February 28, 2010

New ideas on nourishing the lawn

By Tom Atwell
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)


OUR LACK OF SNOW plus relatively warm temperatures are probably not going to hurt your perennial gardens. It wasn’t  bone-chillingly cold – as in well below zero degrees Fahrenheit – while the ground was bare.

IF YOUR BULBS push out of the ground and you find them before they push out shoots, step on the bulb to force it back into the ground (or use a shovel if your soil is soft enough). If the bulbs are in the ground but their shoots look like they are growing too tall, too early, there is nothing you should do about that. Anything you do may very well hurt your bulbs more then help them.

GENERALLY THE BULB shoots come up earliest in sheltered locations near buildings. If we get several back-to-back blizzards (which we’re due for), the snow will cover the shoots and the bulbs won’t push up blooms until your soil once again warms. It’s all part of gardening in Maine.

So while your lawn could use 2 or more inches of compost, you won’t be able to add much more than a half an inch a year. And just so you know, it takes a full cubic yard of compost to cover 1,000 feet of lawn a quarter inch deep.

O’Brien said he is hearing anecdotally – with no scientific research – that compost tea does add microbial activity to the soil, so he is going to try it.

As far as nutrients go, the big three are nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, but most experts are recommending against phosphorous now. O’Brien is hearing, again anecdotally, that soluble calcium improves the lawn greatly by making the other nutrients work better.

One product called GSR Calcium is used with only 45 grams per acre, and the consensus was that it was only available to the trade.

Another product that is said to work is SoluCal, which is available to consumers.
When it comes to choice of grass, O’Brien said Kentucky bluegrass is the Cadillac of grasses because it has the best texture, stands up to traffic and creates new plants best, which means it spreads quickly and replaces the older, dying plants better. But it does require full sun and more water than most.

Fine fescue – including red fescue, which is the only native of the turf grasses (or so O’Brien quoted Lois Berg Stack of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension as saying) – stands up best to shade and is lower maintenance. Turf-type tall fescue is a good grass that is tough. Perennial ryegrass comes in quickly but doesn’t create baby plants well.

Because watering is an expense, O’Brien waits until the grass is in serious danger before doing so. That means the blades are beginning to curl and walking across the turf leaves visible footprints. Then he waters deeply.

For home gardens, he recommends people have a rain gauge and water deeply and infrequently. The benchmark is that the lawn needs an inch of rain a week. If it is hot and windy, the lawn might need much more; if it is cloudy and cool, it might need less.

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at:

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