Since September is such an important month for lawn care, I turned to one of the few gardeners I know who really seems to enjoy taking care of his lawn: Stan Ring.
If you are already conjuring up pictures of the neighbor who likes to mow every other day, think again. Ring says he only likes to do a minimal amount of work in his yard, and that does not mean leaving the chores for his wife, Mary Ann. Instead, Ring lessens the workload by following recommended practices such mowing high.
“I pick up grass clippings once a year to add to the compost pile,” Ring says.
The rest of the time, the clippings get dropped right back on the lawn. Since grass clippings are 85 percent to 90 percent water and about 6 percent nutrients, he is saving money on both water and fertilizer.
Species can make a difference as well. The Rings’ lawn consists of several varieties of turf-type tall fescue because it has rated the highest in drought and shade tolerance, disease resistance and hardiness in trials in this area.
In a year with less rainfall, Ring allows his cool-season lawn to go dormant in the heat of the summer, watering with a hose and sprinkler over extended dry periods.
In September of each year, Ring fertilizes with a high nitrogen fertilizer to keep his grass healthy so that it will continue to slow runoff and reduce erosion. A soil test a few years ago let Ring know that he already had adequate levels of phosphorus and potassium in his soil, so nitrogen is the only thing he really needs to add each year. The soil test also called for an adjustment to soil pH that was affecting the availability of nutrients to some plants.
“I do have some bare spots in the yard,” Ring admits.
In some areas, this is because of rocks and old tree roots below the soil surface that prevent the grass from growing deep roots. In other areas of the yard, the bare spots are a result of compaction. Ring is using a small cultivator to loosen the soil in problem areas before broadcasting seed.
Last year, Ring went the extra mile by spreading a thin layer of compost over the entire lawn in the fall. Top-dressing the lawn in this manner adds low levels of nutrients and restores soil organic matter levels which help plants use access other nutrients better. Compost also helps essential water and air move more easily through the soil.
Ring rents a core aerator about once every two years and runs it over the lawn in two directions to loosen soil and allow water and air to reach plant roots. Four years ago, he rented a machine to verticut and overseed. A verticutter has vertical blades that will slice into the soil surface to allow the seed to actually get down into the dirt. Verticutters also pull out some thatch, if present. In our area, excessive thatch is often a sign of excessive watering and fertilization, and Ring’s good practices have kept thatch from building up in his lawn.
Ring (who previously wrote this column on an interim basis) admits he spends a little more time taking care of the backyard than he does the front. He and Mary Ann spend more time there, enjoying their pond, the flowers, and the neighbors.
And, just in case you were wondering, Ring claims he has all the common weeds in his lawn, but all I see is a lovely green frame to the rest of the landscape.
— Jennifer Smith is the Douglas County Extension Agent-Horticulture for K-State Research and Extension. Contact her or an Extension Master Gardener with your gardening questions at 843-7058.