What can you do about a lawn suffering from terminal
neglect? How can you prevent weeds from choking the life out of your lawn? How
can you landscape a yard the size of a postage stamp to reflect intimacy rather
than simply cramped quarters? Where do you begin to landscape a yard that just
keeps going and going and going? What can be done with a hillside that looks more
like the side of a cliff?
Five lawn care/landscaping experts tackle these problems
with inventive and resourceful solutions.
Lawn Problem #1: Weed infestation
Solution: Proper timing of applications
"In dealing with weeds, you need to be proactive
in your care," stresses Randy Adkins of Florence-based Raymond Wagner Lawn
Service Inc. "The first step is to put down a pre-emergent to keep the
crabgrass in check. Crabgrass produces at a high rate through seed heads and
starts to germinate in mid-May. By June and July, it will be in full bloom."
Depending on the weather, a pre-emergent can be applied
in February to March. This creates a barrier or layer of protection in the soil
against seed heads from germinating. According to Adkins, there are some 40
different weeds, including the ubiquitous crabgrass and its ally, the bristly
foxtail, that love to spread their seeds of destruction right across the lawn.
"Crabgrass can literally wreck a lawn because
it produces at such a high rate," says Adkins. "It and all other weeds
can be eradicated but it’s easier to treat them pre-emergence.
"Treat broadleaf weeds like dandelions, clover,
and chickweed in March or when the weather breaks. They’ll die when the weather
turns warm in May. Clover manufactures its own nitrogen but it is still easy
to eradicate. Dandelions will start to eradicate with the first treatment."
Adkins says that spring sets the pace for the entire
season, cautioning homeowners to create a sturdy foundation for their landscaping
by treating lawns with a pre-emergent.
"From any standpoint-the health of a lawn, erosion
protection, curb appeal-it makes sense to keep weeds down. Who wants to invest
in a house with a horrible-looking lawn?"
It also figures into turf density.
"The more turf you have the less propensity
for weeds you have. The best way to eradicate weeds is through turf density.
Seed heads are always going to be underneath your soil. The sun beats down and
helps the seeds pop up.
"You need to be proactive and then repetitious
because it takes at least five to six applications to get good weed control."
Lawn Problem #2: Extreme neglect
Solution: Eliminate or endure
Before trying to restore a neglected lawn to
its former green glory days, the source of the neglect must be established.
Is the neglect due to weeds? Is the lawn barren?
Is it overgrown? Once you figure out the root of the neglect, so to speak, one
of two approaches can be taken.
"You either scrap it and start from nothing
or you work your way through it," says John Gibson, a member landscaper
of the Professional Lawn Care Association of America. "If you scrap it,
you’ll have better long-term results."
This process begins with elimination. Gibson suggests
eliminating everything with a spraying of an all-kill application such as Roundup
(available at any garden and nursery center) and then implementing a landscape
plan. Spray the lawn in the spring after it has greened up and then wait for
three weeks for everything to die.
After everything is dead, the entire area will need
to be roto-tilled. Organic matter like a three-way peat mix, plain peat moss,
or topsoil must be added to the soil.
"You’re trying to increase the organic matter
in the soil," says Gibson. "We typically like to see two to three
yards of organic material per thousand square feet."
If the lawn possesses a good stand of turf-40 percent
or more-the weeds can be pulled and eliminated. Some seeding will be required
to fill in the lawn that remains.
"If you’re going to try and save the grass and
recover the lawn, either pull the weeds out or spray with a broadleaf weed control,"
says Gibson. "But set expectations. If you take out the broadleaf weeds,
you won’t have one type of grass. You’ll know what you’re starting with, but
you’ll never have one type of grass."
Different textures, colors, and cultivars (bluegrass,
fine fescue, perennial rye, etc.) will emerge throughout the lawn and can create
maintenance issues because of the differing watering and mowing needs of different
Gibson cautions that the most critical element in
ensuring long-term lawn health is the condition of the soil.
"Of all the things you do in your landscape,
you only get to do the soil once. Take the time to prep it correctly."
After the soil has been prepped, it can be seeded.
A good, healthy stand of grass will emerge over the course of one growing season.
"By the second season, you’ll have a very nice lawn," assures Gibson.
Lawn Problem #3: Steep hillside
Solution: Add a water element
Turning a steep hillside into a landscaping asset
can be achieved by adding a water element.
"Assuming the hillside is somewhat close to
a patio or deck," muses Don Smyers, a landscape designer and agricultural
agent with the Kenton County Cooperative Extension Service, "it can be
a perfect area to turn into a water garden or waterfall and it won’t look contrived."
Steep hillsides are ideal for planting an abundance
of vegetation and for incorporating a rock garden. The stone outcroppings can
be used to tie into the water feature.
"You need to pick rock carefully and you need
the front of the rock to be tipped up so that it looks somewhat natural,"
he says. (Rocks never tip downward coming out of hillside because it looks unnatural.
It also looks like they are about to roll down the hill.) Also, accommodate
the plants’ collective need for air as well as water in the confines of the
"If the soil is wet or saturated, you can end
up with soil that excludes a lot of oxygen, which can lead to root rot and crown
Plants on steep hillsides require a thorough mulching.
