Rocky Mountain Gardens: Geritol for turf
December 16, 2003
This week’s column is for those who have lawns that they maintain themselves, especially those whose lawns look more like weed fields.Bluegrass is the predominant turfgrass in the area. When taken are of, it is strong enough to choke out most weeds. So why do some lawns look like a dandelion convention? It’s simple. Weeds can thrive in poor soil and conditions, and bluegrass can’t. Lawns need to be fed, and fed correctly. In past articles, we’ve discussed lawn fertilizer. Lawn food is mostly nitrogen. However, since our soils are alkaline, it seems like we have to feed the lawns excessively, and then we wind up with lots of growth. (“Why do I have to mow twice a week?”) Because our soils are alkaline, it seems to take more fertilizer to get that deep green color desired in our yards.The trick is to compensate for the alkalinity. Without going into the chemistry of why, let’s just tell you what to do. Add sulfur to your lawn to balance the ph and iron, which grass needs for photosynthesis. You can improve your lawn without excessive nitrogen, and without excessive blade growth. There are a couple of convenient ways to accomplish this. One is to use fertilizer that has sulfur and iron added to it. (Not all lawn foods do.) One brand available here is Mountain States, and it is now available at Wal-Mart. Mountain States is what the label implies, fertilizer for the mountain areas. City Market still had some at the time of writing this, too. Another option is to use Ironite, available at Home Depot. It is a sulfur and iron supplement, with a small amount of nitrogen added. Use it in addition to your fertilizer or as needed.With the price of water, and another dry spell, efficient watering is crucial. To allow water to penetrate to the roots, aerate your lawn. You can either rent a core-tine aerator, or hire someone to do it. Aerators that remove a core are superior to other aerators as they allow soil and roots to expand into the core holes, as well as allowing water and nutrients get down to the roots. Non-coring aerators may push a hole or wedge into the ground, but they are compacting the surrounding soil at the same time, defeating much of the purpose.Mow your lawn at a taller setting. Taller grass grows deeper roots, allowing you to water less. When you mow, leave the clippings on the lawn. Better yet, use a mulching mower. You will be returning the nutrients in the cut grass blades back to the soil, and adding organic matter in the process. The light mulching effect also helps conserve water. If you bag your clippings, you are throwing fertilizer away. If you have weeds to get rid of, use the right weed-killer. Make sure you use a “broadleaf” weed killer. All too often, people have used a non-selective herbicide (like RoundupT) and left dead patches in their lawn. If you prefer to use a weed & feed type fertilizer, read the directions. It is meant to be applied to wet lawns so the pellets will stick to the weed leaves. Many people have applied weed and feed fertilizers to a dry lawn and then wondered why they still have weeds. It does not act like a systemic herbicide in that it won’t work its way into the weeds via the soil. I personally don’t like weed and feeds, as they spread herbicide all over the lawn. Dogs and kids like to play in the yard. Think about it.See you next week. Gotta go mow the lawn. This week’s column is dedicated to the memory of Francisco “Panchito” Carrillo.