A beautiful lawn doesn’t just happen

By James and Morris Carey, The Associated Press
Friday July 12, 2002

Every neighborhood has one. That one standout home with a beautiful carpet of rolling green lawn that draws oohs and ahhs from passers-by. 

Envious? Here are a few things you can do to put your turf back on track. 

A beautiful lawn doesn’t just happen. 

A decision has to be made. Which is better — seed or sod? Seed is the most economical way to start a lawn. But it requires a great deal of attention and nurturing to get it successfully under way. With seed, there are four important things to remember: 

• Buy only top-quality seed. Bargain purchases often contain weeds and odd grass blends that grow in weird “mystery” clumps. Both spell trouble that you’ll have to deal with down the line. 

• Prepare soil properly. Till to create small clumps, from pea to marble-size. If soil is too fine, the surface will crust over after watering and dry out too quickly. Also, level the area to keep seeds in place. 

• Seed and fertilize the same day to get seedlings off to a strong and healthy start. Use a drop or rotary spreader. It doesn’t matter which you apply first. 

• Water often, rather than deeply. It is critical to successful germination. Only the top 1 inch needs to be kept moist until seedlings are well under way. 

If you’re in a hurry, or have a difficult area to seed (such as a slope), sod is the answer. But, it is also more expensive. Some species, such as warm-season grasses, should be started only with stems or sod. If in doubt as to which is best for you, consult an expert at a local nursery or garden-supply dealer. 

The next area of concern is watering — when, how much and how often. If you leave footprints in the grass, it is a good indicator your lawn needs watering. Moist grass springs right back; dry blades do not. Also, a lawn that appears silvery blue indicates severe lack-of-water stress, and — if not promptly watered — will soon turn brown. 

Wondering if you are over- or under-watering? One-half inch twice a week (1-inch total) from rain or watering is sufficient. To measure it, use a plastic rain gauge from the hardware store. The best time to water is from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Contrary to popular belief, daytime watering will not burn or cook grass — rather it cools it down. Avoid windy days though as it speeds surface evaporation. 

If you tire of hand-watering and dragging hoses and sprinklers around your yard, look into an automatic sprinkler system. Most dealers offer free planning services with layouts showing where each sprinkler head goes and what type is needed for that specific area. They’ll also tell you to what depth to install your pipes, what water pressure is needed and what permits are required. The biggest cost is labor. Plastic PVC pipe is easy to install and doing it yourself saves big bucks. Then add an automatic timer. Set it and forget it.