A beautiful lawn works magic in the landscape. Its fine texture and vibrant green color contrast with the broader leaves of shrubs, trees, and perennials, framing and unifying the plantings bordering its edges. A broad, flat swath of grass also creates a rest for the eye, letting your attention flow from its uncluttered expanse to busier looking plantings and landscape features, and back again. Think of your lawn as a carpeted floor for your garden, enhancing the landscape in the same way attractive flooring flatters indoor rooms.
A lawn also serves practical purposes. It provides space for outdoor activities, such as ball games with the kids, entertaining friends, and relaxing. Grass can also be a hardworking walkway between beds or a buffer zone between your house and the street. These two jobs are what lawns do best. If you find yourself spending many hours maintaining large areas of turf that do not serve these purposes, you might be growing too much grass. The strategies on the following pages will help you make your lawn attractive, care-free, and will help you decide what is just the right size.
Lawns are composed of turf grasses, and different grass species have specific preferences for soil, sunlight, and climate. Good care can bring out the best in any turf grass, but you may find that the reason your lawn fails to respond to your efforts is that the grass simply does not fit the site. Switching to a different grass species or blend of several species that is better adapted to your yard may be the answer, or you can plant groundcovers in areas that are too shady, too dry, or too steep for grass to thrive. Groundcovers are also invaluable for filling spaces that are awkward to mow, and for reducing the size of your lawn and its maintenance, while preserving its lush, green look. The care-free grasses and groundcovers described in this chapter can be used to create attractive green garden floors in any site.
Cool-season grasses are hardy enough to survive freezing winters beautifully, even with no protective layer of snow. And although they are stressed by hot-summer weather, they will remain lush and green if watered, or will peacefully go dormant during a drought and then green up again in the cooler temperatures and rainy days of autumn.
Lawn grasses are by nature tough, resilient plants, yet they do require ongoing care. The most important lawn-keeping tasks are fertilizing, watering, mowing, preventing pests and diseases, and weeding. If you think of lawn grasses as low-growing foliage plants, valued for their leaves, it's easy to work with their natural growth cycles.
Whether you are improving a lawn or planning a new one, the first step toward a care-free lawn is to assess your site. In all climates, lawn grasses grow best where there is a slight slope to facilitate drainage and where they receive at least a half day of sun.
In the transition zone, where summers are hot enough to grow warm-season grasses, yet cool-season types get ample winter chilling from fall through spring, there is a dilemma regarding which type of grass is best for your yard. The two grasses profiled below, tall fescue and buffalo grass, are especially well suited to the transition zone, although each has different growing requirements.
To keep your lawn in peak condition, you can perform a few easy tricks used by professionals. Depending on the growing conditions on your property, these techniques should be done every 1-3 years.
One of the easiest and best treatments for your lawn is top-dressing, which you can do in fall. Simply sprinkle a 1 /2 in (1.3 cm) thick layer of screened, dry compost or very well-rotted manure over the grass, where it will release nutrients, encourage earthworm activity, and condition the soil. Spread any clumps evenly with the back of a metal rake and water it thoroughly. You can also use a mixture of topsoil, sand, and peat moss instead of compost, which will help to make soil friable.
As with other plants, the various grass species differ in their growth habits and hardiness. The specific preferences of nine lawn grasses are given on the following pages. Simply find the types that are likely to do well in your climate, and you'll be on the way to growing a care-free lawn, whether you are nurturing an established lawn or planting a new one. Also check with local garden centers for varieties they recommended for your area.
The trickiest part of mowing a lawn is negotiating curves and comers, whether they are found at property boundaries, along a walkway or garden bed, or at the edge of a house, patio, or deck. Having to turn or back up the mower every few minutes makes the job slower and more tiring. Keep these mowing pitfalls in mind when deciding on a shape for your lawn and "design out" awkward spots.
When temperatures rise above 55°F (12°C), warm-season grasses green up and grow, slowing down only when they are badly parched by a summer drought. But because these species are native to the tropics, they usually recover from heat stress quickly. Warm-season grasses go dormant in winter, turning a pale tan color.
Any plant that carpets the ground with foliage, stays under 12 in (30.5 cm) in height, and grows so thickly that it naturally chokes out weeds qualifies as a groundcover. If you think of lawn grass as only one type of groundcover, it becomes easier to imagine using.other plants to replace patches of turf in parts of your landscape.