In mid April there is little that satisfies the home owner more than spending time out of doors improving his or her surroundings. After a long cold Canadian winter even hosing down the driveway feels like a trip to Florida. I do not recommend it as it wastes water. There are more worthwhile ventures in the yard that I can recommend, like spending some time on your lawn.
In recent years I have noticed a strong and powerful shift in focus where the Canadian lawn is concerned, not away from it as some would have you think, but away from the bad habits that were employed in an effort to grow a great looking lawn for a couple of generations before this.
My Dad, a passionate gardener, used to say that the chemical weed control 2,4-D revolutionized the gardening industry in the 40’s and 50’s. I contend that the banning of it by the Ontario government last year has caused a revolution of another kind.
I believe that the emerging generation of Canadian gardeners is not throwing the baby out with the bathwater by turning their backs on the lawn, but rather, they value the lawn for what it is: the most sophisticated living ground cover known to humankind.
What ‘plant’ – other than a grass plant – will take the abuses of foot traffic, dog traffic, the occasional driving over by a car or some heavy machinery, 18 or so mowings a year, will tolerate drought and stormy weather, minus 40°C weather, snow and its’ slow spring melt, a heat wave and you can throw your own abuse into this list.
You can be sure that if there was a plant that could ‘take it’ the golf course industry would be all over it.
Ontario is a natural place for growing great turf. There is more sod grown per capita in Ontario than any place on earth. Why? Because it loves to grow here. My friend Klaus Zander of Zander Sod tells me that their venerable company completed a great business year last year and is in line for another blockbuster. Sod is a net-export Canadian crop.
Fact is, back at home, you can enjoy all of the benefits of having a great looking lawn – including the environmental benefits – without causing harm to the environment. Most of what I have to suggest to achieve great, chemical free results is just common sense – like watering less often, cutting your lawn at least 6cm (2 ½ inches) high and using a low emissions, mulching mower.
So, here goes:
How do I control weeds in my lawn?
Any good fisherman will tell you that the best place to start when catching fish is to learn to think like a fish. Where are they feeding? What are they feeding on? How can I best get to them with a hook and bait that looks like ‘today’s special’?
And so with weed control: a weed is a competitor first and foremost. Not the nice kind either, unless you like to walk barefoot on thistles. And being able to walk comfortably barefoot is one litmus test for a great lawn.
If a weed is a fierce competitor, then your job is to out-compete it.
Do that by thickening your lawn with fresh, top quality grass seed right now.
Here is how to have a great looking lawn by overseeding:
- Rake the area to be seeded gently with a fan rake, removing debris and loose, dead grass.
- Spread good quality triple mix (1/3 top soil, 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 compost) or a ‘lawn seeding soil’ over the area about 3 to 5 cm thick, being sure to fill in depressions in your lawn and even out the peaks.
- Broadcast fresh, quality grass seed over the new soil at the rate of 1/2 kg per 40 m² (one pound per 400 ft²). Use a hand held spreader or, for smaller areas, just let the seed drop from between your thumb and index finger while moving your arm back in forth in a swaying motion. Now rake it smooth with a fan rake.
- Step on the seed/soil mix to bring them into firm contact otherwise the seed risks floating down into small streams and rivulets. For a large area you will 1/3 fill a lawn roller and roll the works in two opposing directions.
- Water gently. Keep watering daily until germination takes place, then every 2 days until you can see all of the seed is germinated and then only as the surface of the soil dries. After 6 to 8 weeks you will only water your new lawn when you water your established lawn.
Secrets to success:
- Buy the best quality grass seed that you can afford. There are times when it pays to buy cheap stuff; this is not one of them. I use Golfgreen as it is 99.9% weed free and produced in Canada: above all it is important to remember that the pedigree of your lawn is in the bag. Sow poor quality seed and guess what kind of lawn you will grow…..
- Use weed free soil. My first choice is to use a special mix of soil that is specific to lawn seed starting. Mark’s Choice, CIL, Green Earth, Shultz and Home Hardware all produce good quality products. If you use triple mix, make sure that it is weed free.
- Water diligently for the first few weeks. If Mother Nature rains on your parade, give thanks – this is your day off. Otherwise, be sure not to let the seed/soil mix dry out completely until the new lawn is established.
- Do it now. As the spring season progresses towards summer and day temperatures rise so does the difficulty of starting a new lawn from seed or the thickening of an established one. After Father’s day I suggest that it is best to leave lawn seed sowing until mid August, if you can.
How do I control the dreaded lawn grub?
Here is a nice surprise: if you fertilize your lawn this time of year, cut your lawn at least 6 cm high and if you thicken it as suggested above you will minimize the chances of ever having to control the grey or white grub. Why? Because your lawn is going to be very healthy – and that is your best defense against all common lawn insect problems.
The grubs of the European Chafer and the June Beetle like to munch down on grass roots in the early heat of summer. The damage is most visible when your lawn is thin and weak.
Now that you cannot buy chemical grub controls for your lawn, the most effective method of control is biological. A special selection of soil born insects called ‘nematodes’ are available at garden retailers in June, when grubs are active and the nematodes work best. There is nothing that you can do to kill grubs now, nor do you need to, if you are doing all that you can do to create a healthy environment for your lawn this time of year.
I will provide details about nematodes in this column later in the spring.
Should I de-thatch my lawn?
Most lawns in Southern Ontario do not need to be de-thatched. In fact a 2 to 3 cm layer of thatch is beneficial as it will protect your lawn from the effects of drought by insulating the top layer of soil and grass roots. Also, as thatch breaks down (composts) it provides a beneficial environment for grass root development. Thatch also promotes the development of mycorrhiza and other beneficial bacteria plus insects in your soil.
If, however, you have a layer of thatch that is thicker than 3 cm than you may consider using a de-thatcher or hiring a professional to do the job for you.
If you follow my advice here I can guarantee you a great looking lawn. And one that the kids can run and roll on without you having to worry.