Gardening Articles

The Lawn: How To Make It And How To Take Care Of It

The owner of the average small home seldom goes to the expense of employing the professional gardener to do the work of lawn-making. Sometimes he cannot afford to do so. Sometimes skilled labor is not obtainable. The consequence is, in the majority of

cases, the lawn,--or what, by courtesy, is called by that name,--is a sort of evolution which is an improvement on the original conditions surrounding the home, but which never reaches a satisfactory stage. We see such lawns everywhere--rough, uneven, bare in spots, anything but attractive in a general way, and but little better than the yard which has been given no attention, were it not for the shrubs and plants that have been set out in them. The probabilities are that if you ask the owner of such a place why he has no lawn worth the name, he will give one or the other of the reasons I have made mention of above as his excuse for the existing condition of things about the home. If you ask him why he has not undertaken the work himself, he will most likely answer that he lacks the knowledge necessary to the making of a fine lawn, and rather than experiment with it he has chosen to let it alone. Now the fact is--lawn-making has nothing mysterious about it, as so many seem to think. It does not call for skilled labor. It need not be an expensive undertaking. Any man who owns a home that he desires to make the most of can make himself a lawn that will be quite as satisfactory, in nearly every instance, as the one made by the professional gardener--more so, in fact, since what we make for ourselves we appreciate much more than that which we hire made for us. The object of this paper is to assist home-makers in doing just this kind of work. I shall endeavor to make it so plain and practical that anyone so inclined can do all that needs doing in a satisfactory manner. It may not have that nicety of finish, when completed, that characterizes the work of the professional, but it will harmonize with its surroundings more perfectly, perhaps, and will afford us quite as much pleasure as the work of the expert. If the house has just been built, very likely everything about it is in a more or less chaotic condition. Odds and ends of lumber, mortar, brick, and all kinds of miscellaneous building material scattered all over the place, the ground uneven, treeless, shrubless, and utterly lacking in all the elements that go to make a place pleasing and attractive. Out of this chaos order must be evolved, and the evolution may be satisfactory in every way--if we only begin right. The first thing to do is to clear away all the rubbish that clutters up the place. Do not make the mistake of dumping bits of wood into hollows with the idea that you are making a good foundation for a lawn-surface. This wood will decay in a year or two, and there will be a depression there. Fill into the low places only such matter as will retain its original proportions, like brick and stone. Make kindling-wood of the rubbish from lumber, or burn it. Get rid of it in some way before you begin operations. What you want, at this stage of the proceedings, is a ground entirely free from anything that will interfere with grading the surface of it. If the lot upon which the house stands is a comparatively level one--or rather, was, before the house was built--it is generally easy to secure a slope from the house on all sides, by filling in about the building with the soil thrown up from the cellar or in making excavation for the walls. If no excavation of any kind has been made--and quite often, nowadays, foundation walls are built _on_ the ground instead of starting a foot or two below the surface,--a method never to be advised because of the risk of injury to the building from the action of frost in the soil,--it may be necessary to make the lot evenly level, unless one goes to the expense of filling in. A slight slope away from the house-walls is always desirable, as it adds vastly to the general effect. Enough soil to secure this slope will not cost a great deal, if it does not happen to be at hand, and one will never regret the outlay. If the ground is very uneven, it is well to have it ploughed, and afterward harrowed to pulverize the soil and secure a comparatively level surface. Do not be satisfied with one harrowing. Go over it again and again until not a lump or clod remains in it. The finer the soil is before seed is sown the better will be the sward you grow on it. If the surface of the yard is _not_ uneven, all the grading necessary can be done by spading up the soil to the depth of a foot, and then working it over thoroughly with, first, a heavy hoe to break apart the lumps, and then an iron rake to pulverize it. I say nothing about drainage because not one lot-owner in a hundred can be prevailed on to go to the trouble and expense of arranging for it. If I were to devote a dozen pages to this phase of the work, urging that it be given