Green With Envy

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The secret to successfully growing a perfect lawn and diminishing the likelihood of problems starts with soil preparation and turf selection.

Are you the competitive type whose goal is to win the ??Yard-of-the-Month?? sign from the neighborhood garden club? Or does an early-April trip to Augusta inspire you to re-create those coveted greens in your own front yard? Well, unless you??ve got a full-time grounds crew, replicating Augusta National might be a little difficult, but you can have a great looking lawn if you plan ahead and do your research.

A well-established lawn has many benefits. Lawn areas reduce water runoff, dust and glare, as well as aid in erosion control. Healthy lawns also neutralize air pollutants and cool the air. Effectively located turf areas provide a nice contrast to natural areas and planted beds. Lawns provide good play areas for children and add to property value.
While there is much debate among plant enthusiasts regarding lawns versus naturally landscaped areas (concerns about increased excessive water demand and overuse of herbicides, pesticides and fungicides are most often cited), the reality is that many subdivision covenants mandate lawn areas be planted.

The secret to successfully growing a perfect lawn and diminishing the likelihood of problems starts with soil preparation and turf selection. Good maintenance practices once turf is established will ensure continued success??follow these steps and you??ll have a winning lawn!

1. Just as with any area being planted, prepare and improve the soil.
Have the soil tested to determine what type of soil you have and what amendments are necessary. In Atlanta, clay soil must be amended to improve drainage and increase moisture retention. A mixture of organic material (such as compost) and granite sand tilled in with the existing clay will make a dramatic difference in the success of your lawn. By tilling and improving the soil, you??ll increase aeration and begin the process of turning clay into good, viable soil. If your soil test recommends it, you should incorporate fertilizer and lime at this time, also.

Determine you yard’s sun and shade conditions to choose the type grass that is best for your lawn.

2. Choose the best type of turf for your yard.
There??s not a ??one size fits all?? lawn grass for Atlanta, so it??s critical to determine your yard??s sun and shade conditions. How much sun does it get in the summer? You may get eight full hours of sun in December, but when the trees are fully leafed out in July, your lawn may see only three or four hours of sunlight. Sunlight should be the determining factor for what turf to plant??warm season or cool season.

Fescue is a ??cool-season?? grass that is the most shade-tolerant turf for the Atlanta area. It grows well in moderate shade (minimum three hours) to full sun, but its rapid growth requires frequent mowing and watering. Fescue can be seeded or sodded. It will go dormant when temperatures exceed 90 degrees, but it is an attractive grass most of the year, maintaining green color through the winter. New cultivars have been introduced for this climate, including drought-resistant ??southeast,?? and ??RTF,?? which spreads by rhizomes and fills in bare space, which normally would have to be reseeded or sodded.

??Warm-season?? grasses require more sun than ??cool-season?? turfs, but varieties have been developed that are somewhat shade tolerant. The top performers in the Atlanta area are zoysia, centipede and Bermuda, with zoysia being the most shade tolerant. A few varieties of zoysia, such as ??Emerald,?? will tolerate as few as five hours of sun per day, but most zoysias and centipede require six hours minimum, and Bermuda needs full sun??at least eight sunny hours every day. St. Augustine is a popular warm-season grass for Florida and south Georgia, but an extremely cold winter will kill it??and Atlanta??s winters are unpredictable, at best. These types of grasses go dormant in the winter, so you??ll have a brown lawn from November until April.

3. Plant it right.
Once you??ve prepared the soil and decided which grass is appropriate for your site, make sure that you plant it at the optimum time for germination and root establishment. Fescue can be seeded in fall or spring, but fall planting definitely provides the best opportunity for root growth. Likewise, don??t plant centipede or zoysia in the fall, as dormancy will soon occur. Proper planting schedules are available at your county extension service??contact them for cultivation calendars for the grass that you??ve selected.

Water only 1 inch of water per week during the growing season.

4. Water correctly.
When you are establishing your lawn, you??ll need to water often??that may mean daily. Keep the soil moist but don??t drown the lawn. Once the lawn is established, it will require only 1 inch of water per week during the growing season. Measure rainfall and supplemental watering with rain gauges to ensure that the lawn receives enough water, and to make sure that you are not over-watering. Lawns that are watered deeply once a week will be much healthier than those that are watered daily (or every other day) for shorter periods of time.

5. Prevent lawn diseases with proper maintenance.
Prevent fungal problems by watering the lawn between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m., so that the grass will be able to dry out completely during the day. Head off problems by mowing at the right height, as often as necessary. Reel mowers are best for use on zoysia and Bermuda lawns, and rotary mowers provide the best cut for fescue and centipede grasses. And make sure you keep your mower blades sharp.

6. To reduce stress on the lawn, cut no more than 1/3 of the leaf blade at a time.
For example, fescue should be maintained at a height of 2 inches, so cut it when it is 3 inches tall. During periods of drought, set the mower a little bit higher to allow the grass to grow a bit taller. Instead of bagging the grass as you mow, leave the clippings on the lawn to provide mulch that aids in moisture retention and root cooling. Fertilize as needed, but be careful of over-fertilization. This produces rapid growth, which can also lead to disease problems. De-thatch zoysia and Bermuda grasses annually to prevent disease and insect problems.

7. Plan ahead to control weeds.
By applying a pre-emergent weed killer, you can reduce the weed population and your use of herbicides throughout the year. Pre-emergents prevent weed seeds from germinating, so proper timing is very important??formulas are available to prevent both summer and winter weeds. Read labels carefully, as different weed killers are recommended for different types of turfgrass. If weeds do occur, pull them out of the yard by hand, or spot spray with appropriate post-emergent weed killers. (Check with your county extension service for recommended products.)

A lush, healthy lawn does take time and effort, but if you follow these tips, you??ll be rewarded with attractive, problem-free turf. Rest assured, your hard work will result in green grass all summer long!

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