Probiotics for your Lawn?

I recently received this ad in the mail:

Lawn Doctor ad 09.47.51

While I noticed the baby crawling on the grass, the dog,  and the blurbs—“Better for you, your loved ones & your pets” and “50% less synthetics”—all designed to convey safety (with even more health references on the back), it was the word “Probiotic” that really caught my attention.

Probiotics are a hot topic. Research is constantly discovering how important our gut biomes are. But a lawn is not a digestive system. It looks impressive on the advertising, but is there really any point to putting probiotics on your grass?

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Villainous Voles

640px-Microtus_pennsylvanicus_illustration
By Author: Bailey, Vernon, 1864-1942; Merriam, C. Hart (Clinton Hart), 1855-1942; United States. Division of Biological Survey – Revision of American voles of the genus Microtus (1900) https://archive.org/details/revisionofameric17bail, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37187840

In last month’s post on “Who Ate My Plants?” I described the following scenario:

The heavy snowfall took a while to melt, but finally your dormant lawn emerges from under its frozen blanket. Last time you saw it, it was perfect turf, smooth and even. But now, it looks as if an army had performed maneuvers across your yard! Shallow furrows run here and there around islands of still-intact grass. What in the world?!

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Rethinking Lawns

Useless turf_ColoSpgs-CO_LAH_8420Lawns—it seems we either love them or hate them. I was surprised when an informal survey of around 100 Colorado Master Gardeners revealed that only two people (2%) were very interested in growing lawns. Yet, half of the callers to the master gardener help desk ask for advice on growing turf grass. Clearly there’s a major disconnect here! Why are lawns so popular among the general public, yet loathed by many avid gardeners?

I unhesitatingly admit that a lovely lawn sets off the rest of the landscape. Flower beds, shrubbery, and other garden beds often look their best when they’re bordered by grass.

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Feeding Your Lawn

lawn_uplandin_20090615_lah_3607The summer is heading for fall, and it’s time to fertilize lawns. Go to any garden center and you’ll see piles of name brand lawn fertilizer, complete with directions on the back. Just follow these simple steps and you’ll have a healthy, green, weed-free lawn.

What these manufacturers don’t take into account is that different parts of the country have different soils. What may be excellent advice for Pennsylvania or Maine may not work for Colorado. Unlike much of the north and east, the Front Range loses more water to evaporation than it gains in rainfall. Combine that with the native rock from which our soils are derived, and we typically have soils that are alkaline, high in phosphorus and potassium, and low in organic matter and nitrogen.

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Heavenly Lawns

This has been making the email rounds for a while now, at least among us gardeners. But as it is one of my favorites, I wanted to share it just in case anyone has missed it so far. I wish I knew who the author was, so I could give them full credit for this masterpiece.

Heavenly Lawns
zeroscape-colospgs-2008sept18-lah-312r-1One heavenly spring morning, God got into a conversation with St. Francis about lawns. The conversation went something like this…….

GOD: St. Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there in the USA? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle, and the other stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect, no-maintenance garden plan. I created plants that grow in any type of soil, withstand drought, and multiply like crazy. The nectar from the long lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honeybees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all I see are these green rectangles.

ST. FRANCIS: It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers weeds, and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

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Xeriscape: Which Grass?

Now that you know why you want a lawn, and how big it should be, it’s time to consider what type of grass to grow.

Bluegrass
Lawn_UplandIN_20090615_LAH_3607Kentucky Bluegrass still reigns supreme for a turf that can stand up to hard use. It spreads via runners, so it quickly fills in holes. (But beware. Those same runners have a tendency to wind up in the adjacent flower beds.) If you have children and/or dogs, this is probably your best choice.

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Xeriscaping: Just Enough Lawn

What would happen if you turned on the tap and no water came out? We are accustomed to having water on demand, but here in the west, the truth is that we are slowly running out. As communities grow, increased demand on both surface water and aquifers will eventually lead to rationing and other restrictions. In some places, that has already happened.

Since landscapes consume far more water than household use, your yard is the best place to conserve.

Lawns are the thirstiest part of most landscapes, so let’s start there. Frequently, homeowners plant turf because they don’t know what else to do, or because they’ve always done it that way. A wall-to-wall carpet of grass might work in Virginia, but is it appropriate in Colorado?

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