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Gardening Tips & Information

Making the lawn

The first thing to be done in the making of a lawn is to establish the proper grade. This should be worked out with the greatest care, from the fact that when a lawn is once made, its level and contour should never be changed.

Preparing the ground.
The next important step is to prepare the ground deeply and thoroughly. The permanence of the sod will depend very largely on the fertility and preparation of the soil in the beginning. The soil should be deep and porous, so that the roots will strike far into it, and be enabled thereby to withstand droughts and cold winters. The best means of deepening the soil is by tile-draining; but it can also be accomplished to some extent by the use of the subsoil cultivator and by trenching. Since the lawn cannot be refitted, however, the subsoil is likely to fall back into a hard-pan in a few years if it has been subsoiled or trenched, whereas a good tile-drain affords a permanent amelioration of the under soil. Soils that are naturally loose and porous may not need this extra attention. In fact, lands that are very loose and sandy may require to be packed or cemented rather than loosened. One of the best means of doing this is to fill them with humus, so that the water will not leach through them rapidly. Nearly all lands that are designed for lawns are greatly benefited by heavy dressings of manure thoroughly worked into them in the beginning, although it is possible to get the ground too rich on the surface at first; it is not necessary that all the added plant-food be immediately available.

The lawn will profit by an annual application of good chemical fertilizer. Ground bone is one of the best materials to apply, at the rate of three hundred to four hundred pounds to the acre. It is usually sown broadcast, early in spring. Dissolved South Carolina rock may be used instead, but the application will need to be heavier if similar results are expected. Yellow and poor grass may often be reinvigorated by an application of two hundred to three hundred pounds to the acre of nitrate of soda. Wood ashes are often good, particularly on soils that tend to be acid. Muriate of potash is not so often used, although it may produce excellent results in some cases. There is no invariable rule. The best plan is for the lawn-maker to try the different treatments on a little piece or corner of the lawn; in this way, he should secure more valuable information than can be got otherwise.

The first operation after draining and grading is the plowing or spading of the surface. If the area is large enough to admit a team, the surface is worked down by means of harrows of various kinds. Afterwards it is leveled by means of shovels and hoes, and finally by garden rakes. The more finely and completely the soil is pulverized, the quicker the lawn may be secured, and the more permanent are the results.

The kind of grass.
The best grass for the body or foundation of lawns in the North is June-grass or Kentucky blue-grass (_Poa pratensis_), not Canada blue-grass (_Poa compressa_).

Whether white clover or other seed should be sown with the grass seed is very largely a personal question. Some persons like it, and others do not. If it is desired, it may be sown directly after the grass seed is sown, at the rate of one to four quarts or more to the acre.

For special purposes, other grasses may be used for lawns. Various kinds of lawn mixtures are on the market, for particular uses, and some of them are very good.

A superintendent of parks in one of the Eastern cities gives the following experience on kinds of grass: "For the meadows on the large parks we generally use extra recleaned Kentucky blue-grass, red-top, and white clover, in the proportion of thirty pounds of blue-grass, thirty pounds of red-top, and ten pounds of white clover to the acre. Sometimes we use for smaller lawns the blue-grass and red-top without the white clover. We have used blue-grass, red-top, and Rhode Island bent in the proportion of twenty pounds each, and ten pounds of white clover to the acre, but the Rhode Island bent is so expensive that we rarely buy it. For grass in shady places, as in a grove, we use Kentucky blue-grass and rough-stalked meadow-grass (_Poa trivialis_) in equal parts at the rate of seventy pounds to the acre. On the golf links we use blue-grass without any mixture on some of the putting greens; sometimes we use Rhode Island bent, and on sandy greens we use red-top. We always buy each kind of seed separately and mix them, and are particular to get the best extra recleaned of each kind. Frequently we get the seed of three different dealers to secure the best."

In most cases, the June-grass germinates and grows somewhat slowly, and it is usually advisable to sow four or five quarts of timothy grass to the acre with the June-grass seed. The timothy comes on quickly and makes a green the first year, and the June-grass soon crowds it out. It is not advisable to sow grain in the lawn as a nurse to the grass. If the land is well prepared and the seed is sown in the cool part of the year, the grass ought to grow much better without the other crops than with them. Lands that are hard and lacking in nitrogen may be benefited if crimson clover (four or five quarts) is sown with the grass seed. This will make a green the first year, and will break up the subsoil by its deep roots and supply nitrogen, and being an annual plant it does not become troublesome, if mown frequently enough to prevent seeding.

In the southern states, where June-grass does not thrive, Bermuda-grass is the leading species used for lawns; although there are two or three others, as the goose-grass of Florida, that may be used in special localities. Bermuda-grass is usually propagated by roots, but imported seed (said to be from Australia) is now available. The Bermuda-grass becomes reddish after frost; and English rye-grass may be sown on the Bermuda sod in August or September far south for winter green; in spring the Bermuda crowds it out.

