Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
March, 2006
Regional Report

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This grass was coaxed out of dormancy for a garden show. It's a reminder how resilient grass can be with proper care.

Getting Your Lawn Ready

The unseasonably warm weather in February and March has caused lawns to awaken from their winter's nap. Warm winds, high temperatures, and lack of moisture can put real stress on the lawn. The mountains are covered in snow, and that's good news. There may be a lifting of water restrictions. It's time to plan a strategy for a healthy, green, and drought-enduring lawn while conserving water at the same time. The way to have a beautiful lawn is to understand what a healthy lawn is all about and how to keep it that way.

Cool-season grasses, including bluegrass, turf fescue, and perennial rye, need a good foundation: healthy soil. Grasses that grow their roots in healthy soil will thrive. The proper balance of air, water, and nutrients will encourage the roots to grow deeply and vigorously.

Before sodding a new lawn, prepare the soil. A simple way to improve your soil is to apply organic amendments. As soil structure is improved, the soil becomes healthy and can support deeper root growth. A good source of organic matter will break up heavy clay soils, as well as improve the water-holding capacity of sandy, and granite-based soils.

Quality organic amendments also help unlock mineral elements so they are available to the plants and help speed up the formation of a living and healthy soil. Soon your lawn will be easy to maintain with some basic lawn care practices.

Early Spring Rituals
A neglected lawn's recovery should start with a good core aeration. Proper aeration removes cores of soil and thatch (that water-repellent layer of living and dead roots, stems, and leaves that accumulates above the soil surface). Insects, diseases, and some weed species find thatch an ideal place to live.

It is particularly important to core aerate lawns on clay soils that are prone to compacting from human and pet traffic and from running the lawn mower over the lawn. Aeration will increase water and air penetration, stimulate new root growth into the root zone area, and provide openings for fertilizer and pulverized compost to enter the soil. If you need to overseed a thin lawn, the openings left from aeration provide lodging places for grass seed to germinate more successfully.

You'll get the best results from aerators that remove 3-inch-deep cores that are 3/4 inches in diameter and spaced at 3 to 6 inch intervals. The aerator should cross the lawn at least twice, going in two different directions.

Plugs left from aeration can be unsightly and tracked indoors if left on the surface. Ideally, you should rake the plugs after aeration and recycle them in the compost pile. If you prefer, you can leave the plugs on the lawn and they will eventually break down after several mowings. Just remember to sharpen the lawn mower blade regularly as mowing plugs will dull the blade.

If you have a thin, weak lawn that's prone to crabgrass invasion, early to mid-April is the time to apply a low-toxicity pre-emergent herbicide to prevent this invader. Read the label carefully.

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