Truth About Lawn Mixtures
( Originally Published 1906 )
What is a lawn grass?—The purpose of a mixture—Adaptations to various soils—Kentucky blue grass and its merits—Other fundamental grasses—How to buy the seed—Weights and measures—Prices and qualities—Grasses to avoid.
THOUGH each of the lawn seed mixtures of the reputable seed stores may be distinct from all the others, yet the differences are those of degree and not kind. In every case the main reliance is the Kentucky blue grass, in a finely recleaned sample, at the rate of four bushels to the acre. The fescues are introduced to give the quick effect of a turf in the first year, be-cause they make dense tufts of fine low growing leaves; the red top is used for the purpose of securing a stand in places where the soil may be too acid or too sandy for the Kentucky blue grass; the crested dog's tail is a tough grass which makes a low dense growth early and stands hard wear; English rye is added because it germinates very quickly; the wood meadow grass and some others of the fescues are included because they will make a catch in shady places; and clover is frequently included, not because it will serve any special purpose, but merely because some people like to have clover in a lawn.
The ideal lawn grass is one with a creeping, permanent. stem and adapted to the greatest variety of soils. Kentucky blue grass fulfils these requirements, but it takes a long time to grow a good turf from it. Whether a lawn should be seeded with Kentucky blue grass alone, or with one of the numerous lawn mixtures, is a much discussed problem. Circumstances should govern the decision. If an immediate result is wanted the mixtures offer distinct advantages, be-cause they contain some quicker germinating grasses; and if the soil is of an uncertain or mixed quality the mixtures again are valuable, because one grass or another out of the lot will surely fit each special soil condition. Kentucky blue grass, though slow in germinating, makes a strong, permanent turf, but it does not attain its proper development until the third year after sowing.
I must confess a prejudice in favour of the mixture if only because I get a quicker result. That alone is worth a great deal in ninetynine cases out of every hundred. If you can afford to wait two or three years for the lawn to assume a properly green appearance, it may be safe to seed it with one kind of grass.
"But these extra grasses are wasted ?" you inquire. I do not think so. It is true that the lawn may eventually become a blue grass lawn, but that will not be until several years after the making, and in the meantime you will have a lawn to enjoy. Moreover, the quick growing grasses exclude weeds, and you get a better turf because you get more grass plants to the square foot than if only one grass is sown.
When a large area is to be turned into a lawn, and the preparation of the soil can be carried out practically without regard to the cost, and there is no hurry about results, it may be good to sow only one kind of grass. But in actual practice these ideal conditions rarely, if ever, exist; and particularly on the average small lawn around the suburban home there are various conditions of shade, partial shade, drainage, and soil.
The chances are that the contractor has spread over the former top soil a rich assortment of sundry materials of totally different characters. The proper method of remaking the soil into one of uniform texture and character has been discussed elsewhere, but usually one cannot (or is not willing to) wait a year longer, and there are considerations of expense and appearance also. The trees and shrubs and the buildings will cast shadows on the lawn, giving a mixed effect even when a uniform surface of one grass is presented, and therefore the use of a mixture, giving, of course, more or less uneven expanse of colour, is not objectionable. The different grasses which go to make up a well balanced mixture will blend with each other and even if in certain peculiar situations one grass flourishes more than another does elsewhere on the same lawn, the total result will be pleasing. The essential point about the lawn is that the surface be of one continuous texture. This result will be derived more easily from the use of a mixture of seeds than from one pure grass in the open and another totally different, in the shade, where the other has failed to grow properly.
The famous Kentucky blue grass (Poa pratensis) is the best single grass to use for a lawn, and it thrives on any but an acid soil. When the Kentucky blue grass will not grow (other things being equal), it is a sign that the soil stands in need of a dressing of lime, which can be applied at the rate of one bushel to a thousand square feet. But when it will grow it will eventually make a good lawn. Unfortunately it does not maintain a fresh green colour in the middle of the summer, and it is comparatively an expensive seed. It is a strong-growing grass, however, and when used in mixtures generally crowds out the other grasses in the course of a few years. Yet, since this grass combines more desirable qualities than any other, it should be used as the chief ingredient for lawns along the Atlantic coast north of Washington and along the Alleghany range as far south as Georgia. It is also used on the Pacific coast. The success of this grass is assured on a limestone formation; but on the coast line and on bottom land there is a likelihood of the soil being acid. In such places some of the species of agrostis will give better results, as at Newport, R. I., where the bents and red top are extensively used.
