If you haven’t already figured it out, southeastern North Carolina is one of the worst places in the world to have a gorgeous lawn. We often have winter temperatures that injure warm-season grasses like centipede and St. Augustine. It’s too blasted hot in the summer for even the most heat-tolerant cool-season grasses like tall fescue to survive. Throw in weeds, ground pearls, high pH, large patch, dollar spot, chinch bugs and all of the other issues and you have tough turf growing conditions.
In the face of all of these problems and armed with at least one large glass of chilled California chardonnay (it’s too hot outside for my usual red), I humbly offer my lawn care philosophy which may be especially helpful for recovering perfectionists..
You’re Not in Kansas (or New York or Connecticut) Anymore
If you have just moved from cooler climes, hit the delete key on your brain’s computer when it comes to lawn care. While the basics of taking care of a lawn – mowing, fertilizing, watering, aerating – are the same, the timing is completely different from what you did up north with tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass. For example, applying nitrogen in September and November makes a lot of sense for tall fescue, but would be all wrong for centipede.
Not sure when to do what? Cooperative Extension has lawn maintenance calendars for the popular grasses. Visit our Plant Clinic at the New Hanover County Arboretum staffed by capable Master Gardeners Monday through Friday between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm for a hard copy or check out N.C. State’s Turffiles website at www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/ .There is a wealth of information available concerning insects, weeds, diseases and basic management in addition to the lawn calendars.
Stop Beating Your Head Against the Wall
The only good thing about beating your head against a wall is that it feels so good to stop. Lots of people do the lawn equivalent of this by attempting to grow turf where it has no chance. Even our most shade-tolerant grass – St. Augustine – needs at least six hours of sun per day. If your place has lots of dense tree canopy, you have two choices. Grow more shade-tolerant ground covers and shrubs or cut some of the trees down. I’d lean toward the former rather than the latter.
Ditch the Perfectionism
Coming from a background of working on golf courses and being involved with landscaping and irrigation, my personal expectations have always been pretty high. Having recently celebrated the 24th anniversary of my 29th birthday, I have realized that perfection is an elusive and expensive goal with lawns and everything else in life. Dial your expectations back a notch. The world isn’t going to stop spinning if you have a couple of weeds.
Right Plant, Right Place
This “right plant, right place” phrase may be a bit overused, but it’s just so absolutely correct when it comes to having a nice lawn.
If you really don’t care about lawns and lawn care and just want something to hold the world together, centipede is your best choice. You’ll need fairly acid soils (pH 5.5 or so), plenty of sun and very little wear and tear for it to work, though. And, you’ll have to accept the apple-green color and coarse texture.
Some of the newer zoysias like Crowne, Zorro, Zeon, Empire and JaMur look promising for slightly better shade and wear tolerance compared to centipede. Crowne, Empire and JaMur have a medium texture and can be mowed with a standard rotary mower. Zorro and Zeon are finer textured and look best when cut with a reel mower.
Where the kids and dogs play requires Bermuda grass. Just remember that Bermudas need lots of sun to grow well. A selection called Celebration works well under less intense management. TifGrand is a genetic dwarf variety that shows promise for home lawns.
Consider a Redesign
The space around your home should be designed to accommodate things that you and your family like to do. Add a patio or deck for entertaining. Even the simplest bubbling pot will provide the soothing sound of flowing water. A fire pit is perfect for allowing you to enjoy your garden in fall, winter and early spring. Turf is important for play and visually holding a landscape design together. But, if growing a healthy lawn is a struggle, incorporating other elements can increase your enjoyment and limit your frustration.
For answers to your lawn care and gardening questions visit http://ces.ncsu.edu, where you can post your questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local Cooperative Extension center Pender County l 259-1238; New Hanover County l 798-7660; Brunswick County 253-2610.
Al Hight, NHC Extension Director