Reader needs help with forlorn lawn (Plantman Article)

The Plant Man column for publication week of 03/19/06 - 03/25/06 (742 words) ###
The Plant Man by Steve Jones
Reader needs help with forlorn lawn
QUESTION: "My husband and I ripped up our yard a year ago, put in a sprinkler system and put down sod. It looked great for a few months and then in August we went away for a week and didn't water the grass. When we returned, our yard looked fried. I must say that we were not the most diligent about watering except for the first month or so after putting the sod down.
"Nor were we great about cutting the grass. It got pretty high at times so that when we would cut it, it looked brown after the mowing. So here we are a year later with a yard that looks worse than last year. I read your article about seeding this time of year and realize that we should have attempted to fix it last fall. Is there anyway to salvage the sod now or do we need to start over?
"I should tell you we have quite a few oak trees in our yard but it still gets tons of sun. Any help you could provide would be greatly appreciated." - Laura
ANSWER: Frequent watering, such as daily to every other day, doesn't grow a deep rooted lawn. Plants, including grass, need to stress a bit to develop deeper growing roots for survival, which is probably why it looked bad when you returned from your trip. Once a week or every 4-5 days is certainly enough to water. The blade setting on you mower should cut no shorter than 3 inches. Many people set their mower blades at 2 inches and less which scalps a lawn and doesn't give any shading to the grass to protect it from the heat.
Even sod needs to be reseeded seasonally (at least annually) to keep it thick. You aren't too late to seed over your lawn. Use a rake to scratch up the soil in any bald areas and then reseed. If you don't have rainfall within following few days, you will definitely want to run the sprinklers on it and then continue watering every 4-5 days or so. There may always be problems with the grass near the oak trees, but that is normal. If it continues to look bad, you may want to think about groundcovers or other alternatives. Good luck!
QUESTION: "Hi, we are looking to landscape our yard this year. We have a half-acre of land and are looking to plant some fast growing trees and evergreens. Do you have any suggestions? We would like trees that have beautiful fall color." - M. Wood
ANSWER: There are many factors that enter into landscaping. Overhead utilities, existing plants, and the color of the house's exterior (red brick, yellow vinyl, etc) are a few things that can affect a selection of taller growing trees. Most of the extremely fast growing trees will still grow quite tall and wide as well, even though some are short lived.
On a half-acre lot you may want to consider trees that are tall and slim such as slender silhouette sweetgum, first lady cherry, Japanese red maples, bald cypress peve minaret, lavender twist red bud, weeping higan, crape myrtles, sourwood, kwanzan cherry, emerald green arborvitae, jane magnolia, and degroots spire arborvitae.
Some of these plants are faster growing, but those like the arborvitae are only moderate growers. Select trees that compliment your house color. A white blooming tree in front of a white or cream vinyl will not be as striking as if you had a dark red brick home. Lots of shrubs and perennials with seasonal color can also add interest to your landscape.
QUESTION: "I am looking for a small shrub to make a thick row around a driveway to act as a border. I'm thinking maybe a boxwood might work. I want it to be thick but not too high, maybe 18" or so, in half sun and half shade, zone 9. Do you have any suggestions?" - Emmett Robichaux
ANSWER: Although boxwood is a nice plant, it is very slow growing. Here are a couple of other suggestions you could think about as alternatives: Crimson pygmy barberry, Forever Pink hydrangea, or perhaps a flowering quince. For an unusual option, consider bamboo.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to For resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free weekly e-mailed newsletter, go to

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