Suburban lawn rehabilitation

(Question)

I replaced our front lawn 5 years ago with new sod including a fresh base layer of soil underneath. The lawn looked great the first year but has deteriorated yearly since then and now it looks as bad or worse than the original condition. I looked after it as best I could every season, including regular topdressing, reseeding spots, fertilizing etc. Most lawn companies I see advertising seem to be just cutting services that maybe fertilize or aerate, but I need to get advice from experts in turf grass care as to next steps. I want to reduce the amount of maintenance, water and chemicals and I don’t know where to start. Where can I find the real specialists out there? At first I thought the grass was just dormant, but it is patchy and inconsistent. This attached photo was taken in August. it’s a part shade area. Am thinking again about starting over with another lawn from seed, but I believe you grow the soil and the plants look after themselves, and I suspect the problem is more complex than the type of grass itself, but could be a combination of soil condition, insect, fungi etc. and I don’t want to repeat the cycle all over again. Thanks for any info.

(Answer)

I am sorry to hear your lawn has deteriorated. You are to be commended for your diligent efforts to look after it. The bad news is there is no “quick fix” out there as I am sure you have worked out. Sometimes problems require a multi year strategy to combat. The good news is that many lawn maintenance companies now offer lawn care packages that go beyond basic lawn mowing – addressing lawn maintenance challenges with courses of specialist treatments to combat specific problems. To find a reputable service try searching for one through Landscape Ontario (https://www.landscapeontario.com)

Diligence and persistence on the homeowners part is also a key part of winning the battle over time so keep on with the great work you have already been doing. Here are some additional ideas from notes taken from seminars given by lawn experts in the recent past. I hope some of them are helpful and support you in your efforts.  In particular, focusing your efforts to a few key times in the year, helping the lawn help itself and thus reduce the maintenance level over time.

If you have not already done so one approach you might want to try when re seeding is to use a seed mix rather than just one grass seed. Make sure you use certified grass seed (this has 98% seed not filler). If budget allows, get your grass seed from the higher end nurseries and look for CFIA governed seed brands. Start integrating tall fescues and rye grasses in to the mix. This will minimize decimation by disease.

For the soil you want to aim to have between 7-10% of organic matter. Also aim to aerate twice a year (sports fields are aerated 6 times a year). Once in early spring and once in late fall (followed by overseeding). If you can only do this once a year pick the fall to combat compaction that may have occurred during the summer and set the plants up well for a strong start come spring. One lawn expert recommended remove the plugs. Add organic matter immediately after aeration and top dressing, raking it into the holes leaving no more than 1/8th inch on top of the lawn. Leave the grass clippings on the lawn post mowing and de thatch when needed (pull grass apart, if you don’t see the soil you need to dethatch) Follow dethatching with aeration.

Work with nature. The lawn has two seasons to recuperate: fall and winter, and any help the homeowner can provide to help the lawn recover from the stresses of the spring and summer months would be a step forward.

When cutting your lawn alternate cutting directions. This avoids compacting the same spots, use 4 directions. With watering the motto is water deep and less often (water should penetrate the root zone) this will help the health of the grass and hopefully increase it’s chances of out competing weeds. On clay soil try to soak 4 inches down.

Never cut off more than 1/3rd of grass plants at any one time. Cut turf 2-3inches in length.

Fertilizing: Try compost tea (lots of recipes you can google). Fertilize when the temperature is 5 degrees C as this is when the grass starts growing and you need to get a start to out compete the weeds.

Mid June: bolster the lawn for the stress period ahead. Again in late August, and again mid October as long as the ground temperature remains above 5 degrees C. This is the only time the grass will take nitrogen in and not use, but store it and will be poised to take up nutrients to use in the spring.

You can consider lawn alternatives such as eco grass. With alternatives such as these you need to be comfortable with a different (less manicured) look to your lawn, as many of these grasses are more clumping in look than uniformly smooth.

Nematodes apply late August/ early September whenever eggs hatch. The biggest challenge is keeping them alive. Use hose end sprayer to apply and continue watering 72 hours after application to keep ground moist.

Other useful potential sites:

quality seed: turf revolution.com

www.natural-insect-control-com