How to Make a Lawn

by W. J. Beal


"A  SMOOTH, closely shaven surface of grass is by far the most essential element of beauty on the grounds of a suburban home.” This is the language of Mr. F. J. Scott, and it is equally true of other than suburban grounds. A good lawn then is worth working for, and if it have a substantial foundation, it will endure for generations, and improve with age.

We take it for granted that the drainage is thorough, for no one would build a dwelling on water soaked land. No labor should be spared in making the soil deep, rich and fine in the full import of the words, as this is the stock from which future dividends of joy and satisfaction are to be drawn. Before grading, one should read that chapter of Downing’s on “The Beauty in Ground.” This will warn against terracing or leveling the whole surface, and insure a contour with “gentle curves and undulations,” which is essential to the best effects.

If the novice has read much of the conflicting advice in books and catalogues, he is probably in a state of bewilderment as to the kind of seed to sow. And when that point is settled it is really a difficult task to secure pure and living seeds of just such species as one orders. Rarely does either seller or buyer know the grasses called for, especially the finer and rarer sorts; and more rarely still does either know their seeds. The only safe way is to have the seeds tested by an expert. Mr. J. B. Olcott, in a racy article in the “Report of the Connecticut Board of Agriculture for 1886,” says, “Fifteen years ago nice people were often sowing timothy, red top and clover for door-yards, and failing wretchedly with lawn-making, while seedsmen and gardeners even disputed the identity of our June grass and Kentucky blue-grass.”

We have passed beyond that stage of ignorance, however; and to the question what shall we sow, Mr. Olcott replies: “Rhode Island bent and Kentucky blue-grass are their foolish trade names, for they belong no more to Kentucky or Rhode Island than to other Northern States. Two sorts of fine Agrostis are honestly sold under the trade name of Rhode Island bent, and, as trade goes, we may consider ourselves lucky if we get even the coarser one. The finest—a little the finest—Agrostis canina—is a rather rare, valuable, and elegant grass, which should be much better known by grass farmers, as well as gardeners, than it is. These are both good lawn as well as pasture grasses.” The grass usually sold as Rhode Island bent is Agrostis vulgaris, the smaller red top of the East and of Europe. This makes an excellent lawn. Agrostis canina has a short, slender, projecting awn from one of the glumes; Agrostis vulgaris lacks this projecting awn. In neither case have we in mind what Michigan and New York people call red top. This is a tall, coarse native grass often quite abundant on low lands, botanically Agrostis alba.

Sow small red top or Rhode Island bent, and June grass (Kentucky blue grass, if you prefer that name), Poa pratensis. If in the chaff, sow in any proportion you fancy, and in any quantity up to four bushels per acre. If evenly sown, less will answer, but the thicker it is sown the sooner the ground will be covered with fine green grass. We can add nothing else that will improve this mixture, and either alone is about as good as both. A little white clover or sweet vernal grass or sheep’s fescue may be added, if you fancy them, but they will not improve the appearance of the lawn. Roll the ground after seeding. Sow the seeds in September or in March or April, and under no circumstance yield to the advice to sow a little oats or rye to “protect the young grass.” Instead of protecting, they will rob the slender grasses of what they most need.

Now wait a little. Do not be discouraged if some ugly weeds get the start of the numerous green hairs which slowly follow. As soon as there is any thing to be cut, of weeds or grass, mow closely, and mow often, so that nothing need be raked from the ground. As Olcott puts it, “Leave one crop where it belongs  for home consumption. The rains will wash the soluble substance of the wilted grass into the earth to feed the growing roots.” During succeeding summers as the years roll on, the lawn should be perpetually enriched by the leaching of the short leaves as they are often mown. Neither leave a very short growth nor a very heavy growth for winter. Experience alone must guide the owner. If cut too closely, some of it may be killed or start too late in spring; if left too high during winter, the dead long grass will be hard to cut in spring and leave the stubble unsightly. After passing through one winter the annual weeds will have perished and leave the grass to take the lead. Perennial weeds should be faithfully dug out or destroyed in some way.

Every year, add a top dressing of some commercial fertilizer or a little finely pulverized compost which may be brushed in. No one will disfigure his front yard with coarse manure spread on the lawn for five months of the year.

If well made, a lawn will be a perpetual delight as long as the proprietor lives, but if the soil is thin and poor, or if the coarser grasses and clovers are sown instead of those named, he will be much perplexed, and will very likely try some expensive experiments, and at last plow up, properly fit the land and begin over again. This will make the cost and annoyance much greater than at first, because the trees and shrubs have already filled many portions of the soil. A small piece, well made and well kept, will give more satisfaction than a larger plot of inferior turf.