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Grass # 1 of 4
by Dan Clost
by Dan Clost


First serious garden earned 25 cents from the Kemptville Horticultural Society when I was 12. Have been poor in horticulture ever since but rich in spirit.

Went to work writing the Good Earth column (over 500 articles published in newspaper, magazine, website and journal.) and learned that what was printed wasn't what I wanted to say and certainly not what Gentle Reader understood me to say. Subsequently have developed a certain clarity and economy of words.

Day job- nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre
Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years)

Dan gardens in Canadian Zone 5b

May 26, 2002

We're onto lawns now. That's the green stuff in your yards that isn't weeds. For myself, lawns are wonderfully therapeutic. There is something about a well-kept lawn that speaks volumes about the people who live there. And we all know that if it isn't well-kept, others will speak volumes. By the bye, The Ontario Weed Act has a paragraph or two that makes for interesting reading. There are approximately 200 or so official weeds in Ontario and of that number 23 are considered noxious. (Each Province and Territory will like minded Acts.) Poison Ivy, Rhus rhadicans, is the one that springs to mind because of my susceptibility. If you have one of these bad lads growing on your property, the Act makes provisions for your neighbour to complain and for you to be required to eradicate the problem. If you don't, the Weed Inspector can cause to have it done and send you the bill. Dandelions are not noxious so don't go calling the Ministry about them; but if they are a real concern, you might want to check your municipality's bylaws.

Lawns, by and large, are a monoculture of grass. Think of your yard as a farm and your crop is grass. In our area, we grow what is called cool season grasses: blue grasses, fescues, ryes and so on. Some warm season types, such as bent grass, will grow here except they can be considered a weed. More on this later. 

Now I'm not sure if we grow grass because we really, really like it or if we acquired this preference after discovering that it is possibly one of the more pernicious plants around. What this boils down to is that grass takes less time, energy, water, and nutrients than just about any other plant growing in our area. Okay, I take that back. But, you take whatever plant you just came up with that you think outperforms grass and imagine a front and back yard full of it. Are you back to grass? Or do you consider patio stone organic?

The neat thing about grass is that it starts visibly growing so early. This is one of its most positive traits: blocking out the light to its competition. A good harbinger of the gardening season and, if you focus your attention on getting it established, you won't waste time and money planting tender annuals too early. 

The next few columns will be looking at lawn care and management. You may have noticed that the word maintenance isn't used very often. This is a bit of a philosophical thing. Maintenance is for tools and equipment: management is practised on plants. By using that term, I am constantly reminding myself that they are living organisms which produce specific responses to my actions. Management for lawns includes mowing, watering, fertilising, soil amendments and weed control. Of the latter we have almost said enough. [That's my idea of a clever segue into the next bit.]

A while ago, I wrote that lawn care chemicals, including organically derived compounds, are noxious, extremely toxic and should be handled with due consideration. As a generalisation, this holds true. However, there are several weed control agents being used by responsible professionals, that are growth regulators. Think of them as growth hormones since that is how they act, although their site of synthesis is different. These compounds, such as 2,4-D, cause the susceptible plant to literally grow itself to death. By accelerating its growth rate, the plant depletes all of its food reserves and starves to death. Also, once metabolised by the plant, the compound is broken down into water, hydrogen and oxygen. Rather benign stuff that.

I need to thank Bill Oliphant, one of those friendly professionals to whom I am always referring you, for gently pointing this out to me. Our conversation covered quite a few topics and I will be sharing some of his wisdom in the next articles.


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