Tag: lawn

The Story of a Garden: Year One

This past weekend we celebrated one year in our home. Inside, there are still a couple boxes that have never been unpacked (mostly books, and they haven’t been unpacked because we still have no bookshelves). But that’s neither here nor there. What I want to talk about is the outside of the house. The outside is hardly recognizable to what it was a year ago. And I mean that in all the best ways.

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A New Lawn: Sod vs. Seed

As mentioned in this previous post, we moved in to a new house last fall, which means we get to install a new yard. And while I am very much a proponent of everyone including more trees, shrubs, perennial flowers, and even annuals in their gardens, I cannot deny that I am also a fan of grass. There’s just something about walking barefoot on the cool grass in the summer.

There are a lot of reasons to reduce the amount of grass in your yard: it can be terribly water inefficient, it requires a lot of maintenance, you can’t eat it or make a bouquet out of it, etc. But, there are some reasons to still include at least some grass in your plans: it doesn’t have to be water inefficient or require a lot of maintenance, and while you still can’t eat it or make a bouquet out of it, you can play tag or Frisbee or red-rover or football or (insert favorite activity here) on it and it will withstand the traffic and stress much better than, say, a bed of pansies. And it will be a lot more comfortable than doing said activities on gravel or amongst the roses.

So, while I’m not advocating endless expanses of emerald green turf, I do believe there is a place for at least some lawn in the home garden. If you’re building a garden from scratch, like we are, your next question then is probably something like this, “Ok, so we want a lawn. Should we plant seed or sod?”

Here are some points to consider:

  • I don’t know if this is true for every sod farm, but where I live the sod options are limited to Kentucky Bluegrass and …Kentucky Bluegrass. If you are looking for a custom blend or a particular species of turf grass, then seed would be the route to take.
  • If you are on a tight budget, seeding is a good option since you’re paying just for the seed and perhaps the application of it. Though, if you’re going to do it yourself, you may also need some specialized equipment to make sure the seed is evenly applied across the area.
  • Sod, on the other hand, while more expensive per square foot of grass, needs no specialized equipment for installation once the initial soil prep is done – which is is the same for both seed and sod.
  • One of the hardest things about successful establishment of a lawn through seed is that those seeds need water to germinate. And if they dry out before those roots are established there’s no going back. This is why hydroseeding is so popular. The grass seed is applied with a protective mulch that will help keep the seed from drying out too quickly. Water will still need to be applied at regular intervals those first few weeks, however, for successful establishment. And while those little grass seeds are getting regular water to help them grow along, so are any weed seeds that were in your soil. Competing against weeds to get a foothold is probably the other biggest hurdle your grass seeds will have to cross.
  • Sod, on the other hand, is basically a weave of mature plants that have been cut from where they were once growing and you will transplanting in a new location. It will still need regular watering to get those roots to take hold in your yard, but the water isn’t going to evaporate away as quickly as it would from a bare surface and the sod will be much more competitive against any newly emerging weed seedlings.
  • Another important factor for where I live is that sod is also not going to blow away. We get some strong canyon winds every morning and evening and I’m concerned that the seed wouldn’t have much of a fighting chance against the wind and the weeds.

I also really like the idea that with sod I’m getting an “instant” lawn. I know I’ll have to be a little patient and not walk on it for a few days, but the waiting period will be much shorter than if I was planting seed. And with an active toddler, keeping her off the germinating grass seed just sounds more exhausting than necessary.

The following two photos show the difference between starting a lawn from seed and starting a lawn from sod. Both seed and sod were applied last fall. The seeded lawn is patchy and fighting a lot of weeds. The sodded lawn, while still coming out of winter dormancy, is looking lush and full.

a photo of a lawn started from seed

A lawn in my neighborhood seeded last fall.

a picture of a sod lawn

A lawn in my neighborhood started from sod last fall.

Which have you done? Seed or sod? Would you do it again?

