GTI Lawn & Garden Letter

Entertaining advice for home gardeners with a focus on lawn and garden care and the outdoor gardening lifestyle. Suitable primarily for people living in northeastern North America and similar temperate climates in other parts of the world.

Friday, April 25, 2008

2008 Season Begins with a Bang

In southern Ontario it seems like we have jumped suddenly from winter to summer. Fortunately for the spring bulbs and the rest of the garden, there is some rain in the forecast for the weekend and also a return to cooler, more seasonal temperatures.  I always prefer a little cooler temperatures as the spring bulbs emerge to help prevent them from burning out in a few days.

Lawns also benefit from cooler spring temperatures and more consistent rainfall in the spring. Many lawns are showing the signs of last summer's heat and drought along with evidence of damage from insects. Later in this posting, I will provide some advice on repairing damaged lawns.

If you lawn survived last year in decent shape, all it may need this spring is a little raking to remove any debris left over from last fall.  You may recall how we had snow last fall before all of the leaves had fallen so no doubt you have residual leaves left over. If they are not too thick and have dried, you may be able to avoid raking and simply mulch them up with the first pass of your mower. Although many homeowners still see fertilizing the lawn as the initial rite of spring, early spring fertilizer is not recommended as it can stimulate leaf growth at the expense of developing a strong root system. Good roots are the key to a healthy lawn so hold off with any fertilizer application until late spring.  Fertility will be addressed in a future posting.

Core aeration is also a good cultural practice to help keep your lawn thick and healthy.  It is done using a machine that pulls a little plug of soil and turf out of the ground. The plugs will naturally break down and the hole provides a conduit for air and water to easily enter the soil. To help crowd out weeds, overseeding immediately following core aeration is recommended. Perennial ryegrass is the only grass species that can be effectively overseeded into an existing lawn.  

The first mowing of the season does not need to be done until the height of the grass is approximately 1/3 higher than your desired height of cut. For home lawns, it is recommended that you mow at the highest height of cut your mower allows. Taller grass has deeper roots and is more resilient to drought and other environmental stresses. It is also more competitive with weeds. Be sure to start the season with a freshly sharpened mower blade. Don't forget to change the oil in your mower if you didn't get it done in the fall. If you are in the market for a new mower, take a look at the light weight push or electric reel mowers that are available for small properties. There is a new solar rechargeable self propelled electric mower made in Canada that is on the market. I am trying to borrow a demonstration unit from the manufacturer and will hopefully be able to post a review in the near future.

Lawn Repair and Renovation

Grub damage can be devestating

If your lawn was severely damaged by drought or insect damage last year and you were unable to initiate repairs last fall, now is the time to get going to avoid weed encroachment on the barren ground. Less severely damaged lawns may be repaired simply by following good cultural practices (mowing, fertility and irrigation) that will encourage the remaining grass to spread and fill in. Overseeding with perennial ryegrass can speed up the repair process.

More severely damaged lawns with large expanses of dead grass need a little more work. Overseeding or resodding are your best options. Whichever route you take, the key is to avoid disturbing the existing soil which will stimulate dormant weed seeds to germinate. Mow low and rake off any debris as a first step. If there is a thick layer of dead material on the surface (thatch) you may need to use a vertical mower, also known as a power rake, to lift the dead material for removal. The area can be topdressed with new topsoil to level and then you can sod or overseed.

Another option for overseeding is to use a slit overseeder. This machine cuts slits in the soil and places the seed in direct contact with soil for optimal germination. Many lawn care companies are now offering this service and some equipment rental companies have slit overseeders for rent. Apply seed at half rate and go over the area in two directions at a right angle to each other.

Renovating a damaged lawn is a great time to upgrade your grass. You may want to consider going to a more drought tolerant and lower maintenance fescue blend or perhaps you want to try out the newest Kentucky bluegrass cultivars. Don't skimp on quality when it comes to seed. Read the label carefully and look for seed blends that have named cultivars as opposed to just common seed types. Follow this link for a list of reputable Canadian lawn seed suppliers.

For more detailed information on lawn repair check out the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs excellent publication Lawn Renovation.

Once you have resodded or seeded your lawn, follow up with good maintenance practices to get the lawn well established. Hopefully Mother Nature will cooperate and provide us with some nice gentle, warm rains that will help the lawn and garden prepare for the summer ahead. Your questions and comments are always welcomed. Remember that your lawn and garden should be a place for recreation and relaxation, a place to reconnect with the earth. Enjoy it!