It is in order to provide for any such conditions occurring locally—as is often the case even in a very small lawn—that these grasses enter into lawn mixtures, so that if the blue grass finds the soil uncongenial, yet the ground will not remain bare. Another reason for seeding these grasses is that they germinate quickly and give results the first year. Their foliage is fine and the creeping stems form a dense turf, very effectually binding loose soils.
Colonial bent, which has replaced Rhode Island bent because supplies of the latter were insufficient for the demand, acts as "nurse" to the blue grass when it germinates. If a lawn is sown down with pure Kentucky blue grass in the fall there will be no result whatever until the next spring, when, however, it will start earlier than from spring seeding.
If I wanted to secure a greensward for immediate effect, and especially if it were late in the fall season, I would sow freely Pacey's rye (Lolium perenne, var. tenue, a fine-leaved form of English rye grass that is specially adapted to lawns), adding it to any other grasses that may be used (not substituting) at the rate of three pounds to the acre. It is practically an annual grass in this country.
This English rye will start growth almost as soon as sown, and in a month it will make a presentable sheet of green. It is not a permanent grass, however, being a biennial in this country, and will be obliterated by the mowing during the second season.
Rye grass will stand hard usage and permits the free use of the lawn during the first season. It is most successfully used on athletic club grounds, baseball diamonds, etc., to re-seed each year when the "permanent" grasses become worn and it was not possible to leave the lawn untouched for a season. It has not a very fine foliage, and used too freely would result in a coarse looking sward.
FOR SHADED PLACES
If there are specially shaded places on the proposed lawn site, it will be well to procure a different mixture to be used on these spots. In places of varying degrees of shade it is difficult to estimate the requirements so as to decide whether a pure shade grass shall be used. Therefore, as before, in considering soil conditions, it is the part of wisdom to use a mixture, which includes shade-loving grasses. Formerly the wood meadow grass (Poa nemoralis) was continuously used, but it is decidedly "transient," as also is the formerly popular crested dog's tail (Cynosurus cristatus). The fine-leaved fescue (Festuca ovina, var. tenuifolia) however, is lasting and therefore desirable. It is a "bunch" or "stool" grass, a type that, generally speaking, should not be admitted to the lawn, but as exceptional situations require exceptional treatment we are justified in including this, the finest leaved and most slender growing of the bunching grasses. Moreover, it is a good bottom grass and fills out well near the ground. As a matter of fact the grass in heavily shaded spots is not cut so frequently nor so closely as that in the open which is growing well, and the habit of the fescue is therefore of some advantage.
The crested dog's tail is admirably adapted to mixing with the Kentucky blue grass be-cause its foliage is of the same colour and its habit of growth is similar. Therefore it is usually included in shade mixtures. It is doubtful, however, if it ever gains a foothold. However, as the lawn is something to be seen as a whole, from a distance, a slight variation of leaf in the grasses is of little or no moment. If the site be damp as well as shaded the rough-stalked meadow grass (Poet trivialis) should be substituted for the fescue. Orchard grass is occasionally included in shade mixtures, but it can be omitted to advantage, for it is a coarse-leaved plant, and makes a tuft not an even sward.
ON SANDY SOIL
As has been indicated, the species of agrostis are specially adapted to sandy situations. A. tenius, the Colonial bent, is now generally used as, or for, Rhode Island bent and with the creeping bents (A. stolonifera), and other species, are the foundation of mixtures for such soils, although unless the land shows decided acid reaction it would be well to include some Kentucky blue grass in the mixture, just because if it will make a stand the general appearance of the lawn is improved by just so much. The colour of the bents lack the richness of the blue grass. The red top (A. alba, var. vulgaris), though adapted to moist clay soil, is often included in mixtures for sandy land because of its ability to make a satisfactory growth upon a slightly acid soil.
