Spring and Fall . . . the best seasons to be adding to our landscapes. When thinking of altering your home’s landscape, remember the 60% rule. It dictates the perfect balance between plants and the inanimate objects in your yard. It specifies that 60% of an outdoor property should be comprised of living breathing plants. This percentage of plants is an excellent design guide. Too many plants and your home could look like it’s set in a jungle; with too few plants the house will be standing in what’s called the Arizona Lunar Effect.
Without enough plants you risk imitating the Mac-mansion on top of the hill in a horror film; the buildings starkly protrude into the barren landscape, hard and unnatural. This is the cold, dark feeling projected on a neighborhood from a landscape lacking basic foundational plantings and proper tree placement. As landscape plants reach the 60% mark the property’s architectural elements appear more like the warm, inviting home we all long to have.
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Labor Day is the start of the fall planting season, and it continues until the last tree is robed in its glorious November color. During this period growing conditions are so ideal that it is the best time to start new lawns or overseed old ones. This is the season when seeds germinate in days and roots send down vigorous new hairs deep into the soil. Partner pleasant temperatures with an active monsoon pattern and we have the perfect growing conditions to add patches of green to our yards.
Some things to remember when installing a new lawn:
You should only be considering two types of fall- planted lawns at this altitude. The old time favorite is the “Prescott Mix’, a perennial rye and blue grass blend. This is the one you see on the covers of magazines. The rich green color is soft to look at and even softer under foot.
The second type of grass is fescue. This is the tougher of the two lawns. The blades are just a touch wider than those of the Prescott Mix, but still are soft and have that nice clean look after mowing. A fescue lawn is deep rooted and takes 30% less water that a rye or a bluegrass. It also stands up to much more traffic and abuse than the others. This is the main reason I have chosen a fescue lawn for my own home. With four children and even more dogs playing outside on the lawn, I have needed a really tough grass. There are no weeds in my yard, and I usually water only twice a week even in the hottest of June days.
Whether you install a lawn by seed or sod, it’s all about the preparation of the soil. The biggest mistake I find people make with sod and seed is that they roll out the sod or throw the seed down on virgin soil that has never been worked. They actually expect it to turn into a beautiful lawn, but it doesn't work that way. As a result, Garden Centers make lots of money on products designed to correct the symptoms of this type of lawn installation. Do it right to begin with and you’ll have fewer problems and less expense.
Pick the spot for your lawn, then remove the rocks and kill the weeds in that area. Add about 2” of mulch to the soil and till to a depth of 6 inches. Remove the large clods and level any irregularities in the grade. Settle the area with a roller or a heavy application of water. Don’t put the grass down on fluffy soil or you will end up with an uneven rolling lawn.
Rake or scarify the surface to form a loose seedbed that is ¼ ” to ½ “ deep. You are now ready to roll out the sod or spread the seed with a spreader. Figure on spreading 6-8 pounds of seed per 1000sq.ft. of lawn. Use a spreader to distribute the seed; don’t spread it by hand or you will end up with clumps of seed instead of a nice even seedbed. Following the seeding, rake the surface lightly to cover most of the seeds with soil.
Spread ‘New Lawn Starter’ seedling food on top of the seedbed or sod. This granular grass food promotes deeper roots and more of them. Roll the entire surface to press the soil around the seed or apply another heavy application of water. Cover the seed with a light layer, about 1/4” deep, of organic mulch. This will regulate moisture and temperature and, most importantly, keep the birds from finding the seed.
Keep the area evenly moist until the lawn is established. You’ll start to see green emerge from the soil in about 7-10 days. Begin mowing when the grass is 1½ inches tall.
For the exact steps to the perfect lawn ask for my “Starting the Perfect Lawn” instructional guide to local grasses. It contains visual 1-2-3 steps to the perfect mountain lawn.
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Remember – This is the time to save on plants for your landscape. Most Garden Centers use Labor Day to begin their fall sales. It will be easy to find bargains at garden centers during the next couple of weeks.
Until next week, I’ll see you in the Garden Center.
Until next week, I'll see you in the Garden Center.
Ken Lain, who says, "my personal mission is to help local homeowners garden better in our mountain landscapes," is the owner of Watters Garden Center at 1815 Iron Springs Road in Prescott. Lain is also a master gardener and certified nursery professional who has gardened extensively throughout the mountains of Arizona, and the host of "Mountain Gardener" a weekly radio show found every Saturday from 11-12 noom on KQNA 1130AM and 99.9FM.