careful attention, my advice would be ignored. The matter of drainage frightens the home-maker out of undertaking the improvement of the yard, nine times out of ten, if you urge its importance upon him. If the location is a rather low one, however, it is a matter that ought not to be overlooked, but it is not so important if the lot is high enough for water to run off speedily after a shower. If any system of drainage _is_ arranged for, I would advise turning the work over to the professionals, who thoroughly understand what ought to be done and how to do it. This is a matter in which the amateur must work to a disadvantage when he undertakes to do it for himself. If there are hollows and depressions, fill them by levelling little hummocks which may be found on other parts of the ground, or by having soil drawn in from outside. In filling low places, beat the soil down solidly as you add it. Unless this is done--and done well--the soil you add will settle, after a little, and the result will be a depression--not as deep as the original one, of course, but still a depression that will make a low place that will be very noticeable. But by packing and pounding down the earth as you fill it in, it can be made as solid as the soil surrounding it, and in this way all present and future unevenness of the soil can be done away with. It is attention to such details as these that makes a success of the work, and I would urge upon the amateur lawn-maker the absolute necessity of working slowly and carefully, and slighting nothing. Undue haste and the lack of thoroughness will result in a slovenly job that you will be ashamed of, before it is done, and so disgusted with, on completion, that you will not feel like doing the work over again for fear another effort may be more unsatisfactory than the first one. Therefore do good work in every respect as you go along, and the work you do will be its own reward when done. It is impossible to put too much work on the soil. That is--you cannot make it too fine and mellow. The finer it is the finer the sward will be. A coarse, lumpy soil will always make an unsatisfactory lawn-surface. Most soils will need the addition of considerable manure, and poor ones will need a good deal. To secure a strong, luxuriant stand of grass it is very essential that it should be fed well. While grass will grow almost anywhere, it is only on rich soils that you see it in perfection, and the ideal lawn demands a sward as nearly perfect as possible. But I would not advise the use of barnyard manure, for this reason: It contains the seeds of the very weeds you must keep out of your lawn if you would have it what it ought to be,--weeds that will eventually ruin everything if not got rid of, like Dandelion, Burdock, and Thistle, to say nothing of the smaller plants that are harder to fight than those I have made mention of. We cannot be too careful in guarding against these trespassers which can be _kept_ out much easier than they can be put to rout after they have secured a foothold. Therefore I would urge the substitution of a commercial fertilizer for barnyard manure in every instance. Scatter it liberally over the soil as soon as spaded, or ploughed, and work it in with the harrow or the hoe or rake, when you are doing the work of pulverization. If you do not understand just what kind of fertilizer to make use of, tell the dealer as nearly as you can the nature of the soil you propose to use it on, and he will doubtless be able to supply you with the article you require. It is always safe to trust to the judgment of the man who knows just what a fertilizer will do, as to the kind and quantity to make use of. Soils differ so widely that it is not possible to advise a fertilizer that will give satisfaction everywhere. This being the case, I advise you to consult local authorities who understand the adaptation of fertilizers to soils before making a choice. April is a good month in which to seed the lawn. So is May, for that matter, but the sooner the grass gets a start the better, for early starting will put it in better condition to withstand the effects of midsummer heat because it will have more and stronger roots than later-sown grass can have by the time a demand is made upon its vitality. Sowing lawn-grass seed evenly is an undertaking that most amateurs fail in. The seed is light as chaff, and every puff of wind, no matter how light, will carry it far and wide. Choose a still day, if possible, for sowing, and cross-sow. That is--sow from north to south, and then from east to west. In this way you will probably be able to get the seed quite evenly distributed. Hold the hand close to the ground, filled with seed, and then, as you make a circular motion from right to left, and back again, let the seed slip from between your fingers as evenly as possible. A little experimenting along this line will enable you to do quite satisfactory work. You may use up a good deal of seed in experimenting, but that will not