Dogs have many good qualities, but they aren’t easy on yards. Especially in a tiny backyard like ours, the combination of accumulated canine answers to the call of nature, unfettered grass nibbling, and gleeful dog romping will leave the lawn looking barren and diseased.
Now that we’re dogless for the first time in years, it’s time to get out the latest scientically developed patch mix and tackle those bare spots.
We have a tiny, pod-shaped patch of grass in our backyard, and right now it’s got about the worst case of yard mange you’ve ever seen. One area appears to have died entirely, experiencing complete plant structural collapse into a kind of hard brown thatch with only a few healthy grass plants here and there. Elsewhere we’ve exposed section of dirt and grass plants with colors ranging from a kind of puke yellow to a sickly green. Let’s just say it’s not the kind of lush grassy field that makes you want to walk barefoot and lie on your back watching the the clouds drift by.
The culprit is a wet winter, with lots of unpredictable temperature spikes and drops — and our little dog, Kasey. The back yard is Kasey’s preferred pre-bedtime venue, and the tiny size of our yard means her efforts have had a much more concentrated impact than would be the case in a bigger suburban yard.
Normally, by July 20 we would be well into the brown-out season. After the wet spring months, a Midwestern summer would bring broiling temperatures and lots of sunshine, and only the constant waterers might avoid the telltale browning of their lawns.
This year, though, there isn’t a sign of grassy distress anywhere you look. We’ve had such cool, damp, New England-like weather — this morning, for example, we’ve got temperatures in the 60s and some fog — that everybody’s yard looks like Ireland. Even the most inattentive lawn-minder (and I would definitely put myself in that category) can feel proud of their lush, bright green yards.
It is cold (again!) but bright this morning. As we walked along, the sun was low on the horizon. It cast its rays across a field of grass that has grown long and gone to seed, leaving the grass sun-dappled and golden in the chill morning air.
For years, we’ve had ground cover in our front beds. It was some kind of leafy, viney plant that produced little blue flowers during the spring. It kept the beds covered, looked reasonably good, and — most important of all — was virtually maintenance-free and imposed no significant weeding duties.
Several years ago, however, some grass invaded one of the beds. It was a gradual invasion at first, and I thought it could be controlled by pulling the grass plants out of the beds. But I was wrong. Grass plants apparently establish some kind of intricate below-ground network of roots. Once grass plants get established, it’s virtually impossible to pull them out one by one, because the roots remain and new blades of grass just grow out. And it was impossible to identify all of the growing grass, because the shorter, newer blades were hidden by the ground cover. As a result, my weeding efforts were doomed to failure, and there was no viable alternative. We couldn’t spray the grass with some kind of powerful herbicide because the grass was mixed with the ground cover, and spraying would just kill the ground cover.
So, despite my best efforts, with each passing year the encroachment got worse and worse. This year, the beds were totally overgrown with tall grass, making the house look like it had been abandoned. Because there was no other choice, we finally exercised the nuclear option and decided to strip out all of the plants in the beds, grass and ground cover included. We had it done today, and I think our neighbors were appreciative. When I went out to look at the work tonight, our neighbor across the way gave me a thumbs-up and said “looking good!”
Every summer a point arrives at which your yard begins to teeter on the edge of browning out. In Columbus, that point is here. You know it is coming when there are days of high heat and blazing sunshine and no rain, when the grass at the nearby park or playground turns brown and crunchy, when the ground feels like concrete beneath your feet. At that point, a crucial question is presented to the suburban lawn warrior: do you water incessantly, hoping to somehow stave off the inevitable, or do you give up the fight and let the hot summer weather chalk up another victory over the concept of the lush green carpet that is the aspirational goal posed by every lawn care ad?
No one wants to be grossly insensitive to the needs of our environment and basic principles of water conservation, of course, but no one wants to be the first house in the neighborhood with a dead straw-colored yard baked to a brick-like hardness, either. June is awfully early to be presented with that difficult choice. Usually we in the Midwest make it until mid-July, or even early August, before the obligatory brown-out occurs. By then, our fellow homeowners typically will collectively throw in the towel and let Mother Nature do what may — in much the same way that gluttonous men at Thanksgiving dinner will abandon any pretense of pride and propriety, pointedly loosen their belts, and pound down another piece of pumpkin pie.
Of course, there is an alternative: pray for rain. You might just see me this week, making heartfelt sacrifices and doing a spastic rain dance in hopes of currying favor with the Rain Gods.
Our house has two brick walkways and a brick patio. I prefer the look of brick to the look of cement. I like the darker appearance and the more old-fashioned feel that you get from brick.
These positive attributes come at a cost, of course. When spring rolls around, you just have to reconcile yourself to the reality that, at several points during the spring and summer months, you will have to weed the cracks between the bricks — because those tiny slivers of earth seem to be the most fertile ground imaginable. Is there some magical property of brick that encourages the growth of grass and unwanted plants? And, in deference to Penny, we can’t really apply powerful herbicides.
All weeding sucks, of course, but weeding the cracks between bricks is like weeding, squared. It is a precise operation where you have to grasp the weed at its base next to the brick and then gently pull straight up to try to get the roots, too. Gardening gloves don’t really work because they are too bulky. This delicate bare-handed process always results in fingertips and palms scraped against the roughness of the brick, as well as an aching back and sore hamstrings from being hunched over during the endless series of careful extractions.
When you have finally finished, the walkways and patio look great, but you know it is just a matter of time before you are going to have to do it again. Such are the burdens of the brick walkway owner.
In New Albany, we’ve had our April showers, and then some. The constant rain has been depressing, but it has worked its amazing magic.
The landscape has been transformed from dull, unrelenting, washed-out greyness to an impossibly lush expanse featuring every imaginable shade of green. The grass in our yard is a deep, fathomless emerald color, like the dense, verdant, waving stands of kelp found at the bottom of the ocean or a wet spot on the felt top of a billiards table. In the heavily refracted light of the early evening, the lawn looks thick and rich and irresistibly inviting, the perfect place to sink your tired feet, or to lay down, facing skyward, and let the cool blades caress the back of your neck and tickle your ears.