Aspen trees and that picture-perfect lawn
H-O-T is the only way to describe the west walls of our homes during the afternoon hours in Arizona's mountains. That baking sun can roast western-exposure plants, and the A/C bills can skyrocket. This was the situation at our home until this week, when a planting crew came out to install new shade trees, and, with the right landscaping, solved our problem. We already sense slightly lower temps on those tree-shaded walls, and I can't wait to see next month's electrical bill!
Deciduous trees are best to cope with a western exposure. Because they lose their leaves in fall, their bare branches allow the winter sun to warm that side of the house. Then, every spring, their fresh new leaves create much-needed shade from that afternoon fireball.
Because of our home's proximity to our neighbor's house, I chose aspens; they're tall shade trees without the bulky expanse of cottonwoods, willows or sycamores. Aspens are native to mountain regions, they grow tall and strong, and are far longer-lived than Lombardi poplars or birches. They're proving to be the perfect solution for landscaping my west walls between homes. The project turned out better than even I had imagined.
We filmed our undertaking, and captured good examples of some "do's and don'ts" when mountain landscaping. The short video was uploaded to YouTube and posted on the Watters Garden Center channel and on the Watters Facebook page. It's short and to the point, but it's a good how-to of effective mountain design. Check it out.
September is the month to install a new lawn, extend an existing lawn or overseed a tired lawn. Whether you install grass by seed or sod, success hinges on the preparation of the soil and the follow-up irrigation.
There are two varieties of grass that stay green for most of the year. One is called the "Prescott Mix," a blend of perennial rye and blue grass. The rich green color is soft to look at and even softer to walk on. While this old-timers' favorite is the one seen in photographs and magazine covers, its negative aspect is the amount of water required for successful up-keep.
Fescue is the second and the tougher of the two varieties. It is deep-rooted and requires far less water than the "Prescott Mix." It bounces back from heavy traffic and daily abuse from kids and dogs. I know because this is the lawn I've chosen for our homes, and it has stood up to our family and pet traffic. It has a wide blade yet is soft, and it has that nice clean look after mowing. I usually water only twice a week even during the hottest days in June.
For overseeding, do not spread grass seed directly onto thatchy areas; the seed will float and never get a taproot down into the surrounding soil. Rake out the existing lawn's dead thatch areas to expose the soil beneath. Sowing on bare soil gives the seed a place to germinate.
Remove rocks and kill the weeds in the area where you want to put your lawn. Remove any large dirt clods and correct any irregularities in the grade. Add about 2 inches of mulch to the soil then till to a depth of 6 inches. Settle the area with a roller or a heavy application of water. Never plant grass seed on "fluffy" soil or you will end up with an uneven, rolling lawn. Rake, or "scarify," the surface to form a loosened seedbed. Now you are ready to spread seed.
Whichever grass you choose, use a hand spreader to sow the seed. Don't spread grass seed by hand or you will end up with clumps of seed instead of an evenly distributed seedbed. Right after seeding, lightly rake the sown surface to cover most of the seed with soil.
Apply both Soil Activator and my specially blended "All-Purpose Plant Food" over the raked seedbed. Soil Activator stimulates deep roots; the plant food promotes fast development of those luscious green blades. Roll the entire surface to press the soil around the seed or apply another heavy application of water. Cover the seeded bed with a light layer of mulch. This will regulate moisture, temperature, and keep the birds from dining on the seed.
Keep the area moist until the plants are established. This probably will require daily irrigation. Soils are so warm and moist right now that seed will germinate within days. Begin mowing when the grass reaches a height of 1 inch.
If you already have an established lawn, you might want to adopt my simple lawn maintenance program that eliminates the need to thatch, aerate, add iron, or do anything else. With this tried-and-true regimen, new weeds will not dare grow among the blades of grass for fear of being choked out of existence! I use two granular products and rotate them every other month during the growing season. In March, I spread Soil Activator over the entire lawn. This wakens the grass from its dormant state, forces deep roots, and destroys winter thatch buildup.
In April, I apply my "All Purpose Plant Food." A 20-pound bag covers 2,000 square feet and is enough to work its magic for a thick lush lawn. Just rotate using these two products every other month through November and you will have the best looking lawn you've ever grown.
The November application will keep the lawn green until it succumbs to the harshest cold of February. In March of the next year, begin the rotation routine again. Just make sure that the mower blade is sharp because that grass is going to take off with new growth!
Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.
Ken Lain is at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, www.wattersonline.com.