1. Aeration is the best fertilizer. By using an aerator to pull tiny plugs of grass out of your lawn, you allow more air to reach the root system. This in turn promotes a healthy lawn and results in vigorous new growth.
After aerating, brush sand into the holes to improve drainage. This also provides a seedbed when you cast new seed as part of the overseeding part of your maintenance program.
Unfortunately, aeration machines are heavy and bulky to use. Consider doing this with two or three neighbours to defray the cost.
2. Lime to raise the pH balance of the soil. Winter rains wash away nutrients and make soil more acidic. A soil’s pH is the measure of its acidity and alkalinity. Grass likes a sweeter, more alkaline soil. The way to make soil less acidic is to add lime. Dolomite and DoloPril lime are the two most popular kinds, but a new “organic lime” derived from crushed egg shells is now available.
A byproduct of the Fraser Valley poultry industry, egg-shell lime contains 35 per cent calcium and some magnesium, two excellent soil additives. A 20-kg bag sells for about $7.
Egg-shell lime is being marketed by Marty Vanderzalm, president of WaytoGo Products Inc., of Surrey.
he problem with most natural/organic sources of calcium is that they are derived from rock which releases calcium too slowly, especially in the spring, for plants to maintain healthy growth,” says Vanderzalm.
“Calcium-lime from egg shells is much more readily broken down by soil micro-organisms and so egg-shell calcium is released faster.”
Vanderzalm says rock lime also requires “huge energy consumption” to mine, crush and transport, whereas egg-shell calcium-lime has “no environmental issues.”
3. Top dress and overseed. The reason sports fields are weed-free is because they are regularly aerated and overseeded, says grass expert David Wall.
The key is to put down a 1/4-inch layer of topsoil to act as a bed for the new seed. Elka 2 and Elka 3 as well as Major League are excellent brands, containing a high ratio of perennial rye, the most suitable seed for coastal lawns.
Overseeding can be done as early as February, says Wall. Many turf farms do it then with success as the seed takes in moisture and starts the germination process even though temperatures are still low.
4. Power-rake and de-thatch. It’s not necessary to do this every year, if at all, with most lawns. If your lawn feels spongy when you walk on it, it probably could benefit from being power-raked.
But be careful. This process can rip a healthy lawn to shreds. The goal is to remove an excessive build up of thatch — dead and crusted material at soil level.
De-thatching is a more aggressive technique that uses the same machine but a more piercing blade.
In most cases, power-raked lawns need to be extensively overseeded afterwards, which is almost like growing a new lawn. In most cases, a good, stiff raking with a hand-held rake is sufficient to remove light thatch.
5. Fertilize with care. “When grass is hungry is stops growing,” says Wall. “It’s obvious. It appears less vigorous and starts to become thin and sparse.”
He recommends using a fertilizer such as a turf-starter with a modest nitrogen content but higher phosphorus content, such as 16-36-6. (The numbers represent the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in a bag.)
Miles Hunter, of David Hunter Garden Centres, recommends a slow-release fertilizer such as 12-4-8, which provides two months of nutrition, or 28-3-8, which feeds a lawn for three months.
Hunter says Gaia Green Turf and Lawn is a good organic fertilizer with a 6-2-3 rating. It contains feather meal, steamed bone meal, glacial rock dust, natural humate complex and gypsum. A 10 kg bag for $40 will cover 2,000 square feet of lawn.
Hunter says gardeners living near creeks, streams or a well should avoid spreading high-nitrogen fertilizers because of the risk of runoff which can promote algae problems. But he says there is little risk of this happening with the small amounts of fertilizer most homeowners use, if they follow the directions.
6. Stop fighting moss. It’s a waste of time to try year after year to eliminate moss from your lawn. Moss killer only turns moss black and still leaves you with the job of having to rake it up anyway and reseed.
Either learn to love moss and live with it (remember, it is a much valued plant in Japanese gardens) or change the conditions that cause moss to grow in the first place — poor drainage, low-light levels and acidic soil.
Add lime to make the soil less acidic, aerate and add sand to make it more porous and better-draining. And increase the amount of sunlight the area gets by selectively removing branches shading trees or shrubs.
The other solution is to grow plants such as rhododendrons and azaleas that like acidic, shaded conditions.
7. Lawns are worth the work. Many gardeners don’t believe in lawns at all, but in reality there is nothing like a lawn for children to play on, to picnic on, and lawns also pump lots of oxygen back into the air as well as soak up rain water, which would otherwise add to the pressure on sewer and drain systems.
One other point: From an esthetic point of view, lawns provide a still, green, calm contrast to busy flower borders. Regardless of how densely planted a border is, if there is a flat, green lawn next to it to counter-balance the jumble of flowers and foliage, there will be harmony.