The quest for the perfect lawn
by Ellen Goff
As homeownership exploded in the 1950s, so did the desire for a well-maintained lawn. The condition of a homeowner's grass took on new meaning. It was viewed as an indicator of a person's character, morality, self-worth and patriotism. Little wonder that responsible homeowners became fanatical about the appearance of their lawn. Neighborly folks turned competitive and the conscientious drifted into obsession.
The stage has been set, with millions of Americans wanting a green, lush, weed-free slice of land. Most homeowners are willing to tackle the project themselves as they try to recreate Augusta National Golf Course in their own neighborhood. Unfortunately, this standard of perfection is incredibly rare. Yet it's a fantasy that consumers perpetuate generation after generation.
"Homeowners are taking care of their lawns in such a manner that they themselves are making the problems," says Jeff Ball, a Michigan-based gardening author and columnist for The Detroit News. His knowledge on lawn cultivation - or yardening - is directed toward educating homeowners on common landscape mistakes. According to Ball, the most frequent blunders include:
• Using quick-acting nitrogen fertilizer and fertilizing too much.
• Watering too much.
• Mowing grass shorter than 2 inches.
• Not adding organic mulch to the lawn.
"The grass is in stress 365 days a year," Ball adds. "Until you start using slow-release granular fertilizer, mowing at least at 2 inches and adding organic matter, you'll remain unhappy [with your yard]."
In order to make your grass grand, there are a few things to consider.
Begin by inspecting and evaluating the growing conditions in your yard. How many hours of direct sunlight does it receive? Does the lawn drain well, or are there damp spots? Are there steep slopes? List any unique features that may challenge the grass.
Next, think about the condition of the soil. A sturdy, attractive lawn depends on what's beneath it. Every few years, the soil should be tested to determine its general condition and specific needs. Soil test kits are available through your county's Cooperative Extension Service.
Determine what you like about a lawn's appearance. Your selection may be limited by the climate or local watering restrictions. Turf grasses fall into two categories; cool-season varieties include Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, bentgrass and tall fescue. Warm-season types such as Bermuda, Zoysia, centipede and St. Augustine grass thrive in the South and parts of the West.
Finally, examine your expectations for the kind of lawn you want. Perfection comes at a price in time, preparation, manual labor and expenses. Decide what you'll be satisfied with and what's realistic, given these factors.
Ellen Goff is a master gardener and environmental advocate. Aside from writing about and photographing plants, Ellen tends to a 3-acre landscape she shares with her husband, cat and border collie on the shores of Lake Wylie, S.C.