How To Feed A Lawn
( Originally Published 1906 )
Making a good start—Green manure and humus—Artificial fertilisers —Dressing the new lawn—Keeping old lawns up to pitch—Top dressings—Animal manure vs. chemical fertilisers—Where weeds come from—Stable manure—Sheep manure—Wood ashes—Bonemeal—Nitrate of soda—Top dressings—Lime for sour soils—Tobacco stems.
NOBODY expects good corn from unfed land. It is a matter of good gardening to feed the land heavily for all the vegetable crops. Yet they are cleared annually, and the ground has the benefit of cultivation while they are growing. But the lawn is too often neglected. The grass is a permanent crop and really needs richer feeding than many of the vegetable crops. The ground cannot be cultivated after the grass is growing, but it can, and must, be thoroughly enriched be-fore. Manure ploughed under at the time of the general preparation is the foundation for later feeding with chemical fertilisers.
On sandy soils the dressing of manure can be much heavier than on heavy soils, and will be more economical than artificial fertilisers, which will leach out. On heavy soils a chemical fertiliser will answer. The objection to the use of stable manure is the risk of carrying in weed seeds, which can only be avoided by seeing that the manure is well rotted. The proper quality is not easy to get, and rather than run any risk it would be better to rely on turning under a green crop to supply the humus. This may be accomplished by sowing either cow peas or crimson clover. Ground bone (3,000 pounds to the acre) may then be mixed in when harrowing and raking, and, if there is a tendency to acidity, add lime.
Never add pure chemical fertilisers to the ground just before seeding. There can be but one result—the loss of the seed. If the plant food has not been added a month before sowing time wait until the grass is well up.
DRESSING THE NEW LAWN
Very well rotted manure can be put on the new lawn as a fall mulch, as much to keep the roots of the new lawn in proper condition over the first winter as for any food value it may have. In parts of the country where tobacco stems are easily obtainable from factories, they should be used in preference. They are cleaner, they cannot carry weed seeds, and the insecticidal properties of the tobacco juices are of some importance.
Sheep manure, using about one ton to the acre, will be found thoroughly satisfactory, and will not cause damage by bringing in weeds. For my own part I object to disfiguring the lawn with this sort of material, unless it be needed as a mulch. If for feeding, I would rely upon chemical fertilisers. The manures give nitrogen, which is more conveniently applied in the form of soda nitrate at the rate of 200 pounds to the acre. It must be scattered just in advance of a rain, or applied in liquid form, using one pound to forty gallons of water.
If the beginning has been throughly and conscientiously done, that is, if the soil is properly prepared in the first place and properly enriched at the rate of twenty-five hundred pounds of well rotted stable manure to the acre or an equivalent in ground bone and wood ashes, there should be no necessity for adding fertiliser to the lawn for, perhaps, ten years after its establishment—unless the land is extremely porous. Where this has not been done, however, feeding will have to begin possibly the very first year. It should never be forgotten that grass is feeding on the ground continuously and that the growth is being continuously cut and removed.
After the lawn is made, it is impossible, of course, to treat it in the same way as you treat the tilled area of the garden or the borders. In both these cases when fertility is to be increased it can be accomplished by spreading over the surface a dressing of organic manure and spading it under. In the very nature of things such a course is out of the question as regards the lawn. There top dressings of easily soluble fertilisers are necessary. Even the surface of the grass must not be interfered with, it must not be buried, and the lawn must remain in service.
MANURING IN WINTER
If stable manure is to be used at all it should preferably be carried on to the lawn some time during the winter. An excellent plan is to wait until the ground is frozen and partially covered with snow when a horse and wagon may be drawn across its surface without any permanent injury accruing. At other times of the year there is danger of furrowing the lawn by the wheels of the wagon; should this happen during the winter it is of no great moment, as the damage can be easily repaired in the early spring by filling in with top soil and reseeding as necessary.
When stable manure is used it must be what is spoken of as "well rotted." Fresh manure will always import weed seeds. The damage that thus may be done to the lawn in one season may take two or three years of constant vigilance to reduce. If assured that there are no live weed seeds contained in it stable manure is the best sort of top dressing that can be put on to the lawn—aside from its ugliness! If spread over in the early winter and left until the grass begins to grow vigorously in the spring it will have served a dual purpose. Not only has the lawn received the benefit of its fertilising qualities, but the service of the mulch in modifying the effects of the alternate freezing and thawing will have been extremely beneficial. In the early spring rake the coarse material from the lawn and then go over the surface with a heavy roller.
WEEDS AND ORGANIC MANURES
The objection to ordinary stable manure being used as a top dressing on the lawn does not apply to the other animal manures inasmuch as they do not contain weed seeds. Of these possible substitutes, however, the only one that can be recommended for general use is sheep manure. This is a highly concentrated fertiliser, and contains a very small amount of water. It is weight for weight the richest manure produced by any of the common farm animals. It decomposes rapidly and loses a large proportion of its ammonia (nitrogen). This would be obviated by composting with earth or land plaster in the proportion of two parts manure to one of the earth or plaster.
