What variety of grass should I plant?
I recommend "tall fescue". Be sure to check the label and make sure it is pure tall fescue. Some
outfits that sell seed mix in some annual ryegrass and call it "nursury grass - it will care for the
tall fescue which takes longer to germinate." I don't agree with that. Note that tall fescue seed is
significantly more expensive than annual ryegrass ...
Tall fescue makes deeeeeep roots and is one of the most drought tolerant species. Combining this
species of grass with the infrequent watering makes it one of the best lawn care species for fighting weeds. It also
means you can have a lovely lawn using less water.
Tall fescue is one of the most durable grasses. It stands up well to the abuse of football games
and pets. It will also stand proud at three inches, four inches and five inches! Kentucky Bluegrass starts
to waver at three inches.
Tall fescue does well in shade and sun!
Downsides of tall fescue:
It is slow to germinate. It could be two weeks until you see the baby grasses. In the meantime, weed
seeds have probably germinated.
Some people think it is not the prettiest type of grass. The fine fescues (very different from tall fescue) have
thin blades and the tall fescues have broad blades. I have to admit that a lawn with the fine blades does
look better - as long as nobody ever walks on it. But who wants grass that you're not allowed to walk on?
Some people think that tall fescue doesn't feel as good under bare feet. This is true. Tall fescue is a stiffer grass.
The grasses that feel better are the ones that won't compete with weeds as well. Besides, I think most folks won't
notice the difference in feel between tall fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass.
Note that Tall Fescue is a cool season grass (for areas that get a frost). I'm not very familiar with warm season grasses
to make a recommendation.
You can get some tall fescue seed here.
What's an extension office?
Nearly every county in the United States has a county extension office. The word "extension" means that the office
is an extension of the the state agricultural school. This office is staffed by people who are paid to answer questions
about plant life in the county (including lawns). If people don't call, they could lose their jobs! Call! Ask
lots of questions! Visit! Take weed samples to them for identification! Bugs too!
Sometimes the phones are manned by volunteers. Folks that love gardening and horticulture so much, that they are itching
to share their lawn care expertise with you. Many of these folks have completed the master gardener training offered by the
If nothing else, a visit to the office can be worthwhile because they have loads of brochures about issues in your area.
To find them, open your phone book to "the blue pages" (government listings) under "County Government" and look for
"Extension Office", "Extension Agent" or "County Extension".
I think I have grubs. What do I do?
Grubs are the larvae of certain species of beetles. Grubs think grass roots are yummy. If you dig up dead patches of grass
you just might see a bunch of grubs munching away.
This is where birds are your friends. Birds think grubs are yummy.
I have never had to personally deal with grubs. And I have yet to encounter an organic grower that has had to deal with them.
But I have had many people write to me and ask how to deal with grubs organically. Nearly all of them have mentioned "Last year
I sprayed toxic goo to get rid of the grubs and now they're back". While I did not see what happened, my guess is that birds
and other natural grub control ate the dead grubs and died. No more natural grub control.
So the trick is to kill the grubs, but don't harm anything that eats grubs. The answer is to bring in more grub predators.
Having done a little reading on this topic, "Milky Spore" (Bacillus popilliae) and/or predatory nematodes appear to be the organic control. "Milky Spore" is a naturally occuring bacteria that makes the grubs puke their guts out, but it doesn't seem to bother anything else. So if a bird eats a dead grub, the bird will be fat and happy. Predatory nematodes (also called "beneficial nematodes") are like micro worms that crawl through the soil and eat a variety of different organisms, including grubs.
Here it is for sale:
My soil is more like dirt. How do I improve it?
If you have an inch of "dirt" and everything under that is big rocks or rock-hard clay, improving your "dirt" isn't
going to make much difference. You are probably going to need to import some top soil.
If you have the bucks, you can have a foot and a half of topsoil dropped on your existing lawn and then plant new
grass seed and start over. Soil on top of dirt ain't bad.
If you have patience and think that your dirt can be renovated into soil, you can:
- fertilize and mow high. The fertilizer helps to make more grass. If you have any worms in your dirt/soil, they will
take blades of cut grass down lower, munch on it, and leave organic matter
down low. The fertilizer helps to make more grass.
- Add an inch of compost every spring and fall. It ain't cheap and it makes
your lawn look like crap for a week or so, but again, the worms will work it in.
- I have this weird idea that I have never tried, but I've told several people about in e-mail and have yet to hear
back from anybody if they tried it.
Take a post hole digger and dig a hole about two feet deep. Re-fill the hole with 50% compost and 50% of what
you took out of the hole. Stir a little grass seed into the top quarter inch of soil.
I think that by doing this, you will create a wonderful home for worms and a great place for deeeeeep grass roots.
Over time, the roots and the worms will convert the neighboring dirt into soil.
If anybody tries this, I hope you'll write me and tell me how it turned out.
How do I get rid of mushrooms?
