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"Green" Grass

 
Greg M Peters
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Saw a couple posts somewhere on the forum (maybe it was not the Missoula forum, but another one) about ecologically sensitive lawn care. 

I'm not a huge fan of lawns in general, but my landlords like the one in front of the house I rent from them.  After two seasons of not applying Weed and Feed, the dandelions, yarrow, clover, and moss are taking over.  The landlord wants me to start Weed and Feed again, but I don't really want to. 

I know to cut it longer, that's easy.  Water less often, but deeper, that's easy too.

Does anyone have any specific ideas for getting more grass and less "weeds."  I hand pulled dandes last spring for a hour - I don't think i made much of dent.  Grrr. 
Any benign, or "organic" weed products out there.  We live right near Rattlesnake Creek and I'd like to find keep the nasty stuff (2-4d) out of the water. 
Thanks

 
                  
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Location: Missoula, MT
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Hey Greg, that could have been my post which was inspired by another forum on here. I took it down to make it more Missoula relevant.

As for your problem, I've known manual weed pulling to do the trick, but you are right, it is pretty labor intensive and gets old fast. You also have to make sure that you are getting the entire root out for dandelions. Do you have any friends that could come over and help you? You could make a picnic out of the whole ordeal. If you contact the municipal court, they might be able to get you in touch with adults and kids who need to work off community service hours. I know there are other towns where that is the case, but I haven't heard one way or the other in the years I've been in Missoula.

Depending on the state of the lawn, you might be able to sell your landlords on a complete overhaul. It could turn out to be way more efficient to dig up the whole thing (or just the largely invaded areas), pull the weeds out of the loosened soil, spread the dirt out again, and add new seed - making sure to give this new seed a good healthy start and stay on top of the weed pulling before it gets out of hand. Yeah, I'm only imagining this for a worst case scenario, where several square feet of the yard are dominated by invading species.

Thank you, by the way, for being so considerate about the privilege of living in the Rattlesnake. Glad to be downstream of the likes of you. 
 
Caitlin Elder
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Location: Missoula
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Have you seen Paul's lawn care article?  It has some good solutions to helping you solve your lawn problems.
 
paul wheaton
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I would embrace the yarrow, myself.  I think it feels spongy underfoot!

There was a study at oregon state university ... if i remember correctly, that showed that if you mow at 3 inches instead of 2, you will have 95% fewer weeds.  Of course, there were a lot of other variables - but this was a decent generalization. 

If the dandelions are super happy and the grass is kinda sad, I would get your pH tested.  The missoula county extension office used to do it for free. 

Next fall, plant a lot of crocuses in your lawn.  They will pop up all over before the grass starts to grow.  My the time of the first mow, they are all done.  But, of course, they will die with weed and feed. 

Clover is a sign that your lawn is nitrogen deficient.  Keep the clover and add some organic fertilizer in the spring, just after the first mow.    Grass is a nitrogen pig - with the extra nitrogen and the high mowing, you will quickly have a turf that easily outcompetes dandelions.


 
                  
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I forgot that you are kind of the lawncare expert, Paul. In the vein of a complete overhaul or, in my case, a non-existent yard, is there anything that should be done before putting out seed to ensure a healthy lawn? Also I think it would be great to have a yard that was not the traditional green, flat surface. Specifically, I would like to put in some native grasses and plants. How difficult is that? I might start another thread on which native grasses and plants to use.
 
paul wheaton
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I'm not a big fan of the natives.  And my thoughts in that space could fill three books.

I like the idea of a lawn that is more of a mowable meadow.  Something with lots of flowers and some edibles.  Something that will be in the comfort zone of the landlord and easy to take care of.

I think the function of a lawn should be for people to gather and hang out, yard sales, kids to play on, picnics, etc.  So it needs to be soft and shouldn't trip people.

I have yet to encounter an existing lawn and thought "we need to put down seed".  Rather, I think that if the lawn is sad, there is usually something else going on.  And if you don't fix that, then baby grass is gonna suffer a lot more than established adult grass. 

And .... you should know .... I like dandelions.  Not a lot of them, but at least a few.  A dandelion is an excellent permaculture plant, is edible, it helps other plants, and I think it has a pretty flower.  And I enjoy blowing the puffballs.  I think a dandelion is a flag that says "I don't add poison to my life!"





 
Greg M Peters
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Thanks everyone.  Yes, I will check out Paul's post (I found it again today).  I too would embrace yarrow, dandelions, and clover, but my landlord's seem committed to kentucky blue or something else inappropriate.  So, my desire for grass stems from their desire for grass.  I think a little yarrow and a few dandes would be fine, but I'd like to try and get more grass. 

I'll let you all know how my experiments go.

 
paul wheaton
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I think kentucky bluegrass is a better than average grass for missoula.  I think that with a little fertilizer at just the right time plus mowing really high, you will have the best lawn on the block and your landlord will be very happy.



 
Abe Coley
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I've had some success with various mints on lawns. if you can get them established, which isn't too difficult, they're edible, mowable, and pleasantly aromatic when mowed or vigorously trod upon.
 
jacob wustner
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All the plants that your landlord wants to get rid of indicate that there is a lack of specific nutrients in the top soil. The weed and feed, aka commercial fertilizer and herbicides, actually will have the opposite effect in the end. This is the common vicious circle that chemical companies make billions of dollars on. To explain this more clearly, the herbicide kills the fertility of the soil because it is poison. This makes the soil even better suited for the weeds which are nature's soil builders. Then you add petroleum based fertilizer, which also kills the soil life. And though the grass will appear a darker green after it takes up the new fertilizer, the soil life takes a dive and once the inorganic fertilizer is used up, the grass is left with less to feed on than it had before you added the chemicals. This is the vicious circle. If the shit actually worked, the chemical companies would make a tiny fraction of the money that they do, because people put that shit on year after year with the same results, more weeds, unhealthy soil and struggling grass.


The plants themselves will accumulate the needed nutrients in the topsoil over time, as nature designed them to do so. It you want a pure grass lawn, do what paul suggested, get your soil tested and amend it accordingly. But the best solution is to bring in organic topsoil or composted manure, and spread it each spring. Mow high and water only when the grass starts to turn brown. If you over-water, you leach the nutrients from the topsoil, resulting in decreased fertility. And if you mow the lawn too low and too excessively, the grasses spend all of their energy trying to regrow. This uses up their stored energy in their roots to the point where they begin to die back. But if you mow high, and do it less than four or five times a season, depending on the year, the grass should thrive.

The plants will flourish from the organic fertilizer (topsoil or compost), but like human civilizations, when you let them flourish, all of the sudden they disappear. This means, that over time they will do their work, and replenish what is missing from the soil. Then they bow out. The amendments and the new topsoil or compost will speed up this process considerably, to the point where you can satisfy the landowner within a couple of seasons.

Or you could enlighten the landowner on all the benefits of the medicinal plants that are growing in the lawn and all that they are doing for the grass. The yarrow and dandelions are accumulating nutrients in the topsoil and both are medicinal. The clover is fixing nitrogen which the grass needs, and the moss is making the lawn even more cushy under your feet. A pure grass meadow is not found in nature, but in order to get close, you need deep, healthy topsoil. Not poison in a bag that you buy at Ace.
 
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