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Find the right lawn to love

Choose grass suited for the climate and use, then pamper your lawn

Posted: May 19, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 19, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Richard Green of Green Landscape Nursery points out the Nature’s Green organic lawn fertilizer which helps lawns grow thick and hardy, which helps retain moisture.

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When it comes to usability and comfort in your yard, there is nothing like a cool, green lawn. And, even in these times of water conservation, a lawn can be a viable option - if you choose the right type of grass and care for it properly.

While there are many types of grass growing in the Santa Clarita Valley, when it comes to neighborhood lawns, one type is far more popular than the others. And there are a number of reasons for that, according to Richard Green, of Green Landscape Nursery on Bouquet Canyon Road in Saugus, who has been advising SCV residents on lawn care for more than 30 years.

"In the SCV, the colds are more extreme than in the San Fernando Valley, and the hots are hotter. It's more arid here because of the influence from the high desert," he said. As a result, "Ninety percent of the lawns in the SCV are fescue grass."

 

Why fescue?

Fescue is an evergreen grass, which means it stays green all year, unlike St. Augustine and Bermuda grass, which become dormant and brown during the winter or cold weather.

Being evergreen is one important reason for fescue's popularity here, but there are many others. For example, Green said bluegrass, which many people think they might want in their lawns, generally has a single blade and single root from each seed.

Fescue, on the other hand, has multiple blades and multiple roots from each seed. This provides a thicker, stronger lawn with more shading of the roots and far more root surface for water absorption and cushioning under use.

"Fescue is the name of the game," Green said. And 100 percent fescue is best for an evergreen lawn." As a contrast, when St. Augustine or Bermuda grass go dormant, heavy wear, such as the repeated travel of a large dog, will wear through the grass to the mud, Green said. And that worn, muddy spot will not repair itself for many months.

Additionally, when it comes to lawn repair, you might not be able to find "patches" for St. Augustine or Bermuda grass.

"Nurseries don't stock St. Augustine or Bermuda on a daily basis," Green said. "You have to order more than 200 square feet at a time." On the other hand, he said, "We stock fescue all year long." You can purchase this in five-square-foot sections or by the pallet, summer or winter.

And, finally, Green said once St. Augustine or Bermuda grass get started, they can infect everything in your neighborhood, from lawns to planters and more.

And don't even think about a dichondra lawn. Dichondra is very high maintenance and not suited to high sunlight or high mineral content water, such as we have in the SCV. Dichondra is not suited for high-traffic areas either.

 

Lawn Care

Now that you've decided on fescue, you need to know how to treat it right. And, in Southern California, with its mildly fluctuating seasons, weather and yard conditions, there are few "laws" of lawn care.

The most important one, according to Green is: "Do not water your lawn between 4 p.m. and 4 a.m."

Homeowners may believe that is the best time for water absorption and reduced evaporation.

However, Green said proper watering techniques used during the morning can save more water than poor watering techniques used at night. In addition, fungus can develop.

The longer water stays on the grass blades, above the soil, the greater the opportunity fungus has of getting a hold. Even in the summer, when his own lawn needs more water, Green waters "at 7 a.m. and 11 a.m."

Other "laws" Green suggests are to water according to the weather, mow regularly, and fertilize every four to six weeks as needed, even in winter. He emphasizes that October and November in the fall - and April and May in the spring - are months that should not be missed for fertilizing.

Cycling your watering means to use more short-run waterings in dry times rather than fewer long-run waterings. Generally, Green recommends cycles of six to 10 minutes (but not to exceed 10 minutes) for typical sprinkler heads set up properly.

One final law is that homeowners need to be actively involved with lawn care. From watering to mowing to fertilizing, weed prevention and more, a properly maintained lawn will require less effort, expense and water use in the end, and will certainly give SCV residents more pride. Beyond that, studies have shown that a great lawn can increase home value up to 7 percent.

Fertilize now

"Now is an important time to fertilize," Green said, "Warm is now the rule, rather than the exception. It's a good time to take advantage of the new growth coming."

He said fertilizing will strengthen the roots and encourage thicker and more numerous grass blades. And this will, in turn, reduce water transpiration.

With denser growth, the roots are better-shaded and less dry air circulates through the grass. This results in less water loss.

You save water (and money) and get a sturdier, better-looking lawn.

A denser lawn has the additional benefit of resisting infestation by weeds better. It is much harder for weed seeds to reach the soil, germinate and survive in a thicker lawn, where they also receive less sunlight.

