Spring and the annual attempt to coax the green, green bluegrass of home

Saturday's Hero

April 20, 1996|By ROB KASPER

I sowed seeds the other morning. Kelly Kentucky Bluegrass, Boreal Creeping Red Fescue and Dover Chewings Fescue. This scattering of seeds was another attempt to grow grass in the bare spots of my backyard.

This seeding of the backyard has become an annual ritual. First, I loosen the packed soil. Then, I spread the "starter" fertilizer, the kind designed to feed fledgling grass seed the food it craves. That, according to the label on the fertilizer box, would be a mixture of "17-23-6." This is grass-grower lingo for a fertilizer which is 17 percent nitrogen, 23 percent phosphoric acid, and 6 percent potash. The remaining percentage of the mixture seems to made of "inert" ingredients.

"Inert" is a pretty accurate description of my backyard lawn. I planted grass seed last Saturday afternoon, after first putting down a layer of "nutritious" fertilizer. Since then I have been going outside and staring at the ground, waiting for some action.

I've seen a lot of birds. Starlings, cardinals and robins have pecked at the yard. Somehow I think that many of the seeds of creeping red fescue have crept down the gullets of these various feathered friends.

And when a big rainstorm swept through the other night, I think that many of my bluegrass seeds formed their own version of the Kentucky River and sashayed out of the yard and down the alley.

Nonetheless, I can't stop seeding. As soon as the cherry tree blooms, and the temperature stays above freezing for two days in row, I am out in the backyard trying, once again, to grow a patch of green.

Since there is no logical explanation for my behavior, I will blame it on gender. Guys like grass. Maybe it is in our chromosomes, something in the "Y." Think about it, the places that guys like to hang out -- baseball fields, golf courses, football, lacrosse and soccer fields -- are really just big lawns with lines or flags on them. Nowadays tennis courts are covered with all kinds of surfaces. But not so long ago, when tennis balls were white and only men grunted when they hit backhands, the classy courts were covered with grass.

Moreover, one of the great moments in a guy's life is when he can get his lawn to resemble the outfield grass of a major league baseball park. Not only do guys go for the no-dandelion look of major league outfields, we also want that "alternating stripe effect" on the lawn. This pattern is created by mowing the lawn with a power mower in alternating directions. For example, to cut one patch you mow north, then you turn your machine around and mow south. It is a simple, yet aesthetically pleasing action. All great art, or lawn art anyway, leans toward the simple.

Somewhere in the guys-who-grow-grass literature, I came across the theory that this seed- spreading behavior stems from our primal battle with forests. If left unchecked, the bully trees will apparently overpower the civilized, mild-mannered meadow. This explanation sounds good, especially for guys who grow grass in pastoral settings. But when you are trying to grow grass behind a city rowhouse, shaded by the shadows of tall buildings, the forests don't pose much of a threat. The urban equivalent of the theory would be, I guess, city guys grow grass to fight back the big, bad bricks.

Planting grass seed is a paradox. If your initial effort succeeds, it will lead to more work. If the grass takes hold in April, you will, in the heat of July, have to cut it, trim its edges, and ward off sod webworms, chinch bugs, grubs and many other lawn enemies.

This is one reason that ground covers like pachysandra and ajuga are in vogue. You don't have to mow them. On the other hand, you have never seen an honest-to-baseball outfield made of ground cover. Can you imagine Jon Miller, or another major league broadcaster, saying "Brady Anderson dives on the outfield ajuga and makes a spectacular catch!"

I can't. And so, on these cool April mornings, I toss the fescue and bluegrass to the wind. Hope, it is said, springs eternal. I'm not looking for hope. Right now, I'd settle for a few grass shoots pushing through the brown, barren ground.

Pub Date: 4/20/96

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