Brown does not have to be the new green

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - COLLEEN ZACHARIAS

I’M not a golfer but last month I watched the U.S. Open, hosted at Cham­bers Bay Golf Course, to see what all the fuss was about. Cham­bers Bay, a links-style course over­look­ing the Puget Sound, sports un­du­lat­ing fes­cue-cov­ered greens that are brown­ish yel­low. Com­bined with fair­ways and rough com­prised of straw-coloured fes­cue, the sen­ti­ment echoed by many fans and play­ers alike dur­ing the tour­na­ment was that it wasn’t a pretty sight. That same sen­ti­ment could ap­ply to home­owner’s lawns through­out North Amer­ica, some of which are in ju­ris­dic­tions with wa­ter use re­stric­tions or bans on cos­metic pes­ti­cide use, or both. Could these and other chal­lenges even­tu­ally in­flu­ence our per­cep­tion of the use of lawn in the ur­ban land­scape? Take a drive through any residential neigh­bour­hood in Win­nipeg and you will find most front yards in­clude lawn. Few of us are ready to em­brace brown as the new green. The aes­thetic ideal re­mains a lush green and weed­free lawn. How are the new pes­ti­cideuse reg­u­la­tions work­ing for you? From the looks of city boule­vards and neigh­bours’ yards, the bat­tle against weeds may seem lost. Or is it? David Hin­ton, pres­i­dent of Weed Man in Win­nipeg and Bran­don, says weeds are not the main cul­prit in a lawn that looks shabby. Even be­fore the new reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing pes­ti­cide use came into ef­fect ear­lier this year, Hin­ton’s com­pany has al­ways em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of good hor­ti­cul­tural prac­tices for main­tain­ing a beau­ti­ful lawn. Ac­cord­ing to Hin­ton, a thick, healthy and weed-free lawn de­pends on an over­all man­age­ment pro­gram in­cludes proper mow­ing, timely ir­ri­ga­tion, core aer­a­tion and fer­til­iza­tion. Hin­ton added com­pa­nies such as Weed Man are ba­si­cally down to one weed-con­trol prod­uct, called Fi­esta, for use on broad-leaf weeds in turf grass. How does Hin­ton rate Fi­esta’s per­for­mance? He said it doesn’t smell, and it also adds a small amount of iron to the lawn for a green­ing ef­fect. On the down­side, where pre­vi­ously avail­able prod­ucts needed to be ap­plied only once, Fi­esta re­quires two or three ap­pli­ca­tions re­sult­ing in an in­creased cost to the home­owner. Be­cause Fi­esta is iron-based, it kills the top growth of the weed, caus­ing leaves to blacken. There may also be a slight dark­en­ing in the area around the weed, although the grass re­cov­ers very quickly. The ra­tio of ap­pli­ca­tion is key, as too much will dam­age the grass and too lit­tle will fail to cause the weeds to shrivel and die. So whether you are do­ing it your­self or hir­ing a com­pany, treat­ing your weeds with only one ap­pli­ca­tion is a waste of your time and money. Glen Gusta, a third-gen­er­a­tion sod farmer and owner of Gusta Sod Farms near Stead, is a close ob­server of the im­pact on lawn us­age by re­stric­tions of wa­ter use and chem­i­cal pes­ti­cides in var­i­ous parts of North Amer­ica. A mem­ber of Tur­f­grass Pro­duc­ers In­ter­na­tional, an as­so­ci­a­tion rep­re­sent­ing the tur­f­grass sod in­dus­try, Gusta says seed pro­duc­ers are work­ing to de­velop new va­ri­eties of grasses that are deeper rooted and re­quire 40 to 50 per cent less wa­ter, al­low­ing them to stay greener dur­ing pe­ri­ods of drought. In ad­di­tion to breed­ing de­vel­op­ments, wa­ter-ef­fi­ciency prac­tices in­clude the har­vest­ing and re­use of rain­wa­ter on thirsty lawns are ac­tively pro­moted by the in­dus­try. Gusta Sod Farms is a non-ir­ri­gated op­er­a­tion that re­lies on Mother Na­ture for mois­ture. For­tu­nately, it’s lo­cated on the peat-rich south­east cor­ner of Lake Man­i­toba and ben­e­fits from the wet­ter con­di­tions preva­lent in the area. Gusta is ex­per­i­ment­ing with a cal­cium based soil sur­fac­tant that claims to im­prove wa­ter pen­e­tra­tion and soil struc­ture while re­tain­ing a dark green colour. The com­pany main­tains a test strip of turf which serves as a bench­mark and the area where the prod­uct has not been used is quick to brown and go into dor­mancy. Gusta is also ex­per­i­ment­ing with a va­ri­ety of grass ready for har­vest­ing by 2017 and is sup­posed to have a very thick canopy and greater salt tol­er­ance. Home­own­ers, though, love their Ken­tucky blue­grass, and Gusta main­tains a proper fer­til­ity and main­te­nance plan is key to chok­ing out weed seeds that may drift over to your lawn from a nearby neigh­bour’s lawn or