Tag Archives: Lawn Care


DIY lawn tips for homeowners

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DIY lawn tips for homeowners


For most homeowners, having a green, lush and patchless lawn is a symbol of responsibility, dedication to yard work, and a signal to your neighbors that your home’s interior is as well-kept as its outdoor spaces. Being marked as the neighbor with the browning, weed-infested lawn can be the vision of nightmares for those homeowners who pride themselves on a well-groomed front lawn.

Not only does a luscious lawn accentuate your garden, but it provides excellent outdoor space for your kids to blow off steam. To maintain this play-pad and lawn-game arena, it takes more than just planting some grass and hoping it grows. To achieve that widely coveted green lawn, you’ll have to give it some tender loving care.

Attaining that full and healthy lawn is a multi-step process. Lawn-care practices such as selecting the right type of grass for your climatic zone, picking great quality seeds, and watering go a long way in realizing your dream lawn goals. Below are some DIY tips that can help guide you through the process, so your lawn can be the talk-of-the-town (or, at least, the pinnacle of lawn-care success in your immediate neighborhood).

Choosing between sod and seeds

Whether you’re rejuvenating an old lawn or growing a new one, you may find yourself at a crossroads when choosing between sod and grass seed. Understanding the difference between the two and the unique benefits of each option sets a course of action for achieving your lawn goals.

Both start in seed form. Sod is simply transplanted from the well-maintained farms directly to your lawns. When choosing between the two, the convenience factor and your level of patience may influence your decision.

Advantages of raising your lawn from seeds

It’s cheaper to nurture your lawn from a standard grass seed than it is to purchase sod. Despite popular misconceptions, planting grass seed doesn’t require a green thumb. In fact, it’s a simple garden practice that even the most inexperienced homeowners can perform.

An upside of growing your lawn from grass seed is that you have a greater variety of grass types to choose from and intersperse in your backyard. The ability to customize your own grass variety is important, as the type of grass planted is the biggest determinant in how your lawn will perform. With seeds, you’re in control. You can assure that your grass germinates and matures in the same place, giving your grasses a chance to establish and develop healthy root systems.

Disadvantages of grass seeds

Since you’re the initial grower, seeds will require a lot more maintenance (such as constant irrigation). As the gardener and planter, you’re limited to specific time windows, as these grass seeds must be sown in peak growth times. These peak growth times will, ultimately, depend on grass types you handpick.

Unlike sod, you will have to wait for the seed to germinate, grow, and mature before you notice any sizable results. If you’re a homeowner who craves instant gratification, purchasing sod may be a better fit for your household.

Advantages of sod

For those homeowners who are interested in the instant results of sod application and want to transform their backyard overnight, you can purchase sod from your local sod farm or a nearby home improvement store.

After installing your sod, your lawn will appear thriving, mature, and well-nourished. Sod takes just a couple of weeks to be properly rooted on the site. Areas in your front or backyard that are prone to soil erosion can benefit immensely from sod applications, as these patches of sod act like a blanket and hold the soil in place.

With sod, you won’t be limited by restrictive planting times and peak planting windows. Sod can be installed at any time of the year, except during months of extreme heat.

Downside of starting with sod

Unlike grass seeds, fully-grown sod is very expensive. You may also have to hire a professional to install your sod to properly complete the job. Hiring a professional may be inevitable if you are physically incapable of performing manual labor or if your busy schedule doesn’t allow weekend projects like sod installation.

A poorly installed sod lawn has visible seams and bad rooting. You may face several challenges in transplanting the grass to your property if your yard’s conditions vary tremendously from the conditions of the farm where the sod was grown. Sod also has a narrow transplanting window. The ideal time for transplanting sod is no more than 24 hours after being cut.

Select the right grass type

There are lots of factors to consider when selecting the right grass type for your particular lawn. Different strains of grass perform differently under different climatic conditions. Depending on the grass type’s tolerance to warm or cool conditions, you’ll want to select a grass type designed to withstand the weather conditions of your neighborhood.

Some grasses are ideal for a lawn in warm regions, while others perform exceptionally in cold regions. Warm-season grasses, like Bermuda grass, do well in the summer heat and year-round warm climatic conditions. Cool-season grasses, such as ryegrass, fescues and Kentucky bluegrass, excel in the cool temperatures of spring, fall, and winter.

