"The Looming Yard Time" by Rolly A. Chabot
Welcome again to another Fireside Chat. Time to sit and look at what is coming around the corner to those of us who live in the far North and many of our neighbours in the South who experience the cold as we do. The magical word of the day is "Spring" careful we don't miss it I always say. Dislike the weather in these parts and all you have to do is wait five minutes and then see if you like it.
Today I wanted to share some lawn and landscaping ideas for you and we may even get into some flower talk. It is time so get yourself a coffee, tea and even some hot chocolate. I just opened a large bag of Hawkin's Cheezies. Yet another reason Quigley follows me all over. You see, its the key to having canine friends as well as people friends.
For those who do not know me that well I have a background in Turf Management, Golf Course Design and Construction, Plant Pathology, Arboriculture and Horticulture. I fell into it quite by accident around the late 80's and have extensively worked throughout the Province of Alberta. I eventually started a very successful Landscape and Design Company in Calgary several years ago. My specialty was exclusive high end properties for a family that had several Estates. I started to dabble in the use of organic fertilizers and integrated pest management in the early years after the soil lab results came back. I was told that I should shut down the Golf Course and mine it for chemicals. Basically instead of all the chemicals Golf Courses are known to use became a thing of my past as I switched to organics and emphasized good cultural practices. They became the key to a lush healthy environment.
Settle in and make yourself at home, my home is yours. Should you fine a blessing here please leave one in return. Above all else know that you are dearly loved.
I have always looked at weeds as an indicator of poor soil. There can be many causes of poor soil. Some of the enemies we see far too often are compaction, excessive thatch, overuse of chemicals and fertilizers. The Internet is a great source of reference for us, find one you trust and can understand. Here is one that is designed and speaks specifically to this area:
Search out one specifically for yours.
Weeds no matter what they are will not grown in healthy turf. Take a look at the grass in the above picture and notice how lush and green it is. The property is one of the ones on the estate I designed and constructed. It was a baron waste land of weeds and all sorts of debris when I first saw it. This was the end result after three years of hard work.
Cultural practices are key. No matter where you live they are essential. Core aeration (Plugs) must be pulled up to allow the soil to breath. This property was aerated three times a year. Detaching is another practice that is a must. That is scarifying all the old dead thatch build up to the surface and cleaning up after yourself with a good sound raking. If you take a cross section of your lawn, a sample down three inches and about three inches square and remove the plug you will see three things. First should be healthy grass. Then should be no more than 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch of thatch. (brownish dead layer) then of course good healthy black soil filled with thick white roots.
Some people rent a core aerator and de-thatcher from the local garden center and do it themselves. If that is you well hats off to you. It is a great deal of work. If you hire it out, be there they day it is done and watch to see if it is done properly.
Lastly what I do is spread a thin layer of clean sand and composted dirt evenly over the lawn. This can be done with a good spreader or by hand with a shovel tossing it out as even as possible. Next comes raking all the topdressing and filling the holes from the aeration. The use of spike aerators is not acceptable. Yes you open the ground but you have did little or nothing to relieve the compaction and the first sign of rain will only expand the soil again and you are back where you started.
Some people say that mulching the grass and allowing it to compost it on the existing lawn is a good thing. If it is on a new lawn and helps build a healthy thatch quickly and I agree with the practice in the beginning. For older established lawns I highly recommend that you collect all your clippings. They are easily composted and most cities and towns will accept all your clippings if you do not compost.
Remember the Birds
I bought this house three years ago and one of the selling features for me was the back yard. It is huge in comparison to some. It sits on a cul-de-sac and is one of the corner lots with a narrow front and expansive back. The yard itself had never been maintained. I bought it in March and as suspected when I took it over in April I was greeted with a wide variety of nasty weeds. You see it sits right on the outskirts of town and the Westerly winds carry all sorts of gifts from the farmers fields. By mid June I was thinking of collecting the dandelions and starting to produce wine.
Grass prevailed though. The first picture is the result of having a small female dog. Female dogs have a higher concentration of PH in their urine by the way. Thats right they are pee spots. Simply scratch around them and expose them to the air for a day or two. Fill them in with a small amount of grass seed and dirt and let nature do what she does best. If you are expecting some dry spells water as needed. The the next two pictures are the aeration and de-thatching process this was the second year. It was a great amount of material to pick up but well worth the efforts.
