Help in the quest for a perfect lawn

By Lee Reich, The Associated Press
Saturday March 23, 2002

About now is when many gardeners go through their annual ritual of overseeding their lawns, often sprinkling grass seed right on top of snow. The snow does make it easier to see the seed, so you can spread it more evenly. And snow provides moisture. 

Snow, of course, is not needed, but — more important — is the grass seed itself needed? Lawn grass is perennial, so if the lawn is thinning out, it would be better to find the cause for the thinning than to constantly reseed. Among the causes for a less-than-perfect lawn are poor nutrition, improper acidity, too little water and poor aeration. 

A soil test will tell you if the soil is adequately fertile and at the proper acidity. Too much fertilizer or lime can be as bad as too little. A soil test every few years is cheap insurance. 

Many soils need nothing more than better aeration. The dramatic approach would be to dig up the whole lawn, tilling in an abundance of some organic material, such as leaves, compost, or peat moss. Organic materials also help the soil hold water for the grass plants. 

Digging up the whole lawn is not a viable option for the lawn that has only patches of poor growth or bareness. In that case, instead of spreading seed each year, spread one of the organic materials mentioned above, sifted, right on top of the lawn an inch or so thick. Admittedly, this would be a big job, because an area only 10 feet by 10 feet would need over 3 bushels of material to get a 1/2 inch depth. 

But this fine layer will not disturb the lawn, and will quickly dissolve into a sea of green as new grass grows. The soft blanket will insulate the grass roots from heat in summer and cold in winter, as well as provide a nice home for new roots and a cushion against compaction. With annual additions, that layer will become thicker and more effective over time. The layer also will provide food for earthworms, which, with their burrowing, bring some of the organic material to lower depths and further aerate the soil. 

With attention to nutrients, acidity, aeration, and watering, only one limitation remains in the quest for a perfect lawn, and that is location. Americans’ ideal for a perfect lawn reflects our British heritage. But it is in England, not around here, that the climate is conducive to a really perfect lawn.