Earthworms

(Question)

I live in Toronto.

The sun seems to shine brighter for the backyard grass because the backyard grass grows one inch in 5 days whereas the front lawn grows at about half that height.

I don’t know what type of grass I’m growing for the backyard and front, but the backyard grass is about one inch tall in five days whereas the front lawn is about half that length.

The front lawn has more weeds than the back. The back has “bald spots” (as I call them) where grass should be growing; the front lawn doesn’t have bald spots – not visible ones anyways.

I would like to plant something new in the backyard. I was even thinking about adding grass seed to the “bald areas” where there used to be grass but is only soil.

I was also wondering if I ought to take out all the grass and plants and place compost for a very long time.

 

How will I know if I have earthworms in my backyard and front lawn?

Are they that important to have beneath my soil, especially since I live in a city. Maybe there is something else that’s better than earthworm?

 

Also my roommates smokes like a chimney near these grassy areas. Can’t tell him to smoke somewhere else.

What effect does smoking cigarettes and/or drugs have on the long-term health of grass, plants and flowers?

 

 

 

 

 

(Answer)

You have submitted 3 posts–all seem to be related to the health and condition of your lawn and soil.

The differences that you observe between the grass growing in your backyard and front yard are most likely due to the amount of sun that each area receives. Which direction does the front of your house face? For example, if it faces north, the front yard would certainly get less sun. You’ve observed that there is more sun in the back yard than in the front. Are there any large trees or shrubs on your property or a neighbour’s property?  These would also have an effect on the amount of sun your lawn gets. Generally, lawn or turf grasses require full sun. If  an area is more shady, the grass may become somewhat sparse.  Lawns are actually mixtures of different types of grasses. Some mixtures contain grasses that will tolerate shady conditions. If you plan to reseed your lawn, you may want to consider using grass seed that is specified for shady areas.

You have noticed that the front lawn has more weeds than the backyard. This may be the result of the shady conditions in the front yard–the grass struggles to grow; however, many weeds do tolerate shady conditions and can easily become established. The quality of your soil may also be an issue; turf grass needs healthy soil in which to grow strong roots–if the grass doesn’t get the nutrients that it needs, opportunistic ‘weeds’ will take over. Of course, plants get their nutrients from the soil–therefore, feeding the soil will feed the plants.

How does one maintain a healthy soil? Soil is not only comprised of inorganic and organic materials, but should also be teeming with life, most of which is not visible. The presence of earthworms, of course, is a prime  indicator of a healthy soil for the following reasons:

  • they help to increase the amount of air, water and nutrients that get into the soil;
  • they break down organic matter, like leaves and grass clippings into things that plants can use;
  • and they leave behind castings that are a very valuable type of fertilizer.

How can you tell if there are worms in your soil?  [Of course, you will have to wait until the snow melts and the ground thaws].  You may notice little mounds of soil on bare patches or in the grass–earthworms often leave castings on the soil surface. You may see worms on the surface after significant rainfalls that saturate the soil; they need air as well as the plants. However, one can also dig up a square-foot soil sample and simply count the number of worms–a soil that is well-managed may easily support up to 50 worms per cubic foot; if  you find very few worms, then you will need to consider ways to increase  the health (fertility) of your soil. You are clearly aware that the use of compost on your lawn will help improve the soil–in addition, grass clippings left on the ground after mowing will add organic matter to the soil. You may not need to remove all the grass and plants to do rejuvenate your lawn. For more information about soils, see: https://urbanext.illinois.edu/soil/SoilBiology/soil_food_web.htm

Much of Toronto’s soil is clay-based–a lawn can easily become compacted; compacted soil will not allow water, air and nutrients to move easily through the soil; it will also prevent adequate growth of the grass roots. Grass is a very high-maintenance plant; maintaining a healthy lawn can be time-consuming.Your lawn may need to be aerated (usually in the spring or fall), over-seeded, top-dressed with a thin layer of compost or humus, and then fertilized. These procedures should be repeated annually. Bare spots in your lawn will disappear if you follow these recommendations. For information on lawn care in Toronto, see: https://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=dd1907ceb6f8e310VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD&vgnextchannel=ed40eb41168ce310VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD

You suggest that you may want to plant something new in your backyard. Depending upon the space you have, the choices are limitless. However, if you decide to create garden beds for growing vegetables or flowers, adding compost and other organic matter to you soil will be your first consideration. Here is a link that might help: https://www.torontomastergardeners.ca/index.php/askagardener/amending-soil/

If you have areas where the grass does not seem to grow well, you may want to consider alternatives to grass. Please see the Toronto Master Gardeners Gardening Guide: https://66.209.177.85/~torontom/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Lawn-Alternatives1.pdf

Finally, you ask about the effect of cigarette smoke on the grassy areas of your yard. Studies have shown that cigarette smoke can negatively affect the growth of plants in enclosed (indoor) situations. However, it is unlikely that there is any negligible effect on plants outdoors; the smoke would most likely dissipate quickly into the air with no harmful effects on the surrounding plant material.

You have several options to consider before you are able to get outdoors and work in your yard. Good luck with your lawn. If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch with the Toronto Master Gardeners.