Answers to Lawn Care Questions #2

Man mowing lawn, shot from over head.

Q. Can I use grass clippings from another section of my yard to cover the seeded area?

A. Spread a layer of straw mulch over seeded areas. Choose clean mulching straw, such as wheat straw, that's as free as possible of seed. Evenly spread about 50 to 80 pounds (1 or 2 bales) per 1000 square feet. You may remove mulch approximately 3 weeks after germination. Straw will not pack down soil.

Raw lawn clippings from treated lawns contain herbicides and tend to do more harm than good. During decomposition, green grass clippings rob the soil of nitrogen and generate a lot of heat. During heavy rains, a thick mat of grass clippings traps water, which will cause anaerobic decay, and root rot. Thus, green grass clipping would not be good for seedlings.

You can recycle the grass in the lawn while mowing. If done correctly, there should not be an accumulation of thatch. Mowing a lawn frequently does not produce large amounts of clippings and they break down quickly. A mulching mower does an excellent job. The rotary mowers are designed to keep the clippings circulating under the mower deck and chop the grass blades into finer pieces. If you want to use the clippings for mulching other plants, dry the grass clippings before using them as mulch.

Q. I planted a new lawn from seed three weeks ago. I used Scott's starter fertilizer, and the new lawn is looking great. It's a blend of Perennial Rye and Fescue. I was wondering when I should hit it with the next dose of fertilizer.

A. When the new grass is approximately 2 inches tall, fertilize. When the new grass reaches approximately 3 1/2 inches tall, begin mowing. Set the lawn mower at 2 1/2 inches. If weed control is needed, apply a selective herbicide, following manufacturer's directions. Do not apply weed and feed fertilizers for at least 10 weeks.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson adds, "Always follow the manufacturers instructions when applying any chemical fertilizer."

Water frequently to keep the seeds moist (do not saturate). Cut watering back to once a day when the grass reaches about 1 inch in height. After it's been mowed 3 times, use regular watering schedule of 1 inch per week. Continue this practice throughout the growing season.

Q. I have earth that's hard and full of clay. The problem is that I have little grass, lots of clover and areas of bald patches. Where do I start to get lush grass?

A. The first step in a lawn such as you describe is to have a soil test performed to find what needs to be added to the soil nutritionally. Grass does better in loamy soil than in hardpan. It may be best to till some rotted compost into the existing soil to make the soil healthier. You can do this at the same time as you add whatever the soil test shows as being necessary.

TIP: Susan advises, "Grass will not grow when the soil pH is too high. Conduct a soil sample and apply lime as needed to build up soil structure and help your lawn thrive."

Once the soil is broken up, you can rake it smooth, and then plant your grass. Your county extension service is a good source of information on what grass does best in your locale. You can seed or sod, it matters in terms of time and money. Seeding is less expensive than sod, but takes time to establish a stand of grass. You should figure about 2 weeks of watering daily after seeding to give the seed a chance to germinate. Then maintain it for it to grow a couple of inches before the first mowing. Don't apply any chemicals until it has been mowed at least 3 times. A healthy lawn is a product of proper mowing, feeding, and watering. As the turf thickens, it will become its own weed control. Watering deeply will encourage the development of deep roots to make the grass more tolerant of periods of drought.

Q. I had some grass seeding applied to my back yard a few weeks ago. Before this, the area was almost completely composed of weeds. The people I had do the work used some type of gas-powered tool that shreds up the dirt and weeds. Afterwards, they put a little of some type of dirt (forgot what it was) with seeds on the surface. I watered the area with a sprinkler for 2 to 3 hours 2 times a week for 2 weeks. How long does it typically take before one sees grass starting to stick out of the soil?

A. You should water at least daily, if not twice. You usually need 14 days for germination.

Q. I have an underground sprinkler system with an automatic timer and was wondering what the acceptable amount of time to water is. The time frame of when I was thinking to have the system come on and run would be between 12-midnight and 6 am. I really do not want to water during the daytime for fear of burning the grass.

A. A lawn usually needs an inch of water per week, whether from rain or irrigation. It is better for the lawn to receive the water adequately, infrequently. I would run the system to apply the water to the one-inch level per week once a week. You can set some containers out to catch water and determine how long it takes to deliver an inch of water to the area. It is not a good idea to water your lawn so that it remains wet at night. This dampness encourages diseases. Rather water it early in the morning so that the sun is up on the wet grass right away. Watering in the daytime will not burn the grass, but watering in midday will waste water through aggressive evaporation before it can soak into the soil.