When and how to sow the seed.
The lawn should be seeded when the land is moist and the weather comparatively cool. It is ordinarily most advisable to grade the lawn in late summer or early fall, because the land is then comparatively dry and can be moved cheaply. The surface can also be got in condition, perhaps, for sowing late in September or early in October in the North; or, if the surface has required much filling, it is well to leave it in a somewhat unfinished state until spring, in order that the soft places may settle and then be refilled before the seeding is done. If the seed can be sown early in the fall, before the rains come, the grass should be large enough, except in northernmost localities, to withstand the winter; but it is generally most desirable to sow in very early spring. If the land has been thoroughly prepared in the fall, the seed may be sown on one of the late light snows in spring and as the snow melts the seed is carried into the land, and germinates very quickly. If the seed is sown when the land is loose and workable, it should be raked in; and if the weather promises to be dry or the sowing is late, the surface should be rolled.

The seeding is usually done broadcast by hand on all small areas, the sower going both ways (at right angles) across the area to lessen the likelihood of missing any part. Steep banks are sometimes sown with seed that is mixed in mold or earth to which water is added until the material will just run through the spout of a watering-can; the material is then poured on the surface, which is first made loose.

Inasmuch as we desire to secure many very fine stalks of grass rather than a few large ones, it is essential that the seed be sown very thick. Three to five bushels to the acre is the ordinary application of grass seed

Firm Ground.
The lawn will ordinarily produce a heavy crop of weeds the first year, especially if much stable manure has been used. The weeds need not be pulled, unless such vicious intruders as docks or other perennial plants gain a foothold; but the area should be mown frequently with a

lawn-mower. The annual weeds die at the approach of cold, and they are kept down by the use of the lawn-mower, while the grass is not injured.

It rarely happens that every part of the lawn will have an equal catch of grass. The bare or sparsely seeded places should be sown again every fall and spring until the lawn is finally complete. In fact, it requires constant attention to keep a lawn in good sod, and it must be continuously in the process of making. It is not every lawn area, or every part of the area, that is adapted to grass; and it may require long study to find out why it is not. Bare or poor places should be hetcheled up strongly with an iron-toothed rake, perhaps fertilized again, and then reseeded. It is unusual that a lawn does not need repairing every year. Lawns of several acres which become thin and mossy may be treated in essentially the same way by dragging them with a spike-tooth harrow in early spring as soon as the land is dry enough to hold a team. Chemical fertilizers and grass seed are now sown liberally, and the area is perhaps dragged again, although this is not always essential; and then the roller is applied to bring the surface into a smooth condition. To plow up these poor lawns is to renew all the battle with weeds, and really to make no progress; for, so long as the contour is correct, the lawn may be repaired by these surface applications.

The stronger the sward, the less the trouble with weeds; yet it is practically impossible to keep dandelions and some other weeds out of lawns except by cutting them out with a knife thrust underground (there are good spuds manufactured for this purpose,. If the sod is very thin after the weeds are removed, sow more grass seed.

The mowing of the lawn should begin as soon as the grass is tall enough in the spring and continue at the necessary intervals throughout the summer. The most frequent mowings are needed early in the season, when the grass is growing rapidly. If it is mown frequently--say once or twice a week--in the periods of most vigorous growth, it will not be necessary to rake off the mowings. In fact, it is preferable to leave the grass on the lawn, to be driven into the surface by the rains and to afford a mulch. It is only when the lawn has been neglected and the grass has got so high that it becomes unsightly on the lawn, or when the growth is unusually luxurious, that it is necessary to take it off. In dry weather care should be taken not to mow the lawn any more than absolutely necessary. The grass should be rather long when it goes into the winter. In the last two months of open weather the grass makes small growth, and it tends to lop down and to cover the surface densely, which it should be allowed to do.

Fall treatment.
As a rule, it is not necessary to rake all the leaves off lawns in the fall. They afford an excellent mulch, and in the autumn months the leaves on the lawn are among the most attractive features of the landscape. The leaves generally blow off after a time, and if the place has been constructed with an open center and heavily planted sides, the leaves will be caught in these masses of trees and shrubs and there afford an excellent mulch. The ideal landscape planting, therefore, takes care of itself to a very large extent. It is bad economy to burn the leaves, especially if one has herbaceous borders, roses, and other plants that need a mulch. When the leaves are taken off the borders in the spring, they should be piled with the manure or other refuse and there allowed to pass into compost .