"You have to be careful because you don’t want
to use fine mulch that might be washed away. You need to use the coarsest mulch
you can find-the type that’s been ground up by a tree service. Oftentimes, the
twigs will interlock together when they lie on the hillside and won’t be washed
One of the reasons water is so appealing in a landscape
design is because the splashing or plinking sound is so soothing. And just about
any setting that includes a water feature is inherently picturesque-particularly
when enhanced with landscape lighting. An integral element in any successful
landscape scheme, landscape lighting, especially around the deck or patio, can
create instant backyard drama. Small spots can be played off a waterfall and
in-water lights can be installed to add depth and interest to a pond.
Adding a water element that works in conjunction
with a naturalized rock garden on a steep hillside is a job that can be accomplished
by a do-it-yourselfer.
"If the homeowner feels competent and knows
what he wants to accomplish, there is no reason he can’t do it," says Smyers.
"If, however, there are a lot of challenges, call in an expert. One issue
that comes up with a steep bank is the way to introduce steps into the hillside.
A landscape designer can be effective in creating this."
A do-it-yourselfer’s first step is to read, read,
"You need to put some forethought into the design,"
says Smyers. "After some careful reading, you can put together something
you’d be pleased with."
Lawn Problem #4: Small, postage stamp-size yard
Solution: Create openness by capitalizing on intimacy
Small yards can be effectively and aesthetically
landscaped without looking as though they are choking on greenery. According
to John Sanders of Blazing Color Scapes in Lexington, tiny yards are ideal for
creating wonderful, intimate spaces-even in the front of a home.
The secret is starting with a plan of how the space
will be used that can include sitting areas, stone walls and walkways, water
elements, and sculptures.
"We did a small front yard in Lexington that
had all the topsoil scraped off and was left with nothing but clay," recalls
Sanders. "We put in a retaining wall around the front edge of the property
to give it a Kentucky look and backfilled it with soil." Sanders then created
plant beds in the foreground and planted grass behind them. In either corner,
an ornamental Carolina Silver Bell tree now shows off its striated bark, adding
drama to the winter landscape.
The beds were filled with rose bushes, old-fashioned
snapdragons, and, to warm up the fall landscape, dahlias in fiery reds and yellows.
A stone path meanders from the sidewalk into the yard, allowing Sanders to install
the hardscape (concrete or brick pavers, different types of stone) he likes
to include in his landscape designs. It is a plan that capitalizes on the smallness
of the yard without compromising on color, and helps keep overcrowding and landscaping
maintenance to a minimum.
Sanders favors a courtyard garden appearance for
small yards. Adding hardscape is one way to achieve this look.
"It also makes the yard more usable. A stone
path gives some direction to the space, even though the yard is small.
"It’s comfortable, functional, and cozy, without
Lawn Problem #5: Extremely large yard
Solution: Develop a targeted lawn care program
What can be done for those who are blessed with
expansive space? How do you implement a cohesive and appealing landscaping design
on a grand scale?
A small landscaped "room" can be one answer,
according to Ashton Ritchie of The Scotts Company. Outdoor rooms are extremely
popular right now as the trend toward easing the boundaries between inside and
outside living space continues. An outdoor room works well near the house in
an area where it can be readily enjoyed.
"You can create a barrier with a combination
of plant material and/or mounds of earth that can help frame this room and provide
a more intimate setting," says Ritchie. "If it’s near the house, tucking
in a small herb, perennial, or vegetable garden can work well. It might also
be an area where bird feeders are installed and enjoyed from a window in the
Ritchie says that the room would ideally have a highly
maintained lawn in the center area (or in pathways) that could form a marked
contrast to the landscape.
"The room should have a view to the wide-open
space or massive lawn planted with the kinds of trees that will get to be 50-plus
feet tall over time."
With or without a small outdoor room in the landscape,
homeowners of grand-scale space need to develop a very specific lawn care plan.
Some homeowners may feel that they simply cannot follow the optimum four- or
five-time feeding schedule recommended by The Scotts Company for lawn maintenance.
In this case, Ritchie suggests the following program:
"Put a small part of the lawn on the optimum
lawn program and the remaining lawn on a minimum program. First, determine which
part of the lawn the family uses the most, is most noticeable, acts as the focal
point of the landscaping, or is simply the area that needs to look really good."
Ritchie advises homeowners to follow the optimum
annual program on this part of the lawn. (The feeding schedule is found on the
back of all Scotts’ Turf Builder bags.) Homeowners should feed the other areas
twice a year following a fairly strict schedule: August to September, fertilize
for fall root growth; October, winterize with a fertilizer plus weed control.
"If two fall feedings were not applied last
year, then apply a weed and feed this spring after the dandelions are blooming."
Mowing should be done at the highest setting on the
lawn mower at regular intervals so that no more than one-third of the leaf growth
is removed at a time.
"This will help the lawn grow deeper roots to
match the increased leaf growth, and it in turn will be better able to withstand
hot, dry weather.
"An added benefit to tall mowing is the lawn
will be a better competitor against creeping weeds and sprouting weed seeds."
Lawn Care Sources
Blazing Color Scapes
3312 Higgens Court
Lexington, KY 40513
Kenton County Cooperative Extension Service
Professional Lawn Care Association of America
Raymond Wagner Lawn Service Inc.
7745 Foundation Drive, #2
Florence, KY 41042
The Scotts Company
Help line: (800) 543-TURF
for questions by e-mail