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How To Make A Lawn

( Originally Published 1906 )

Ground preparation—Starting work ahead of the builders—Uncomfortable newness—The bugbear of inert soil—Making new soil—Barnyard manure and humus—Lime—Bad soil vs. bad seed—Difficulty of reconstruction—Clearing—Ploughing—Harrowing—Corn or potatoes as a previous crop—Cowpeas—Final Enrichment—Weeds.

Much is gained by deciding upon the site for the lawn and completing the preliminary steps for its preparation well in advance of the time that building operations are commenced. Indeed, the aim should be to lay out the lawn, roughly as to outline but complete as to the preparation of the soil, a year before the building contractors arrive. Unfortunately this is usually an impossible course, and though it may be followed out occasionally on large estates, where very often there is a great deal of general construction work to be carried out in fitting the whole for human habitation, yet it is so rarely a practical possibility in connection with smaller plots as to be unworthy of consideration now.

At the same time, even though one may not be able to make complete lawns before the house is built, it is very often perfectly practicable to make the larger lawn areas before the house is built—a piece of foresight that will go far toward giving a comfortable setting and homelike atmosphere to the new dwelling. The appearance of newness is always disturbing, and so long as heavy construction work is being done around the home, there is a feeling of unrest that is disturbing to one's piece of mind.

Within the immediate vicinity of the building it is not so easy to preserve intact the lawn that was made before the building was begun. There are excavations for the foundation of the house and for the cellar space, and the carting in of bricks, lumber, other construction material, a majority of which will be dumped down or piled up very near to the place where building is going on so that they may be handled with the least expenditure of labour.

I have seen the lawn laid two years in advance and that too on a suburban lot. The ground space which was to be utilized by the builders was boarded over temporarily and although the grass was lost for a season, the labour of repairing was very little. The surface merely had to be lightly scarified, fine surface soil scattered over it, and grass seed distributed. By the middle of the season after this was done there was very little trace of there ever having been any damage at all.

Naturally when this course is followed all the refuse matter and debris from the building has to be carefully carted away and disposed of according to the most convenient method. This involves an amount of labour, however, that is not usually counted upon in making an estimate for the foundations and cellar of the house.

Yet it would be a mighty good thing if it were always understood that the excavated earth be removed entirely or filled in at some point where it could be properly covered with fertile top soil in due course. Too often this inert, hard soil, which has never been brought under cultivation (and which in the ordinary course of events will take several years of close cultivation before it could be considered a good soil), is simply scattered around, generally as near the house as possible, burying completely whatever good soil was originally there. If there are unevennesses in the contour of the land, this excavated earth is used for the "fill," and in after years the owner is consumed with wonderment as to why this or that particular spot in his garden is so unresponsive to cultivation.

If the excavated matter be evenly spread over the surface to a depth of only a few inches, and, after having received a good dressing of well rotted stable manure, the whole is turned under by thorough and careful trenching, the results will be satisfactory, for the buried top soil is thus once more brought to the surface. While this may be a satisfactory method it is not the course that is advised. Far better, indeed, is it to have the dug out soil entirely removed. For a good lawn you need, not a passably fertile soil, but the richest that the district will afford, and one that is in good tilth—just such as you want for your vegetable garden.


It is impossible to get soil too good for making a good lawn. A depth of one foot is absolutely necessary, but two feet is immeasurably better. If the ground be naturally good, and of fair depth of top soil, the site may be put into perfect lawn condition by deep ploughing without subsoiling.

If the ground be poor the preliminary steps in the making of the lawns must consist of heavily manuring or dressing with commercial fertiliser, the preference being with the former. On very light soils organic manure is vastly superior to the chemical fertiliser because it adds humus, with the result that it helps greatly to retain moisture, and, moreover, its actual food value is much more lasting. It may not yield such an abundance of readily available plant food at the start, but it will spread its benefits over a much greater time. Practically, barnyard manure is the best soil ameliorator; the chemical substances which are introduced for the purpose of supplying the equivalent food values do not achieve the same result in the same way.

