Posts tagged grass

Your questions: native lawn seed and “dead weight” compost

Homegrown readers are sending in their questions. Does anyone have answers for these two?

 Jody from Cedar Rapids sent in the first one:

 Hi Cindy – I love your site:) I live in C.R. and I have a question – where do I go to find native lawn grass mix?? I have a new very large area to seed! Thanks!

 Dikkie Schoggen asked the following:

 Rains daily for months has turned the compost pile into dead weight mud. We have composted for over thirty years and never had anything like this. How to rescue the mud and return it to useable compost?

 I thought the answer for Dikkie could be working brown material, such as dry leaves, into the compost pile. Any other suggestions? And does anyone know where Jody might find a native lawn grass mix in the Cedar Rapids area? And what might that be??

 Please answer in a comment below. If you have other gardening questions, you can ask those in a comment, as well.

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All about lawns

   It’s spring and attention is turning to lawns. Two things today about lawn care. The first is from Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith and the second came to me from Dustin Vande Hoef, communications director for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey sent the message to remind homeowners that spring is an ideal time to improve soil quality in our yards and that restoration of the soil can help retain water, prevent erosion and protect water quality.

 

This is from Claire Smith:

 

   Are you ready for some mowing?  Depending on the weather, your summer lawn mowing and maintenance can begin anytime in April.

Did you service the mower last fall?  If you didn’t have time then, you should take time now.  Beg or bribe your favorite spouse or relative to change the oil, kick the tires, replace the spark plug and air filter, and be certain the blades are sharp and not bent. 

If the ground temperature is 55-60’ you can commence any necessary re-seeding and repairs. Lawn repair kits that will contain seed and mulch can be purchased.  But remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is so do not succumb to terrific sounding no maintenance grasses and groundcover.   Apply the patch after you have removed the dead turf and loosened and amended the soil.

   Pizza or ice cream treats may create some enthusiasm to have the kids or grandkids help you rake and remove clumps of leaves and other debris left over from winter ice and snow. Initiate a game of pickup sticks (branches). Tamp down runways created by winter vole activity and fill in holes. 

  Hose off lawn areas along walks, drives and roadways that have been exposed to deicing compounds or your grass may not reappear.  Keep newly seeded and sodded areas moist to reduce stress on young and developing root systems.   Watering an established lawn is not necessary now.  Wait until May to fertilize.  Over watering and over fertilizing does more harm than good on your lawn:  strike a happy medium.  Excessive use of insecticides may reduce nature’s aerating machines, the earthworm. Monitor your lawn for any insect damage prior to spraying. 

   Proper mowing is a real key to a healthy lawn.  The suggested mowing height is 3-3 ½” Taller grass forms a deeper root system.  Stronger plants are more likely to fend off insects, disease and weeds.  Remove only 1/3 of the total height of the grass and leave the clippings on the lawn to decompose. Clippings add nitrogen, moisture and organic matter to the soil.  Varying the direction and pattern of mowing will reduce the wear and tear on the lawn.

   So, are you ready for some mowing?  Grab a bottle of lemonade and your hat and sunscreen. Hop on the mower and enjoy the spring weather and the start of a beautiful lawn.

 

From Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship:

 

    Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey today encouraged homeowners to consider incorporating soil quality restoration efforts into their annual spring yard work.

   Often in urban areas, especially new developments, the topsoil has been removed and what is left is compacted.  Restoring soil quality helps yards and green spaces absorb and infiltrate rainfall, which reduces the homeowners need to water their yard while protecting water quality and preventing runoff.

   “Iowa is known for it’s great soil, and rightfully so, but we need to make sure we are taking care of that soil so that it is healthy,” Northey said.  “What made our soil so productive was the high organic matter content and porosity that absorbed rain and allowed roots to grow deep.  Soil quality restoration helps recreate those conditions that allow plants to thrive.”

   If you are establishing a new lawn, perform deep tillage (8-12 inches deep) before seeding or sodding to breaks up compacted soils.  Add compost to increase organic matter.  It is recommended that soils have 5 percent or more organic matter before sodding or seeding, which can be achieved by incorporating 1 to 3 inches of compost.

   If you have an existing lawn, consider aerating the soil and then apply a blanket of compost in the spring or fall.  An application of one-quarter to three-quarters of an inch of compost following aeration will help fill the holes with organic matter to amend the soil and allow existing turf to grow through the compost amendment. If your turf is patchy, add seed to the compost application to thicken up the vegetation.

