Gardening

You can fix your nasty-looking lawn, but there are alternatives to grass

Email time! Let’s start with a query about a redo of the whole front yard. “Currently it is a mix of dirt spots, dandelions, clover and a bit of grass. Till it and add soil and seed?”

Having a lawn is a personal choice, but for most of us, the decision to have one was probably made by a previous homeowner or the home’s builder. Once that decision is made, it is awfully difficult to go in another direction and get rid of it. That is why most folks go the improvement route instead.

If your lawn looks ratty and is full of weeds, then rototilling it up is not a good idea. This will only expose new seeds and break up roots of existing ones into cuttings, which will become new weed plants.

The first thing to try is re-seeding or over-seeding. This works best when you spread out some compost or soil. At the very least, scratch bare patches. It takes 21 days to ensure germination; you may have to water.

Unfortunately, the best way to kill a lawn off is by covering it with a plastic tarp, which smothers the plants. Alas, this takes five to six weeks. It works, but the question you have to answer is whether there is enough time to kill the lawn and then replant it before winter sets in. Probably not.

Since we are coming up on fall, you could consider letting the leaves fall and then adding extra. Mulch them up with the mower as they fall. Then cover with a tarp, and by spring you should have some pretty good compost forming and you can reseed. You may have to add some soil or compost first, depending on how well the microbes do over the winter months.

Related to fixing a poor lawn is an inquiry seeking alternative ground covers — other than gravel — that would survive in Anchorage and not require the water and maintenance that grass does.

Gee, Alaska gardeners wish for a lot! Me? I am patiently waiting for our front lawn to turn to moss, the natural succession direction of most area lawns. Moss means no mowing, and it stays green when grass would dry out.

In the meantime, I love clover in the lawn. While it is not keeping up with the real ground cover in our yard, dandelions, it does keep their numbers down. Clover, like moss, stays green when things get dry.

Just as you can over-seed with purchased grass seed, you can buy clover seed and spread it, after mixing it with sand and soil first so it will spread easily. It won’t take over the lawn, but might really help with those bare spots. There is a particularly beautiful and annual red clover that is used as a winter cover crop. I have seen a few lawns that were completely planted with it. Wow! Check the internet for pictures of annual red clover seed.

You don’t want to put an invasive out there, but there are some really great, tall, clumping grasses that might look great. You see these along new bike paths and landscaped roadways here. The seed can be collected now. You already have it on the edges of your property; consider moving some.

Finally, a real Alaska wildflower mix might work to create a meadow lawn. Or, you could just let the thing go wild and let nature take over.

Enough on lawns, raspberries bushes have fruited. Don’t let them go to waste. A reader wonders about raspberry leaves turning yellow and brown and crinkly. She noticed her neighbors had some of the same thing. The berries seem to be OK.

This sounds like a lack of water. If only the edges are brown were dead, that would probably be a nutrient deficiency of some sort. As such it would be confined to your plants and not the neighbors’ plants, too.

Finally, is it time to plant garlic? Not yet! However, it is time to order or buy local garlics so you have them when they should be planted in September. Growing garlic is easy and the crop is useful, two requisites to try it.

There are two basic types of garlic. Hard neck types do better than soft neck in Alaska and other places where the climate is cool. Order bulbs now if you can’t find any at local nurseries. Supermarket garlic may work, but who wants a “may work” situation?

Jeff’s garden calendar for the week:

Flowers: When I say harvest, don’t forget flowers.

Butter and eggs: Pick off flowers at the very least.

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