How to Get the Perfect Lawn
Lawn care is even more crucial in the hot summer months.
The lawn: the stage for languid summer parties, a table for young lovers’ picnics, the field for touch football rivalries and the place where toddlers take their first tremulous steps. We love our lawns.
The Middle English word “launde” originally referred to a glade or opening in the woods. Some of the earliest lawns were the grasslands around castles. They were stretches of land kept clear of trees so watchful guards had a view of approaching visitors or enemies.
In the early days the lawn was a rural phenomenon, and only the wealthy had the time or money to cultivate a well-manicured lawn. For the rest of the people, if they were fortunate enough to have a small plot of land, it was used for drying laundry, gardening and raising chickens.
That began to change with the Industrial Age and the invention of the garden hose and the rotary lawn mower. Edwin Budding developed the first lawn mower in 1830, and by the 1890s the lawn mower was a fixture in the average person’s lawn care routine.
A key figure in bringing the lawn to the masses was Frederick Law Olmsted, the American father of landscape architecture. He planned New York City’s Central Park in the 1850s and designed suburbs in which each residential home sported a lawn.
The following is from an essay by Michael Pollan: “If any individual can be said to have invented the American lawn, it is ... Olmsted. In 1868, he received a commission to design Riverside, outside of Chicago, one of the first planned suburban communities in America. Olmsted’s design stipulated that each house be set back 30 feet from the road and it proscribed walls. … In Riverside, each owner would maintain one or two trees and a lawn that would flow seamlessly into his neighbors’, creating the impression that all lived together in a single park.”
The Garden Club of America also played its part in popularizing lawns. Through contests and other forms of publicity, it convinced homeowners that it was their civic duty to maintain a beautiful lawn. The club even stipulated that the appropriate type of lawn was “a plot with a single type of grass with no intruding weeds, kept mown at a height of an inch and a half, uniformly green, and neatly edged.”
The types of viable grass seed suited for Louisiana are warm-season grasses such as Bermuda, zoysia, Centipedegrass and St. Augustine.
“St. Augustine is a high-maintenance lawn; it’s dark-green and grows fast, so it needs to be mowed more often,” says LSU AgCenter horticulture agent J.B. Anders. “Centipede is low-maintenance; it’s not as green but grows slower.”
Summer lawn care is all about keeping one’s lawn healthy while temperatures soar and rainfall diminishes. Once temperatures get into the 80s and above, lawns will begin to struggle, growth will slow, color may fade and lawns will show signs of wear and tear as they are less able to recover from stress and traffic.
Lawns need at least 1 inch of water per week – and more when the heat is severe. Use a rain gauge or straight-sided can to keep track of the amount of water received from rainfall and irrigation. Water deeply and less frequently to encourage drought-tolerant roots. Don’t let your lawn go brown and dormant and then try to “water it back to life.” If your lawn goes dormant in summer, it should stay that way until fall.
In addition, raise your mower blade in the summer. Taller grass is more drought-tolerant, grows deeper roots and helps shade the earth to prevent weed seeds from germinating. Warm-season grasses should be mowed to 2 to 3 inches.
Mow regularly to prevent cutting more than one-third of the grass blade at a time. This keeps your grass healthier and prevents the clippings from smothering the grass; keep in mind, however, that mulching short grass clippings will help keep the moisture levels steady, so some mulching is a good thing.
Not everyone today is in favor of lawns: One-third of America’s water goes into the upkeep of lawns, and many see that as wasteful. The Xeriscape movement, started in response to the droughts of the 1970s, advocates using little water and encourages planting local, drought-tolerant species of grass and plants. More and more people are forgoing traditional lawns by using native flowers and low ground covers instead of grass. Homeowners can also cut back on grass in their landscapes by adding more shrubs, trees, patios, water features, decks and vegetable and herb gardens.
Today, U.S. homeowners spend $40 billion annually on lawn care, and the average homeowner will spend 25 hours per year on lawn care. That’s a lot of time and money. But for many of us, it is all worth it if for nothing else than the irresistible combination of freshly cut grass and bare feet on a hot summer day.