Grass – Clay County Master Gardeners

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By: Eleanor Moyer, Extension Master Gardener℠ Volunteer of Clay County

There are many opinions about lawns. Some think too many resources are required for upkeep when the space could be put to better use, say wild flowers or food crops. There is much to agree with that outlook, but I think there are other considerations. A lawn opens up space to contemplate and view our magnificent environment. It provides a place for play and picnics and pets and puttering among flower beds. I think a good balance can be reached. I have seen some magnificent turf lawns in Clay County as well as fields of mowed green stuff, and regardless of type all will benefit from care now.

Deborah Hunter of Macon County Co-operative Extension has a good rule of thumb for remembering when to fertilize cool season grasses–Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Valentines Day. Applying fertilizer at these times allows the plant to store food in the stems and roots and prevents browning during the summer. Generally speaking, grass needs 1 lb. of nitrogen per 1000 sq. ft. It is always recommended that you get a soil sample first and kits are available from our Extension office. If you do not take this important step follow the general rule. Then some math is involved! First, know the approximate size of lawn. There are 43,560 square feet in an acre which may help you estimate. Look at the three numbers on the fertilizer bag. Divide 100 by the first number. So a 16-4-8 bag requires 6.25 lbs of fertilizer to deliver 1 lb. of nitrogen per 1000 sq. ft.–that is 100 divided by 16. Another general rule is to lime your soil every few years. Most of our county soil is acidic (again, a soil test will accurately determine this). Applying lime in the winter gives it time to work into the soil which is aided by alternate freezing and thawing. A Clay County native gardener assured me that applying lime will deter broad leafed weeds and encourage finer bladed specimens into my mowed green stuff, so a new spreader is on my shopping list!

There is more to grass than lawns however and this is the season for ornamental grasses to showoff! They offer an architectural element to garden beds and as they sway in the wind, add movement and sound. Most ornamental grasses are easy to grow, low maintenance, and long lived. Naturally that spells problems as their excellence has led to invasiveness. Luckily, there are lists online provided by NC Extension and others to help determine whether to choose a particular variety. Here are two species that might be welcome in your garden. Bluestem ‘Smoke Signal’ is a cultivar of the native species with blue-green stems that turn deep red-purple and offer a handsome vertical interest. I fell in love with Lagurus ovatus ‘Bunny Tails’ in a horticultural garden in Massachusetts. It develops stems of furry bunny tails that can be used in dried arrangements or left to provide interest in the winter garden. So hop on over to your computer or garden center for more ideas!