Do It Yourself Lawn Care
Do it yourself lawn care: the proper way to grow and maintain a velvet-like inviting lawn
WHY SHOULD YOU TAKE CARE OF YOUR LAWN?
Just like we need nutrition to nourish our mental and physical growth, plants need nutritional supplements too. Otherwise they function abnormally and perish. In a similar fashion, your lawn needs attention to grow thick, healthy and velvetty grass, seasonal flowering plants and make things unfavourable for the harmful weeds that can act as hosts to various diseases, fungal or not. Detrimental effects caused by negligence may lead to unhealthy conditions affecting the overall appearance of the lawn. Inadequate water, sunlight and nutrients will lead to a horrible looking lawn choked by weeds, dry grass and empty patches.
STEPS TO IMPROVE LAWN CONDITION
If you are seriously interested in giving your lawn the damn good look then go forward and read the rest of the page.
Before indulging yourself in this task, you should make a plan and prepare yourself. Stroll around the lawn and observe keenly the appearance. Some areas may seem dry, with yellow grasses, while there may be patches with no grass at all. The grass just around the house may be full of weeds while the shaded areas may be damp and mossy. This is just because of the non-uniform distribution of all the essential elements, sunlight, water and nutrients and lack of proper care and maintenance that have led to a revolution to damage your lawn.
The dull, somber, deserted look in winter makes us all anxious for spring and reminds us of a luscious, green lawn. At the onset of spring when all the snow has melted away, take a plastic bag and collect all the fallen things in your lawn such as leaves, twigs, cones, sticks etc. Rake the soil to break up mud clods, loosen and aerate the soil containing the grass roots. Knowing the type of grass is very important as you should dig your land accordingly to oxygenate the roots. With the help of a sharp blade, trim the grass tops evenly. Make sure that they are not torn down in the process. If you need to cut tall grown grasses, then it is recommended that you mow them in 2-3 passes.
* How To Mow -
During the very early times, Darwin has put forward the nature's unbeatable law "Survival of the Fittest". The weeds and the tender grasses fight for their survival in your lawn and whom do you want to win? The grass of course. So act accordingly.
The lazy people mow their land too low to avoid another mow. But experience and research say that mowing should be done at appropriate times to avoid choking of the lawn by weeds giving it the most pitiful look. The weeds and the grasses fight for sunlight with the help of which they photosynthesise to produce glucose that they intake as food for their growth. Without sunlight they fail to photosynthesise resulting in weakening and ultimately, death. So sun is their main source of energy, their strength, their life. If one outgrows the shades other, it might block the essential light from reaching it's enemy thus weakening and destroying it. Mowing of the grasses should thus be done just to trim their heads so that they remain tall for their enemies (the dandelions, mostly). Also, tall grasses are more healthy and supportive of their body, I mean, short grasses have less chlorophyll containing cells (green cells) thus producing less food which leads to drawing of food from all body parts weakening the blades in the process. Weak blades become susceptible to various kinds of fungal infestations and develop black or brown patches , presenting an allover dull look. Tall grasses, on the other hand, utilizes their extra stored food to develop rhizomes which develop into more turf under favourable conditions.
Frequent mowing also helps to decapitate the weeds whose sensitive growing point lies near the top. Thus their growth is severly hampered. The fallen clippings serve as humus for the rest of the grass. So do not throw them away. Secure them in a pile or let them decay in the lawn in a natural process enriching the soil texture by adding organic nutrients.
* How to Water -
All plants need an optimum level of water to survive, to maintain their health and vibrancy. For this, a steady use of water, effectively and efficiently, is needed to ensure proper plant growth. Plants lose water by evapotranspiration. Without enough water, plant cells lose turgor pressure and wilt. But too much water can also have similar effects on the plant by choking it's roots and cutting down air supply by blocking the pores. So water your lawn at the right time with a dependable water source. Depriving most landscape plants of water at critical times during their growth cycle can leave a plant susceptible to disease and damage all year long. Watering too much wastes a valuable resource and creates other problems such as stunted growth, nutrient runoff and erosion.
If your lawn has newly planted woody plants, the first two growing seasons after they have been planted are the most vital periods since it the stage of development of roots. Well developed roots can themselves absorb and maintain plant growth.
It is recommended that you water your lawn infrequently. This forces the grass roots to grow deeper into the soil than the weed roots from where they draw water. Repeated and frequent watering leads to the development of grass runners above the soil rather than rhizomes underground. These runners form a compact wire mesh like structure above the soil thus cutting water and air supply to the roots below. The grass propagated through these runners but under unfavourable conditions when there is an intense heat, the soil dries up quickly leaving very less or no water for the above ground runners leading to the yellowing of the grass blades. On the other hand, daily watering is just what is cherished by the notorious weeds.
So be careful and determine by yourself when to water. The best indication is that the grass starts curling due to water shortage or shows any sign of drought stress. Or, you can dig about 6 inches into the soil to get any hint of moisture. If dry, then it's time you watered your lawn.
