Make Your Brown Lawn Green

September 15, 1991|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff writer

The summer of 1991 wreaked havoc with the county's lush green lawns,turning them a dry and dusty brown.

Once healthy, green yards seemed to be begging for a soaking with refreshing water.

No hoses were in sight, though. The drought also forced towns to mandate, or at least ask for, water conservation measures.

Car washing and lawn watering topped the list of unnecessary water use. Residents watched helplessly as the high temperatures scorched their grass. Even the end-of-summer raindrops have failed to restore much greenness.

"Unfortunately for many property owners, the summer drought,in combination with our higher-than-normal temperatures, has transformed many of our lawns into a dry, barren wasteland," said Thomas Ford, horticulture consultant for the Carroll County Office of the Cooperative Extensive Service.

Blue grass and fescue, which are cool-season grasses, make up most lawns in the area. These types of grasses perform best under the cool temperatures of autumn and early spring. When subjected to extremes in temperature, cool-season grasses normally go dormant.

"Lawns should snap back some from summer dormancy,"said Neil Ridgely, county landscaper. "There can still be a lot of root growth between now and December, and we usually have adequate rainfall here in the fall."

Ridgely recommends reseeding, fertilizingand dethatching to remove dead grass. Adding a high-nitrogen fertilizer will stimulate good root growth, he said.

"Homeowners might find more weed material when the lawn comes back next spring," he said."A healthy, firmly-established lawn will compete well with weed growth, however."

Ford said people throughout the county have been calling his office for help in renovating parched grass.

He recommends a soil test to pinpoint any nutritional deficiencies that could affect the establishment of newly-seeded lawn.

To take a soil test:

* Make a shallow cut into the soil with a spade or small hand trowel.

* Remove carefully a thin slice of soil from the trowel.

* Take the sample and drop it into a small bucket or box.

* Repeat this procedure several times until you have between two and three pintsof soil.

* Dump the soil from the bucket onto a piece of newspaper and allow it to air dry.

* When dry to the touch, mix it thoroughly to make a composite sample.

* Select one pint of soil from your sample and drop it off at the Cooperative Extension Office, Smith Avenue, Westminster.

Within about two weeks, the office will provide soil test results and fertilizer recommendations for your particular lawn. By following these directions, homeowners can get the green back into those brown lawns.

But even with your recommendations in hand, you won't be able to seed immediately.

Seed sown on the top of any dead sod will not germinate properly. The result would be a poor quality and weedy lawn, said Ford. Severely damaged lawns may needtilling or plowing to break up dead sod and allow growth.

If a Rototiller is not available, aerating or power-raking drought-thinned lawns should precede any seeding.

Ford said homeowners should consider the cultural requirements essential to maintenance before selecting a new grass.

For example, Kentucky bluegrass requires the most maintenance of any area grasses. If you don't have the time to devoteto rehabilitating your grass, Ford recommends choosing a less troublesome variety.

For the Maryland region, the Extension Office recommends tall fescue cultivars like Falcon, Olympic, Rebel II and Arid. These four varieties are among the best turf-grass cultivars, said Ford. Their blade texture is slightly coarser but more resilient than Kentucky bluegrass.

"Tall fescue is drought-tolerant and vigorous,"said Ford. "It has excellent disease tolerance and resists many insect pests."

Most garden supply businesses in the area carry the recommended varieties.

Gary Hughes of R. D. Bowman and Sons, Inc. in Westminster, said Rebel II costs $1.70 per pound and Falcon sells for$1.60 per pound.

Ford recommends sowing tall fescue at the rate of 4-8 pounds per 1,000 square feet. If the grasses are sown at a lower rate, they will yield a lawn too coarse for most people.

If residents find shrubs in as much trouble as their lawns, Ridgely offers some of the same tips. However, shrubs should not be fertilized. Fertilizing will stimulate too much new growth, which could affect the shrubs negatively over the winter, he said.

"Turn out any dead parts in the shrubs and trees," he said. "Mulch and water them thoroughly."

Ford is available to answer any questions on caring for lawns or landscaping. Information: 848-5013.

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