Black medic (Medicago lupulina)

Black medic. It’s a weed I’ve known for what feels like forever, I teach students to correctly identify it every year in the weeds lab, but other than that it is one I’ve paid very little attention to until recently. As in this week. Continue reading

Lawn Watering Guide

Since we’re on the subject of lawns, and keeping them looking green and not brown, let’s talk about water.

Water is a bit of a hot topic these days, especially here in the Western US where many states have been experiencing a drought for the last few years. The “Super El Niño” didn’t turn out to be quite as super as people were hoping, but here in Utah, it at least brought us back up to “normal”.

But this is one reason why I’ve been disappointed lately to hear reports of people here in Utah already watering their lawns. Now, maybe in other, more southern, (hotter and drier) climes you do actually need to be watering already. But definitely not in northern Utah. And actually, not anywhere in Utah currently.

lawn irrigation guide, watering guide, utah water guide

The Utah Division of Water Resources uses real-time weather data to issue the weekly watering guide for the state. You can find it at www.conservewater.utah.gov/guide or at slowtheflow.org

And why not? Well, the simple answer is that it’s spring. And this year spring means the temps are still fairly cool and luckily we keep seeing rain in the forecast.

A more in depth answer would also explain that because it’s spring the soil moisture levels (thanks to the snow from earlier this year and the rain that comes in springtime) are quite adequate for growth and it’s actually better for your grass to not receive extra water. By being forced to work a little harder for their water, and sending down deeper roots, it will actually help your lawn need fewer waterings during the hotter months, while still looking nice.

And of course we should also talk about how we live in a desert and so we should be very sensitive to water use in general. Here in Utah our water situation is looking pretty good so far thanks to both a “normal” water year (the water year measures precipitation that occurs from October-April) and past conservation efforts by individuals and organizations around the state.  But there’s always more we can be doing.

Like not watering our lawns yet.

The other evening, my husband and I went for a drive up the canyon. While there is still a good amount of snow, it is definitely melting - lots of runoff into the Logan River and lots of very wet meadow areas.

The other evening, my husband and I went for a drive up the canyon. While there is still a good amount of snow, it is definitely melting – lots of runoff into the Logan River and lots of very wet meadow areas.

There’s a campaign in Utah called Slow the Flow (save H20) which has been going on for the past few years, with the goal educating Utah citizens to be more water-wise. On their website you can find all sorts of useful tips from watering recommendations (as seen in the photo above), to lists of water-wise (also known as drought tolerant) plants, to surveys that help you asses your own water usage.

One really great resource offered through the Slow the Flow campaign is the free water checks. If you live in Cache, Davis, Iron, Morgan, Salt Lake, Summit, Washington, or Weber counties you can request and schedule a free water check. The water check will analyze the efficiency of your automated watering system and you will receive a customized watering schedule.

If you don’t live in any of these counties (or even if you do), there are still some steps you can take to conserve water and still have a beautiful, healthy lawn.

1- Only water when needed, and when you do water, do it deeply, infrequently and not during the hottest or windiest part of the day. Deep, infrequent waterings promote deeper root growth which leads to healthier plants, and watering during cooler and calmer hours decreases loss from evaporation.

2- Raise your lawn mower to a taller height. Again, this will promote deeper roots and it won’t lose as much water from evapotranspiration as quickly. There’s no need to keep your lawn to a putting green standards. Leaving the lawn clippings in your lawn, rather than bagging and removing them, can also act as a mulch to reduce water loss from the soil surface.

3- Evaluate how you use the lawn. If the only time you walk on the grass is to mow it, there might be a better  (and more water efficient) use of the space. This doesn’t mean you have to rip it up and replace it with gravel, but selecting attractive water-wise plants, using the area for a vegetable garden (and watering the area with a drip-irrigation system or a soaker hose), or replacing the existing grass with a more drought-tolerant variety are all options.

If you’d like more information on how to have a more water-efficient landscape, USU’s Center for Water Efficient Landscaping is full of resources and examples.