I am a first time home-owner, and I just bought a new house where they only
landscaped the front yard. I want to ensure that when I do the backyard, I
do it properly, right down to the last detail. When my neighbor did hers,
she just brought in topsoil and laid sod right on top of it and that was
it. I'm sure a professional would do more than this. Am I right? As an
example, are there various layers of rock or some kind of fine rocks that
you put down first for better drainage? Does anyone know of any websites
that address putting in a lawn from square one?
Thank you very much for your feedback.
I can't tell you how true this is. Unfortunately, the "professionals" are
actually minimum-wage workers who don't know squat about soil science or
horticulture or even grass cultivars. The homeowner inevitably pays for
this lack of knowledge. Think of your lawn as analogous to your home; the
soil is the foundation. Would you blow money on a home with a poor
foundation? (People do this all the time, true, but would YOU?)
So you're on the right track. First, find out who sells the "pros" their
grass seed. It is well worth the drive to find the warehouse and talk to
the most knowledgeable person there. This will usually be whoever does all
the troubleshooting for the company. Ask them what the best cultivar is for
your area. If they seem very knowledgeable, venture on and as about the
ideal soil prep for this cultivar. Next, send a soil sample off to have it
analyzed for your cultivar's needs. Grass is incredibly hardy stuff, that's
why it puts up with all of our abuse, so focus mainly on the pH. Nitrogen
is the mainstay of grass, and you can adjust that with fertilizer. Make the
adjustments the lab recommends, then establish a good O horizon. I could
write reams here about appropriate topsoils, but you're better off simply
checking some university websites. Inquire with your extension agent -
they're usually there more for the agricultural community, so often the
extension agent has some good knowledge on soil science. Ask a few polite
questions about the individual's background; if they lack the appropriate
knowledge, keep the conversation short, and forget anything he/she has said.
If the agent has a background appropriate to your inquiries, pepper him or
her with questions. People love to be asked about their specialty; take
advantage of that fact.
Try google.com if you already haven't. Do specific searches on each step of
the process: evaluating soil; correcting soil conditions; establishing a
good O horizon; cultivar appropriate for your area; initial planting
considerations, specifically timing (autumn is usually best) and irrigation
(water frequently while establishing your lawn, ease off when it is in full
vigor); and finally, PROPER MAINTENANCE. That means not watering every day,
no matter how hot it is. It's tough to beat this into everybody's heads.
We regularly get 100 degree summers here, and people think they have to
water every day. This is a fallacy, and it is actually bad for your lawn.
The roots won't grow deeply, and your lawn stresses more easily. Diseases
and insect problems will surely follow. Irrigate DEEPLY and INFREQUENTLY.
When your lawn changes from a bright green to a dull green, it is signaling
you for water. Timed sprinklers are great if you have the same temperature
and rainfall every day of the year. You don't, I'm sure, so be forewarned.
When you irrigate, water until a pan set under the sprinkling pattern fills
up with a one inch depth of water. Don't water again until the lawn tells
you that it is time. Water early in the morning; too late in the day will
lose water to evaporation, and too late at night will leave your lawn wet
all evening, resulting in one of dozens of lawn fungi (corticium red thread
is a local favorite). Don't butcher your lawn, either. Sharpen your mower
frequently, and follow the recommended height for your cultivar. Mowing too
low deprives your soil of shade, resulting in moisture loss, and it stresses
the grass. Grass doesn't really WANT to be mowed; it is purely an aesthetic
practice on our part. Err on the high side, and don't mow more than 1/3 of
the height of the grass at any time.
Good luck, and don't despair of learning everything at once. There is a
great deal of science behind a lawn, really, and no one specializes in it
all - that's why I haven't offer much in the way of specifics.
Keep that thumb green!
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The "professionals" are out to make a quick buck and are only interested in
making certain that the grass germinates and looks good
for a few weeks, after that, anything that doesn't look great can be blamed on
Much simply depends on how much work you are willing to do and how much you will
spend. If you really want to do it right, find a
good source of compost/organic material and rototill about as much as you can
afford into the topsoil. This, however, requires a
tractor for anything beyond a small lawn. In our area, I can get good mushroom
compost delivered for less than topsoil. The correct
pH, and fertilizers won't do a great deal of good if you have little organic
material in the soil in order to hold the fertilizer
and water. In Texas, compost will hold moisture so one doesn't have to water as
often. The "professionals" only care what is on the
top 1/2" of soil, because that is all the further the roots are going to travel
for a few weeks - If you are interested in a really
good lawn, what is down 4 or 6 (or even more) inches is really more important.
...and you aren't going to get there without some
heavy duty work that the "pros" won't be able or willing to do. ...and the
advice about watering deeply is irrelevant if you don't
have good enough soil to allow the roots to grow deeply in the first place. I
chuckle every time one of the neighbors tells me
about the sod layers who have told them about watering infrequently and deeply
after I observed those same sod layers place their
sod over hard packed clay, sand, or rock, knowing that the roots of that sod
don't have much chance of penetrating beyond the inch
or less of semi-suitable topsoil in the sod itself. One of the neighbors even
consulted with a friend who manages golf-course grass.
I couldn't believe that the guy provided all good information about pH, grass
type etc., but failed to mention to the neighbor that
the soil in our area is very fine silt that packs as hard as a rock that holds
water very poorly and has no organic matter in which
to hold water or allow the roots air in which to breath and spead their roots.
Presumably, the manager assumed that the neighbor
wouldn't want to do the work and spend the money on compost (we have a mushroom
facility down the road, which will used compost at a
good price), as I am certain that he understands this point.
...and by the way, what the "pros" call topsoil in this area, I call sandy fill
Work on golfcourse greens starts over a foot below the surface. If you really
want a nice lawn, you have to start thinking about a
few inches below the obvious surface conditions.
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