   “Improving the soil quality in your yard will make your lawn healthier, require less water and reduce the need for fertilizer and pesticide applications,” Northey added.  “A better looking lawn and improved water quality in the state are possible when we better manage runoff through soil quality restoration and other measures that allow water to infiltrate.”

   There are a number of other lawn care tips to help care for your soil and promote infiltration of water and prevent runoff.

  • Begin mowing after the first of May and end near Labor Day.
  • Set the mower at three inches high. The higher the grass shoots the deeper the grass roots, making it better able to survive dry periods.
  • Use the mulch setting on your mower to leave the grass clippings on the yard. Don’t lower organic matter content by removing clippings.
  • Consider using native plants for accent in planting beds or in rain gardens to minimize the amount of turf grass.
  • Seed your lawn to a native turf mixture that has deep roots and thrives in Iowa’s weather conditions without extra care.

   More information about urban conservation, rain gardens and a soil quality brochure are available on the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s website at www.IowaAgriculture.gov

 

 

               

               

 

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I Spy

Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith, submitted the following about springtime preparations:

 

I spy, with my little eye, something green.  It’s tiny, a sliver, and there’s another and another right there in my yard.  Under the melting snow and ice, live grass is trying to peek through.  Is it my imagination to expect green grass in early March?  As soon as we endure the annual State Girls’ Basketball Tournament snowstorm, it will be spring in Iowa!  Then, we can dig into yard work. 

Initially we monitor the gardens’ environments.  Disease prevention can save future headaches.  Start by removing unwanted leaves, branches and other debris deposited by wind or critters. Prune or trim back the stems you left for winter interest.   Peruse your garden catalog for species and varieties that are disease resistant.  Know if your new plantings prefer shade or a sunny setting.   Plan plantings to provide adequate airflow.   Humidity and wetness under the canopy are often conducive to disease so spacing is important. Maintaining good plant vigor through proper watering and fertilizing will make your plants less prone to disease.  As you plan your garden, consider the water source.  How many trips will you need to make with a watering can or how far will you have to drag a hose?  Is a rain barrel feasible in or near the bed?  How about a soaker hose?  I have two beds near the road ditch.   I alternate running the soaker hoses from a spigot beside the house.  I also have a water barrel mounted in a wagon to use for beds where no running water is available.   Proper timing with fertilization will be important.  Follow label directions on packages.   Retain the water and feeding directions for further reference. 

Compost amends the soil.  Use it abundantly!  Mulch is a valuable asset.  It helps hold moisture, chokes out weeds and prevents too much water from splashing on the underside of plants during a heavy rain.  I stock up my season’s supply as soon as each becomes available.

 Bird houses are a wonderful addition to a garden.  A water feature will attract birds and butterflies.  Both come in all manner of shapes and size. 

Remember to check out the rakes and shovels and tune up the lawn mower.  As soon as the soil is above 50 degrees, it’s time to plant!  

 

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“Compostales” part deux

More “compostales” from entries to our composting contest:

 

Gloria Overton of Cedar Rapids

 

My family loves to compost! We got started about 10 years ago when the previous homeowner left boards with notches cut in the ends. We decided it was a compost bin and assembled it. We have used that bin ever since. We compost our fruit and vegetable scraps like apple cores, banana peels, cornhusks, and our shredded paper. Our biggest surprise was diced melon rinds decompose in less than one week. We also add coffee grounds, tea bags and yard debris. Now it is filled to the top with tree leaves.

 

We love to compost because it makes wonderful dirt and is so relaxing. You can always move the compost around to make it break down more quickly. We are also very pleased with the quality compost it makes. Wow does grass seed ever germinate when they are planted in compost! My container garden is entirely planted in compost. The remaining compost goes into the garden or lawn. When you plant something in compost, it is like planting it in dirt on steroids!

 

 

Pam Kautz
and Eliza and Henry and Greta and Ben of Marion

We love compost!  We are beginner gardeners and compost is saving our sorry vegetable garden.  This year we started adding egg shells and this year is the first that we haven’t had a problem with blossom end rot on our tomatoes.  Compost is our friend that seems to cover our inexperienced missteps and is turning our sad, hard clay into a fruitful, lush source of organic produce for our family.  And digging the compost into the soil is a great job for little diggers.  Kids love it and really love the worms that love it too!  We only wish we had more (oh yeah, and some horse manure too).  Yeah for compost! 
 

