This is the second installment on grass – the previous post dealt with common items. Below are things that come up less frequently. They may be important to someone who is a “grass nut”, but less so to people who simply like to see green in their yard.
– Every year, we have a group of boys who go door-to-door, looking to aerate our lawn. Here, a small-engine machine runs a rotary series of tines, driving them into the ground, and removing “plugs” of soil as they go.
– When we first bought this house, I aerated every year, and still would if we did not have an underground sprinkler system. Aerating does a great job of breaking up compacted soil, especially in areas (like here) where there is a lot of clay in the soil.
– If you have a sprinkler system though – the aeration machines can easily perforate your sprinkler lines. So once a system is installed, your aeration days are over.
– If you don’t have a sprinkler – you should probably aerate every year. It will make a huge difference to your lawn, in particular for areas that have clay soils.
b) Peat Moss
– Peat moss does a great job of breaking up clay soils. It adds organic material to the soil, which is good for moisture retention, and allows for roots to breathe. If you are aerating your lawn, I recommend raking some peat down into the holes left by the aerator, especially around Toronto, where there are compacted clay soils. This will do your lawn a world of good.
– Even though we can’t aerate (due to my sprinkler), I add small amounts of peat to my soil while seeding and overseeding. This is not nearly as effective as getting the peat deep after aeration, but it still adds organic matter.
– I de-thatch my lawn every year in the spring, because we have a recurring thatch problem. My guess this is due to too much fertilizer … which I wrote about in the previous post. Scotts recommends fertilizing four times a year – which is probably too much for a Canadian growing season. And as we are now mulching our grass clippings, and also mulching our fall leaves – both of these are great sources of natural fertilizer. My guess is my lawn is getting way too much fertilizer as a result.
– But until I get the fertilizer amounts figured out, we must deal with thatch. So each spring, once the lawn is sufficiently dry, I take a (hand) de-thatching rake, and (manually) remove the thatch from the lawn. This thatch (dead grass) is gifted to the City of Mississauga, and they haul it away on garbage day.
– It is amazing how much thatch is pulled from my lawn. It would be 5-10 lawn bags per season.
– I use a hand-rake designed for thatch that I bought at Rona many years ago. It has never let me down, and gives me a very good workout one afternoon.
d) Compost Tea
– I apply a nice thick spray of compost tea to the entire yard once a year. The exact time of year varies (whenever I get around to it), but the system is always the same. Take a number of shovels of nicely rotted compost from the backyard composter, throw them into a series of big buckets, add water, swirl it around, and let it stew for an hour or two. Then dump them all over the yard – including the flower beds.
– This is a lot of work, and might not be for everyone. But … it is like steroids for the microbes in your soil. Assuming you have done your job, and provided the microbes with lots of organic matter, they will reward you with improved conditions for your various plants (including grass) to grow.
– I overseed some or all of the lawn every year, usually in the early fall. Most years it is just a portion, as my lawn is too big to do everything each year.
– Overseeding allows you to introduce new grass seed varieties to your lawn. In our case, we use Scotts “Supreme”, but whatever you are using – the specific varieties of seeds you apply will be new strains than what was originally spread on your lawn when it was first seeded. These new strains will rejuvinate your lawn – making it more draught resistant, and disease free.
– When overseeding, I add soil, seed, and a little peat into a wheelbarrow, mix it all up, and then dump it on the lawn with a shovel. Then spread it around with a push broom. Spreading with a broom tends to even out the low areas of the yard a little better than a rake.
– After you overseed, step all over the lawn and make sure it is nicely compressed – so that the seed is nicely worked into the existing lawn. And then you should let moisture do its thing. Try to stay off the grass as much as possible, so the seedlings are not disturbed. But don’t worry too much about this, or you can’t enjoy your yard. Let nature worry about the seed.
f) Liquid fertilizer
– On my flower beds, every week during peak growing season, I mix up some Miracle Gro in a hose sprayer, and hit the plants and shrubs. Invariably the surrounding lawn will get a little sip as well, due to overspray.
– While this is very useful on the flowers, if you spray too often or too much on your lawn, it tends to add a great deal of thatch. So limit your liquid fertilizer applications to the flower beds, rather than the lawn – and try not to overdo it.
g) Sprinkler heads
– All of my sprinkler heads are Rainbird brand. I have had no luck whatsoever with other brands – in particular the ones from Home Depot are just rubbish. No idea why they can’t get it right – but after numerous attempts (Home Depot is much closer to my house than Lowes), I have given up.
– Rainbird heads are now available at Lowes, for us do-it-your-selfers. So we get all our heads at Lowes, and install them myself. Each winter one or two heads seem to break, but they are easy to install, and cheap. They only cost a few dollars a piece.
h) Sprinkler system
In our neighbourhood, every single household got their own irrigation company to install their sprinkler system. There is clearly lots of choice of companies; no idea if one is better than the other.
– Waters & Brookes designed and installed my system, and we think they did a fine job. It took a full crew of about 10 people to put it in, and it took nearly an entire day. For the first two years, we had them back to open the system in the spring, and close it in the fall. But we grew weary of spending $300 a year on opening and closing (and waiting around for them to show up).
– So the neighbours got together and bought a large air compressor, which each of us uses every fall to blow out our sprinkler lines before it freezes. SOMEONE has to blow your lines each fall, or the valves and lines will break, and you will have to re-install part or all of a new system in the spring.
– If your neighbourhood is friendly, and you can share a compressor – this is a good way to go. It works for us anyway.