matter. One common mistake in lawn-making is to use too little seed. A thinly-seeded lawn will not give you a good sward the first season, but a thickly-seeded one will. In fact, it will have that velvety look which is one of the chief charms of any lawn, after its first mowing. I would advise you to tell the dealer of whom you purchase seed the size of your lot, and let him decide on the quantity of seed required to make a good job of it. In buying seed get only the very best on the market. But only of reliable dealers. By "reliable dealers" I mean such firms as have established a reputation for honesty and fair dealing all along the line. Such dealers have to live up to their reputations, and they will not work off upon you an inferior article as the dealer who has, as yet, no reputation to live up to may, and often does, charging you for it a price equal to, or beyond, that which the honest dealer would ask for his superior grade of seed. In order to have a fine sward it is absolutely necessary that you must have good seed. Cheap seed--and that means _poor_ seed, _always_--does not contain the varieties of grasses necessary to the making of a rich, deep, velvety sward, and it almost always _does_ contain the seeds of noxious weeds which will make your lawn a failure. Therefore patronize the dealers in whose honesty you have ample reason to have entire confidence, and buy the very best seed they have in stock. After sowing, roll the surface of the lawn to imbed the seed in the soil, and make the ground firm enough about it to retain sufficient moisture to insure germination. In three or four days the tiny blades ought to begin to show. In a week the surface will seem covered with a green mist, and in a fortnight's time you will be able to see, with a little exercise of the imagination, the kind of lawn you are going to have. If the season is a dry one it may be well to sprinkle the soil every day, after sundown. Use water liberally, and keep on doing so until rain comes or the plants have taken hold of the moister soil below with their delicate feeding-roots. I would not advise mowing until the grass is at least three inches high. Then clip lightly with a sharp-bladed mower. Just cut away the top of the grass. To mow close, while the grass is getting a start, is the worst thing you can do. When it begins to thicken up by stooling out, then, and not _till_ then, will you be warranted in setting the mower so that it will cut closely. But never _shear_ the sward, as some do. You will never have a turf like velvet if you do that. Let there be an inch and a half or two inches of the grass-blade left. The importance of having good tools to work with, in taking care of the lawn, ought not to be overlooked. A mower whose blades are dull will _tear_ the grass off, and make it look ragged, as if gnawed away by animals feeding on it, while the mower whose blades are of the proper sharpness will cut it as evenly and as neatly as if a razor had been applied to it. You cannot appreciate the difference until you have seen a specimen of each, and compared them. Some persons advocate raking the lawn after each mowing. Others advise leaving the clippings to act as a sort of mulch. If the clippings are allowed to remain, they wilt, and this will detract from the appearance of the sward for a short time, but by the next day they will not be noticeable. Raking as soon as mowed makes the lawn more immediately presentable. I have never been able to see any great deal of difference in the two methods, except as to appearance, therefore I would advise the lawn-owner to try both methods and adopt the one that pleases him most. If a rake is used, let it be one with blunt teeth that will not tear the sward. There is such a rake on the market, its teeth being made of bent wire. On no account use a sharp-toothed iron rake. That is sure to injure the sward. Be regular in your attention to the lawn. Do not let the grass get so tall that the mower will not do a good job in cutting it. This necessitates mowing at regular intervals. If you mow only once a week, I would advise the use of the rake, as long grass-clippings are always unsightly because they remain on top of the sward, while short clippings from frequent mowing sink into it, and are soon out of sight. In case the lawn is neglected for a week or more, once going over it with the mower will not make it very presentable. Mow, and then rake, and then go over it again, cutting _across_ the first swaths. The second cutting will result in an even surface, but it will not be as satisfactory as that secured by _regular_ mowings, at intervals of two or three days. It is a most excellent plan to scatter bonemeal over the surface of the lawn in midsummer, and again in fall. Use the fine meal, as the coarse article is not readily assimilated by the soil. There is little danger of using enough to injure the sward. Injury generally results from not using any. Many lawn-owners, with a mistaken idea of neatness, rake