Expert Advice: Lawns

Sod, Lawn, and Dogs

Q. We recently sodded our yard. It looked beautiful. Our new puppy (now a year old) has turned it into mud. Does sod return each year? Should we just seed? Please help!

A. If your sod has been tramped into a muddy mess by your puppy, it's not likely to return. Or, if does return, it won't look very good. You may want to consider heavily overseeding the area with new grass seed in the early spring, and keeping the puppy in a contained area.

Dead Spots

Q. I live in Spokane, Washington. My lawn has been getting round spots and dying off in the center of the spots. The spots start out as circular, yellow spots and spread outward in a ring shape. As they spread, the center dies completely out to bare ground. They are not fairy rings. I tried some fungicide on some of the rings and it seemed to help, but most keep growing. When they are 12 to 15 inches in diameter, a different type of grass will start to grow in the center again. I have been told by one lawn company that they can spray for this problem, but it would take three to five sprays at $300 per spray. Do you have any suggestions?

A. There are a number of different diseases that develop that pattern in the lawn: yellow patch, necrotic ring spot, summer patch, and fusarium blight. I can't tell you exactly what you have without seeing it in person, but all of these diseases are fungus based. For immediate control, apply a systemic fungicide. Fertilize regularly to encourage the lawn to fill in. Reseed seriously affected areas. To prevent the disease, regular dethatching and core aeration help prevent necrotic ring spot. Avoid drought stress, and apply required amounts of fertilizer at regular intervals. During hot summer months, mow a little higher than in cool periods.

Growing Zoysia Grass

Q. Our dog has completely destroyed our yard. Someone had suggested that we buy the zoysia plugs, as it's a very tough grass and we need something that will hold up well. Where do you get them? When do you plant them and how long does it take before you have grass?

A. Zoysia grass is a tough grass, but it has its drawbacks, depending on where you live. In the North, it is very slow to green-up in the spring and looks like a brown welcome mat until the weather is really warm. It's also slow growing so starting it from seed takes time. Many folks sell "plugs" of zoysia that will fill in faster. Keep in mind that it's a living thing and if your dogs are digging up your regular lawn you will be no more successful with zoysia. In fact, they might enjoy pulling up the plugs. In my opinion, the only effective way to keep dogs from destroying your lawn and garden is to keep them kenneled when you are not around to keep watch on them. Dogs running loose in a backyard can destroy most anything you plant.

Lawn in the Shade

Q. I have a very shaded front yard. Grass refuses to grow in the shady areas. We have tried shade grass seed mix, fertilizer, and watering. The ground is pretty sandy and does not dry out well after a rain. Any suggestions to get it going?

A. If you've had no luck growing grass in this area, you should probably consider planting a shade-loving ground cover in the area, or just mulching the shady locations. I'm not sure where you live, but good shade lovers include ajuga, lamium, pachysandra, epimedium, lily-of-the-valley, ivy, hosta, and vinca minor. Any one of these plants (or a combination) will grow well in shady spots where turf fails. It also sounds like you should do some soil preparation. I would strongly suggest you add some organic matter (compost, rotted manure, topsoil, grass clippings) to the area before you plant.

Bermuda Grass on Clay

Q. I have lawn problems. 1. Compacted clay-like soil. 2. Various weeds trying to take over my bermuda grass. 3. I don't have a layer of thatch. 4. I have noticed a few areas where with little effort I can pull up on an area of grass and a large piece will pull up away from the ground as if it is freshly laid sod. It makes me believe that the roots are not growing deep into the hard compacted clay soil. I am planning on renting an aerator for the soil. I then plan to throw a little fresh topsoil down and then overseed. Does that sound like a good plan?

A. Unfortunately, a lot of people battle hard soil after the lawn is installed. It's a simple matter to till the soil before laying sod or planting. But it's not so easy to deal with once a lawn is established. First, aeration is a good thing for your lawn, and should be done at least once a year regardless of any problems as a routine maintenance practice. If you have compacted clay soil, this will definitely help. If you have severely compacted soil, you might even want to do it twice a year for a couple of years. The sod pulling up could be due to highly compacted soil. But be sure to check for grubs, which in severe cases can lead to the same symptom (lawn pulls up like a carpet). Another thing to look into is how well your water is penetrating. Make sure your irrigations are long enough for water to go all the way through the sod and into the soil below. If not, the grass won't grow roots into it. Regarding the weeds, you can use a pre-emergent (usually sold as a weed "preventer" or some similar thing) to keep grassy weeds like crabgrass from taking over. You can also use a spray to treat broadleaf weeds like dandelion, dollar weed, spurge, etc., without hurting the Bermuda grass. Finally, just having a thick dense lawn will keep out most weeds, so as your lawn improves, you may not need to rely on chemical treatments. Finally, you said that you don't have thatch. That is a good thing. Thatch is problematic, so be happy that's one problem you don't have to contend with. As your lawn gets healthier, it will start producing some thatch, but regular aeration helps reduce that. Bermuda is an aggressive spreader, so overseeding might not be that important. If you can improve conditions, then it will fill in on its own.

Grass for Northern California

Q. I live in Grass Valley, California, about 45 miles north of Sacramento. Our altitude here is 2,000 feet. I want to know what kind of grass I can plant for a nice lawn. I want it to look thick and dark green.

A. Try turf-type tall fescue. It's a good dark green, stays green all year, and is reasonably heat and drought tolerant, which is important in your area, because you have some pretty hot, dry summers out there.

Check with your local nursery or garden center for specific varieties they carry, and check the packages for the names of the varieties. Anything that includes varieties called K-31, Fawn, or Alta should be AVOIDED. These are basically just pasture grasses that will not give you a nice lawn, even though they're often sold as lawn seed.

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