Margaret Lauterbach

Snow is still here, but it’s not too early to be thinking about your lawn

How is your lawn doing? In this area, we usually resume mowing lawns in April, so it’s a good idea to assess the condition of your lawn now. If there are more weeds than grass, perhaps it’s time to regrow lawn or plant a ground cover that’s less thirsty than lawn grasses. A lawn should be replaced, if necessary, before hot weather arrives.

If you’re in a suburb with covenants covering lawns or HOA restrictions, you’ll either have to follow those restrictions or go to court and prevail. The speed with which farm fields are being taken over by subdivisions makes some of us wonder where food of the future will come from. I suspect restrictions on growing food in front yards will be temporary, until judges refuse to support them. The public good has eliminated other restrictions. All of our natural food that doesn’t come from the seas comes from the land, so in some areas of the country, front yards are being used to grow food crops instead of lawns. Until that time comes here, we all have lawns to cope with.

Some men pride themselves on having dandelion-free lawns, but they’d reduce the stress in their lives if they’d learn to love dandelions or at least tolerate them. Dandelions bloom early, and very few other plants blossom that early, so dandelions are appreciated by bees in search of breaking their winter fast.

If your lawn is in sufficiently bad shape you decide to replace it, should you use sod, or seed or hydroseed? Seed can be much cheaper than sod, and it’s available in more varieties than sod. It’s also cheaper than hydroseed, but it can be difficult to keep the seed moist enough to germinate, especially if the weather turns hot. Also, how do you keep birds from feasting on that rather costly seed?

Hydroseeding helps avoid bird consumption of seeds, but it also will have to be watered until seeds germinate. Cost may be less than 20 cents per square foot, but you may be able to seed over your existing lawn. Just mow it very short before hydroseeding. After the first day of application, you’ll have to water at least daily for 10 days or longer for grass seeds to germinate and take hold in soil.

We have local growers of sod here, through whom you can also hire professional installers if you like. Sod is very heavy, over 30 pounds per section, so if you have back or knee problems, at least hire a professional to lay it for you. Search you computer for lawn installation businesses near Boise. There’s a list under the Better Business Bureau of companies that do just that.

Roots of grasses in sod have been severed, so they’re not tolerable of dry spells yet. They’ll need to be regularly watered in a way that encourages deep rooting. If you’re in a new or recently built house, the topsoil may have been scalped off. This soil, formerly subsoil, is tougher, contains fewer nutrients, and may cause grass roots some delay in being able to grow deeper in soil. Usually the way to encourage lawn’s deep roots is to water infrequently but deeply. After sod roots have attached to soil and begun to develop deeper roots, this would work.

For most lawns if you don’t use a mulching mower and leave cuttings on the lawn (to rot, thus fertilizing the grass), you’re generally advised in this area to fertilize three times a year: once in spring, with one quarter of the lawn’s annual fertilizer needs before the weather turns hot; again in September with one quarter of the annual fertilizer need; and then in November, the remaining one-half of that annual fertilizer requirement. Lawn grasses tiller (produce side shoots) in late November-December, although grasses look dead then.

We fertilize our back lawn with corn gluten meal (cgm) when forsythia blooms to prevent crabgrass from setting root. Our vegetable garden lies beyond our back lawn, and it contains a lot of crabgrass in paths, so seeds stick to shoes, dogs and my electric scooter, before we travel back across the lawn to the house. We’ve been using cgm here for many years and have no crabgrass in that lawn. Cgm does not prevent dandelions or any other taprooted plant. It does contain nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, so it doubles as fertilizer.

If your lawn doesn’t need to be replaced, mowing at a height of 3 inches from early to late in the season shades the soil just enough to prevent weed seeds from intruding and germinating.

▪  NEON (North End Organic Nursery) offers a free class on container gardening Monday, Feb. 25, at 5 p.m. Call 208-389-4769 to register, or see if class is full.

Send garden questions to or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.