Many readers have a patch of lawn, and that is fine. “Appropriate turf area” is espoused by xeriscape practices. If lawn helps you use and enjoy your backyard, have some. But you need to treat it right to curtail excessive water use and minimize the resources used in care.
The good news here is that it’s not hard. Read on for four easy tips.
Before we get to the tips, however, let me note that they are written for a Bermuda grass lawn. Bermuda grass is widely planted in the Southwest because it can take the heat and survive on relatively little water.
In the old days, Bermuda grass lawns needed mowing weekly in the summer, because of long leaves and to keep the pollen down. Pollen from Bermuda grass and olive and mulberry trees used to be a major health hazard around the Old Pueblo. Laws were passed banning the sale of these plants in their natural forms; now pollen-free hybrids are available.
And now, here are the tips!
Mow right: Sharpen your mower blades. Sharp blades cut cleanly instead of ripping the grass. Clean cuts help the grass recover with a minimum of brown tips.
Mow off only one-third (or less) of height at one time. This allows the lawn to recover without developing bald spots or stressed plants. Some new hybrids need mowing only once every 21 days.
Dethatch: Thatch is a layer of organic debris between the soil surface and the green grass blades. It looks like tan-colored straw. While a little thatch is fine, it will need to be dealt with once it is deeper than ½-inch. Excessive thatch prevents water, fertilizer, light and oxygen from reaching the roots, plus it can serve as a breeding ground for insects and fungus.
Dethatch by raking out this layer, or at least most of it. Leave a thin layer as mulch for now. If you dethatch down to the soil, your lawn will need extra water. If you are going to plant a winter lawn of rye grass, you can skip dethatching now, and do it in fall.
Fertilizer: Don’t overdo it. Too much and you could get toxic salt buildups and yellowed dying grass. This is essentially what happens if Fido “uses” the same patch of lawn every day. Any good general purpose fertilizer will do, or a high nitrogen lawn fertilizer.
Fertilize as the lawn greens in spring (Tax Day), mid-summer (4th of July), and late summer (Labor Day).
Water: Deeply. At dawn. Water enough so that the water soaks down two feet, and then skip three or four days. A well-established, deeply watered lawn will grow roots to two feet deep or more. If your lawn has this kind of root system, watering it once a week, even in summer, should be enough. A 12-inch screwdriver will test your soil to a foot, moving easily through damp soil.
So enjoy your lawn. Just remember to treat it right. That way you and your family will have years of enjoyment from your patch of healthy, happy lawn.
Jacqueline Soule has been writing about gardening in the Southwest for close to three decades. Her latest book, “Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today,” is available at area nurseries.
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