up the leaves that scatter themselves over the sward in fall, thus removing the protection that Nature has provided for the grass. Do not do this. Allow them to remain all winter. They will be entirely hidden by the snow, if any falls, and if there is none they are not unsightly, when you cease to think of them as litter. You will appreciate the difference between a fall-raked lawn and one on which leaves have been allowed to remain over winter, when spring comes. The lawn without protection will have a brown, scorched look, while the other will begin to show varying tints of green as soon as the snow melts. Grass is hardy, and requires no protection to prevent winter-killing, but a covering, though slight, saves enough of its vitality to make it well worth while to provide it. The ideal lawn is one in which no weeds are found. But I have never seen such a lawn, and never expect to. It is possible to keep weeds from showing much if one has a thick, fine sward, but keen eyes will discover them without much trouble. Regular and careful mowings will keep them within bounds, and when the leaves of large-foliaged plants like the Burdock and Thistle are not allowed to develop they do not do a great deal of harm except in the drain they make upon the soil. Generally, after repeated discouragements of their efforts to assert themselves, they pine away and finally disappear. But there will be others always coming to take their places, especially in the country, and their kindred growing in the pastures and by the roadside will ripen seed each season to be scattered broadcast by the wind. This being the case, the impossibility of entirely freeing a lawn from weeds by uprooting them or cutting them off will be readily apparent. One would have to spend all his time in warfare against them, on even a small lawn, if he were to set out to keep them from growing there. Therefore about all one can do to prevent large weeds from becoming unsightly is to constantly curb their aspirations by mowing them down as soon as they reach a given height. The Dandelion and the Plantain are probably the worst pests of all, because their seeds fill the air when they ripen, and settle here, there, and everywhere, and wherever they come in contact with the ground they germinate, and a colony of young plants establishes itself. Because the Burdock and Thistle attempt to develop an up-reaching top it is an easy matter to keep them down by mowing, but the Dandelion and Plantain hug the soil so closely that the mower slips over them without coming in contact with their crowns, and so they live on, and on, and spread by a multiplication of their roots until they often gain entire possession of the soil, in spots. When this happens, the best thing to do is to spade up the patch, and rake every weed-root out of it, and then reseed it. If this is done early in spring the newly-seeded place will not be noticeable by midsummer. We frequently see weed-killers advertised in the catalogues of the florist. Most, if not all, of them will do all that is claimed for them, but--they will do just as deadly work on the grass, if they get to it, as they do on the weed, therefore they are of no practical use, as it is impossible to apply them to weeds without their coming in contact with the sward. Ants often do great damage to the lawn by burrowing under the sward and throwing up great hummocks of loose soil, thus killing out large patches of grass where they come to the surface. It is a somewhat difficult matter to dislodge them, but it can sometimes be done by covering the places where they work with powdered borax to the depth of half an inch, and then applying water to carry it down into the soil. Repeat the operation if necessary. Florists advertise liquids which are claimed to do this work effectively, but I have had no occasion to test them, as the borax application has never failed to rout the ant on my lawn, and when I find a remedy that does its work well I depend upon it, rather than experiment with something of whose merits I know nothing. "Prove all things and hold fast to that which is good." Fighting the ant is an easier matter than exterminating weeds, as ant-hills are generally localized, and it is possible to get at them without injuring a large amount of sward as one cannot help doing when he applies liquids to weeds. The probabilities are, however, that ants cannot be entirely driven away from the lawn after they have taken possession of it. They will shift their quarters and begin again elsewhere. But you can keep them on the run by repeated applications of whatever proves obnoxious to them, and in this way you can prevent their doing a great deal of harm. To be successful in this you will have to be constantly on the lookout for them, and so prompt in the use of the weapons you employ against them that they are prevented from becoming thoroughly established in new quarters.

Next: Planting The Lawn

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