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Growing a Luscious Lawn

Story by Jackie Zilliox
Photo courtesy of Complete Landscaping

Did you know that acid rain comes out clean when it passes through a thatch layer of turf grass? So what else can a healthy, lush, green lawn do for you? It cools the environment during hot days, releases oxygen and takes toxins out of the air. But before you rush out to purchase your standard grass seed, consider what these experts have to say.

"Spring lawn care should begin with an annual check-up of your soil," says Bob Wentworth of Wentworth Nursery. "Southern Maryland soil is known to have a low pH of 4.0-5.0. Most turf grasses grow better between 6.0-7.0. To raise the pH you add lime. But too much lime will increase your chances of disease. That's why we recommend you test the soil first to determine precisely what is needed."

Your local Maryland Extension Agency will test your soil sample for you, or you can purchase a pH kit at a garden or home center.

"If your soil needs lime, we suggest the pelletized form," adds Wentworth. "Apply one 40-pound bag to every 1,000-square-feet of lawn. For most Southern Maryland lawns this should be done every two to three years."

Another problem with Southern Maryland soil is clay, which inhibits aeration and prevents grass roots from getting nutrients, says Wentworth. "Applying Pelletized Gypsum for a few years in a row should correct this problem," he said. "Gypsum causes a chemical reaction that will break up the clay. One 40-pound bag should cover 1,000- square-feet of lawn."

Spring is a good time to de-thatch an existing lawn that you plan to re-seed. A de-thatching machine works like a push lawn mower that has steel tines to pull up clumping crab grass, or loose and dead grass. You can buy one for approximately $100, or rent one for the day.

"It grabs the weeds, not the seeds," says Harold Berg of H. Berg and Sons Tree and Lawn Care. "The de-thatching process creates small indentations, which are the perfect place for grass seed and weed control to settle in. Since it does pull out small chunks of grass we recommend over seeding at the same time, as well as a lawn fertilizer with weed control. We like the smaller grass seed because birds will carry away a larger pellet form of seed."

"Our seed of choice is the new and improved Tall Fescue," says Wentworth. "It is good for moderate shade or sun and is susceptible to fewer diseases, which addresses our concern of reducing fungicides in the waterways. It is also drought tolerant, not a heavy feeder and greens up quicker in the spring."

Rick LaNore from MRW Lawns, said, "From February to March, we recommend you apply a light fertilizer. Avoid putting any fertilizer on from mid-April to late May. Fall really is the best time to fertilize heavily, so if you do that, you can use less fertilizer in the spring."

Excess nutrients like fertilizers that contain nitrogen, and 'algae bloom' producing phosphorus, should be used responsibly because we live in a watershed area. Having a service contract for lawn care is a good way to apply exactly how much fertilizer and weed control you need.

As for the weeds that we all face, there are many types, too many to name. Your local garden center, or Maryland Extension office can help you with identification. It is highly recommended by all lawn care experts to identify your weeds and treat with the right product and in the right amount. For example, a pre-emergent, or seed of a weed, can be killed with a lawn fertilizer that also contains a weed herbicide. On an established lawn a post-emergent weed, one already sprouted, can easily be spot treated with an herbicide like Round-Up, which travels down the stem and kills the root.

Another important element of a wonderful lawn is proper cutting height and watering needs. Never cut the lawn lower than one-third of the total height. When you water, be sure to deeply water for about four to five hours. Early morning is best.

"Watering at night will draw unwanted bugs to your lawn," says Berg.

"There are some insects to be concerned with," adds LaNore, "but there are also beneficial ones like ants, which kill grub eggs. Some chemicals kill the beneficial ones, so unless it's a real invasion, don't apply."

Ultimately, if you want a lush lawn, you'll need to start with the soil and consult a few experts. In no time, you'll be rolling in green.

Local Lawn Care Sources

H. Berg and Sons
Trees and Lawn Service
301-872-0026

MRW Lawn, Inc.
La Plata-301-934-2500

Wentworth Nursery
Prince Frederick-410-535-3664
Charlotte Hall-301-884-5292

Calvert County Extension Agency
www.calvertag.com/Organizations/Coop_Extension.htm

Charles County Extension Agency
http://extension.umd.edu/local/Charles/

St. Mary's County Extension Agency
http://extension.umd.edu/local/SaintMarys/

Maryland Turf Council
http://www.mdturfcouncil.org

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As such, some of the information in this particular article may no longer be current.

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