Saturday, June 14, 2008

Trees & Grass - the contradiction of our suburban landscapes

We love our landscapes. After working in our customer’s landscapes all day I enjoy going home to my own yard so that I can relax and spend time with my family.

When I do have the opportunity to take a walk through the park, which is not quite as often as I would like, I often reflect on the natural cycle in nature. I’m in awe of how complex, yet utterly simple it seems. The seasons change and the life cycle is always working. The natural ecosystem balances out without man’s interference.

In our rectangular suburban plots we can’t wait or don’t want to wait for Mother Nature to run her course. For example, fall leaves don’t settle into the landscape and decompose over the ensuing months. Instead we rake them up and sweep them to the curb, where they are picked up and hauled off to a composting facility. Leaves and other landscape trimmings and debris are composted for a year or more resulting in rich organic compost, available then to rebuild our beds replenishing much needed organics and nutrition to our landscapes.

We ask our suburban landscapes to do things that Mother Nature did not intend. We love large shade trees and a nice green expanse of cooling grass below. Mother Nature did not intend for grass and trees to grow together – but we insist that they do, and then wonder why neither is thriving. Grass grows in meadows where it receives full sun, where as trees grow in forests and groves - each thriving in its own ecosystem.

In our suburban landscapes the trees take the brass ring. With their expansive root systems and over arching and shading limbs, grass doesn’t have much of a chance. Compacted soil and poor drainage also conspire against our own green pastures often resulting in mud, muck and frustration.

What then is a homeowner to do when the lawn is important? The physiology of the plants living in our landscapes will not take notice of the address change and therefore do not realize they should behave differently in our yards. Plants will behave as Mother Nature designed them to.
Begin with reasonable expectations. It might take some reading and research or consultation with a professional to help develop an appreciation for what is possible. But recognize that lawns will be less successful with increased shade and competition from surrounding trees.

Evaluate the area and decide on priorities. If the lawn is important then thin and/or limb up surrounding trees to improve sunlight and air circulation. Build the soil of the lawn with topdressing – adding organics is critical. Aerate the lawn once, if not twice a year. Plant grass types that can tolerate more shade. Raise the mowing height as tall as you can and skip mowings when possible to leave the grass tall. Water as necessary to keep the lawn healthy, but remember, the healthier the root system the less watering you will have to do. Shady lawns typically have week roots systems, so focus on the roots and your lawn will be much improved.

No comments: