Lawn care and maintenance

For all the care the home owner may devote to his flowers, shrubs, and trees, for all the success he may achieve with them, his lawn must be equally well attended and equally successful if it is not to mar the total landscape picture. The lawn is indeed the background on which the nature-painter, using growing things as his pigments, so to speak, must apply his strokes.

Requirements of good grass

Creating a good, attractive lawn is not a difficult undertaking, requires little expert knowledge, and makes few demands, these being mainly a well-prepared seedbed, good seed, proper soil, and proper fertilization.
In general, a good garden loam is the best for grass, and its texture is improved by application of fine, well-rotted stable manure. Granulated or cultivated peats, commercially available, also are helpful.

If the soil is too heavy a clay, it can be improved by the use of sand, covering the surface to a depth of one inch, then working it 3 or 4 inches into the soil. If the soil is too sandy, a similar working in of clay is a good corrective.
The best seedbed is a firm one with a well-pulverized surface. It should be watered thoroughly in advance of sowing to settle the soil, which should be stirred occasionally to destroy weeds that have started. A few days before seeding, apply fertilizer liberally, using fertilizer which contains nitrogen, phosphate, and potash; it stimulates a strong, early growth of grass. Organic fertilizers such as cottonseed meal and poultry manure, used at a rate of 40 to 50 pounds per 1,000 square feet, produce excellent results. They must be worked into the soil thoroughly.

Good lawn seed

Be sure to use seeds which have high standards of purity and germination; don't try to economize by using cheap seed. Seed should be sown heavily, to obtain a thick stand of grass from the start. Sowing 3 to 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet is recommended, following the rule of the larger the seed the higher the rate of sowing. After broadcasting the seeds upon the ground, rake the soil slightly and do not let it become dry until the seedlings are rooted firmly.

Roll the ground well before sowing the seed; and, after the lawn is established, roll it periodically. This is an important step, not only for the sake of beauty, which is marred by lumpiness, but to facilitate the operation of the lawnmower. It is unlikely that the owner of a small place has room for such a cumbersome implement as a large, heavy roller, but in almost every community one may be rented at a reasonable hourly rate from a nurseryman.

When to sow grass seed

People living in the northern half of this country will do well to sow their lawns in the fall, when the weeds are less troublesome than in spring, but the sowing should be done in time to permit good rooting before the onset of freezing weather. Many lawns started in the spring fail because weed competition is too strong at that time and because hot weather may set in before the young seedlings are ready to withstand it.


Sodding is one of the fastest ways to establish a lawn but it is usually an expensive undertaking. For use of sod, soil preparation is the same as for use of seed except that the bed should be more compact. One inch is the preferred thickness for a sod, for it is easy to handle and new roots establishing contact with the ground develop from it more rapidly than from thicker sods. Especially in establishing grass on slopes, sodding is the most effective method, although it costs more than seeding. After sodding, roll well. Any holes may be filled with a good loamy soil and re-rolled until surface is firm and level.

Grasses for specific regions

Grasses for specific regions As in the case of other plants, selection of a grass to be used in a specific area should be governed largely by the soil and climatic conditions in which it must grow. In considering these selections the United States is divided into four sections as indicated in the accompanying map.

Pacific Northwest and New England: Bentgrasses, such as creeping bent, colonial bent and seaside bent, are most successful in this region. The bentgrasses have a high tolerance to soil acidity.

  • Region I: In most of this region, Kentucky bluegrass, with its strong root system, is best. It may be sown alone in soil well stocked with lime, organic matter, and plant food. Usually, however, it is wiser to sow a mixture of grasses, and the following has proved satisfactory in most of Region 1 : 17 parts Kentucky bluegrass, 2 parts redtop and 1 part white clover (by weight). In the eastern portion of Region 1, the following mixture is suitable: 10 parts Kentucky bluegrass, 5 parts Chewings fescue, 2 parts redtop, 1 part colonial bent, 1 part white clover (by weight). Sow in fall; but when spring sowing is necessary reduce the bluegrass part by 10 per cent and substitute Italian ryegrass. In shade, roughstalk bluegrass is recommended. Beneath trees, especially in sandy soil, Chewings or European red fescue is recommended. In shady conditions grass roots are shallow and demand careful water and fertilization; the lawn may require annual reseeding.
  • Region 2: Bermuda is most generally suited. Kentucky bluegrass thrives in the higher altitudes or in partial shade. Bermuda may be started from seed or by vegetative planting of pieces of the stolons (Rootstock) early in the fall or after the ground has warmed up in spring. Since Bermuda grass dies down in winter, the gardener may sow quick growing Italian ryegrass which enjoys winter growth and dies down about the time Bermuda resumes growth. In the western part of Region 2, bentgrasses and Kentucky bluegrass are successful under irrigation. Bluegrass is successful in partial shade in the northern portion of the region, while St. Augustine is the shade grass for the southern part, but demands mild conditions, and abundant mois- ture and plant food.
  • Region 3: Suitable grasses are cold-tender and must be started in spring after the ground warms up. Bermuda grass is good for the drier areas, carpet grass for moist soils. The latter may be started from seed, using 3 to 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet, or by vegetative planting. Centipede grass, which likes mild winters and any soil except a poorly drained one, is excellent for this area. St. Augustine is outstanding for Florida and the coastal plain as a shade grass, and also thrives in sun.

