Pine Bluffs Post - Serving all of Eastern Laramie County since 1908

Lawn Care Part 1

 

Photo Courtesy of Mike Heath

Above: Buffalo grass lawn after seasonal mowing.

It's that time of year again. We've had a really strange bout of weather so far this year, hot one day and cold the next. But I've noticed that the grass has certainly started growing with abandon the last couple of weeks. I spoke with a friend yesterday who was telling me that he has already mowed four times this year. I didn't know it was growing that fast. Of course, he lives in Pine and I'm south of TA. That's a fair change in altitude and climate. Plants usually are earlier coming out in Pine than at my place. Funny how a few hundred feet can make such a difference. However, it is that time of year when we all start thinking of lawn care.

May is the perfect month to add your fertilizer. This year I'm not much one to talk because I've let the month get away from me without fertilizing. I know it's something I need to do, and do quickly, but I've had other things on my mind and time just seems to be flying by. The best time to fertilize is just before a rain, but the forecast looks like the rain may be ending for a while. For me, that's good, but at the same time it means that when I fertilize I'm going to have to water it in manually. I won't be able to take advantage of God's watering system which is the best on the market.

When you purchase your lawn fertilizer, look at the components and match them against the needs of your lawn. Hopefully, you have your soil test result back so you aren't just guessing. If you didn't get a soil test, you have to pay attention to your lawn and drag out those memories from last year and remember how your lawn looked and how it was acting at the end of the season. If you had a beautiful, lush lawn that you watered consistently, mowed on a regular schedule, no dead spots, then you can get by with a generalized balanced lawn fertilizer. You're also the exception to the norm. Most of us have to work at our lawns and consistently address problem areas. If your lawn stayed yellow last year you need a fertilizer with a higher nitrogen content. That's the first number in the fertilizer analysis. Each bag will have three numbers prominently displayed, such as 15-10-5. They represent N-P-K or Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. The number is the percentage of each, by weight, in the fertilizer. The rest is filler. Nitrogen helps with the photosynthesis and leaf growth which brings that lush, green look to the lawn. Phosphorus and Potassium strengthen the cells and enhance root growth. Strong cells make a lawn that will hold up to use better. A better root system helps the grass reach the nutrients and water that's deeper in the soil. Strong roots also help hold the grass in place which, in turn, holds the soil to reduce erosion.

Your maintenance needs all start with the turf grass you select. Do you want a low maintenance lawn or a deep green, lush, nearly golf course looking lawn? There are always trade-offs with your selection. The type of grass needed for the lush, deep green lawn is going to be high maintenance. That means a lot of water and constant mowing. On the other hand, a lawn that is low maintenance may be very dense (i.e. buffalo grass) but not necessarily deep green. You'll have to decide what your goals are.

When I first moved into this house 20 years ago, I planted a beautiful Kentucky Bluegrass lawn. It looked great. Then the hot, dry season set in and I learned just how much time and resources it was going to take to keep that beautiful bluegrass turf in good shape. Then something my father said a long time ago came back to me. "Live with the land. Don't try to force the land to live with you because it won't work." Bluegrass isn't normal in this climate. It likes a lot of water and humidity, but it doesn't like hot and dry. Yes, you can get a bluegrass lawn to work here, but it takes a lot of care. It's much better to live with the land. For me, that was buffalo grass. It's a native grass that only grow 6"-8" tall and it's tough, just like Wyoming. That's why I don't mow until later in the year and usually only once each season. I do still have some bluegrass, but not much.

If you are putting in a new lawn from seed there are a few things to consider. To begin with you need to determine what kind of grass you want. Drought tolerance, heat tolerance and the ability to winter over are major considerations here. If the grass you choose doesn't meet these conditions, you'll spend more time working on your lawn than enjoying it. Native varieties will have the best chance of surviving once they're established. Many of the native grasses are "bunch" grasses, so do your homework first. A bunch grass will give you a lumpy yard. For a smoother lawn, use a grass that grows and spreads from rhizomes. You'll also want to choose a variety of grasses, not just one. Just look across the prairie. There are several kinds of grasses that provide diversity. With just one grass variety, a single problem can cause the entire lawn to die. With a variety, you have a better chance of saving it because each variety is affected differently by drought, disease, insects, etc. Good grasses for this area include buffalo grass, blue gramma and the fescues. If you have a slope or need something to hold down dust while you new lawn is growing, you can add rye to the mix. Understand, though, that the rye is short-lived and will not last. But it does germinate and grow fast to give protection for your "real" lawn while it gets established. Cover your seed with a mulch of some sort (straw works well) to keep the soil cool and moist. Your grass will push up through the mulch as it grows, and the mulch will decay and feed the soil. A seed company such as Pawnee Bluffs Seed in Greeley will mix seed to give you exactly what you want. You can download their "Guide to Grasses" handbook to help you with your decision. Or you can read it on-line.

Before seeding, till the soil down to at least six inches. If you need to add something to your soil, now is the time to do it. One caution. Don't overtill as that will result in a fluffy seed bed that is subject to compaction and your seed won't do as well. Apply your seed in two directions at right angles to each other, using one-half the seed in each direction then rake over it so there is some soil covering the seed. Not too much, though. Watering is vital here. While your seed is germinating, you need to keep the soil moist, but not wet. The best way to tell if you need water is the "touch test". Stick you finger in the ground. You can feel the moisture content. You'll need to check multiple locations. Then water accordingly using light, frequent waterings.

I've run out of space for this topic so next week we'll talk about maintenance and diseases. In the meantime, have a great weekend and get those lawns growing. If you have any questions, ask a Master Gardener. It's what we do.

 

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