When choosing the best grass for your backyard, consider the purpose of your lawn, how much maintenance you’re willing to dedicate to your lawn, and other region-specific climatic and erosion factors. For more information on how to find the best grass type for your region, check out this helpful resource.

Purchase premium quality seeds

The key to a successfully established lawn is the use of premium quality seeds, best suited to your property site. The label on the seed package is an invaluable source of information for assessing how well-suited a seed is to your specific region. In the US, by law, all seed labels must be printed with 100% accurate information.

Quality seeds come at a higher price. When purchasing lawn seed, consider the germination percentage. Only purchase seed whose package label indicates a germination rate of 85 per cent and above. You can tell the amount of non-seed material in the package by checking the percentage of inert matter. This should be less than two per cent. The weed percentage is the total weight of all weed seeds and should ideally be no more than 0.5 per cent. Noxious weeds like quack grass shouldn’t be present in your seed bags.

Manage irrigation wisely

Lawn grasses spike in growth when watered deeply in less frequent intervals. This ensures the roots are deep, so the grass is not susceptible to drought conditions. With a good sprinkler system, you can grow healthier grass and still save money, by reducing water consumption.

Some grasses require less watering and are, therefore, ideal for the inaccessible and hard-to-water areas of your lawn. While the watering schedule may vary with the seasons, it’s important to always accommodate the requirements of your lawn.

Besides boosting the curb appeal of your home, a flourishing lawn can help establish a welcoming environment for potential houseguests, the occasional visitor, and all backyard barbeque attendees. Once your lawn is rooted or your sod is applied, you can invest in a deck, an in-ground pool, or you can hire a team of contractors to build the front deck of your dreams.


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What is a weed?

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What is a weed?

May is planting month – and the beginning of weeding season. Gardeners take the good with the bad. Off we go digging, planting and weeding.

We enjoy weeding, for the first couple of weeks of spring. But their persistence gets to us after a while and we begin looking for short cuts. How can we control weeds with as little commitment to time and effort as possible?

Fortunately, our years of gardening experience have taught me a few things about this.

Here are our top weeding tips:

BE AN EARLY BIRD. The early bird does, indeed, get the weed. Knock a weed down while it is a baby and you have removed future work 10-fold. How is that? The root of a weed gives the top half of the weed life, vigor and speed. Cut a weed off with a sharpened hoe and you remove the ability of the plant to photosynthesize. This either starves the poor darling to death or, at the very least; it pushes the ability of the weed to re-grow backwards for a spell. The secret: Sharpen your hoe with a file each time that you use it. Spray it with a little oil to help it move effortlessly through the soil. And do it early in the season before the root gets too deep. Like now. Tip: for the most effortless weeding use a Mark’s Choice Back Hoe. Home Hardware.

MULCH. The miracle of bark mulch is that it is non-chemical, easy, fun to spread (it smells nice!) and it can eliminate up to 90 per cent of weeds before they become established. The secret is to use at least six cm of shredded cedar or pine bark mulch to prevent most annual weeds from popping through the soil in the first place. The sooner you do this, the better.

BLACK PLASTIC. Place thick (at least six mil) black plastic over your lawn or garden and anchor it with something heavy. Wait for a minimum of six to eight weeks and you will kill just about everything under the plastic membrane. Other than some stubborn hard-to-kill weeds like horse tail or Phragmites (the new imported curse) you are good to go once you have cooked the weeds beneath the plastic. While the process takes time, it is thorough, and no chemicals are involved. This process works best in bright sun.

Weed control does not have to be onerous. In fact, we find some recreation in the activity of hoeing weeds down in the garden and pulling them from the lawn.

Lawn Weeds

The most frequently asked question we hear is, “How do I kill lawn weeds?” And the answer is simple: Compete them out of existence. Here is our fourstep recipe for a thicker, greener and (for the most part) weed-free lawn.

