Brown does not have to be the new green
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.
In place of a traditional lawn, this Winnipeg property is populated in wild daisies for
an enchanting, romantic look.