Saturday, April 2, 2011

Could Use a Little Less of that Sunshine

Spurred by a lawn care article in this week's Bulletin and by the April/May 2001 issue of the High Desert Gardening newsletter put out by USO's Extension Service, Jack has spent the last two days puttering in the yard.

Now is the time, the Bulletin article says, to green up that grass.

They interviewed Cindy Jeffers over at Landsystems Nursery out on highway 20, and what she said made sense to me. I've always felt that if we are going to plant grass in a desert environment and water the shit out of it, we should try to make it as healthy and strong as possible. And because I've taken it upon myself to do the lawn care this year, I thought I'd pop out to see Jeffers on Friday and have her take a look at samples of the turf, and get advice.

First thing I noticed when pulling a plug out of the lawn on the North Terrace AKA the "front yard," is that snow mold had killed several patches. The snow was heavy and wet this year. Prime fungus conditions. Note to self: apply fungicide next fall.

"You need to rake all this dead stuff out," said Cindy, looking at the front yard plug. I had already raked it the last weekend, but it was clear that my leaf rake didn't have the Welly to pull up the deep stuff matted atop the soil. I used to have a garden rake in SoCal, but it was left behind with the rest of my garden tools when we moved because the trucks were full of more important stuff.

So I added a real garden rake to my purchases.

She said that the sample from the rear looked good.

"Do you get them aerated and dethatched," she wanted to know.

I said that the front yard lawn was new in 2009, that we had the rear and front both aerated and the rear dethatched in 2010, and that I had aerating scheduled for this year.

"Alternate," she said. "Do one this year, the other next year."

Okay, aerating on odd-numbered years, dethatching on even. Roger that.

According to what she said in the Bulletin piece, I wanted to get some soil activator and some organic fertilizer for the lawns. So we got a bag of each.

What about greening up the lawns, she asked.

I had some Ortho "Fall Lawn Fertilizer" back in the shed, but I'm wanting to get away from Ortho's Better Living Through Chemistry - Trust Us approach, and to enrichen the soil and make the runoff more nutritious for the bedding plants. Pitching nitrogen on the lawn will green it up, it's the approach that all your "Mow, Blow, and Go" gardeners follow in SoCal, but it's like feeding children pure sugar. Sure, they like it and it gives them energy, but it ain't gonna build healthy bones.

"You don't want to use that," she said of the Ortho.

She showed me two "unsugared" ways to green up the lawn. One, an expensive ($50 a bag) organic supplement which I'm sure is super good, but out of my price range, and the second, iron, for $10. Something I could afford. We tossed a bag of that onto the flat.

I also needed some lawn seed -- to reseed the areas damaged by snow mold and some spots on the back yard (the "South Terrace") where the previous owner's dogs had dug craters into the ground, ankle-twisting, firewood cart-toppling holes that last fall I finally got around to filling.

A few other bits and pieces, some fertilizer for the perennials, a new 75' garden hose that won't stiffen like an miffed anaconda when the weather gets chilly, and I was out of there.

So when I got home, I attacked that front yard lawn. It's only 300 square feet, but it needed two rakings to pull up the dead stuff, which made an impressive two-foot high haystack nearly three feet in diameter. I was surprised at how much plant material there was. And how quickly my hands blistered, even with gloves.

Then I mowed both lawns, about 1,300 square feet total, with my push mower. There hasn't been much growing yet, but there were spots that were sprouting well, so I reckoned that I might as well get everything off to an even start.

I was fatigued at the end of it all, but had enough energy to go out for last night's First Friday Art Walk, have a glass of wine with Sharon and Mr Miller, followed by a nice dinner at Tart.

I feel good about doing this work. I think I pulled a muscle in my thigh raking.

The weather service told us that it would be raining today, so I took them at their word and worked another three hours: turned over and amended the soil in what is to become our fragrant herb garden, pruned our perennials, cleaned up yard debris in the beds and edged them, and fertilized the lawns.

"Water after applying," the labeling on the fertilizer bags say.

But there was no rain today.

This will not be a surprise to anyone who's lived in Bend longer than I. "It rarely rains a significant amount here except during thunderstorm season, when the rain is, of course, unpredictable," Bruce Miller tells me. "If the directions say to water something in you have to plan on applying the water yourself instead of depending on nature to do it, no matter what the forecast says."

Good thing I got that new hose. My Magic 8-Ball tells me that tomorrow I'll be setting up sprinklers to soak the fertilizer into the soil.

The weather here sucks. I need rain, not this incessantly cheerful sunshine!

In the Old Country (coastal SoCal) there are three predictable seasons: your alternating sunshine and rain winterr ("mudslide" season), your sunless overcast spring ("May gray, June Gloom"), then the endless relentless heat from summer through December, this latter broken only by the Santa Ana winds that set the area afire. Rain was pretty predictable.

Even so, I enjoyed being a gardener at Lone Mountain College in San Francisco back in '73. I was only 23 at the time, and stoned most of the time. Now I'm 61, achier, but little else has changed. I still enjoy working in the yard.

The hot tub will feel good on my aching back tonight.


  1. "My Magic 8-Ball tells me that tomorrow I'll be setting up sprinklers to soak the fertilizer into the soil."

    You need to get an irrigation system installed. Well worth the money. Which would not be all that much, for the size of your yard.

    "The weather here sucks. I need rain, not this incessantly cheerful sunshine!"

    Up yours, Elliott.

  2. "You need to get an irrigation system installed."

    Got one. Water's not turned on yet, For the nonce I must use the hose bib on the side of the house.

  3. I'M supposed to be the grumpy old man, but Elliott is the one who bitches that it's too sunny. Go figger.

  4. Well, as predicted, the weather in Bend has turned shitty again. Happy now?

  5. I was hoping for cold and snow to help set the poppy seeds I strew about the garden. So I'm not unhappy. You?

  6. A pox upon your poppies. A murrain seize them.

  7. Don't you be picking on my poppies.

    Sun's out.


------------ Facebook update page widget added 3/2012 --------------
------------ ends facebook update page widget -------------