  • Rake the area of thin or tired grass gently using a leaf rake, removing all loose debris and getting grass blades to stand up on end.
  • Spread lawn soil (or triple mix) about three to five cm thick and rake this smooth.
  • Hand-broadcast quality grass seed on the area.
  • Rake this smooth, step on it to bring the seed in firm contact with the soil and water until germination occurs. Keep it damp during hot, dry spells and fertilize with quality, iron-based lawn fertilizer containing slow release nitrogen.

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada, and provides gardening advice to more than two million Canadians each week. Ben Cullen’s specialty is food gardening. markcullen.com; Facebook @MarkCullenGardening and Pinterest @MarkCullenGardening.


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Garden Expert: Home Turf

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Garden Expert: Home Turf

These lawn-care tips promote healthy and green grass throughout the peak summer months

Now that June is here, summer weather will come calling, with high temperatures followed, no doubt, and a lack of water. It is time to sit back and let your lawn take care of itself. You can have a great-looking lawn without the supposed ‘work’ or environmental detriment. This is the perfect time of year to get to work on it and make a season-long difference.

Environmental Benefits of Lawns

According to the North American Lawn Institute, an averagesized suburban lawn produces enough oxygen to support a family of four. A lawn is not some green carpet that the Blue Jays play on (which is fake turf) but a high functioning, living, breathing colony of oxygen-producing plants that are knit together to form a low-growing welcome mat to your home.

A properly maintained lawn is cool to walk on as it transpires moisture through its blades. As it cools the air it also cleans it, through the miracle of photosynthesis.

As rain falls, toxins are filtered through the sophisticated root structure of grass plants. Not only do grass roots slow the flow of water through the soil, preventing flooding, but they also absorb an enormous amount of moisture in the normal course of their workday. That is not to say, however, that a lawn is a water hog.

You can give your lawn a boost and help it do its job more efficiently by following these few simple steps:

CUT YOUR LAWN HIGH Six to eight cm will do the job. For generations we cut our lawns much shorter, not realizing that tall grass blades produce deeper roots that are more drought tolerant. Also, the taller the grass blades, the fewer the weeds as weed seeds are ‘shaded out’ by the grass before they get a chance to germinate. More on weed control later.

USE A MULCHING MOWER The cut grass blades are regurgitated up into the cutting chamber of the mower where they are re-cut before being thrust down into the root zone of the grass plants. As they decompose they add precious nitrogen to the soil: the element that grass plants crave the most.

FERTILIZE THREE TIMES A YEAR Sometimes lawn fertilizer is called lawn food but this is inaccurate. The fact is, your lawn feeds on soil-borne nutrients and takes the nutrients up with the assistance of microbial activity in the soil. It is a little complicated. What you really need to know is that a quality lawn fertilizer provides nutrients to the soil that are used by the grass plants to grow and thrive. The aforementioned nitrogen is the primary ingredient in a spring/early summer application of fertilizer, and is always represented by the first number in the three number analysis on the bag.

SLOW-RELEASE NITROGEN The nitrogen that produces the best results in your lawn is most useful to it when it is released over an extended period of time. One of the most sophisticated forms of slow-release nitrogen is sulphur-coated urea. It releases nitrogen to the root zone as rain falls, temperatures rise, and microbial activity occurs in the soil. Iron also plays an important role, as it helps to produce green chlorophyll, deepening the colour and enhancing the appearance of your lawn quickly.

OVERSEED Spread triple mix or lawn soil over areas where bare patches occur and apply quality grass seed by hand at the rate of 500 grams per 40 sq meters. Rake smooth, step on it to bring the soil and seed in firm contact, and water well until the roots have taken firm hold. Remember that a thick lawn is your best defence against weeds. Alternatively, consider a new product on the market this season that combines dehydrated compost with quality lawn seed that you apply with a lawn spreader. Look for Golfgreen Iron Plus Lawn Recovery. It is amazing!

WATER LESS As we approach the summer season, the temptation to get out the lawn sprinkler will pull at you. I urge you to hold off until there is a real need. A lawn will grow nicely without water for up to 7 days. If it hasn’t rained for a week give your lawn a drink and apply about 2 cm to make sure that it moves down to the root zone where it is really needed.

