Growing Grass

Most of the things posted on this blog have to do with money, but this time of year mostly what is on my mind is my lawn.  I am just itching to get working on my yard – and my grass in particular – and as a lot of people ask me about lawn care, why not write a blog post, save me from typing the same thing in every email?

There are a few things I do every season to my grass, and then a few things that are done when necessary.  Let’s start with the “always” list.

a) Fertilizer

-I fertilize 4 times a year, which is probably too much.  It is what Scotts recommends – specifically Easter, Victoria Day, Labour Day, Halloween.  But I vary the schedule a little – as it makes no sense to me to do a fertilizer application when the lawn has gone dormant for winter, and then hit it again when the lawn is still dormant in the spring.

– My own schedule is – 1) After I mow the grass for the first time in the spring 2) Victoria Day 3) Labour Day 4) Halloween (or whenever a few good frosts have made the lawn go dormant for winter).

– I use a broadcast spreader, set to a little lower than what the fertilizer bag recommends.  The reason I go a little lower on the setting is that I think 4 fertilizer applications during a short Canadian growing season is probably too much fertilizer.  When I was young, if you fertilized once a year you were a hero.  Then it became “normal” to do it twice a year.  And now Scotts is saying four times.  Not at all sure this much fertilizer is required.

– I fertilize when I expect rain.  I like to get that fertilizer off the surface, and into the ground.

– I use any brand of fertilizer that is on sale.  Most times that is Scotts, but Vigoro is fine.  I see a new Great Value brand that looks cheap, which I might try.  I have never experienced any difference between any particular fertilizer brands.

b) Watering

– I have a higher-end Rainbird/Hunter lawn irrigation system, designed and installed by Waters & Brookes – a local irrigation company.  It is on a timer, and runs on the days I choose.  The yard is broken down into five “zones”, each of which get a set amount of watering time based on what amount of sun that zone receives, and what is growing there.  My particular system also has a seasonal component, that adjusts the amount of water distributed based on what time of year it is.  It also has the capability to dial out to a local weather station to get weather data – but I don’t trust it so I never use it.

– Although everything is automated, I only use the automated settings when we are away on trips.  Otherwise, I like to walk the yard, see how dry things are, and use the “run cycle” program on the system controller as necessary.  If I just let the system go completely automated, I usually end up with mushrooms growing in shady parts of the lawn – a clear indication of too much water.

– During the blazing heat of summer, when we can go a week or more without rain, I usually suspend watering the lawn, and let it go dormant.  To do otherwise will usually require daily watering – if not twice daily – to keep the lawn green, and this to me is just a waste of water.  I still water the flower beds and garden manually, as required.  As we get into less-blazing conditions, I commence watering again, and bring the lawn out of draught.

c) Seeding

– I only use Scotts grass seed, specifically “Supreme”, and I nearly always get it at Costco in the early spring.  You can usually get a big bag for around $20, that will do most houses for both seeding and overseeding for a year.  Your yard may not need that much – so you can split it with your neighbour.  You probably want to use up all the seed you have each year, as germination rate will drop as the seed ages.

– I have tried every brand of grass seed over the years, and the best results consistently come with Scotts “Supreme”.  No idea why this is the case.  In a few cases, some of the grass seed purchased resulted in a thick grass blade – it looks like a Bermuda grass, or something similar.  I do not find it attractive, and have systematically cut it out and replaced it with Scotts “Supreme” plantings.  I have also run into weeds with some brands of seed.  So the only seed we use now is Scotts.

– Seed does not age well, so only buy as much as you will need for that growing season.  And you can’t keep it in the garage!  Seed that gets really hot doesn’t germinate.  So keep it in a cool dry place until you use it.

– I usually seed in the spring.  Often articles say that fall is the best time to seed grass – but I find that the temperature and rain is so unpredictable, it works better for me in the spring.  The rain is more regular, and we don’t get these crazy heat waves out of the blue – where the seedlings die off unless you water 10 times a day.

– For seeding, I buy bags of top soil on sale – usually from Walmart – and stack them in the garage.  I get all the soil expected to be used for the season in the spring, before Walmart shuts down their “parking lot nurseries”, and run out of stock.

– The soil and seed is mixed together, by hand, in a wheelbarrow, and then dropped by shovel on the areas I wish to seed.  Then raked with the lawn rake.  Then stamped on with my boots, so that every square inch has been compressed – to ensure good contact with the seed and soil.

d) Weeds

– I do not find any of the current (legal) chemical treatments do anything.  They are all rubbish.

– I use a mechanical weed puller every few days, to remove dandelions before their flower turns to white seed, and allows them to spread.  The pulled dandelions are thrown into the trash.  The particular weeder used at this house (for years and years) is the “Original Weed Hound”, a cheap all-metal model, that has withstood the test of time.

– One of the easiest ways to deal with your weeds is during the hottest parts of the summer, when the rest of the lawn has gone dormant for draught.  At this time, the ONLY thing green on your entire lawn will be the weeds.  So it is easy to walk around, use your mechanical puller, and root out the unwanted.

e) Mulching

-My mower is always set to the highest deck level for cutting the grass.  It always amazes me to watch my neighbours scalping their grass, thinking this is somehow doing their lawn some good.  Cutting low greatly increases watering needs.  It also weakens the turf – encouraging weeds.   This is the most basic of all lawn care tips – cut your grass high.

– I use the mulching attachment on our lawn mower to mulch all the grass clippings, and leave them right on the lawn.  They disappear without me doing anything else.

– During 3-4 weeks in the spring, when the lawn is growing inches per week, I bag the clippings, and let City of Mississauga haul them off on garbage day.  If I leave the clippings on the lawn during these peak weeks, they leave long brown streaks of dead grass on the lawn, which gets tracked into the house on our shoes.  In theory, you could cut the grass every day, and leave the clippings on the lawn – but who has time to cut the grass every day?

– I mulch all the leaves from the trees in the fall, and leave them on the lawn.  This has turned out really, really well – I think it dramatically reduces crabgrass on the lawn the next year.  You have to repeatedly go over the leaves, to make sure they are mulched fine.  But they disappear into the lawn in less than a week.

– With all the mulching of grass clippings and leaves, presumably it would be a good idea to cut back on the fertilizer applications.  I read that mulching the grass clippings is supposed to reduce fertilizer requirements by 25% or so?  So maybe that means that we can do with at least one less fertilizer application per year?

– And with all the mulching of the leaves in the fall, presumably it would be a good idea to reduce fertilizer ever further?  I have not done this, but maybe I should.

f) Design

– I have many neighbours who seed certain parts of their lawn each and every year, because the lawn dies every year.  If you are doing this, I think you have to ask the question, “Should I grow grass in this location?”

– Parts of my lot are so shady, grass does not wish to grow.  So after a year or two of seeding in the spring, getting the grass to germinate, then having shade (from the leaves on the trees) make the grass thin and weak – should I conclude maybe grass is not a good idea in this location?

– So in certain areas, under pine trees, near hedges, behind the houses, etc – where light and soil conditions do not encourage grass to grow, maybe plant something else!  Hostas look great in shady places, especially with acidic soil.  In really sunny places, Rose of Sharon look great, where grass dries out and does not like to grow.  So take a good look at your yard, and in places where grass doesn’t wish to grow, maybe change your design – and stop replanting the grass each year.


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