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How to Get a Lush Lawn

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Well, American homes boast more than 30 million acres of lawns, which will play host to countless barbecues, picnics and Frisbee games in the coming months.

    TOM: And with proper care, your lawn can look great all summer long, despite endless hours of barefoot traffic and blazing sun. To find out how to do just that, we welcome This Old House landscaping expert, Roger Cook, with tips to make sure the grass stays green before, during and after the summer rush.

    Hey, Roger. Welcome to the program.

    ROGER: Great to be here.

    TOM: Now, a lush, green lawn just adds tons of curb appeal, doesn’t it?

    ROGER: Curb appeal and just feeling good about your house.

    LESLIE: It certainly is a sense of pride.

    TOM: Absolutely. But I mean we’ve had summers where we’ve had drought and we’ve had all kinds of issues that really affect – it seems like your lawn is constantly under battle, not only from nature but also from the foot traffic. So what’s the best way to make sure you always have a lush lawn?

    ROGER: The most important thing you can do is a soil test on your lawn, because that is going to tell you what’s happening with the lawn, what you need to add and in what proportion.

    TOM: Now, is that something you have to do more than once? Do the conditions change over the years?

    ROGER: They change but usually if you do it once every two or three years, you’ll be on top of what’s happening.

    LESLIE: Now, do they change because of things that you’re putting into the soil or is that just a natural process?

    ROGER: Natural process and what you’re putting in. You want to make sure that everything’s in balance and some of that’s from the natural ingredients in the soil and some from the stuff that you’re introducing.

    TOM: Now, let’s talk about fertilization, because that’s something that sometimes it almost feels like you have to be a chemist to get right. Are there easy ways to figure out what fertilizer you need?

    ROGER: There’s a certain amount of nitrogen that your lawn needs to grow properly and that’s 3 to 4 pounds per growing season.

    TOM: OK.

    ROGER: The biggest problem we have is we put too much nitrogen on and we force that lawn to grow very, very quickly. In the spring, the lawn is going to green up and grow, so you don’t need an early application. If you do your first application mid-spring, that’ll keep you going.

    You know what it’s like, Tom. You go to cut the lawn and it’s 6 inches long?

    TOM: Yep.

    ROGER: We don’t want to do that.

    TOM: No, we don’t.

    ROGER: We want it to grow at a moderate pace.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Now, what about other things? I’ve always heard that calcium – the content – is really sort of important to the weed growth. Is there a way to sort of keep that in balance to minimize our weeds?

    ROGER: It’ll show up in your test that you get and they know that about 90 percent of the weeds can be controlled by the amount of calcium in your soil.

    TOM: Now, are there additives that you want to put on the lawn every year, like organic matter or compost, that sort of thing? Is it important to add that every year, even after your lawn seems to established?

    ROGER: Depends on the texture of the soil and that comes from your soil test. Is there something bad about adding too much compost to the soil? Not that I know of. But what we do is we will actually aerate the soil and then put the compost on, so it goes down 2 or 3 or 4 inches into the ground.

    TOM: Now, that’s a good point. You talked about aeration and how often do you have to do that? Is that where the landscaper comes through with a machine that sort of drills little holes in the lawn?

    ROGER: Exactly. And I would do that once a year. There’s no chemicals involved; there’s simply a physical operation. You can rent the machines to do it yourself.

    TOM: OK.

    ROGER: It doesn’t take very long to do so the best bet is to split it with a neighbor or two or three neighbors and lower the cost.

    TOM: Now, that’s a really good point. Everybody toss a little money in the lawn-care basket and you can go out and get a bunch of lawns done at once.

    ROGER: We’ll have an aeration party.

    TOM: Yeah.

    LESLIE: But you have to divide the work evenly. One neighbor is not doing everybody’s property, correct?

    ROGER: I don’t know. Sometimes, I get conned into doing everyone’s property.

    LESLIE: Well, I can imagine; it’s what you do for a living. It’s why our neighbors ask us all sorts of home improvement questions.

    So, Roger, what happens if the summer season brings a lack of rain and you find that there’s a drought? How do you keep the lawn in good shape?

    ROGER: Yeah, we run into that situation where towns put on mandatory water bans and that’s no outside watering at all. So you can’t water the lawn? It goes dormant and that’s when – its way of making it through the drought season.

    In the fall, when it gets cool or moisture comes, the lawn will green up and grow again. But don’t try to water the lawn and bring it out of dormancy; let it come out naturally. But the biggest thing is to stay off the lawn when it’s in that dormant state, because you can really do damage to the lawn.

    TOM: Great advice. Roger Cook from TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    ROGER: Good to be here. Thanks for having me.

    TOM: And for more tips just like that, you can visit ThisOldHouse.com.

    LESLIE: And you can watch Roger and the entire This Old House team on This Old House and Ask This Old House on your local PBS station.

    TOM: And Ask This Old House is brought to you by the National Association of Realtors.

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