Lauren Overton of Cedar Rapids

 

     When I compost I feel like I’m in a fun contest. I judge myself on how much I’m putting into the compost pile, how well I’m turning it, how often I’m turning it, and evaluate how good the soil is as a whole. The more variety of ingredients I put into the compost pile, the better the compost. I like that I have a ready supply of rich compost full of nutrients, rather than needing to buy packaged soil.

     Our “green” ingredients are: coffee grounds and filters, vegetable scraps, grass clippings, banana peels, apple cores, and the like. Our “brown” ingredients are shredded paper and fallen leaves.  I use my turning fork to mix the green and brown ingredients.

     We have one compost bin made of wood. My family has been composting for ten years. Now I am 15 years old and I do a lot of the composting for my family.  I love the process of making compost. I love the feel of the soil and being able to use it in my garden.

 

 

Jackie Meier of Robins

 

My family has been composting for many years. I learned from my mother that the outdoors is self contained if we just keep recycling.   She has her compost right next to her garden and keeps it full.

 It is such a reward to know you can create your own soil for growing plants.

 

Our backyard is full of many kinds of perinials and annual plants that go through the seasons along with clippings from mowing the grass, to leaves falling from the trees.  

 

We keep a bucket just outside our patio door for all our vegetable and fruit peelings.      It’s always fun to see how the seeds will sprout in the spring in the compost pile to produce a cucumber or tomato plant.  

 

We have filled many of our landscaping projects with the compost we create.  It is such a reward to be able to keep all the environment in it’s correct place,  WHERE IT ORIGINATED FROM!!! 

 

We not only keep compost processing but also all recyclable items. 

We do allot of traveling and will keep all recyclables with us until we return to process them correctly.

 

God gave us one earth and it is up to each of us to nurture it and keep it alive and healthy,  just like we do raising our children,  we need to care for our special planet.  

 

 

Thanks to all who enteredJ 

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Black gold

The following is by Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith:

 

Busy morning today.  A friend came out to “scoop poop”.  Actually, he used the skid loader.  He took a pickup load of horse manure.   He’s spreading that Black Gold on his garden in preparation for next spring’s vegetable garden!           

                How do you know if your soil needs enhancement?  For a small fee, you can always obtain a soil testing kit from the Linn County Extension office.  And, check for earthworms.  In any hole of one cubic foot, you should see at least five earthworms.  Earthworms aerate the soil and add considerable fertility to the earth with their castings (waste).  If you don’t have worms now, add organic material as a remedy.

                Considered composting.  Composting is basically decomposed material.  It is the controlled biological and chemical decomposition of organic material.    Composted material resembles black fluffy soil.  Added to soil, compost improves drainage, increases aeration, and aids water retention and nutrients all of which create better root development resulting in healthier plants. 

By amending the soil, composting reduces the need to use chemical fertilizers.  Homemade compost is economical to make.   Compost provides a slow release of nutrients over an extended period.   Compost can be mixed into the top 6-8 inches of garden soil or spread in a one inch layer around perennials.

 Instead of raking all of the leaves from your yard into the street, deposit them in a pile—or bin—in an obscure area of your yard.  Mix in non-diseased stems and cuttings from your flower and vegetable garden. Add shredded or torn newspaper (do not use the colored sheets, however).   Coffee grounds, potato peelings and egg shells can be used as well as leftover fruits and vegetables.  Grass clippings and yard trimmings will decompose.  Do not use cat litter.  Lard, grease, oil, meat or fish bones may attract unwanted scavengers.  Add water and stir.  How much compost do you need?  Incorporating two inches of compost into a 200 sq. ft. garden will require 33.33 cu. ft., or 1.2 cu. yds. or 41.66 bushels or 83.33 five gallon buckets. 

For an explanation of creating a compost bin, call the Linn County Master Gardeners at the Horticulture Hotline at 319-447-0647. 

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Overseeding lawns

Richard Jauron, Horticulture Specialist at Iowa State University Extension, offers the following on overseeding lawns:

Healthy, well maintained lawns are attractive landscape additions.  Lawns in poor condition, however, are somewhat unsightly.  The poor condition of a lawn may be due to poor management, heat, drought, diseases, insects or other factors.  In severe cases, the existing lawn may have to be destroyed and a new one established on the site.  Lawns that contain over 50 percent desirable grasses can often be improved by overseeding.  

