By Mark Wolfe
There aren’t many things in landscaping that are as universally pleasing as a lush, green lawn. Unfortunately a lush, green lawn is the ideal rather than reality for many of us. How to achieve that ideal depends on why your grass isn’t green, and there can be lots of reasons. Here are some of the most common obstacles between you and your lawn nirvana, and how to overcome them.
Lawn grasses look their best when they receive about an inch of water each week. When mother nature doesn’t provide it, you can. It is important to know how much water you are applying. To calibrate your system, place several small straight-sided containers (like tuna cans) in your yard. See how long it takes to collect ¼ to ½ inch of water in the cans. That’s how long you should run your system, ¼ inch 4x per week or ½ inch 2x per week, etc. If you notice a significant amount of runoff, run less time, but do it more times per week. Consider reducing lawn space to conserve water, if you live in an arid region.
Pet urine can cause brown spots in grass. The high concentration of nitrogen in dog urine burns the grass just like a fertilizer spill. To prevent “dog spots,” train your dog to use a mulched area to do its business, or dilute urine spots immediately with water.
Grass needs 6-8 hours of direct sunlight. A few varieties of “shade tolerant” grasses will look okay with as little as 4 hours of sunlight. Prune mature trees to allow light penetration to the ground beneath, or expand landscape beds as tree canopies grow and shade out the grass beneath. Eliminate struggling grass in narrow corridors or shady sides of buildings.
Weed infestations may be indicators of poor soil fertility, improper pH, or compacted soil. Simply killing weeds as they appear has merit, as does consistently using weed preventer (also known as pre-emergent weed killer), but don’t overlook possible root causes of weed encroachment. Aerating your lawn every year will stimulate root production and help rain and irrigation penetrate deeply into the soil. Annual soil tests will provide the required information to apply the right products, at the right time, in the right quantities to optimize your soil conditions for growing a healthy lawn. Optimal growing conditions will lead to reduced stress from insects and diseases.
Lawn fungus can appear in several ways. Brown patch often begins as an area of grass with a brownish-red appearance that can spread rapidly under the right conditions. Dollar spot begins as small brownish spots scattered throughout the lawn, which can increase in number until large areas are left with just a few green blades of grass. Soil-borne fungi are always present, and cause damage to lawn grass when the grass is stressed and conditions are favorable for fungal growth. Stressors of the grass include excessive heat, drought or moisture, as well as warm season grasses as they break dormancy in spring. At the first sign of fungal infestation, apply lawn fungicide as directed by the manufacturer.
Like any plant, grass performs best when it has optimal growing conditions. Provide sunlight, soil fertility and water in the right amounts to minimize environmental stress and let your lawn grow strong and healthy. The ideal lawn may soon be right outside your door.
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