We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Sunday, April 17. 2011
An annual re-post -
We always contend that lawns are foolish things to have. Foolish, and unnatural. We prefer meadows and gardens, but everybody needs a place to play croquet or softball, or to lie in the sun with a book, growing your basal cell carcinomas and your liver spots. We reluctantly acknowledge that, in some suburban areas, a sweeping lawn is a social if not an aesthetic requirement.
All the same, we urge folks to consider how much of that lawn they might exchange for some more interesting colorful perennial or shrub borders and ground covers. A nice English garden, whether formal or informal, uses lawn as an accent and for paths - as just one component of design and mentally, I think, as a comforting symbol of safe civilization to contrast with the blooming profusion of the other plantings. Order vs. disorder. Open vs. closed. Safe vs. mysterious. Landscape design is a psycho-spiritual enterprise. This is a garden outside of London:
Here's a brief history of the American lawn. Yes, the lawn is more-or-less designed to imitate the smooth effect of a sheep-grazed pasture on an English country estate.
And here is our world-famous bit on top-dressing and other lawn topics.
Today, a bit about lawn aeration, fertilizer, irrigation, earthworms, and "de-thatching." In reverse order:
"De-thatching" is a completely useless and unnecessary activity. No healthy soil needs it, and a healthy soil is the key to a decent sod. "Thatch" - old grass - will rapidly decompose or be eaten by worms in a good lawn, recycling the nutrients and keeping your worms fat and happy.
Earthworms. We said everything we know about the wonderful earthworm in this post. They aerate and enrich the sod. If your sod doesn't contain plenty of them, something is wrong with it.
Irrigation. No natural lawn requires irrigation. If you try to grow lawn grasses in places they don't want to grow, like the Arizona desert, they will need irrigation of course. Around here, people with money to burn irrigate their lawns to trick the grass into staying green all summer, and not enter their natural summer dormancy when they are apt to turn brown. Lawn grasses grow the way they do because our mowing cuts their tops off while they keep trying to grow to their natural height and to bear their seeds. It must be frustrating to the poor things. In natural conditions, grasses grow to their full height, bear their seeds (say, in early July) and then go dormant until cool damp weather brings them back to life. If you keep them strugging at their Sisyphisian effort through the mid-summer with irrigation, they will naturally need more fertilizer to look photogenic.
Fertilizer and top-dressing. Our lawns do need fertilizer because they are deprived of natural sources of nutrients (fallen leaves, animal droppings, clover and other wild legumes with their nitrogen-fixing bacteria, silting from flooding, etc). When you bag or blow the clippings, then even more so - and you starve the worms, too. My top-dressing program not only fertilizes organically, but also improves the soil texture. I also fertilize lawns in June and September/October. I don't use water-soluble nitrogen, because most that will end up in the stream. I use mowing machines that mulch the clippings and fallen leaves. I don't need to use herbicides, because the grass is happy. And I don't use pesticides because there is no good reason to waste the money and to poison Creation.
Aeration. In nature, earthworms, moles, woodchucks, and other digging critters keep the topsoil loose and in motion. Loose soil is need for root growth, water and nutrient penetration, and to provide air for aerobic soil microbes. Our lawns tend to get compacted, and people try to kill their happy moles because they interfere with the "perfect lawn" (which, of course, is meant to be a reflection of our perfect selves, right?). Aeration of lawns and sports fields is essential, and should be done depending on how heavily the grass is tromped on. Some lawns, every two years. Sports fields need twice per year. There are two kinds of aerators. The spike aerators (like this) do nothing useful. What is needed is the plugger type (like this one, in photo above), which pulls out forty-fifty per square yard 2-4"-deep plugs out of the sod and deposits them on the surface. (it makes a temporary mess, but one good heavy rain removes most evidence of the plugs.) Plug aeration is commonly done in the Fall, but I like to do it in the Spring, after the grass gets growing thick and vigorously (May), and combine it with my biennial top-dressing project and with any overseeding that seems needed.
The downside of plugging is having dogs with muddy feet on your bed for a couple of days.