Overseeding is the sowing of grass seed into an existing lawn.  In Iowa, the best time to overseed a lawn is late summer (late August to mid-September).

Site Preparation

Good site preparation is necessary for successful overseeding.  If possible, identify and correct the problems causing the lawn to decline.  Overseeding may only be a temporary solution if these problems are not corrected. 

To reduce the competition from the established turfgrass, mow the lawn at a height of 1-1/2 to 2 inches.  Successful overseeding also requires good seed-to-soil contact.  Simply throwing or broadcasting seed over the lawn typically results in poor seed germination as much of the seed is resting on the thatch layer or soil surface.  Rakes, core aerators, vertical mowers, and slit seeders can be used to ensure good seed-to-soil contact. 

Overseeding Small Areas

Small areas can be prepared by gently raking the thin spots.  When raking, it’s necessary to break the soil surface without pulling out the existing turfgrass.  After raking, sow the seed by hand.  Then, work the seed into the soil by gently raking the areas a second time. 

Overseeding Large Areas

Large areas can be prepared by using a core aerator.  Core aerators are machines with hollow metal tubes or tines.  They remove plugs of soil when run over the lawn.  To prepare the site, go over the lawn three or four times with the core aerator.  When finished, there should be 20 to 40 holes per square foot.  Apply the seed with a drop seeder.  Afterward, drag the area with a piece of chain link fence or drag mat to break up the soil cores and mix the seed into the soil. 

It’s also possible to prepare the site with a vertical mower.  When run over the lawn, the knife-like blades of the vertical mower slice through the thatch and penetrate into the upper 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil.  One or two passes should be sufficient.  Afterwards, remove any dislodged debris from the lawn.  Sow grass seed over the lawn with a drop seeder.  Work the seed into the soil by again going over the site with the vertical mower. 

Large areas also can be overseeded with a slit seeder.  A slit seeder makes small grooves in the soil and deposits the seed directly into the slits. 

Core aerators, vertical mowers and slit seeders can be rented at many garden centers and rental agencies.  If you would rather not do the work yourself, many professional lawn care companies can overseed your lawn. 

Post Seeding Care

Keep the seedbed moist with frequent, light applications of water.  It’s usually necessary to water at least once or twice a day.  Continue to mow the lawn at a height of 1-1/2 to 2 inches.  Mow the lawn frequently to reduce the competition from the established turfgrass.  When the new seedlings reach a height of 1-1/2 to 2 inches, gradually increase the mowing height over the next several weeks.  The final mowing height should be 2-1/2 to 3 inches.  Approximately six weeks after germination, fertilize the lawn by applying 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.  

When properly overseeded, a thin, scruffy-looking lawn can be turned into a thick, lush lawn in just a few weeks. 

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Master lawn care

The following comes from Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith:

 

                Did you remember to stop the mail and newspapers and let the neighbors know you’d be gone when you went on vacation this summer?  What did you do about your lawn?  If you planned to be gone for more than a week, did you have someone mow it for you?  How about watering it?  Vacationing during hot and dry July and August might mean you will need someone to water for you.

                During these hot days, sustaining your lawn is important. If you choose to continue watering, clay soils should get a good soaking weekly; sandy soils should be watered at least, ½” twice per week and growing lawns need one inch per week.  Watering early in the day saves water lost to evaporation and reduces disease problems.  Actually, you could just let the lawn go dormant for the rest of the season.  It will turn brown during this stressful period, but once the weather cools and fall rains commence, it should green up again.  There is still time to lay sod if you have a new lawn but it will require extra care.  Be certain the soil surface stays moist until the sod roots into the soil below.  Once rooted it will still need thorough although less frequent watering. 

                Do not fertilize dormant or non-irrigated lawns now.  Fertilization can cause damage and may even kill the grass. 

                Crabgrass may be starting to appear.   Now would be a great time to pinpoint its location on your lawn map making it easier to target pesticide application as crabgrass is usually eradiated in early spring.

                Mow grass at 3-3 ½” tall. Taller grass is more drought tolerant and better able to compete with pests.  A plus to warmer dryer weather is that you can mow less often.  Leave grass clippings where they fall.  They impart organic matter, nitrogen and earthworm food.

                Rules of thumb:  mow high, keep pests under control and choose proper watering patterns.

 

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