grass in some areas and plant beds of native plants, which are easier to care for because they grow naturally here – and don’t need to be mowed. Think about trees such as red maple and sweetbay magnolia, shrubs like southern wax myrtle and beautyberry and flowers such as purple coneflower and coreopsis.

Start a hedgerow of native plants that can grow into a wildlife haven.

MOW LESS

Your gas-powered push mower can put out as many emissions in one hour as a car puts out in 11 hours, Andruczyk said.

Set your mower at 3 inches in summer so your fescue will be tall enough to shade out some of the weeds. It will also put less stress on your fescue that wants to go dormant in summer.

Let Mother Nature give you a hand. Establish a no-mow zone of 2- 3 feet along your fence and see what plants grow up on their own because the birds bring them, Farley said. “It’s so much fun.”

WATER LESS

“Most people overwater,” Andruczyk said. Less water means less work. One inch of water or rain a week is enough. That way you encourage grass roots to grow deeper and stronger and the blades don’t grow as fast.

Leave grass clippings on the lawn – it not only fertilizes your lawn but also helps to hold moisture.

Grass goes dormant in droughts in self-defense, not because it is dying. Don’t worry.

“I just mow. I never water,” Farley said.

WEED WHACKING

Use corn gluten, available in feed-and-seed stores, as a pre- emergent to keep weeds from sprouting. Apply in September if you don’t seed and in late winter if you do. Corn gluten is a safe, natural ingredient that also adds nitrogen to the soil, which means you’ll need less fertilizer.

Learn to appreciate weeds. “Dandelions were brought to this country as an herb, not a weed,” Andruczyk said. Other weeds have pretty blooms, and honeybees love clover, which makes good honey.

PERFECT LAWN

If you still want to try for the perfect lawn, visit Virginia Tech Extension, www.ext.vt.edu. Enter Publication No. 430-520 in the search line. It will take you to a comprehensive section on fall lawn care.

Mary Reid Barrow, barrow1@cox.net.

our tipsters

Mike Andruczyk Virginia Cooperative Extension agent in Chesapeake

Susan French Virginia Cooperative Extension agent in Virginia Beach and winner of Lynnhaven River Now’s 2008 Volunteer of the Year

Gail Farley Chesapeake Master Gardener, who lectures on “freedom lawns”

The Elizabeth River Project in Portsmouth

Lynnhaven River Now in Virginia Beach more info on how to help yourself and the environment

Freedom lawn Attend “The Freedom Lawn is for the Bs: Honeybees, Ladybugs and the Chesapeake Bay,” a talk by Chesapeake Master Gardener Gail Farley, 9:30 a.m. Oct. 8 , Russell Memorial Library, 2808 Taylor Road, Chesapeake. The program is free, but call (757) 410-7016 for reservations.

Freedom lawn book “Redesigning the American Lawn: A Search for Environmental Harmony” by Yale University graduate students.

River-friendly Find a copy of Lynnhaven-Friendly Gardening Tips online at Lynnhaven River Now, www.lynnhavenrivernow.org, or call (757) 962-5398 for a copy. Check out the bottom of the Web site’s home page for the Backyard Buffer Plant List, a roster of some recommended native plants.

Lawn care podcasts. For podcasts from Virginia Tech on lawn care, visit www.weblogs.cals.vt.edu/turf_garden. Click on “Subscribe to the podcast.”

Carefree native plants To find out more about why it is environmentally friendly to plant native plants in place of grass, check out the Elizabeth River Project Web site, www.elizabethriver.org. Click on “Native Plants” and that will take you to “Discover River Natives.”

Chesapeake club Get in Touch with your Inner Chesapeake, www.chesapeakeclub.org, and click on “Yard Care” for tips on fertilizing and more.

Originally published by BY MARY REID BARROW.

(c) 2008 Virginian – Pilot. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.