a weed choked me­dian or boule­vard. “Weeds are less likely to pen­e­trate a thick healthy canopy of lawn be­cause they need soil in or­der to ger­mi­nate,” said Gusta. “Weeds, for ex­am­ple, may be abun­dant on a farmer’s field be­cause there is a greater amount of ex­posed soil.” Cut­ting your lawn short also pro­motes weed growth. Main­tain a sharp blade on your mower and mow lawn to a height of six to seven cen­time­tres. While newly in­stalled sod does not need to be de­thatched for the first few years, an older lawn ac­cu­mu­lates a layer of grass clip­pings or thatch at the soil sur­face. Mow­ing in­fre­quently can re­sult in an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of thatch. A thick layer im­pedes the flow of wa­ter and fer­til­izer to the lawn’s root sys­tem and while some of the thatch will even­tu­ally de­com­pose, it is some­times nec­es­sary to re­move it by dethatch­ing and aer­at­ing in the spring. Gusta rec­om­mends ap­ply­ing a ni­tro­gen and iron-based fer­til­izer to the lawn in early spring, late June, and in fall af­ter the first frost. He rec­om­mends a for­mu­la­tion of 30-0-3 with two per cent iron. “Iron helps to boost the chloro­phyll in grass cre­at­ing a dark green colour,” said Gusta, who adds the most crit­i­cal time to fer­til­ize is in the fall. He stresses the im­por­tance of wa­ter­ing grass thor­oughly so the nu­tri­ents are ab­sorbed into the plant’s roots for use in the spring. Does all of this sound like too much work? Paul Van Gils, owner of Van Gils Land­scape De­sign and Con­struc­tion, says the pre­dom­i­nant trend in the ur­ban land­scape to­wards low-main­te­nance de­sign does not ex­clude lawn. How­ever, lawn is more likely than ever to share space in the land­scape with other fea­tures such as mas­sive boul­ders and con­toured beds. Re­cently Van Gils com­pleted a ren­o­va­tion of Bill and Merle Dent’s prop­erty in Bridge­wa­ter For­est. When the Dents pur­chased the prop­erty seven years ago, their pre­vi­ous land­scaper in­stalled new sod. Se­ri­ous vole dam­age and nu­mer­ous de­pres­sions in the lawn led to the de­ci­sion to re­place all of the sod this year. In the front yard the lawn now serves as mostly dec­o­ra­tive filler di­rectly in front of the public side­walk, high­light­ing the many other fea­tures of the land­scape. With a gen­er­ous walk­way run­ning down the mid­dle of the prop­erty, berms di­rectly in front of the porch add in­ter­est and height to the land­scape. The nearly sym­met­ri­cal plant­ing scheme on each berm in­cludes gor­geous In­cred­iball hy­drangeas with creamy mop­head blooms and bur­gundy coloured bar­berry shrubs as well as var­ie­gated hostas, a mugho pine and or­na­men­tal grass. Mas­sive black gran­ite boul­ders pro­vide a dy­namic ac­cent. The prop­erty over­all is 61 me­ters deep. The large backyard over­looks a re­ten­tion pond and is bor­dered by a mix of con­toured beds, re­tain­ing walls and pa­tio ar­eas. Lawn makes up the cen­ter por­tion of the land­scape. This at­trac­tive land­scape has been made all the more at­trac­tive with the in­stal­la­tion of qual­ity sod on an ap­pro­pri­ately pre­pared base of top­soil. There are al­ter­na­tives of course to tra­di­tional lawn. April John­ston-Ul­rich planted a few wild daisies along her drive­way a few years ago on her prop­erty lo­cated in Armstrong Point. Each year the self-seed­ing daisies be­gan to drift fur­ther into her green space. Ul­rich-John­ston col­lected the seeds from the daisies each fall, dis­tribut­ing them in the spring to other ar­eas in the land­scape. The en­chant­ing re­sult looks like some­thing straight out of a fairy tale. Nearby another home­owner has planted Eco-Lawn, a blend of seven fine fes­cue grass seeds. Un­like the brown fes­cue at Cham­bers Bay Golf Course, the colour of Eco-Lawn is green although it does rely on some mois­ture in or­der to main­tain a rich green colour. Paul Jenk­ins, co-owner of Wild­flower Farm which de­vel­oped EcoLawn in the 1990s, has found a strong mar­ket in drought-stricken Cal­i­for­nia for his prod­uct. Eco-Lawn’s thin blade and root sys­tem ex­tends 22 to 35 cm deep, re­sult­ing in a re­duced need for wa­ter. It is slow-grow­ing and drought­tol­er­ant. It can be left un­mowed although should be mowed twice dur­ing the grow­ing sea­son, start­ing in late spring and again in late fall. Visit www.wild­flow­er­farm.com for more de­tails.

COLLEEN ZACHARIAS

In place of a tra­di­tional lawn, this Win­nipeg prop­erty is pop­u­lated in wild daisies for

an en­chant­ing, ro­man­tic look.

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