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Until we moved into the home we now live in where we have some acreage, we lived in small houses in subdivisions and our garden space was limited. We've grown tomatoes so near to our house that the side of the house was the support for them. We've grown tomatoes in 5 gallon buckets. We've managed to garden on the slope of a hill where we battled not only water erosion but a nasty patch of very invasive trumpet vine.
The summer after we moved here, my husband said he thought it was time I had a nice, big garden in which I could plant anything and everything my heart desired. He set to planning it all out and got to work. A few days later I looked out the window as he was working the soil in the location he had chosen and my heart was struck with fear. He's always been a zealous worker with big ideas and pushes me to have more faith in my abilities. But this time I knew he was dreaming a dream for me that would never come true. Behind our tractor he was pulling a giant tiller he'd gotten from a rental place in town. When he finished, my new garden measured 50 feet x 100 feet. Try as I might to garden the full area, it took less than 2 seasons for him to allow me to embrace defeat. It was just too much.
We've been working the past 3 years to get a smaller area set up in raised beds with plastic and mulch covering the pathways between them. This has been a big success and I'm producing far more in 1/2 as much space. Since some of the posts for the garden were set in concrete, reducing the garden size was not an option. And since the grass that used to be in the area had been tilled under when the garden was made, the area that was not in raised beds became overrun with weeds. My inconsistent tilling of the area didn't control them and as much as we hated to do it, we've sprayed herbicide several times.
Now that we've determined we have all the garden we need, it's time to conquer the weed bed. My husband is a big fan of Toby Tobin and, at our past homes, has had wonderful success with lawn care following the advice given on his radio program. Using my husband's past experience and recommendations from Mr. Tobin, I'll share the program that works for us.
When to Seed
Fall is the best time to sow grass seed. The grass will have the fall months, winter months, and spring months to get established before it has to combat the brutal summer heat. It has a much better chance of survival than a spring planting. In addition, it doesn't have to compete with crabgrass, which thrives during the hotter months.
What Seed to Use
All grasses are not created equal. If you're seeding, do some research on the characteristics of different kinds of grasses, how they do in your area, and consider how the area you're seeding is used. Seek advice from someone at your local nursery or the lawn care section of a home improvement store. We're also big fans of University Extension offices and consult with ours often.My husband has chosen to use a mix of Fescue, Blue Grass, and Rye.
How Much Seed
You'll need to know the size of the area you're seeding to determine the quantity of seed to purchase.
Preparing the Soil
The surface of the area being seeded needs to be prepared to give the seed a better chance of germinating and developing a healthy root system. If the soil is heavily compacted, it may need to be verticut. The area we've seeded has been tilled many times over the last 5 years so it's loose enough as it is. We just needed to rough up the surface. Since our area is fairly small, we used Fiskars tools to do the job. We started by scraping the soil surface with the D-Handle Compost / Mulch Fork (Steel) but found it to require a lot more elbow grease than we cared to put forth. We switched to the Telescoping Rotary Cultivator which did the job faster and easier.
Apply starter lawn fertilizer. Just as our flowers and vegetables grow more vigorously when we feed them, so will grass. Be sure to check out organic options available to you!
Sowing the Seed
Using a broadcast spreader will help sow the seed uniformly.
Protecting the Seed and New Growth
Mulching seed sown on bare ground is optional. It helps prevent water and wind from carrying the seeds away. It also helps retain moisture.
Keep the soil evenly moist. The seeds must stay damp to germinate. Until the seeds germinate, water lightly and frequently. This may mean watering more than once a day. When the grass is about 2 inches tall, you can water less frequently but more deeply to encourage deep root growth. Just don't let the soil become waterlogged. Different varieties of grass germinate and grow at different rates so keep watering and water until the soil freezes.
Mow the grass when it reaches 2-3 inches tall and continue mowing it once a week. You might consider the Fiskars StaySharp™ Max Reel Mower.
Weeds and Leaves
Once the new grass has been mowed 3 times, if winter weeds are a problem, a herbicide (be sure it's one designed for the type of weeds you dealing with) can be used. I know the use of chemicals is controversial and many of us don't want to use them. The whole concept of organic gardening is new to me and I'm still learning. I prefer organic options when they're available and I find research that supports their success. But if the weeds get out of control now, you will have bare spots in your new grass the following spring where the winter weeds have died. What is likely to grow in those bare spots next spring and summer? I can tell you from our experience with this very spot we're battling now, the spot from which we removed all of the grass when we put our garden in, it's not grass that fills in those areas of bare ground. If you can get a thick, healthy stand of grass established now, it will take care of most of your weed problems next year.
You'll also want to keep fallen leaves raked off the new grass.
These are the steps that have worked for us in the past and judging from the young grass we have sprouting, we're off to a good start this time around, too. I'm looking forward to a future of enjoying a beautiful lush patch of grass lined with fruit trees at the back of my garden!