Air-slacked lime might be spread on to the soil at the same time as the manure or after the first dressing of the latter has been turned under, using it at the rate of thirty or even forty bushels to the acre. This can be evenly spread over the surface and raked or harrowed until it is thoroughly incorporated with the upper layer of the soil. Lime assists clay soils by flocculating, and corrects the acidity of all soils.

Too much insistence cannot be placed upon this preliminary thorough preparation. Most lawn failures are due to neglect of this one fundamental thing. Not once in ten thou-sand times is a bad result due to bad or poor seed. It pays to buy well cleaned seed, how-ever, such as is known as "fancy recleaned," rather than the light weight lower priced grades which though pure seed—that is free from weeds—contain also a very large percentage of chaff.

The very fact that the lawn is the foundation of the perfect garden is sufficient reason for insisting that it should be made in the best way we know. The expenditure of a few extra dollars per acre at this time will result in subsequent annual savings that will far outweigh the preliminary extra cost. There should be no misconception on this point. The lawn, more than any other part of the garden, must from the very nature of things be started properly, because it is a permanent crop, so to speak. Shrubberies can be replanted; the flower borders can be entirely rearranged year by year, with but comparatively little trouble; the vegetable garden is generally cultivated, cropped, and fertilised twice a year; and, in each of these cases, it is an easy matter to add fertility whenever it becomes necessary.

But, with the lawn, it is far otherwise. Its reconstruction means the making over of such a vast area in comparison with the other parts of the garden, that though it may need it the work is likely to be deferred again and again, We see the result in hundreds of suburban gardens where the lawn surrounding the home utterly lacks that rich intense colour that seems to invite one within the confines of the garden, and the place is devoid of that reposeful air of comfort and luxury that the well nourished, well-kept lawn always imparts. The greensward is the one permanent feature of the home garden that is expected to be equally attractive from all points of view, at all times of the year, and in all succeeding seasons.

The ground which will eventually become the lawn must be cleared of all roots of trees and weeds removed, so far as possible. The ideal course to follow is this. First rough clear the ground. If the site is covered with trees or tree stumps which must be destroyed the tops can be cut down and the stumps and roots may be blown up with dynamite. A half pound charge will usually suffice for the removal of the average tree stump. The split and torn roots and stumps may be then grubbed out of the ground by hand labour and thrown into convenient piles. These may then be burned as they stand, and the ashes being distributed over the future lawn site, will be of material aid in improving the fertility of the soil.

After this, plough thoroughly, going as deeply as is reasonably convenient and turning the surface well under in doing so. Now harrow and cross harrow, using a sharp steel-toothed harrow which will also act as a drag to clear off any roots and other refuse that may not have been removed in the first place. In other words, prepare the site just as though you were starting in to turn it into good farm land; fertilising, ploughing, and harrowing, using the subsoil plough to break the hardpan, if it is necessary to do so, to secure drainage on a heavy soil.


Now give it over to a crop of corn or potatoes and for one season before the actual lawn making begins treat it exactly as though it were farm land. The reason for this is that the regular cultivation given to either one of these crops will be of the greatest benefit in encouraging a good growth of the grass seed when it is sown the following fall or spring. Moreover, there will be a slight addition of humus, and any latent weed seeds will have germinated and the plantlets killed in the process of cultivation. On lands deficient in humus grow a crop of cowpeas and plough under in the fall; then give a dressing of lime—twenty-five bushels to the acre.

The following season, or in the fall of the same year, another dressing of well rotted fertiliser, followed by ploughing and harrowing, will have brought the soil into proper condition. Land that will not grow a good crop of corn will never grow a good lawn. Attention to the growing crop of corn or potatoes assures cultivation of the land without the labour being a dead loss. After the crop is harvested spread manure over the entire surface of the ground at the rate of twenty tons to the acre, plough it under and harrow the entire surface very thoroughly, passing over every spot three or four times, travelling in different directions, and removing any stones or roots that may be brought to the surface. At this time, too, any unevenness of the contour must be remedied. If there is yet time, allow the first crop of weeds to germinate, harrowing the surface when the plantlets are less than an inch high.

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