When sowing grass seed timing is everything. The right grass planted at the right time works wonders for a lawn, but the reverse can be true as well. Here in Tennessee we live in an a rather ambiguous area for growing grasses. The cool season grasses do great – that is until it gets hot and they turn all brown. The warm season grass like Bermuda do great too – only they turn brown in the cool fall temperatures and pretty much stay a lovely, drab carpet of brown until things warm up again. So here in Tennessee we just have to accept the fact that lawn grasses are limited and we have to work around that.
Each fall I take a few steps to ensure a nice lawn in the spring. OK really I take one step I – overseed. I would like to say I do everything I’m supposed to do for my lawn but I tend to dedicate my time in other areas. I should aerate the soil with a plugger but I never get to that. I used a spiker aerater once before but it really didn’t do the best job in the world. I don’t use winterizers in my lawn. I have an aversion to using chemicals in the landscape in general. The chemicals have to go somewhere and more and more studies are finding trace elements of junk in our water systems from fertilizers to medicines. I’ll do what I can to avoid adding to the problem because well, I really do like to drink water…
My solution to adding extra nitrogen to the soil is planting a cover crop alongside my normal fall grass seeding. After I broadcast spread the Kentucky 31 today I went back over it with good old annual Rye grass I bought from my local Coop. Annual Rye grass can add somewhere between 30-90 lbs. of nitrogen per acre back to the soil after its growth cycle is complete. The other cool thing about Rye grass that I read in a Rye Grass Management Guide on the Oregon Grown Ryegrass Covercrop Webpage (yes there is a such thing – there seems to be a website for everything these days!) is that Rye grass does great job of breaking up the soil with its roots. Its root systems can grow three to four feet into the soil. When the roots dye back it leaves behind tiny holes and pathways called macropores. Plants that follow the ryegrass can send their roots down deep through those macropores and get easy access to moisture deep in the soil. With our heavy clay Tennessee soil anything that breaks it up is beneficial!
To sum things up here’s what I do for my lawn:
- Overseed fescue in the fall
- Alternate different varieties of fescue each fall.
- Plant Ryegrass in the fall
- Cut the grass high (helps the roots grow deeper, and prevents weed seeds from getting the light they need to germinate.)
What I don’t do for my Lawn:
- Fertilize with inorganic fertilizers – it does get grass clippings (and recently lots of bunny droppings!). Grass clippings put back up to 4 percent nitrogen. According to this grass clippings can provide 25% of the nitrogen the lawn needs. I have been tempted to add corn gluten in spring which also has the added benefit of being a pre-emergent weed suppressant as well as a nitrogen fertilizer. My fertilizing habits have been minimal and my lawn seems to do good enough for me. Granted it’s not a golf course – but I don’t play golf and trust me – you don’t want to see me try! Chemical fertilizer also contain salts that can over time make your soil less fertile.
- I don’t use herbicides on the lawn. I like the clover which also adds nitrogen and is food for pollinators like bees. Keep the clover. It’s a good plant – really – it is! I heard on the radio a while back that many years ago clover wasn’t considered a weed and it wasn’t until broadleaf herbicides were developed that it began to get a bad rap. Companies began marketing those herbicides and started calling clover a weed because the herbicide happened to kill it too. Makes sense right? Change perception to make your product more acceptable. Clover gradually became considered a weed when it really ought to be enjoyed for its benefits. I can’t verify that radio information but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true. I actually over seeded some areas with red clover this year – yep I like clover. You should too!
- I don’t aerate but probably should every now and then.
- I don’t plant Bermuda grass. It’s the worst thing for creeping into garden beds you can imagine. OK maybe not there are a few things I could list that are worse – much worse- but you gotta admit Bermuda in a garden isn’t a good thing!
That’s the basics of lawncare in my world. You don’t have to chemicalize your garden. I don’t go all out and honestly I’m happy with less!