Q. I want to know how to get a checkered or striped lawn with just a 20-inch self-propelled push mower. I know if I mow left to right it works, but I want the stripes to be deeper and something that you can see well when driving by my house.

A. First you must have the proper equipment. The stripping you see on televised golf and baseball is done with a reel mower, not a rotary. A reel mower consists of a rotating reel cylinder equipped with blades and a stationary bed knife. The reel blades guide the leaves toward the bed knife, where they are cut by a shearing type action.

Mowing quality is in part a function of the sharpness of the cutting edges and proper adjustment of bed knife to reel. These mowers are expensive to purchase and to maintain. A new commercial grade mower used in the golf industry will go for about $4500. Even the cheap homeowner types go for around $1000. I would try to contact some of the local golf courses in your area and see if the have anything in their bone yards worth fixing up. As far as the Zyosia stripping, it will be difficult with Bermuda. Your best bet is to wait until fall and overseed your lawn with perennial rye grass at about 15 pounds per thousand square feet and use the reel mower to make outstanding stripes very easily.

Second, to get the distinct stripe effect, you need cool season turf like bent or bluegrass. The only way to get warm season turf like Bermuda to stripe is to "burn" them in. What this means is to religiously mow the same direction in the same spots, forcing the grain of the grass to grow in opposite directions. It is a lot of work to have this high level of maintenance.

Q. I live in northern California. Winters are wet, but not always cold. Summers are warm, but not necessarily hot. I have a dwarf fescue lawn. What is a good rule-of-thumb schedule for care (i.e. fertilizing, aerating, blade length, watering)?

A. Fescue tends to clump, so over seeding helps to establish a more evenly developed lawn. If the coverage of the grass is generally complete and satisfactory, the pre-emergent herbicide's control of weeds will be more beneficial. A fertilizer should be balanced. A soil test from your local county extension service will tell you what amendments your soil needs, such as sulfur, lime, and so forth.

The rate of application depends upon the recommendations provided by the manufacturer of the fertilizer. Good quality fertilizers will have specific instructions as to the rate of application and what grasses are best suited for the product. Cheap fertilizers are like anything else that is cheap; you get what you pay for. Feed the lawn approximately every 60 to 90 days.

Mow the grass so that no more than 1/3 of the blade is removed at any one time. Fescues are usually cut tall, around 3 to 4 inches, to accommodate their growth habit. Use a mulching mower or a mulching blade and adapter on a conventional mower. Mulching the grass clippings is good for the soil and saves money spent on fertilizer, since the fertilizer is pretty much kept in the leaves of the grass. Keep a sharp blade on the mower.

Keep the grass watered, usually 1 inch per week if you have no rain in this amount. As the grass develops deep roots from core aeration and proper care, it will become more tolerant of drought and better able to keep weeds at bay. Be sure not to let the grass be damaged by drought in the winter. It may be winter, but the grass still needs water.

If you don't core aerate in the spring, do it in the late summer or early fall, so that the grass has a chance to recover before going dormant in the winter. If you chose not to overseed in the spring, over seeding in the fall may help thicken the grass in the long run. Fall-sown grass will develop before going dormant, and the roots develop all during the winter.

Make your last feeding of the season around October, and go light on the nitrogen. If you are using a planned feeding cycle such as promoted by Scotts, these programs specify which mixtures are best suited for each season. Spot treatment of weeds is better for some types of weeds. Broad-spectrum treatment is best for others. It depends upon the weeds and the degree of infestation. Feed trees in December or January when they are dormant with a complete fertilizer to build roots. Fruiting trees for production have their own procedures.

Q. I applied Scott's Bonus S Weed & Feed Fertilizer to my lawn this morning. I think I may have over done it just a bit in some areas. A co-worker told me that my lawn would burn if I applied too much. Will it turn greener?

A. If your lawn is burned, it will over burn. A lot will also depend on what type of soil you have. Sandy soils will not hold nutrients as long as clay or salty loam. Watering to try to leach out the excess nitrogen in a clay soil will lead to soft, mucky areas, which will turn to a concrete-like slab as it dries out.

Q. After many weeks of clearing, digging, raking, wheel barrowing and spreading, a nasty passing storm created rivers on my new lawn. The seed was down for only 3 days, and the washed out soil and seeds in parts. My question is do I repair those ravines in my lawn now, wait for grass to grow then repair, or rake out entire lawn and reseed?

A. Repair, rake out, and reseed. Waiting to repair is not going to accomplish anything and any erosion control you get from the grass, you will lose 90 percent of it in the re-grading of the yard.

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