Monday, October 11, 2010

Backyard redo: crossing fingers for grass

Back in April I was all excited about our outdoor spaces. Although our moderately sized townhouse gives us some outdoor space, it gives us only what I think we need: a nice deck, a cute-enough front yard with some plants and a tree, and a backyard that seems easy to deal with. Scratch that last one. In my experience as a child and now adult, backyards are a pain. When we moved into our townhouse, our little 18'x12' backyard was mostly mud. Some grass managed to grow, and I planted a successful herb garden.

Every spring or summer I kept trying to get more grass to grow, but I was going about it all the wrong way. With diminishing grass, our yard would get more and more muddy, and people and dogs would track more and more dirt into our otherwise-clean house.

After several years of trying and failing, I felt a little stupid. What was I doing wrong? Not enough watering? No, got that one right. Not enough sun? No, we get plenty of sun from noon forward.

Here's the real answer: I was always planting grass at the wrong time of year. I would plant in April, watch pretty little green shoots spring up, only to wither away during harsh Virginia summers. All this time, I should have been planting between late August and mid-October. By doing so, our grass would have a chance to develop a root system in the fall rather than the spring/summer, increasing the likelihood of grass returning next year.

So, yesterday, armed with this knowledge and a sense of urgency (gotta plant TODAY!), Matt and I visited two local nurseries, spoke to several knowledgeable employees to double-check our research, got our supplies, and got to work. In 80-degree October weather, we prepared our backyard.

We bought:
Five bags of McGill All-Organic Compost. (We used four of the five bags at $6.49 each.)

One bag of grass seed ($9.88), one half-gallon of Betty's Azalea Ranch fertilizer ($8.88), one bag of Greenview Grass Seed Accelerator ($9.88) and one Scotts Handy Green II seed spreader ($12.98).

I was a little concerned when I heard the word fertilizer. The folks at Betty's Azalea Ranch, a reasonably priced nursery in the area, make their own fertilizer, and they have an agreement with our county's water authority stating that their fertilizer contains an exceptionally low salt content (salt is apparently the worst environmental offender in fertilizers). We've never used a fertilizer of any kind before, so maybe this will make a difference, but I'm not thrilled about the concept.

Similarly, the Greenview Grass Seed Accelerator at first screamed environmental hazard. Turns out, though, that this product, which also helps keep grass seed in place while preparing to germinate, is made of recycled newspapers. Although some people, including the landscaping service that maintains the common areas in our neighborhood, put down hay to help protect new grass seed, this is apparently not the best option, as weed particles from the hay increase the likelihood of more weeds taking root where you're hoping for grass.

Armed with knowledge and equipment, we got to work.

The backyard: before

Close-up on some muddy patches

Step 1: Matt trimmed the existing backyard grass. Yes, we use a Black and Decker Grass Hog instead of a lawnmower because our space is so tiny. Although I've read complaints about the Grass Hog, it seems like earlier models faced a recall whereas ours has worked perfectly for several years. Yes, it's electric, so we plug it in behind our house and have no difficulties with the product.

Step 2: We filled our wheelbarrow with the compost and together shoveled a half-inch layer of compost over the entire yard. We did this to help improve our backyard's soil quality and also to even out some patches where soil has eroded.

Step 3: I used half a bag of grass seed inside the Scotts Handy Green spreader and aimed for about 4-6 seeds per square inch of backyard space.

Step 4: Matt used one-third of the half-gallon jug of fertilizer inside the Scotts Handy Green spreader and lightly fertilized the space.
Step 5: We spread the Greenview Grass Seed Accelerator by hand over the entire backyard. We used one full bag, and it was the perfect amount.
I wore gloves; Matt did not.

Step 6: I watered the yard.

Step 7: Now, we wait and water some more.

Will this seed survive? I certainly hope so. It also looks like temperatures the next 10 days should be conducive to germination, so we'll cross our fingers and hope this time our scheduling works out.

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