People that are trying to grow mushrooms will provide the mushrooms with rotting sawdust or rotting logs. Generous
moisture and a lack of direct sunlight can help too.
In the horticultural world "rot" almost always mean "composting". To properly compost, you need a certain mixture
of carbon heavy organic matter (wood, dried leaves, straw, etc.) and nitrogen heavy organic matter (manure,
grass clippings, table scraps, weeds, etc.). If you get just the right mix, you get hot composting happening. Too much
nitrogen and it gets a little stinky. Too much carbon and the composting takes a very long time.
To get rid of mushrooms, you just need to get your lawn to outcompete them. Grass loves a nitrogen rich soil. Mushrooms love
a carbon rich soil. Lawn fertilizer has heaps of nitrogen and hardly any carbon. Time to fertilize! Twenty bucks and
ten minutes of time will do wonders for your lawn care strategy.
Here's something that can be a kick: take a close look at your mushrooms. If there are a bunch of them, are they growing in a
circle? If so, this is called "fairy ring". The ring will grow larger and larger as the spores from the current mushrooms land
just outside of the ring.
Consider for a moment that if you have a lot of mushrooms in your lawn, this is most likely a sign that you have really excellent soil! Further, the mushrooms you see are the fruiting bodies of a much bigger fungus organism under the soil. Most fungus organisms help your grass be healthier - so I'm usually glad to see a few mushrooms in my lawn now and then. The mushrooms are usually gone as soon as things dry out a bit.
For more on getting rid of mushrooms, see "mushrooms on lawn" in our lawn care forum.
How do I deal with burn spots in my lawn from my dog?
Dog poop and dog pee are both high in nitrogen. But if you give your lawn too much nitrogen,
you'll kill it. Not the whole lawn. Just the spot with too much nitrogen. Usually there will be a load
of dog poop and the grass under it will be dead. And the grass immediately around it will be greener,
taller, thicker and healthier than all the rest of the lawn. So the stuff immediately under the crap is
"too much" and the stuff surrounding the crap is "optimal". Same thing for pee only there won't be a pile of
poop in the middle.
This solution is reserved for the Zen Masters of the school of the cheap and lazy lawn care.
For dog pee, the grass is tall enough that it
hides the dead spot. Rain and irrigation will eventually rinse enough nitrogen out that they grass will grow
back into that spot.
I leave the poop to the worms and the microbials in the soil. Birds will also work it
over a bit (looking for the worms and other bugs attracted by it). How quickly the poop
disappears on its own shows how healthy your lawn is. Just be careful not to step on the fresh stuff.
An added benefit is that you can remain on great terms with your neighbors.
If your spousal unit says "go clean up that dog crap in the yard!" You can now say "I looked it up on the internet
and it said the best solution was to leave it!"
Sprinkle a little sawdust on the spot and give the spot a little attention from your hose. The sawdust will hide the poop
and it will counter the excess nitrogen. Combining with the nitrogen, it will, in time, turn into compost - enriching the soil.
The sawdust will also reduce any odor by about 95%. The water will wet the sawdust and dilute the nitrogen source a bit,
thus helping the beginning of the composting process.
Remove the poop, dig an inch into the soil and mix sawdust into the soil. This is the same as solution 2, but the sawdust
will be more effective this way.
Anal Retentive Solution
Remove the poop and an inch of affected soil. Replace with compost and some grass seed.
A lot of people do this. I think it's pretty dumb.
I think that removing the dog poop and watering the area is more effective than this. The water will dilute the excess
nitrogen in the soil. The surrounding grass will spread into the area using grass rhizomes. There is no need for seed.
If you put seed here, you will be saddling yourself with the responsibility of watering it every day for two weeks. Reading
the rest of this lawn care essay will tell you that that's a great way to get weeds. Plus, it's work!
Now let's look at the compost: compost is wonderful, magical stuff. But in this case, you've just added nitrogen to an
excess nitrogen problem. Further, seeds don't germinate well in a high nitrogen medium like compost. The germinate better
in something like pH adjusted peat moss. Or plain topsoil. The plants like nitrogen after they've gotten past the
Some people have written to me asking about what to do about their dogs pee "burning" their lawn. They explain that
female dogs have ultra acidic pee and it kills whatever it touches. I think the treatement is still going to be the same.
Leave it and let the tall grass hide it. If it still bothers you, use a little sawdust and/or water.
My grass is all thin and dead-ish, what is your advice on overseeding?
I mean it. Put overseeding out of your mind. Your "dirt" has such terrible issues that adult grass is struggling to survive and now you want to put babies there?
I am, right now, trying really hard to think of one case where overseeding will do any good for any lawn care situation .... nope - can't think of a single case. Seeding bare patches that are are at least a foot or two wide makes sense - but that's not "overseeding" (tossing seed onto an existing patch of grass).
Improve your soil and your existing grass will thrive. Then there is no need for seed.
Please take a look at this thread of discussion I've been in on overseeding in our lawn care forum.
Still not convinced? Here is a page called organic lawn care tips that I like.