DON’T WATER If we get into a drought situation, forget about watering all together. Your lawn will stop growing and it may go brown, but for the most part it will be dormant, not dead. That is, unless the drought continues for four weeks or longer, at which time my theory of ‘dormant not dead’ could prove erroneous. I argue that watering at that point is not going to solve the problem of dead grass. See below.

If you do experience dead areas in your lawn this summer, plan on overseeding in mid-August. By late September your grass will have revived and will be looking good again.

The lawns that we grow here are a cool weather crop. That is why there is more sod grown per capita in Ontario than anywhere in the world. We do it because we can. We have fabulous golf courses, partly for this reason, also.

Final note: If you have racoons or skunks digging up your lawn, you likely have grubs feeding on grass roots. June is the month to apply dormant nematodes, available from garden retailers. Water these microscopic insects into the soil thoroughly after application for best results.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster and Order of Canada recipient. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook. markcullen.com


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Garden Expert : Spring Check List

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Garden Expert : Spring Check List

Ensure a bountiful garden this summer with Mark’s step-by-step guide in early spring

It’s time to get growing. As you contemplate your options in the yard, allow me to help you get organized. It is always more effective to approach a project with a plan.


It might surprise you that this is an excellent time of year to start a vegetable garden. Don’t wait until the May 24th weekend to get started. By then you will have missed the best time to sow many of your favourite crops including: peas, carrots, onions, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and garlic (though fall is better for garlic).

With cool April temperatures, this is a great time of year to prepare the soil of your garden by spreading three to four centimetres of Bio Max manure (or reliably high quality compost). You can turn this under the soil or plant right in it.


Sow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, leeks, zinnias, asters and the like now. With five to six weeks until our last frost date, your timing will be perfect. Come late May/ early June, you will be ready to plant in warm soil and your transplants will take off.

Use a quality seed starting mix (I use 10 parts Pro Mix with one-part worm castings. Magic!) All seedlings need plenty of light to grow properly: sunlight or fluorescent lights work best.

Lawn Care

My recipe for the best lawn on the block:

  • Rake lightly with a fan rake to remove winter debris.
  • Fertilize with a quality lawn food. One that contains slow-release nitrogen and chelated iron. The nitrogen for a long-lasting green colour and the iron for the deepest possible green. I use Golfgreen Iron Plus on my lawn.
  • Where weeds occur or thin spots exist, spread lawn soil four centimetres thick and rake smooth. Broadcast quality, Canadian grass seed at the rate of one kg per 100 square metres. Rake this smooth (again), step on it with flat-soled shoes and water until germination. Keep reasonably well watered until new roots are established (about four to six weeks).
  • When you are ready to cut your lawn, set your mower at six to eight centimetres high. Any lower allows weeds to establish and weakens your lawn. Use a mulching mower.


All of the winter-hardy stock that you find at garden retailers this time of year can be planted in the garden, unless it has already flushed new, soft growth: an indication that it was forced in a greenhouse and is now frost-tender. All woody plants that are dormant at the time you purchase them are ready to plant this weekend.


This is a great time of year to dig up perennials and divide them into sections to replant around your yard or give away to friends and neighbours. Hosta, monarda, daylilies: you name it.


Whatever you plant, be sure you prepare the soil well before you place your newly acquired plants in the ground. Ninety per cent of your success depends on it. If you are making a new garden in clay-based soil (common in southern Ontario) be sure to remove existing soil 30 to 40 centimetres deep. Replace it with triple mix, mounded 10 cm higher than the current grade, as the new soil will settle. If you are planting in an existing bed, add four to five centimetres of new, quality soil and either turn it under or let earthworms do it for you.

Look for composted manure that is certified by the Composting Quality Alliance. I spread four centimetres of well-composted manure over my entire garden each spring. I also use worm castings whenever I plant: one part to 10 parts soil. Earthworm castings are nitrogen-rich and teaming with a concentration of nutrients and mycorrhiza. I can see the difference in plant performance when I use worm castings.


And finally, after you have returned your garden furniture to its summertime place, be sure to sit on it. Enjoy the bird song (put out feeders and nesting boxes), the wind and the sunshine. It has been a snowy, cold winter and you have earned a break from the indoors.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster and Order of Canada recipient. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook. markcullen.com


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