Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
May, 2008
Regional Report

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A small lawn can be just as welcoming as a large one.

An Environmental Lawn?

Lawns are the outdoor carpets of our landscapes. They provide a place to relax, for the children to play, and for outdoor gatherings. They moderate summer temperatures by absorbing solar radiation and reducing reflected heat. They protect the soil surface from crusting, compaction, and erosion.

Lawns have come under fire in recent years as concern over future water shortages and current water quality are bringing attention to the role our landscapes play in these important issues. Landscapes can certainly contribute to these problems, however, they need not.

A lawn can, in fact, be part of an environmentally sound landscape. Some keys to such an approach are suitable variety selection, appropriate size and location, and proper maintenance.

Where Do You Need Grass
The first consideration is where do you want/need a lawn? We have a tendency to put grass wherever we have property. In fact there are a lot of places where a lawn need not be planted. A lawn that is excessive in size or covering areas where turf grass does not thrive, such as thin rocky soil, deep shade, or peripheral areas where it is difficult to maintain, does represent a potential waste of time, money, and precious water resources.

Promoting Healthy Grass
Proper care is critical to creating an environmentally sound lawn. Turf grasses are often overwatered and overfertilized. In addition to the environmental concerns, such practices contribute to turf problems including certain disease and insect problems, which may necessitate spraying.

Turf can be undermanaged, too. A weak, thin stand of turf due to inadequate fertilizer and water and poor mowing practices becomes weedy more easily. Fertilizers and pesticides are more likely to wash off a weak, thin lawn than a dense healthy one. Such mismanagement does not mean that turf itself is to blame, but rather its misinformed owner. Turf can be maintained wisely with a minimal of outside inputs. Good lawn care can be summarized in three cultural practices: mowing, watering, and fertilizing. If you do these three properly, your lawn will be the best on the block!

Frequent mowing is better than infrequent mowing. Mow on a 5 to 7 day schedule, removing no more than one-third of the leaf blade with each mowing. For example, a St. Augustine turf should be mowed to 2-1/2 inches when it reaches 3 inches, while a semidwarf bermuda or zoysia should be mowed to 1-1/2 or 2 inches when it reaches 2 or 2-1/2 inches.

While many homeowners like to water 15 minutes a day, your turf will benefit from a good soaking applied less often. Apply 1/2 to 1 inch of water once or twice a week. A coffee can makes a good rain gauge to test out how long you need to water to apply an inch. Frequent wetting promotes disease problems and a shallow-rooted turf. Let the soil dry out a bit between waterings and the grass will develop a deep root system and do much better.

Fertilize with no more than 1/2 to 1 pound of nitrogen in spring after you have mowed the grass twice, and again in early fall. Apply a product with a 3-1-2 or 4-1-2 ratio of nutrients as this is roughly the ratio of nutrients grass takes in. To figure out how much fertilizer to apply, divide the first number on the bag into 100 and the result is the amount to apply per 1,000 square feet.

There are few landscape areas more popular than the lawn. While lawns can be a waste of resources and a maintenance headache, a lawn can also be a resource-efficient part of the landscape if properly selected and managed. Make yours a source of enjoyment for the entire family.

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