Know How to grow the best lawn in the neighbourhood
If you want the lawn to end all lawns, the one that will impress your friends and make your enemies jealous then this is the post for you! Having a beautiful lawn can definitely help your curb appeal and stop your neighbours from trash-talking lawn maintenance skills. It’s not terribly hard and even a poor lawn can be turned around relatively quickly with a bit of care. So let’s take a look at what you need to do in order to have a lawn that is the talk of the neighbourhood (in a good way).
Sod or seed?
This decision will depend both on the state of your lawn and your personal preference. If all hope is not lost then the seed is a cost-effective choice. That said it your lawn is more weeds and clover then you may want to scrap it all and start from scratch. Sod is the more expensive option but it is the quickest as well.
Remove any rocks and weeds and then loosen the top 4-6 inches of soil. Then you can rake it out to get it as smooth as possible. If your soil isn’t looking all that great you may want to add some new topsoil. When laying sod it is important to lay it with the seems staggered (think bricks or LEGO). Make sure the edges are tight but not overlapping. Avoid walking on the new sod as you are laying it and after as well. It is important to water your sod as soon as it is laid and to give it a good soaking. Don’t forget to keep it watered as freshly laid sod is not very forgiving. If you forget to water it properly it will let you know and you may not be able to save it. It is also important to avoid walking on it for about 2 weeks as it needs time to root into the topsoil and built up its strength.
Prepping the ground for seed
First things first, you are going to need to get rid go any thatch Huh? You may think of thatch as those funny roofs on little stone houses in the English countryside, but your lawn has it too! If you look closely at the surface of your lawn you may see a start coloured mass of dead grass and roots that are growing along the surface. This is NOT what we want. Giving your lawn a good raking (not just in the fall when it is covered in leaves) is a great way to break up the thatch and allow more water to penetrate the soil.
Choosing the right kind of seed
Not all grass seed is created equal when it comes to dealing with the Canadian climate! Choosing grass seed that has a mixture of grasses can be a good solution and it will also depend on whether your lawn gets sun, shade or a combination of both. Some grass seed is better suited for high traffic areas as well. So consider the location where you will be sowing seed and then pick one that best suits your needs. Packages of grass seed will give you an indication of what situation they are best suited for.
How and when to apply grass seed
The fall is the best time to apply seed as it is going to do better with the cooler temperature. So why not the spring? While you can apply seed in the spring, you will most likely find your seed competing with those ever-emerging dandelions. So it is best to apply the seed in the fall so you can leverage the cooler weather without such high weed competition. When it comes to sowing your grass seed you will be well served to use a seed spreader though you can also do it by hand if you prefer. You want to aim for 1 pound of grass seed per 400 square feet.
Fertilizing your lawn
When it comes to ways to fertilize your lawn there are lots of options. You can use things such as fishbone meal or cow/chicken manure. Or if you prefer something right out of the box you could opt for a prepared fertilizer. If you decide to go this route then there are LOADS to choose from and they are all a bit different. As with most fertilizers, there will typically be three numbers on a bag of fertilizer and they represent the amount of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) in that order, that are in the mix. The numbers you see represent the percent of each that are present in the fertilizer. So why do we care? Well, each plays a role in a healthy lawn. Nitrogen is key for plant growth, phosphorus helps it get established and build a strong root system and potassium helps it tolerate stress.
It is a good idea to fertilize your lawn in the early spring (Feb-April) when it is still waking up from its winter slumber. This will help it build up strong roots and get it started off on the right foot. You can give it another feeding in late spring as this is when it is ramping up it’s growth. Another feeding in the summer can help it through the roughest part of the season. Then finish up the lawn growing season with a fall feeding to help it through the rough winter months.
Your lawn needs about 1 inch of water per week which is best applied in the morning. Why? Well if you water in the heat of the afternoon you may lose a lot of that moisture to evaporation. Water a night and your lawn will retain that water can remain for 10+ hours until the sun comes out the next day and this can be a breeding ground for fungal issues. It is important to let the surface of the soil dry out between watering for the same reason. A great way to cut down on your water bill is to set up and use a rain barrel, because who doesn’t like free water?
Dealing with dandelions and other weeds
Ugh…weeds! If you have a lawn then at some point you will be faced with having to deal with them. You can opt to manually remove them, this is good for the big ones or you could try a natural option such as corn gluten meal. But do the pollinators a favour and wait until after May before you start removing the dandelions. Why? Well, for many bees and other pollinators those dandelions are the first flowers they have available before others start blooming. The best defence against weeds is a good offence. A thick and healthy lawn doesn’t allow for many weeds to take hold. So if you keep up on your seeding, watering and fertilizing then you won’t have too much to worry about in the weed department.
The key to a strong and healthy lawn is to keep that mower high! It may seem strange, but ideally, you only want to take off about 1/3 of the blade of grass. If you mow it too low you will weaken and stress out your grass which is not what we want! A longer lawn is better able to shade itself and retain more water in the soil, which will also mean less watering for you! Aim to mow about every 4 days in the spring and reduce to once a week or less in the heat of summer. Make sure to service your mower, especially the blades. Dull blades are bad news for your lawn as you want the blades to cut cleanly and a dull blade is more likely to tear and rip.
Oh no! Grubs!
If you have come across some of these white “C” shaped beasties don’t worry all is not lost, but yuck! Grubs are a nuisance as they eat the roots of many plants, and they especially LOVE grassroots. If you have a lot of them you may wake up one morning and see your lawn has been rolled up in places. This is often due to animals such as skunks and raccoons treating your lawn like an all-you-can-eat buffet!
If this horror story is occurring in your own yard then a great way to deal will them is to use beneficial nematodes on your lawn. What are nematodes? They microscopic non-segmented roundworms that occur naturally in the soil and they can kill grubs/larva within 24-48 hours! They are effective against many types of grubs/larva such as Japanese beetles, chafers, June beetles, flea beetles, weevils and many other evil wee beasties.
Don’t forget the mycorrhizae!
Chances are you haven’t heard of these little guys before which is a shame as they could be your new best friend! Mycorrhizae are fungi, they are invisible to the eye but they are key to growing a lush and thick lawn. The mycorrhizae form a mutually beneficial relationship with grassroots and in doing so they increase the absorption area of the roots. This means your lawn requires less water and that it can absorb nutrients from the soil in a more efficient manner.
If you own a home then there is a very good chance that at some point in your homeownership that some kid has knocked on your door with some huge crazy contraption behind them offering to aerate your lawn. So is this really necessary? The idea behind aerating your lawn is to help elevate soil compaction and allow such essentials as air, water and nutrients to better access grassroots. Soil compaction can stress your lawn which in turn makes it less able to handle things like drought. If your soil has a lot of clay or if your lawn is a high traffic area then aeration becomes even more important. That said timing is everything. In Canada, your lawn will be best served if you aerate it when temperatures are cooler, such as in the early spring or fall.
There you have it, the tools you will need to be able to boast that you have the best lawn in the neighbourhood!