Different soils have different water holding capacity and porosity. It is very important to know your soil type and check soil moisture absorption and retention rates. Sandy soil is very porous and has very low water holding capacity while heavy soil absorbs slowly and holds water for a long period. Clayey soils also retain water for long periods. Light soils absorb water faster but dry out quicker. Loamy soils are said to be the best as they are the balanced mixture of clay, silt and sand with organic matter and 50% open pore space that can be filled with air and water. The plan of irrigation should be made according to the different soil conditions. Remember, the grass roots are down deep and most weed roots are near the surface. The idea is to keep the top three inches of soil as dry as you can for as long as you can. Frequent watering only becomes advantageous for the weed roots and they would love it more than anything.
Apply water slowly and steadily ensuring that it reaches deep down to the roots helping in extensive root growth and does not run off. If the ground is too dry, sprinkle a little water and wait till it is fully absorbed. Water again on the moist ground. You will be amazed to see that if you water a stone hard ground, the water runs off fast and only a little is absorbed. Moistened soil has a better absorption capacity than a bone dry soil. Physics says that water molecules has a strong cohesive property and they tend to stay together than fall apart.
A knowledge about the root structure and depth of it's branches helps determine when, how much and where to water. Shallow-rooted plants need more frequent watering than deep-rooted plants. The deep water are available to the latter plants while that water on the surface dries up soon. Once water works its way below a plant's rooting zone the water is not available to the plant any longer.
* Fertilizer application -
In a similar fashion as we intake food and nutrients, plants feed on nutrients too for their proper growth, development and maintenance. Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) , together known as NPK, are the 3 essential elements absolutely necessary for a plant growth.
Sprinkle a little lawn fertilizer early in spring and then again during the beginning of fall. If your lawn is in serious need of fertilizer, apply the fertilizer every three weeks during the spring otherwise twice a year would be sufficient. Cool season grasses are semi-dormant in the summer. Fertilizing in the summer feeds the weeds, not the grass.
Increased organic matter also helps hold water in the soil so that roots can access it.
It is a recomendation for the expert to have the pH of the soil professionally tested. Add lime if it is below 6.0 and gardener's sulfur if it is above 7.0. Dandelions love a pH of about 7.5. Grass loves a pH of about 6.5. So if your pH is 7.5 or higher, your grass will probably never beat out the dandelion. Lower the pH to 6.5 and your grass has the advantage.
Mulching is an easy way to add organic matter to the soil. It is especially practical for established shrub and tree beds. This is the easiest way to condition and enrich your soil when you spread the mulching material on top of the soil and let weather and soil organisms such as earthworms till the material into the soil. Mulch, being high in nutrients, reduces weed growth, increases water infiltration rates, helps moderate the climate immediately around the plant, and retains soil moisture improving the local soil environment and keeping it cool in summer and warm in winter. Mulch remains on soil surface and protects the soil and underground plant roots organs from erosion, heat, and evaporation.
* Avoid Weeds -
The weeds love to make their nests in the lawns and compete for sunlight, water and nutrients with the other desired sensitive plants for their survival and threaten their well-being. They act as hosts to diseases and fungal spores that affect the lawn vegetation disastrously and are extremely hardy and can propagate profusely. Their profuse pollen grains produce numerous air and animal borne seeds which are easily dispersed thus facilitating their successful reproduction. Insects are repulsed by their defensive mechanisms and they go on propagating merrily through innumerable seeds and undergroung rhizomes. Some of them are even immune to the various chemicals formulated to iradicate them.
The two of these notorious impossible-to-get-rid-if weeds are Bindweed and Canadian thistle that allow to extend their elaborate root systems deep down under the soil and intermingle with the rhizomes of our so favourite grass.
Proper maintenance of the grass by watering at the desired time and periodic mowing are the two very uncomfortable situations for them. Dig and cut them out to weaken and kill them to the root at the very first sight.
Another enemy of the grass is the Dandelion growing mostly in alkaline soil. They might be pretty but their average life span is about 5 years during which they fight for their supremacy with the tender grass.
Black medic and Clover thrives best in low nitrogen soil. They have desirable looks and also provide nitrogen to the soil but as long as they do not put up a strong fight, their presence in the lawn is not unacceptable.
Knapweed tries to poison plants around it with niacin. A little water washes the niacin away and the plants around it can have a fighting chance. Mow a little more frequently in late june and early july to wipe out knapweed.
To minimize bursting of weeds in your landscape, eliminate the conditions that give them a competitive edge while planning, planting, and maintaining your landscape. Try to eliminate weeds from adjacents lots, nearby vegetable gardens or around the fencing. This will prevent weeds from creeping up in your land and gain foothold. The more you fill up your space with desired plants the better leaving less space for the weeds. Occasional spraying of glyphosphate containing herbicides somewhat helps controlling their outbreak. Covering the soil after planting immediately with 3-4 inches of mulch also helps keep the weeds at bay. Look out for weed seeds during planting or rotating the soil and remove them at the first sight.
