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
Tuesday, March 15. 2011
An annual re-post -
Lawns are dumb things to have, but almost everybody has some. It's expected nowadays, but gardens and plantings are more interesting, look more natural, are more inviting to birds and other friendly critters, and offer more privacy - and shade. On the other hand, everyone needs a space for croquet and badminton.
Once the preserve of the wealthy, lawns became de rigeur for the aspiring middle class during the 20th century, as new homeowners attempted to create miniaturized versions of grand English estates on 1/4, 1/2, 1- and 2-acre building lots.
The orgin of lawns was sheep-grazed fields. Sheep are the primitive machine which transforms grass into wool and mutton.
But the subject assigned to me is top dressing. (Bear in mind that I am talking about Northern and mid-western lawns with Bluegrass and fescue in them. That's all I know about. Southern lawns are an entirely different breed.)
I top dress my lawns every spring, and I know Bird Dog does too. He does it casually, but I do it methodically. I mix about 1/4 leaf compost, 1/8 light sand, 1/8 topsoil or potting soil, 1/4 peat moss and 1/4 composted manure in the big wheelbarrow and toss it around the ground after around the second grass cutting of spring. Probably plain peat moss or composted manure would do the trick just as well. Ideally, it all should be rather dry, but life is never ideal. Then I lightly rake it in - or have the lawn guys rake it in - so it doesn't compress the grass. I apply it rather heavily, and use around 40 wheelbarrow loads for the lawn areas I care about.
It's about stewardship of the land, and not a cheap nitrogen-intoxicated superficial green. We have to remember that lawns are not natural things, but they aren't plastic either.
(More lawn info and advice below the fold)
It makes for a spongy, lush, humusy growth which doesn't need much watering. It's almost like mulching the grass. And the soil has become thick with worms since I have been doing this, which is a good sign. The worm population saves me the trouble of doing an annual or biennial coring. The worms do it for me.
Because lawns are unnatural things, they need special treatment to be healthy. What our lawn grasses want to do is to grow to their maximum height by July, go to seed, turn brown, and green up again from the base in the fall - and mulch themselves with their stalks, fallen leaves, etc. over the winter. That's what a meadow, a prairie, or a woodland grassy patch does. Mowing fools the grasses into continuing growth by chopping off their tops.
Is my top dressing ritual really necessary? Some say not, but I do it anyway, most years. Here's how I do my lawn areas that I want to look good:
- Annual top dressing after second or third cut
I do not use weed-killer or pesticides. The turf is happy enough to crowd out everything except for the occasional cheerful dandelion, and lawn pesticides are entirely unnecessary in a healthy lawn. Plus they kill all the worms and everything else. I do not use high nitrogen fertilizers. They give you a cheap green for a week, and 90% of the fertilizer washes away. The organic fertilizers are slow release and much lower in nitrogen. For a happy lawn, you need strong roots and not picture-perfect green. In fact, you can maintain a picture-perfect lawn by irrigation and high-nitrogen fertilizer, but it won't be healthy: it's like applying make-up.
I do not water my lawns at all. They naturally turn a bit brown (dormant) in August, and bounce back happily in September after their little summer rest. Lastly, I let the lawn clippings lie where they fall to mulch the grass, except in May when the growth is so fast that the clippings would kill the grass.
Leaving the clippings on the grass is, of course, an additional form of top dressing. Another is to run the mulching mower over the fallen leaves in autumn, rather than blowing them all away.
(If you know anyone who is interested, I have a patent on a pelletized top dressing which can be applied by a lawn spreader and would not need raking-in. I just need an investor-manufacturer.)
Lower image: A Leyland steam-powered mower
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
Very impressive. I can't do it. I ripped out nearly all of my lawn except for, oh, say a side lawn curving around the house of maybe 200 sq. ft. All rhodies and azaleas and hydrangeas and rose bushes, etc. now. A push mower suffices.
By the way, I've got a camellia in bloom already here in Washington State. Anybody else?
Very smart. As I say, lawns are stupid things. No camellias here - we still have snow cover in CT.
Can't find good organic lawn fertilizer anymore since Home Depot stopped stocking Ringer. Any ideas? Have heard Milorganite hyped, but it's sewage sludge and I've heard it has lots of toxic residues in it, which am not keen on. Would rather put animal manure on the homestead than human...
Organic fertilizer is best on vegetables, also. I've noticed the plants grow more slowly but attract fewer pests (hi-nitrogen makes them smell more appetizing to pests), taste better, and resist disease better. I swear by foliar spraying of kelp in water. Works a bit like growth hormone, and makes everything more resistant to the wee nasties and mold, etc.
As far as the lawn goes, we put down Milky Spore about 15 years ago and have had no problems with the grubs of Japanese Beetles since.
Our lawn looks awful (periodically flooded by nearby brackish pond), but it covers the dirt which is all I ask for. Kids and dog need space to run and chase balls, so I hold off on planting a hundred rose bushes and having a gigantic vegetable garden for now...Lawns are good for play, and nice to doze on.
Here's how I do my lawn:
If it's green, I mow it.
