There are as many visions of the perfect lawn as there are gardeners:
- A tiny lawn within a formal garden, providing a visual framework for the garden and guiding the visitor’s eye towards a prized flowerbed, shrub, garden sculpture, or vista.
- Wide expanses of Kentucky Bluegrass, perfectly manicured and without a single dandelion, sprig of clover, or bare spot.
- A “just good enough” lawn. A serviceable, low-maintenance lawn with a mix of grasses and the occasional weed or bare spot under a shady tree.
- An “eco-lawn”, one that uses a combination of grasses and herbaceous plants to resemble a bee-friendly cropped meadow.
The type of lawn that you can have is limited by your site, climate, imagination, and of course the money and energy you wish to invest in it.
As with many activities, careful planning and preparation are the keys to final success.
- How is the lawn going to be used? Is it for visual enjoyment only, an accent area, or are the kids going to play on it?
- The site must be prepared properly. It should be properly graded, drainage taken into account, smoothed, and the soil tested and amended as necessary.
- Select the grass or grass mix to be used based on considerations such as the expected lawn use, shade, water needs, appearance, texture, disease resistance, etc.
- In western Washington, seeding is best done in April or May. Seeding in the fall while the soil is still warm, but before the October rains come, may also work.
Lawn Grasses For Our Area
What Grass Seed Grows Well in Western Washington? The following suggestions from the WSU Extension Bulletin 0482 “Home Lawns” will help you decide.
To establish a lawn in western Washington, choose a combination of turf type tall fescue grasses and turf type perennial rye grasses. A mix that adds up to about 90% of these two grass seed types will grow well in either sun or light shade in western Washington. Turf type perennial ryegrass takes full sun and stands up to traffic. Turf type tall fescues are adapted to shadier locations. In combination, the mix works for a lawn in average light conditions. Mixes containing fine-leaved fescues or chewings fescues will also establish well. Fine-leaved fescues offer bright green color, and will take some shade, but do not take heavy use.
Many commonly-grown grass types from other areas of the United States will not thrive in western Washington’s cool, dry summer climate. Remember:
- AVOID mixes with high concentrations of Kentucky blue grasses.
- DO NOT PLANT Zoysia, bermuda, dichondra, centipede, carpetgrass, St. Augustine, or mondo grass.
- Buffalo grass isn’t suitable for western Washington, though it may thrive in eastern Washington.
The work doesn’t stop when the seeds are in the ground. Your lawn will require regular care and maintenance throughout its life to remain healthy and vigorous. If you are particular about its appearance, your maintenance cost and effort may be high, but the result will make your yard the envy of the neighborhood. If you find that you can live with a few weeds and rough spots, your maintenance will be far less, and you will have more time to romp with the kids on the grass. The list below mentions some of the maintenance activities commonly seen with a lawn:
- Dealing with weeds, pests and diseases.
- De-thatching (removing the buildup of dead surface material).
- Aeration (providing oxygen to the roots and soil).
- Eventual renovation.
Consider “grasscycling”, or leaving the clippings on the lawn, when you mow. Your work will not only be reduced, but the grass clippings will return nutrients to the lawn and reduce the need for additional fertilizer. Your lawn, sore back, and local landfill will thank you!
Fertilizing Your Lawn
The following article on lawn fertilization is by Don Tapio, retired, WSU Agriculture and Horticultural Agent. This article was found in the Grays Harbor County Extension Quarterly Newsletter for March-May, 2008.
After years of struggling to remember exactly when lawn fertilizer should be applied, WSU Extension turfgrass scientists have come to the rescue of lawn aficionados throughout western Washington. According to Dr. Gwen Stahnke, one of WSU’s turfgrass scientists, it works out that the correct time to fertilize the lawn just happens to coincide with four important holidays: Easter, Memorial Day, Labor Day and Thanksgiving. Fertilizing within a week of these dates will keep turf healthy which at the same time, helps reduce damage from feeding by European Crane fly and helps to reduce moss invasion. If you have been fertilizing your lawn and returning clippings, you can most likely back off on at least one of your spring applications due to the nutrients you are putting into the soil via the decomposition of the clippings. If your lawn is over 20 years old, you may be able to reduce the fertilizer applied even more.
Years of research conducted by both Dr. Stahnke and Dr. Eric Miltner at WSU’s Puyallup research station continues to validate that using fertilizer with at least 50% of it in a slow-release form gives the best return when it comes to turfgrass vigor. Stahnke is quick to add that the most accurate way to determine if your turf may be lacking in nutrients is to take a soil test. Nutrients like calcium, phosphorus and potassium are frequently deficient in soils west of the Cascades. The soil pH for turfgrasses should be slightly acidic (somewhere between 5.5 and 6.0), in order to limit disease development during our wet months. Sulfur within the fertilizers applied can help keep the pH in this range.
Just like anything else, too much of any one thing is not good and a balanced fertilizer is needed. Homeowners should use a complete fertilizer with a 3-1-2 ratio (N-P-K) on established lawns, to supplement any lacking phosphorus and potassium. Often sold as a 15-5-10 or a 12-4-8, the fertilizer should be applied at a rate which is equal to approximately one pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet of turf. (If you are using 15-5-10 for example, you would need to apply approximately 6.5 pounds of the actual fertilizer product per 1000 square feet in order to get one pound of actual nitrogen.)
Organic turf fertilizers release nutrients slowly, and are most effective when used during the warm season (Memorial Day and Labor Day applications). Most organic fertilizers contain more P than needed by turf, and continued application could lead to excess P in the soil.
No matter what type of product you apply, make sure that if any granules of product end up on an impervious surface such as a driveway, sidewalk or street, that you sweep it back into the grass or landscape so that the granule is not directly washed into the surface water if it rains or the lawn is irrigated.
A “Weed and Feed” Caution
Various manufacturers have products on the market, generically called “weed and feed” products, which combine lawn fertilizers with a broadleaf weed herbicide (often 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, also known as 2,4-D). These products work well on the target weeds, but the herbicide component may also damage or kill trees and shrubs whose roots project out under the lawn being treated.
A healthy, dense lawn or garden, maintained with minimal application of fertilizer and chemicals, is the best way to avoid and crowd out weeds. If you decide to treat your lawn with this type of product, monitor the surrounding vegetation closely for any signs of injury, such as twisted stems and leaves. When using any pesticide, read the entire label carefully and follow all directions exactly.
The links below have more information on lawns and lawn care.
Home Lawns. WSU Extension Bulletin EB0482. A detailed guide to home lawns in Washington State.
Plant & Insect Diagnostic Laboratory, WSU Puyallup Research and Extension Center:
- Frequently Asked Questions About Lawns.
- Water Conservation Techniques for Established Home Lawns West of the Cascades. WSU Puyallup PLS 115.
WSU Turfgrass Science. WSU Puyallup Turfgrass Science program. Topics include golf courses, athletic fields, lawn care, turfgrass diseases, European Crane fly, turfgrass weeds, turfgrass fertility, turfgrass cultivation evaluations, turfgrass irrigation, mowing practices, turfgrass integrated pest management, and other environmentally related issues.