* Enhance your Lawn -
Additions like flowering herbs, shrubs and trees to the lawn enhances it's beauty to a great extent as does a bouquet to a room. Vines twining around tall trees, small flower beds around the house and hegdes placed equidistant from each other lining the fence are some of the tips for your lawn enhancement. These are easy to take care of, need regular food and occasional shielding from the harmful elements. An annual or biennial pruning and disease and pest control along with weeds checking are their secondary requirements and you won't regret the toil you put up for them once they bloom up vibrant and luxuriant in their full colors with the green foliage, flowers and fruits.
Woody, Coniferous and Deciduous plants
The woody plants grow up to give you life long shade and cool breeze rich in fresh oxygen. They are the easiest to maintain and propagate. Pruning helps to remove apical buds and paves the way for the appearance of the axillary buds. These buds grow up to become a branch. Thus pruning leads to a fast growth and development of a dense foliage with a lot of buds with a healthy look. But inefficient hands may cut down essential parts leading to sick, malformed branches. So it is recommended that pruning be done with the help of a manual or guide.
Extensive studies in the field of genetics have led to various sized conifers with their different branching patterns and variously shaped male and female cones. They have been geneticised to adapt and thrive in different landscapes and thus need very little care and pruning if correctly chosen from their varied species and genera to adorn your lawn. Their conical shape can be transformed to round or bushy or "Christmas tree" forms in expert hands by pruning.
In case of deciduous trees, you need to take a little more care. Pruning time varies according to the various plants and some plants may need more than one pruning in a season. Remove damaged or broken, old or diseased undesirable plant parts like branches, fruits or flowers and then trim. Apply fertilizers, fungicides, water and mulch around the plant after the shaping.
The hedges have a pattern that need a different type of cutting. A broad base and a converging top is recommended to allow sunlight to be evenly distributed to all the branches and leaves. Otherwise these hedges tend to become the home of abundant growth of fungi and flourishing bacteria.
* Remove the Pests
You are your lawn's physician.
The various inhabitants of your lawn include bugs, crickets, flies, butterflies, scales, grasshoppers, crickets, larvae of various insects, namatodes, worms, mites and ants. They feed on the grass blades and roots, draw the sap, eat the chlorophyll cells and discolor and weaken the grasses. Sometimes they lay eggs on the underside of the blades. The larvae hatching from the eggs are light and easily dispersed from one place to another posing a threat to the lawn health. The turf suffers from wilting, water scarcity, root drying and the grass loses it's color. Certain adults are harmless while their larvae or grubs bore their way through the roots and can eat up the whole lawn if not taken care of early. Other may be harmful at both the stages. While some are shade-loving other may be sun-loving. Some are almost even invisible to the naked eye. Under these conditions, pesticide application will be the best provided you identify the affected portion correctly, apply it in correct doses with the correct applicator according to the directions in the product's manual and secure away any pet or children from the area until the chemical has dried up properly after spray. Young grubs are easier to kill and it is recommended that you start spraying at the slighest hint.
Keep yourself posted with the knowledge of the various insects infesting your lawn and their signs of presence and control measures. Different insects have different ways of control and one may not be applicable for the other. While some are harmful at the young stage and and harmless when adult, other help eat away other bugs and worms thus saving you some labour. One example is that the cricket eats away various bugs and earthworms. Then again it is a voracious eater of the grass blades, roots and runners. So an up-to-date knowledge regarding their behaviour, food habit and life cycle will help you control their spread in your lawn more efficiently.
The other frustrating life forms that we are forgetting are the moles, rodents, gophers, rabbits, snails, slugs, deer, dogs and crayfish. Some of these are underground creatures burrowing holes deep down in the lawns making their homes building clumps of mud aboveground in the process. Traps, poison baits, repellants might be used to get rid of them. Some of these feed on the insects in the lawn. Killing them might kill the larger creatures when they fail to survive in absence of food. Liquid or pellet baits are highly effective in case of snails and slugs once you find out their hiding places under the dead, dried leaves. Fencing may keep out dogs and deer from your area.
* Care for the Soil -
Soil is the source of minerals and organic matter along with air and water for the plants. Plants draw nutrients from the soil. Soil is the home of the roots. So proper maintenance of the soil is needed to reduce fertilizer and pesticides applications, which can be detrimental sometimes, and enhance root growth and development. So soil needs replenishment on a regular basis with sufficient air, water, fertilizer, pH balance and organic matter. Test your soil, determine the soil type to understand it's aeration and water holding capacity, fortify it with sufficient amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, iron and potassium, correct the pH by increasing or decreasing according to need you will have a luscious, green, velvetty, spongy and inviting lawn. Gypsum is said to improve soil as well as plant conditions.
Healthy soil ensures a healthy lawn and can better resist insect attack and weed infestation.
* Keep the Lawn Clean -
Last but not the least, keep your lawn devoid of wastes. Leave the grass clippings and plant trimmings on the soil to act as a natural source of nutrients to the plants. Other than that, remove dead plant parts, dead and decaying animal remains, dog's droppings etc to maintain a clean, healthy lawn.