OTHER SPECIAL FEATURES
Other grasses are put into mixtures for more or less fancy purposes, and cannot be said to be generally essential. Thus the sweet vernal (Anthoxanthum odoratum) lends fragrance when the lawn is mown.
Every once in a while a statement appears advising that timothy be used in a lawn mixture, as a nurse. As a matter of fact it is a coarse grass which stubbles, and is absolutely unsuited for use on any lawn for ornamental purposes which is regularly mowed. It will die out after the second year, leaving ugly holes that have to be patched over or reseeded with Kentucky blue grass. It may be admitted in wide meadow effects, as it will be crowded out by the creepers and the holes it makes are not eyesores in such situations. It is a general rule that no "bunch" grass should go into a lawn. The only exception being that of the one fescue spoken of as admissable in shady places.
SHALL I ADD CLOVER?
Very frequently white clover (Trifolium repens, var. perenne) is added to the lawn-grass seed. Whether or not it shall be used is purely a matter of personal fancy. It does no harm, it keeps green, and it amuses. Some people like to have clover on the lawn; others don't. Just suit yourself, but remember that white clover always enters into the store mixtures, the allowance being about two pounds (one quart) to the acre.
It has this advantage, however: it will make a green covering in places where many of the grass seeds fail entirely, and on certain inert, infertile soils it is not an unusual thing to see a better stand of clover than of the grasses themselves. Indeed, so far as appearance goes, a clover lawn is not at all objectionable. The white clover makes a dense, quickly spreading, low growth and its flat leaves give an even smooth texture to the eye; but it is not a growth that will stand rough usage.
BUYING THE SEED
It is especially necessary when buying Kentucky blue grass to pay attention to the various grades in which it is offered. "If you have to shade your price it is easy to shade the quality." This is an axiom which should be remembered by the purchaser, as it applies to grass seed mixtures with special force. Kentucky blue grass is offered in grades varying from 50 per cent. chaff to all pure seed containing no chaff whatever, and as the price is based entirely on the weight of the actual seed contained it is much better to buy by the pound than by the quart. Ask the seedsman for "recleaned fancy" Kentucky blue grass, which may weigh even as high as thirty pounds to the actually measured bushel. In trade usage fourteen pounds of actual seed is regarded as a standard bushel and is sold as a bushel independently of its actual bulk. Thus, of the poorer grades, you may have two bushels of bulk and get one bushel of seed.
A mixture of high grade thoroughly re-cleaned fancy seed would vary in price from $5 to $10 per bushel according to the quantities of the rarer or special grasses that were included in the mixture, and cannot be sold very much cheaper even in bulk. Cheaper mixtures can be bought, and I have seen excellent results the first year from lawns which have been seeded with mixtures that cost less than $5 per bushel. Indeed, further than this, one gentleman once pointed out to me with great pride a lawn of about five acres in extent, on which he had used two mixtures, one costing almost half that of the other.
He was rejoicing immensely over the fact that he had succeeded in producing a better looking lawn with the lower priced seed than he had with the more expensive one. That was his opinion the first year after sowing. The uninitiated will he easily misled by these appearances. The cheaper mixture, assuming of course, that in each case thoroughly recleaned seed was used, gives the better earlier result because it has a larger percentage of quick growing grasses which will eventually run out. In the higher priced mixture where ultimate effect is sought rather than early effect, the more permanent grasses make a slower start, but the results are eminently more satisfactory in the third year.
For lawn making any and all grasses that form tufts, or stools or bunches, as they are sometimes called; and grasses which do not spread continuously by creeping stems; or that have too tall a growth without an abundance of bottom leaves; or that die out after a year or two's occupancy of the ground, are utterly unreliable. Samples of these are the well-known orchard grass, timothy, tall meadow fescue, hard fescue, and the oat grasses. Crested dog's tail and wood meadow grass, once quite popular, do not endure and are now largely discarded, except where they are used for temporary service, as in reseeding places that are subject to much constant travel. In northern climates the Bermuda grass is not desirable because of its rusty brown appearance as soon as the cold weather touches it. In the South, Italian rye is frequently employed for a "winter" lawn.