As offered commercially dry sheep manure may be used as a dressing for the lawn at the rate of one half ton, to one ton, per acre. It will possibly be more efficient when used in spring, as in that way the full benefit of the nitrogen would be retained, but it may be also used as a fall dressing. The disadvantage of using animal manures for top dressing in the spring is that the bright green appearance of the lawn which is one of the most pleasing effects of the spring landscape is seriously marred. It is sometimes stated that clover seeds are imported with sheep manure. If this be so it is not a very serious objection. On the other hand it should be remembered that the ordinary commercial sheep manure is what is known as "kiln-dried and pulverised," in which case of course, even if there were live clover seeds in the natural product, they would be destroyed in the preparation and handling.
SPRING TOP DRESSINGS
As a spring top dressing finely ground bone meal and sifted wood ashes, in equal parts by weight, should be distributed over the surface of the lawn at the rate of one ton to the acre. This would mean a distribution over the surface about as thick as would give an even covering, leaving the lawn with a slightly grayish colour. This top dressing may safely be used in heavier doses than the uninitiated would imagine. It is better to select for the broadcasting a day when rain is anticipated so that the fertiliser may be washed down to the roots of the grass at once.
Nitrate of soda as a top dressing is used broadcast up to five hundred pounds per acre. It would be better to apply this quantity in two or even three separate dressings rather than all at once. Nitrate of soda is so easily soluble in water that even moderate rains on a well drained and especially on a leechy soil will wash away the greater part of a heavy dressing, which is thus utterly lost. If this is scattered over the surface on a dry day, and is not quickly followed by rain, the grass will inevitably be burned because the salt will extract water from the foliage of the grasses. To avoid this, some people prefer to apply nitrate of soda in a solution, and it may be prepared at the rate of one pound in forty gallons of water. The effect of nitrate of soda is very rapid. The grass will be seen to respond immediately to the application, it will make a vigorous growth and assume a richer, deeper green colour, the result being especially marked on light soils.
This top dressing may be used at any time during the season when it is desirable to force a quick growth in spots that have become bare through usage, and in certain cases it is better to rely upon it than to fall back on reseeding, as for instance when the bareness is due to heavy traffic. Reseeding in such a case would not be effectual, because the young plants would be trampled to death as soon as they are germinated. On the other hand, nitrate of soda may be regarded as a forcing or stimulating food and should always be supplemented with something of a more lasting character and which will assist the plants in building up a hardy and vigorous structure.
LONG LASTING FERTILISERS
Of the more permanent fertilisers bone meal and hard wood ashes are the best. The former, for top dressing, must be used in what is known as fine meal. The coarse ground bone takes too long to dissolve and comes in too large particles for convenient use. Raw crushed bone is to be used only in the original preparation of the ground. Bone meal acts slowly but a dressing once a year at the rate of five hundred pounds to the acre will give marvellous returns. It can be used at any time, and on very light, sandy soils it is common practice to apply a top dressing in the late summertime.
Phosphates are particularly beneficial in giving vigour to grass plants. They may be applied better by means of bone meal than by any of the chemical fertilisers. Bone meal also contains a fair proportion of slowly available nitrogen, and where there is no need for special sudden stimulation it may be used to the exclusion of nitrate of soda or animal manures.
WOOD ASHES AND LIME
Hardwood ashes, broadcasted at the rate of one ton to the acre, are peculiarly available on blue grass lawns inasmuch as they carry with them a quantity of lime which will neutralise any tendency to acidity in the soil, thus making it a more congenial medium for the Kentucky blue grass.
Lime itself is indicated as a winter dressing and can be used at the rate of forty bushels to the acre or roughly speaking, one bushel per thousand square feet or two handfuls to the square yard. As Kentucky blue grass forms the basis of the standard lawn mixtures, and is the one grass which it is hoped will ultimately occupy the entire area to the exclusion of all others which were there in the beginning, an annual dressing of lime may safely be given. This is preferably spread over the ground some time in the winter after it has been frozen, but not necessarily. Lime to be used on the lawn should be air slaked.
A practical method of procuring a supply for the suburban gardener is to purchase quick lime by the barrel in the early spring and have it stored in barrels or boxes in the cellar until it is to be used. It will in this way serve two purposes. In the process of air slaking, which goes on throughout the summer, it will absorb moisture from the air and to a considerable ex-tent will aid in drying the cellar. By fall it will be thoroughly slaked and ready for use. This annual dressing will largely help in eradicating moss and sorrel or sour grass, which invariably take possession of sour soils.
Tobacco leaf stems and tobacco stalks are used as a mulch for winter in districts where they are readily available. Spread over the lawn they serve to protect it from the action of frost and have some slight influence in controlling insects. They cannot be said to act greatly as a fertiliser although there is a common belief to that effect. If spread over in the fall they will usually have rotted by spring, and there is little coarse material to be gathered up.