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
A post in which I castigate the earthworm.
We have thirteen acres on a lake in northern Minnesota. Our property abuts the Chippewa National Forest. Every spring, our property was covered with beautiful wood orchids - we called them Indian Moccasins, a yellow variation of the Pink Lady Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens) Earthworms have destroyed the root systems of this plant. Where we used to have several thousand, perhaps we now have two dozen. http://cfhe.cfans.umn.edu/photogallery/chippewa.html This link shows the devastation caused by earthworms.
Earthworms can be downright evil.
Bah! The foreign earthworms were willing to work, the lazy American earthworms were lying around smoking dope and supporting Democrats.
To me, that landscape looks like a lot to mow, and a good place for breeding mosquitoes.
Heck no. A John Deere riding mower with a cigar and a couple of beers or a scotch as evening descends.
Is that "work"?
Israel is a dry country that - like many other places - has been given over to cookie-cutter suburban development, which includes desperate attempts to sustain lawns against all climatic odds.
And the individual lawns in this tiny country are not really large enough for sports (well, maybe volleyball).
So people are wising up and replacing the grass with slightly rougher but equally useful ground covers. Or gravel.
As a gardener I find grass boring.
Regarding Order VS. Disorder:
The root of it all in garden design is the "Faradis" - which literally means "orchard" or "enclosed space" in Semitic languages.
And because the archetype is from an arid place, the enclosure has a well or spring or irrigation ditch in it.
This archetype spread east and west. Ever since, gardens have contrasted imposed geometry with wild forms.
The Roman network of trellised arbors fanning out from the estate, with grottoes
The Arabic Alhambra-style garden of rectangular "rooms" with fountains
The Japanese courtyard and tea gardens, contrasting rectangular architecture with studied assymetry
The English garden - a grid of arbors and filled with barely-controlled shrub and perennial borders.
The lawn exists so that you have something to scythe
Re; DeThatching ... Oh, I dunno. I have dethatched sections of my lawn twice... both times to over seed. Once after a bout of roundup to kill a persistent patch of dallisgrass with other sundry weed. The other after a particularly hard winter kill of St Augustine grass. Both times, I used a dethatching blade on my lawnmower, went back over it to mulch up the debris, then planted new grass seed to prevent erosion. It worked so well, I kept the blade. Other than that, I could figure no reason to 'dethatch' my lawn. I figure I have a lot of money invested in that thatch.
Another thing I seldom, if ever do, is poison my lawn with insecticides. the downside of that is not the insects, its the flocks of birds that cover my lawn picking out the varieties of hoppers and crawlers. Dig anywhere in my patch of grass and there'll be worms by the spadefull, even in the sticky texas gumbo. The other downside is the subterranean termites due to the lack of poisons. Don't mind them either as long as they stay underground and leave the house alone...
Southern grasses are different from our fescues and bluegrasses.
There was a lot of useful info in this post, but I must say that as a ratio of irritabiity to seriousness of subject matter, it may have set some sort of internet record.
What is it about this topic that so infuriates people? Since this is an annual post, I suggest changing the title next year to, "Hey you kids! Get offa my lawn!"
I have little cabin in the Kootenay Valley just north of Eureka Montana. God's country.
We mow about an acre of native ground cover around the cabin to get sort of a prickly lawn. http://waldoroadcabin.com/ImagePage-Deer%20in%20the%20yard%201,%20cameraphone.htm
We water and the local grazers and browsers love it. We had a herd of elk come by and dig through first snow to get to our watered grass. Elk ain't sheep. We'll need a bobcat to smooth it out.
Why do you have field tires on yer tractor,instread of turf tires? Do you use it in the winter for snow removal?
Personally, I like my Astro Turf lawn.
And it's easy to take care of!!!
So THAT'S what Nancy Pelosi was talking about when she mentioned astro-turfing.
The newly developed artificial turf is long-lasting, durable, and feels like real lawn. A bit expensive to first install, it lasts decades.
It saves on labor, watering, mowing and no insecticides. Great for children at play and comfortable for lying down.