There are some folk who don't see the gem inside my rough exterior who might consider me a hot head. To which I say a hearty "bite me". But let this opinion be a caution that within this blog may lurk items of a venting nature or perhaps those which might be considered a rant. So be it. Proceed with caution. You have been warned.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Grass wars

Spring has arrived in Iowa in it's usual abrupt way. Furnace running full blast one day, 90 degree temperatures the next. Each year when this precursor to a summer of devastating soul sucking heat and humidity arrives the wife and I start our annual attempt to grow grass.

Ten years ago when we bought our house our feelings were "Wow - look at the huge oak trees in the front and back yard". Now it is more like "These damn oak trees!" The trees in question are huge pin oaks probably in the neighborhood of eighty plus years old in excess of 6 feet in diameter and fifty feet tall. The trees are so large that when you view our address on Google Earth pictures taken in summer show our entire yard, parts of the house and parts of neighbors' yards completely obscured by foliage. They look impressive when leafed out as they were when we bought the place, but during the year they drop amazing amounts of dead wood during windy conditions - limbs ranging in size from the thickness of a thumb to that of my thigh; carpet our driveway, lawn and sidewalk with a solid layer of acorns in the fall; and drop leaves for two months that amount to at least forty-five thirty gallon bags full mulched and tamped down. And in addition to providing us with a year round opportunity for yard clean up they inhibit the grass.

One of the first things we noticed when we moved in was that the lawn both front and back had bare patches ranging in size from three inches to two feet in diameter. The lady next door told us the prior owners had used a lawn service but had always had the problem. Thus began a ten year battle to grow grass where grass will not grow. At first I believed as others may that the trees were taking all the nutrients and water so lots of fertilizer and regular watering were applied to no avail.

Over the years we subsequently have tried:

Seasonal application of weed and feed type fertilizers: These seem to inhibit dandelions but let Creeping Charlie, Virginia Creeper and crabgrass run wild. As to the "feed" part, there has been no discernible affect on the grass.

Zoysia Grass: This comes in "plugs" which you space at one foot intervals over bare patches. It grows only in places where there is full blinding sunlight at least nine hours a day with no hint of shade. In the fall it turns yellow and remains yellow until well into late spring when it finally turns green. To be fair, where it will grow it grows thick and lush. We now have a patch approximately two feet by three feet in the extreme south east corner of our front lawn after an attempt at four hundred square feet of coverage nine years ago.

Conventional sun/shade grass seed mix: Yeah, I know we have no sun - we hoped the shade part would work out. Raked in and watered religiously it sprouted sparsely to a height of about one inch and promptly died. Didn't even get to mow it once. We actually tried this three times varying the time of planting, the amount of mulching and depth of planting. We learn hard.

Bugle weed: ground cover specifically for shady areas. Hoping this would just take over and we could forget grass. Bought enough plants last year to cover a one hundred square foot area. This spring not a single plant survived.

Canadian "miracle grass": guaranteed to grow in shade or sun - will germinate in five days. It did indeed germinate in five days and then died off in three weeks.

This spring is our last hurrah. After a winter of research we bought seed consisting mainly of fescues (supposedly the ultimate shade grasses). Fescues aren't for high traffic areas but most of the traffic in the back yard is sporadic and largely composed of small dachshund paws. Right now, seeding after tilling manure and compost into around two hundred square feet of test area we have a pretty fair stand of grass around two inches tall. However in the seeded areas there are still patches from two to four inches in diameter where the seed did not germinate. If this planting survives, next spring the remaining problem areas get the same treatment, but pardon me if I'm skeptical. If, on the other hand it fails like all the rest I wonder how hard it will be to convince the wife that green asphalt is a good idea?