Don't have much choice mowing six acres a week. Luckily my 6 year old son enjoys sitting on my lap as we circle the Scag nautilus style around the lawns. Mowed for the first time this evening.
I have not tried, but have heard good things about:
Don't know if you can get the stuff outside of the Pacific Northwest, though.
"I do not use weed-killer or pesticides."
Wonderful! I pull by hand, but some neighbors use Chem-lawn and their yards are sterile, devoid of good insects. The first year at my place, weeds were rampant and I hired an ex-con to help me deal with the dandelions, crab, nut and onion grass, etc. He was safe enough, but big and ethnic. We were out there so often pulling weeds that the neighbors thought we were married. Who ever heard of scandalous gossip from weeding? I now know nothing is inconceivable.
One year I accidentally used insufficiently seasoned manure as a top-dressing and the place smelled like a horse farm all spring. It was high hilarity watching all the scrunched up noses of people passing by, but by golly, the grass got greener on my side of the fence.
Will be starting over in a new yard soon. Am tempted to go for as drought-resistant and low maintenance as possible this time around, save for cut flowers, fruit and veggies. There are too many other fun things to do besides yard, but the croquet and sitting outside in the evening with a drink is not optional to give up.
One house is built on gravel fill. You can walk on the lawn at any time of the year and fill the same sized gravel rocks throughout. However, we keep trying. I buy one bag of Whitney Farms Compost, or Soil every week when I check out of the local grocery store. It is a GREEAT product.
Excuse me: I intended to say "Feel". You can walk on the lawn and feel small half fist size gravel pieces that lay less than 3 inches under the sod.
Buddy - all of the country around Puget Sound is one big pile of glacial till.
I was never a real rebellious kid--silent, but not intentionally destructive. However, I rode hunter/jumpers and I have a confesson to make. There was a beautiful golf course with some traps and water obstacles. On moonlit nights the sensation of riding free--unencumbered by pasture fences, or roads. Just to be on that animal as foot fall after foot fall fell on that perfect footing for what seemed like forever felt so wonderful. The moon,the grass, the freedom to choose hurdles. Ok, I only did it a couple of times, but it is still a sweet memory.
That's a good image.
Those hoofprints probably drove the golfers nuts.
I assume it rains there. It doesn't here. Lawns are brown and crunchy all summer long.
This was in a different part of the country. Soil was deep and black, and like most golf courses--it was kept green year round.
We live on a mountain ridge. Three inches down it's solid granite.
I was wondering if you have any information on a top dressing machine that is inexpensive. I came across a glorified wheelbarrow modified for top dressing but it is from another country.
Interesting question. Doubt that one exists, since the old farm manure-spreader.
My own lawn isn't fully lush until the crabgrass comes up.
It's fascinating for us Houstonians to read about you Northerners having to baby your lawns -- feed them constantly, weed them and worry over them when there's a dry spell.
Our lawns in Houston are St. Augustine grass. Nothing is tougher or more resilient than St. Augustine. We don't need to fertilize or any of that sissy stuff. We have to cut it back with machetes every week and it still creeps all over everything. There are a few pests in hot humid summertime that can make brown patches on it. But turn your back and they're gone.
I know I know. I shouldn't brag. But we've got hurricanes to worry about down here, all too frequently. To each part of the country, its characteristic pests and disasters.
Organic matter in soil is important. As for Nitrogen, your grass can't tell the difference if it is coming from manure or a granule. Chemically the nitrogen is the same.
Any words of wisdom for a case of advanced crabgrass? I'm thinking either: pull it by hand over the next few years, with periodic applications of corn gluten type weed & feed (organic), or else, hey, crabgrass is green too, right?
We live on the border of two grass zones so neither of them grow very well without spending a lot on fertilizer (we also have a well and a lot of large oak trees that are very thirsty, so that is another reason to eschew fertilizer).
I thought the young lady in the picture had done a very good job of "top dressing".
That's what I get for moving to Dallas. Here the dallisgrass is a pest, along with dandelions, chickweed, etc. etc. etc. Anyway, the neighbor got smart a few years back and plugged in some St Augustine. I think in another three years or so I won't have to worry about any of that other stuff as the St Augustine will have consumed the yard. Houston will be the city that ate Texas, and St Augustine will be the official grass!
What about lumpy lawns? I don't want a golf green, but fewer lumps would be nice.
It's still under a foot of snow, so there's no rush. It does get very mushy after the snow melts.
...and we've got extra dandelions if anyone wants some.
Barrister and all the comments are on to this but i'm saying it anyway: the monoculture/fertilized/herbicide/pesticide laden lawn has mutated from an idealistic conception of what untamed chaotic nature could look like with a little tending -- to an ecological catastrophe that is prolonged by an inherited, cultural, visual expectation-by-rote, not by contemplation, monotony.
A waste of time to " dress" a lawn. It's a silly suburbanite affectation. Grass grows, or it doesn't. Let nature take its course. It took 5 hours to mow my parents' lawn, a live entity full of hills, moss, and a variety of trees, bordered by river/creek, swamp, forest, and road. No need to encourage growth there.
If the land you are talking about is a garden or supports edible plants, then by all means treat it.