Rocky Mountain Gardens: How to make the most of your lawn
July 16, 2010
VAIL – Money spent on setting your lawn up to need less water saves money in the long run. It pays off. If you apply certain techniques, you will improve the health and appearance of your lawn, and reduce water needs. The basic factors of soil and water pH, soil types, and the basic needs of turfgrass can interplay in the right way, and can stay simple.
Lawns usually aren’t native grasses, so their growing requirements aren’t native conditions. Many are improved bluegrass varieties; others are turf-type fescues or ryes. While bluegrass is a thirstier grass, it does have advantages over the other two, and vice-versa.
Healthy bluegrass is good-looking. Its range of greens through the many improved hybrids is one plus, but it also is a cool-weather grass that is very hardy and sod-forming. It spreads through roots instead of growing a clump from a seed, so it mows well.
Ryes and fescues are clump-forming, but they are bred to have a good lawn habit when seeded and grown right. Their advantage is lower water and fertilizer needs. There are excellent turf-type varieties on the market.
Growing lawns from seed has water-wise methods, too. Add plenty of organic matter to the soil before grading and seeding. It holds moisture and reduces alkalinity. Less alkaline helps it use fertilizer better. Mulch the seeded soil.
Soil amendment applies before laying sod, too. If you purchase a bulk soil-compost mix, it is still worth buying extra compost to add to the mix. Tine-core aeration alone helps turf. But adding this underused but important step increases the water and nutrient retention. Together, they are one of the best combos you can do for your lawn, and you don’t have to do it every year.
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Aerate profusely, then add organic matter to the holes instead of just leaving them open. This includes returning the cores to the holes. Rake them into little piles that are small enough not to stress your lawnmower, and pulverize them. Rake the remains around.
Spend some cash on quarter-inch screened compost, like you can find in bulk locally. Rake it into the holes and leave a topdressing-deep layer.
It’s worth having the cores pulverized. They tend not to break down here like they do in acidic soils. If you do rake them up, you are losing some good soil. It’s better to recycle the mix of shredded grass and dirt back into the lawn they came from.
If you fertilize your lawn a bunch, figure on watering and mowing it more. Better to back off the nitrogen and do the iron and sulfur addition for our alkaline soils and water.
Nitrogen makes grass grow faster. It is part of the greening process, but your real source of deeper grass color is iron. Sulfur, which is acidic, helps make iron available to your grass.
“Ironite” is a locally available source for iron and sulfur. Home Depot should have it.
If you do want a nitrogen punch, you can blend Ironite with regular lawn food, but you don’t have to go the standard high-nitrogen route. Deep green color, especially in the various bluegrasses in our lawns, will be generated by making iron available to the grass. The sulfur allows the chelated iron and nitrogen in the fertilizer to be available, which is important for good photosynthesis. If you buy regular lawn food, get the kind with iron and sulfur added!
Mow your lawn tall. Use a mulching blade. Don’t bag clippings and the nitrogen that’s in those blades, let them mulch and feed your lawn instead.
If you can, convert turf areas to low-water landscape beds. The low-water lists start next column.
M.G. Gallagher has worked with plants and turf in Eagle County since 1981.