Vegetative planting

In vegetative planting the runners or rootstocks may be cut into pieces about an inch long and sown broadcast. The lawn then should be rolled, covered thinly with soil or compost, watered and kept moist until the pieces have taken root. A pound or two of stolon per 10 square feet is needed. Two-inch or three-inch pieces of runners may also be planted in rows. A spacing of 8 inches between rows and 4 to 6 inches between pieces in each row is correct but may be increased or decreased according to the supply of propa- gative material available; the closer the spacing the faster the production of good sod.

Watering the grass

The watering pattern is the same for grasses as for other plants—infrequently but thoroughly. Light, frequent sprinkling promotes shallow root growth, stimulates crabgrass and, combined with close mowing, can ruin a bluegrass lawn.

Mowing the lawn

Proper mowing is helpful to the lawn, not only in the matter of appearance but in the health of the grass. Except for lawns consisting entirely of bentgrass, the mower should be set to cut at a height of 1 1/2 inches or more. Infrequently mown lawns must not be subject to an extremely close cropping, lest sudden exposure to the sun after shading by the dense growth injure the grass. Newly sown lawns should be cut when the grass reaches a height of 2 or 3 inches. If the sight of dried clippings on the lawn does not offend the home-owner's taste, leaving the mower clippings on the ground is beneficial to the grass. Do not let the clippings gather in thick piles, however; they smother the grass beneath.

Battling the weeds

The lawn keeper's worst annoyance is weeds, and crabgrass is the most irksome of the weeds. It is an annual, whereas the lawn grasses are perennial. An invasion of crabgrass may smother the lawn grasses, killing their growth and compelling a reseeding. By high mowing, about 2 inches, throughout the summer, a heavy growth of lawn grass is left to smother the crabgrass seedlings, while infrequent watering deprives the survivors of moisture necessary for development.

Hand to hand combat is the only certain method of dandelion control. Dandelions must be cut out 2 or 3 inches below the ground. There is no benefit in shallow weeding, for new tops grow quickly from cut surfaces. Plantain also must be combatted by hand weeding, as must chickweed patches. The latter also may be eradicated by application of ammonium sulphate, which burns the grass but does not injure it permanently. Moss usually indicates poor light, poor soil, acidity, or poor drainage. Good fertilization increases the vigor of the grass growth which gradually crowds moss out. There are a number of new sprays which will kill weeds and at the same time fertilize the grass. They are available from most seedsmen and garden supply dealers.

Diseases and insects

The worst diseases attacking the bentgrasses, rye, redtop, and fescues are large brown patch and small brown patch. They may be controlled effectively by applications of mercury compounds. The dose is 2 ounces of calomel and I ounce of corrosive sublimate mixed with soil or sand to each 1,000 square feet.

Water thoroughly after each application. Leaf-spot injures Bermuda, Kentucky bluegrass and other grasses, but no effective control is known so far.
The principal insect pests of the lawn are ants, grubs, and earthworms. Against ants, carbon disulphide may be squirted into the nests, the entrances to which should be closed to seal in the fumes.

Corrosive sublimate, which is a deadly poison, is highly effective against earthworms. The proper application per 1,000 square feet of lawn is 2 or 3 ounces in 50 gallons of water or mixed with 2 cubic feet of dry sand. The lawn must be watered thoroughly at once, lest the grass be burned seriously.

Aid for ailing lawns

If your lawn becomes thin and weak but has a reasonably even distribution of the grass that remains, it may be helped by a thorough fall fertilization and a top-dressing of a quarter to a half inch of rich garden loam or a compost of topsoil, sand, and manure. If the lawn is riddled with bare patches, however, it is usually more satisfactory to dig it up and start all over.

If you live in the South and have live oaks or willow oak trees on the lawn, constant rakings will be necessary. Do not burn off as burning kills the seed and often injures the grass. However, with Bermuda grass which becomes too heavy, a fall burning and top dressing of loam and fine manure followed by rolling will help to firm the lawn and make mowing much simpler the next spring when the grass begins to grow.

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