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Don't Cut Your Lawn Too Short
by John Harmon
June 22, 2003

This week we finally got our first real rain in the Whitehorse area. The rain was a long time coming this spring and with the forest fire rating at extreme it came none too soon. Up to this point it's been one of the driest months of June on record.

With all this moisture many folks will be thinking about their lawns. Lawns are basically just big beds of thousands of cultivated plants clustered closely together. Unless you have been watering your lawn almost continuously through our dry spring it might be full of brown patches. Those brown patches should be turning green again now that they have enough moisture. It doesn't seem to matter how much water you put on a lawn with sprinklers, a good long rain produces better results. I hear many folks talking about fertilizing their lawns in the spring. My lawn is just a series of brown patches held together with some spots of green so here's some advice on fertilizing lawns from an expert.

Ellen Silva an Extension Technician with the Department of Horticulture at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute says "the sight of new grass growing often inspires the homeowner to run out and spread fertilizer to help the young blades along. This is actually the opposite of recommended practices for fescue and bluegrass lawns. The proper time to feed grass is in the fall, when the roots that will sustain the plants through the following summer are actively growing. Even if the fall feeding was missed, any spring feeding should be limited to a light feeding (1/2 pound of actual nitrogen, i.e., 5 pounds of 10-10-10, per 1000 sq. ft.) after the initial flush of growth has subsided."

I know this flies in the face of accepted practice in the Whitehorse area. Many folks like to spread a very high nitrogen fertilizer on their lawns this time of the year. You can get away with that application if there is enough moisture to keep the nitrogen from "burning" tender young grass shoots but you will get a better lawn without the risk of a bun with balanced slow release fertilizers.

One of the things you should do in the early spring is check your soil for pH. Lawns grow best at a pH level of six point zero to seven point zero. This pH level is considered desirable because it makes nutrients more available to the plants. Any method for testing soil pH will work. You should check every two or three years to see what adjustments your soil may need. One of the best amendments to add to your lawn is a top dressing of Canadian peat. Figure on using three large bales of peat moss per 1,000 square feet. Don't worry about running out of peat moss. There is nearly 60 times as much peat moss growing in Canada every year than is being harvested. Peat lands cover more than 113 million hectares while harvesting takes place on less than 17,000 hectares or 1 acre in every 6,000.

Lime is essential to the success of your lawn. Lime creates a balance of soil chemistry that allows the fertilizer to react with your lawn more readily. After correcting pH level, lime should be applied at a rate of 15-20 lbs. Per 1000 sq. ft. of lawn area.

It is a good idea to fertilize newly seeded grass using a high phosphorous fertilizer (for example, 25 pounds of 5-10-5 per 1000 square feet when patch seeding) which will foster root growth. The grass will be stronger and healthier if you can water daily until the plants are established. Water a new lawn more often because the roots are not as long and dense as those of the grass in an established lawn.

Believe it or not it matters how short you cut your grass. Grass kept at a height of two to two and one half inches can withstand heat stress better than closely cropped grass. This mowing height encourages deep rooting, so you don't have to water or fertilize as often.

Be aware that if you are using a combination fertilizer and herbicide that the tree and shrub roots under the lawn may take it up and injure them too. If you use residual weed killers that linger in the soil to prevent future weed growth, these may kill many soil microorganisms. This sometimes results in poorer soil, and thus, poorer lawn growth and vigor. If you need more microorganisms in your soil consider using Myke for lawns. For more information on Myke for lawns check out http://www.premiertech.com/myke/mycorise/index.htm.

For more information on general lawn care and fertilizing go to: http://www.hort.cornell.edu/gardening/lawn/fertiliz.html.

With all the recent rain I may have a small chance of getting rid of the brown spots in what I call my lawn but any real work on my lawn would cut into my afternoon nap time so a perfect lawn is still but a dream for me.



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