If the land has been well prepared in the beginning, and its life is not sapped by large trees, it is ordinarily unnecessary to cover the lawn with manure in the fall. The common practice of covering grass with raw manure should be discouraged because the material is unsightly and unsavory, and the same results can be got with the use of commercial fertilizers combined with dressings of very fine and well-rotted compost or manure, and by not raking the lawn too clean of the mowings of the grass.

Spring treatment.
Every spring the lawn should be firmed by means of a roller, or, if the area is small, by means of a pounder, or the back of a spade in the hands of a vigorous man. The lawn-mower itself tends to pack the surface. If there are little irregularities in the surface, caused by depressions of an inch or so, and the highest places are not above the contour-line of the lawn, the surface may be brought to level by spreading fine, mellow soil over it, thereby filling up the depressions. The grass will quickly grow through this soil. Little hummocks may be cut off, some of the earth removed, and the sod replaced.

Watering lawns.
The common watering of lawns by means of lawn sprinklers usually does more harm than good. This results from the fact that the watering is generally done in clear weather, and the water is thrown through the air in very fine spray, so that a considerable part of it is lost in vapor. The ground is also hot, and the water does not pass deep into the soil. If the lawn is watered at all, it should be soaked; turn on the hose at nightfall and let it run until the land is wet as deep as it is dry, then move the hose to another place. A thorough soaking like this, a few times in a dry summer, will do more good than sprinkling every day. If the land is deeply prepared in the first place, so that the roots strike far into the soil, there is rarely need of watering unless the place is arid, the season unusually dry, or the moisture sucked out by trees. The surface sprinkling engenders a tendency of roots to start near the surface, and therefore the more the lawn is lightly watered, the greater is the necessity for watering it.

Sodding the lawn.
Persons who desire to secure a lawn very quickly may sod the area rather than seed it, although the most permanent results are usually secured by seeding. Sodding, however, is expensive, and is to be used only about the borders of the place, near buildings, or in areas in which the owner can afford to expend considerable money. The best sod is that which is secured from an old pasture, and for two or three reasons. In the first place, it is the right kind of grass, the June-grass (in the North) being the species that oftenest runs into pastures and crowds out other plants. Again, it has been so closely eaten down, especially if it has been pastured by sheep, that it has made a very dense and well-filled sod, which can be rolled up in thin layers. In the third place, the soil in old pastures is likely to be rich from the droppings of animals.

In taking sod, it is important that it be cut very thin. An inch and a half thick is usually ample. It is ordinarily rolled up in strips a foot wide and of any length that will allow the rolls to be handled by one or two men. A foot-wide board is laid upon the turf, and the sod cut along either edge of it. One person then stands upon the strip of sod and rolls it towards himself, while another cuts it loose with a spade, as shown in . When the sod is laid, it is unrolled on the land and then firmly beaten down. Land that is to be sodded should be soft on top, so that the sod can be well pounded into it. If the sod is not well pounded down, it will settle unevenly and present a bad surface, and will also dry out and perhaps not live through a dry spell. It is almost impossible to pound down sod too firm. If the land is freshly plowed, it is important that the borders that are sodded be an inch or two lower than the adjacent land, because the land will settle in the course of a few weeks. In a dry time, the sod may be covered from a half inch to an inch with fine, mellow soil as a mulch. The grass should grow through this soil without difficulty. Upon terraces and steep banks, the sod may be held in place by driving wooden pegs through it.

A combination of sodding and seeding.
An "economical sodding" is described in "American Garden" : "To obtain sufficient sod of suitable quality for covering terrace-slopes or small blocks that for any reason cannot well be seeded is often a difficult matter. In the accompanying illustration we show how a surface of sod may be used to good advantage over a larger area than its real measurement represents. This is done by laying the sods, cut in strips from six to ten inches wide, in lines and cross-lines, and after filling the spaces with good soil, sowing these spaces with grass-seed. Should the catch of seed for any reason be poor, the sod of the strips will tend to spread over the spaces between them, and failure to obtain a good sward within a reasonable time is almost out of the question. Also, if one needs sod and has no place from which to cut it except the lawn, by taking up blocks of sod, leaving strips and cross-strips, and treating the surface as described, the bare places are soon covered with green."

Sowing with sod.
Lawns may be sown with pieces of sods rather than with seeds. Sods may be cut up into bits an inch or two square, and these may be scattered broadcast over the area and rolled into the land. While it is preferable that the pieces should lie right side up, this is not necessary if they are cut thin, and sown when the weather is cool and moist. Sowing pieces of sod is good practice when it is difficult to secure a catch from seed.

If one were to maintain a permanent sod garden, at one side, for the selecting and growing of the very best sod (as he would grow a stock seed of corn or beans), this method should be the most rational of all procedures, at least until the time that we produce strains of lawn grass that come true from seeds.






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