There are still many weeks before homeowners tackle the ritual of autumn lawn repair, beginning about mid-September. But a few things should be on your mind before it is time to aerate and reseed.
A chief one is determining whether any parts of your lawn should not be a lawn. Various factors affect the growth and well-being of grass, including shade. This is probably the chief reason for poor performance by grass. Not only does less sunlight reach the grass, but roots of trees that cause the shade compete for water in the soil.
It is likely you can tell right now where these areas are located. Grass in difficult areas, such as under the spreading canopy of a large tree, tends to be on the thin side and paler than grass in better conditions.
Perhaps you are already looking at these spots and thinking of the futility of trying to get good grass growing under such difficult conditions. The answer is one that many people have already embraced: natural areas with evergreen ground covers selected for tolerance of shade and dry soil.
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People sometimes simply establish a circle under the canopy of a large tree, the simplest way to get started with this idea. Others might create an oval containing two nearby trees. Still others might combine a number of trees and create a larger area with the perimeter of the natural area forming graceful curves.
Establishing the zone can be done by laying down a garden hose, which most people would find handy. The existing grass must be killed, which sounds like rough justice considering all the time and effort you put into it. But if you leave it, some will continue to grow and interfere with the new plants you expect to put in.
There are grass killers, but instead of using them, try this. Mow the existing grass as short as your mower will allow. Then place sheets of black plastic on the designated area. Don’t panic – this is temporary. It will kill the grass in a couple of weeks and then you can remove it. If you simply cannot stand the sight of it, cover the plastic with pine straw or leaf litter. Look over the area you have created for several days and evaluate it for size, shape and proportion.
Once the grass dies, rake away the pine needles or leaves, take off the plastic and dig up the space several inches deep where you expect to set out plants. The ground is likely to be tight and dry, so dampen it first or wait for rain to do it.
Working in a good amount of compost will also help the plants get established and grow well. This can be done with a long-handled garden fork or even down on your knees with a hand fork. Your objective should be loose, dark soil that looks good.
Selecting the plants will be the most fun. Next week I’ll tell you about some good choices for your newly created natural area.