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July 6, 2011

If this blog had a category for “I am a terrible scientist” then this post would belong to that category. At least that’s what Chris said the other day, because he asked me, repeatedly, using every possible of the words in the question, “Do you have any record of what kind of grass seed you planted where? You planted rye, fescue, and zoysia, all three clumping fine-bladed grasses. Do you know what is working and what died?”


As I have mentioned, our back yard is complicated. We have six terraces heading down to a creek bed, and all six terraces have different light. And now, all six have slightly different issues with the grass.

Three terraces have a decent cover of the St Augustine that was here when we bought the house. One terrace has a decent stand of fescue from seed I laid down in desperation in March, where I knew I had no St Augustine and where the winter rye had failed to take. Throughout both the front and back yards I have a few clumps of green grass of uncertain origin. It’s not attractive, and furthermore, to Chris’s immense frustration, we don’t know for certain what kind of grass it is. It could be remnants of the beautiful winter rye lawn that has (mostly) succumbed to the Texas heat. Or it could be the beginnings of zoysia, notoriously difficult to seed and slow to establish, but if I can make it work, a good summer grass.

All of the terraces have large swathes of rocky sand, and I don’t know whether to blame the dog or the lack of organic matter in the soil or light or system failures in irrigation. I think it’s the latter, because as I make improvements and adjustments to my d-i-y sprinkler system, the grass improves, but I also know it’s a combination of factors vexing me, more than just water. My plan is to focus on one terrace at a time, amending the soil by raking in compost and manure, laying new St Augustine sod where it is sunny, re-seeding the shady areas with both fescue and zoysia to see what takes, and planting shrubs. If I take on the whole lawn at once, I’ll give up in frustration, but breaking it up into manageable chunks means I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I need to get my head around the time it is going to take me to do this, and I need to learn to be comfortable with leaving a significant portion of my back yard in a non-perfect state for an extended period of time, at least another six months and more likely stretching into next spring. That’s a long time for me to live with imperfection, and it’s easy for me to become demoralized, so I keep giving myself pep talks.

I tell myself that my back yard does look extremely different from when we moved in exactly a year ago. We’ve planted a ton of ornamental trees, and they’re all thriving, and if they bloom next spring, it’s going to be breathtaking. I keep telling myself that, to slow down and wait, and I keep reminding myself that my goal for the first year was to focus on the front yard. Focus on the front yard. Breathe. Relax.

The front yard is more satisfying, because I have been focusing on it since last September. We took out a large (dying) tree, took out a bed of shrubs in one place and replaced it with lawn, put in a flower bed in another place, and planted four trees: a ginkgo, a maple, and two ornamental plums. All of the plants and trees are doing what I had hoped they would, and it makes me very happy. It’s very green, and I’d love to say, “done with the front,” but I can’t, not quite.

The grass is the last holdout.

It’s midsummer, and for most of the yard, the St Augustine that was here when we moved in has responded to all of the aeration and manure and compost and water and chemical fertilizer, carefully monitored to achieve as close to zero runoff as I could manage, and it looks great. But there remains a blob, about the shape of Britain, where zoysia? seed took, and there’s a war going on between the zoysia? and the St Augustine. St. Augustine is a fast growing grass that spreads by growing runners, shoots of grass that put down roots and spread, fast, which is a great thing, because it means my front lawn is probably going to be completely covered in St Augustine grass within a few weeks. It looks like it’s winning, but if you look carefully down into the grass all over the yard you will see that there are blades and small clumps of zoysia? throughout the entire lawn.

Zoysia is a notoriously slow-growing grass, but it’s persistent, and when it roots, the roots go deep.

I know I’m not going to get a zoysia lawn this year. I know I might never get one, that it’s possible that what I think is zoysia? is actually a remnant of winter rye. But I don’t think so. It’s too hot for rye, and too sunny. I think my zoysia seeds took, and they’re quietly growing in among the St Augustine, biding their time, and certainly not this year, and probably not next, nor yet the year after, but eventually, the zoysia grassroots will establish and grow, and instead of St Augustine, I’ll have a zoysia lawn, which is what I want.

You would think I’d be frustrated, but I’m not. I’m happy to sit on my front porch and sip a glass of iced tea, and watch the grass grow.

From → Garden

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