The third picture is of Quigley the pee dog. This was taken a week later so you can see just how healthy the grass is looking again allowing it to breath and take in the nutrients and off gas itself through the core holds. Just a word of advice for anyone who has a contractor come in and fertilize for you ask what they are using for product. If they are using liquid fertilizer tell them to stop. It is a very poor product. Yes it greens up the grass nicely. It is very high in iron and looks great in a few days. The greatest problem is unless the thatch and aeration are not done all the nutrients get caught up in the thatch. Before long what happens is the roots turn upward in search of food and your grass begins to thin and welcome weeds. Remember you are the customer thus one of the many reasons to do your homework and know what is being done for the price you are paying, you are more than entitled to ask questions.
This summer if health is permitting I have plans to created some raised garden boxes all along the back fence. They will be two feet high, four feet wide and close to 80 feet long rather than attempting to grow a garden in this soil I will create boxes and mix my own. I have a friend that has a wonderful soil supply company and will blend me a mix I like. 1/3 of sand, soil and peat moss and I will add in several bag of vermiculite. Once I have it marked out I will strip the sod out, build a good harring bone drainage system and use a good weed barrier doubled. Then fill the bottom 4 inches with pea gravel and the rest soil.
Several years ago I watched a master concrete expert create some amazing artificial rocks. He first created a framework of old wood and chicken wire, a special stiff concrete and sand mix. He applied his mixture a layer at a time. He allowed it to dry and even went so far as to create what appeared to be moss with a special blend of paints. He was truly a master craftsman and artist.
I have plans to build a fire pit and create my own rock designs around it with a waterfall and a fish pond. Part of the beauty is of course the aesthetics but also the sound of water running. There is great peace in having natural sound as part of of your landscaping. It is far better than listening to the thumping of someones stereo three blocks away. Then of course some trees. I am partial to flowering shrubs and what we call larch here in this country. They are of the evergreen family and yet they never kill the grass. Most evergreens when they shed their needles will leave the grass all around them dead because of the high PH in the needles.
There is a method to my madness of keeping you at the Fireside, you see I will be sure and leave a few shovels, rakes and garden tools out back just in case you get the urge to help. Of course you can stop and toss the ball for Quigley and she will love you nearly as much as I do for helping.
Hope you enjoyed this rambling. Should you have any questions about any landscaping needs drop me a note and I would be more than happy to answer. Just let me know the area you are living in.
Our small neighbours
In closing I would like us all to remember our little friends the birds that grace us every spring. They are so very susceptible to any type of chemicals or pesticide we may use. There are many natural alternatives out there that work just as well. Hand picking dandelions and weeds is the best defensive to having them. Catch them before they have a chance to go to seed. If need be sneak over in the middle of the night and do the same at the neighbours. Again if you have them chances are something is out of balance in your lawn.
Yet another pest is the dreaded Fairy Ring. There are products that claim they will eliminate them. One sure fire cure for them is to use a potato fork and punch them full of holes going 6 inches outside of them. Mix a batch of warm water with a few ounces of Sunlight Dish Soap and water the entire area. Soap is a surfactant meaning it makes water wetter. The fairy ring survives in a dry soil drawing its moisture and ever growing in an outwardly direction. It hates being drenched. Like the dog pee once you have it under control you will have dead grass. Scratch it all up and sprinkle some grass seed and a topdressing of soil and water it regular and before long you will have grass again. I like to use a mixture of Perennial Rye grass, Kentucky Blue Grass and a little Fescue. Read the back of the grass seed that you buy and check to see that the grass you are buying is good for your region.
The Perennial Rye grass will be the first to germinate and will be considerably lighter green. It is the nurse crop that will hold the moisture and nutrients. Soon the other blends will choke it out and all the grass will be the same colour.
Fertilizer applications are important. Personally I like to stay in a balanced range of 16-16-16. NPK is what it is called, the first number is Nitrogen, the next is Phosphorous and the third is Potassium (Pot Ash). Each play an equally important role in the health of the plant. Rather than fertilize a few times a year in heavy doses, I far prefer to spoon feed. The average rate of application for a lawn is about 1 pound per thousand square feet three times a year. I apply 1/8th of a pound every two weeks This has many benefits. First you avoid that burst of growth and you are cutting your grass every second day. The best of all is there never is a drop in colour, your clippings you take off will be the same at all times and your neighbours will be leaning over your fence. Want people visiting just grow a nice lawn and they will be stopping and asking your secrets.
In the golf industry I used what was called Integrated Pest Management. When the thatch on a green built up too much. In the high traffic season it was hard to aerate and de-thatch without disrupting play. I purchased the initial crop of bugs then cultured my own in a petri dishes. They were genetically created specific to eating thatch. I would dump them in the center of the green or off to one side. Their life cycle was about a week and the work they did was awesome. Expensive but very effective and no chemicals or harm to the public.
I do hope you have found something here of help. Again should you have any questions please ask. I would be more than happy to answer your questions if I can. Above all else... Know that you are loved...
© Rolly A. Chabot
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