Green often uses colorful comparisons to help customers remember key plant-care concepts. He likens your spring lawn to a puppy. Especially if you did not fertilize in the fall, your puppy (lawn) is skinny and hungry, and it will take a good feeding - and maybe more than one - to get him filled-out and full of vigor.

"It depends on the need," Green said. "If you were very derelict in your duties, it may take more time for your grass to get into good condition."

OK, so you know you want to feed your lawn now. But what kind of fertilizer should you use?

 

Inorganic fertilizer

Green explained that inorganic fertilizers are petroleum-based and offer a faster release of nutrients than organic fertilizers.

"You might see green in a week, depending on the time of year and how hungry your lawn is," Green said.

However, inorganic fertilizers can "burn" your grass, especially if you apply the fertilizer when the weather is too hot. This makes spring, when the weather is mild, a good time to use inorganics. They can get your lawn looking good in a hurry. However, the effect may not be long-lasting.

Green compares inorganic fertilizers to "a hamburger, fries and a Coke."

"We all like that, but a prolonged diet of that probably is not the best," he said.

"Use inorganics as needed," Green added, "as much as every six weeks, or as little as every three to four months."

 

Organic fertilizer

Especially at this time of year, Green recommends using organic fertilizers, which react and interact with the soil to release their nutrients and so work best when the soil is 70° F and above.

"Use them when cool or warm is the rule, such as right now," he said. In cold weather, the soil interactions might be too slow - but in hot weather you can be confident your inorganic fertilizer won't burn your grass.

One example of an organic fertilizer is Nature's Green Lawn Food, which contains feather meal, blood meal, bone meal, sulfate of potash and humic acid. It will take awhile to get going, but provide long-lasting nutrition for your grass and a broader spectrum of nutrients than inorganic fertilizer. Green likens its use to an IV drip - slow and steady and exactly what's needed.

He said that with organic fertilizer you will get thicker grass blades and denser grass blades with more crisscrossing.

"It slows down the transpiration," he added.

Green said that, because of the high cost of petroleum-related products (such as inorganic fertilizers), organic fertilizers are no more expensive than inorganics.

 

How to fertilize

Green said you should apply inorganic fertilizer to a dry lawn. The soil can be moist, but the grass blades must be dry. Otherwise, the fertilizer pellets will stick to the grass blades and burn them. Once your fertilizer is down, you water the grass immediately.

"Don't get distracted by a phone call," Green said.

Water for three to six minutes only, and be sure there is no runoff. Otherwise, you are fertilizing the gutter.

If you need more water to get your fertilizer in, Green said to cycle water, as opposed to running the sprinklers for one long period.

"Organics are best put on in warm weather," Green said. The soil should be moist underneath, and it doesn't matter if the blades are moist. "The chances of burning are extremely unlikely."

In any case, Green said to note the directions on your bag of fertilizer, but realize that they are intended for a broad segment of the population and not specific to the Santa Clarita Valley.

"Use them as an overall guide, but seek advice from knowledgeable sources," he said.

 

Seeding/sod

Even if you have a well-established lawn, you may find it has some bare spots, and there are two ways to cure this - with seeding or with sod.

Sod is the fastest fix and the best if your lawn is actively being used by children or pets. Green Landscape Nursery sells fescue sod that is one year old, sturdy and ready for your yard.

"If the grass died because it was dry, put a planting mix underneath," Green said. "Otherwise don't."

Green added that you should only use square patches of sod, least 18 inches across, which helps prevent the section from drying out.

"In a semi-sun spot, you can try to reseed, but sod is better," Green said. "Shade is difficult for all SCV grass choices, he added. "This is the optimum time to reseed."

Fertilize and, at the same time, clear out the old, dead grass with a rake.

"Reseed and use a light (quarter-inch) coverage of topper or top coat," he added. "You need to hide the seed from the birds and keep the soil moist until it has a chance to germinate." In warm weather, your seed may germinate within seven days, otherwise 10 to 14 days.

With newly planted grass, sod or seed, you will need to increase your watering temporarily. For the first week or two, depending on the heat, you might run short cycles at 7 a.m., 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

If your sprinklers run on a timer, you might have to water the entire lawn this way for that temporary period.

Green Landscape Nursery is located at 26191 Bouquet Canyon Road, Saugus, CA 91350 (where Cinema Drive meets Bouquet Canyon Road). The phone number is 661-255-8838.

jwalker@the-signal.com

661-287-5524

 

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