|Re: Grass Substitutes||<– Date –> <– Thread –>|
|From: Kay Argyle (argylemines.utah.edu)|
|Date: Wed, 31 May 2000 17:01:06 -0600 (MDT)|
> One of the things I have always wanted was to not have grass in open > spaces at all, but instead to rely on low-growing ground covers .... My main > reason for this is that I HATE GRASS (partly for reasons that probably > won't affect Cascadia to such a great extent, such as fertilization and > watering, but also because it requires mowing and lots of care if you > don't want weeds like the prickly false dandelion to take over). ........... > I remember reading something on the list recently about (Wasatch Commons?) > using creeping herbs in their grass pavers bordering the paved pathways, That's us. There are low-maintenance grasses. Buffalo grass, for instance, requires little mowing, fertilization, or watering. The trade-off is durability -- bluegrass's fast growth means it repairs itself quickly. Mixing white clover into grass will increase a lawn's drought-tolerance and provide nitrogen. I can at least advise on cost and labor for thyme, if not yet durability. Other groundcovers would be similar in many respects. Keep in mind when I say "groundcover" I'm lumping very different species together, so there will be exceptions to any generality. > * Other plantings will be more expensive to put in. Yes, but not overwhelmingly. The biggest factor is whether you are starting from seed or from plants. Buy seed in bulk. They're usually tiny -- While the price per pound is enough to make you dizzy, a little goes a long way. I planned to seed 3,750 square feet. The company, Earthly Goods, assured me two ounces (1/4 cup) of creeping thyme seed at $35 was plenty. Say a penny per square foot -- negligible. For comparison, sod is $.20-.25/sq ft. Chamomile seed was a little higher. The companies with chamomile seed by the ounce were Smith & Hawken (pricey) and Johnny Seed (not bad). (You want *roman* chamomile, Anthemis nobilis [a.k.a. Chamomaelum nobilis] -- german chamomile is a tall annual.) We also purchased woolly thyme in pony packs for $2 ($.33/sq ft). I don't remember seeing chamomile in pony packs, but call local nurseries and inquire. A nursery might be willing to special order it. We both seeded and planted since (a) it was late in the year and we weren't sure the seed would germinate, and (b) members expressed a preference for woolly thyme, after observing mature plants of both, and I couldn't find woolly thyme seed in bulk quantities. We got far better germination under a floating row cover than in a nearby area receiving the same watering (daytime high 70F, misting twice a day -- the cover raised both humidity and temperature). The seedlings form a solid mass of green. The areas planted from pony packs last fall still have big gaps between plants. > * Other plantings mostly likely will need to be mowed. If the concern is the amount of work, mowing is the wrong thing to worry about, and weeds are the wrong reason to oppose grass. You can divide the work into three stages: installation, establishment, and on-going maintenance. * INSTALLATION Soil preparation is much the same no matter what. Bring in dumptruck loads of compost, spread it, till, rake smooth. Possibly install a sprinkler system. For grass, flop squares or rolls of sod into place, water, and roll. It's tiring sweaty labor, but it transforms the place in hours. Instant gratification -- very bourgeois. Makes city inspectors happy. Grass seed can be spread by hand, by hand spreader, or by rolling spreader. I mixed thyme seed and sand, a teaspoon of seed per cup of sand per 400 sq ft, and sprinkled from a salt shaker. It requires patience, or an adult to fill shakers and several children who think it's a game (getting the kids involved encourages them to be protective of the young plants), but no physical strength. With groundcover starts, dig a hole and tuck the plant into place. That gets old after the first several dozen, and grim after several thousand (figure one per square foot). * Workload Measuring work either in hours or in tablets of painkiller, grass seed is easiest, groundcover seed a close second, then (a long way behind) sod and groundcover starts. * ESTABLISHMENT * Watering Sod and plant starts both need to be watered more often in the beginning than once established. Seed (grass or groundcover) needs to be watered MUCH more often in the beginning, even several times a day. This is critical. A floating row cover can help maintain humidity. * Weeding Sod (purchased from a reputable farm) doesn't need to be weeded the first year or two. Seed and plant starts must be weeded a great deal, until the soil has exhausted its store of weed seeds and/or the young plants have filled in enough to suppress germination of anything else. * Workload This stage is more work than the last, maintenance. To progress, the plants must have a healthy root system and have achieved full coverage. Because of their headstart, sod and groundcover starts are quickest to form a good root system. Sod achieves full coverage instantaneously, although usage of the lawn must wait several weeks for rooting to occur; then grass seed (a couple of months or longer), thickly sowed groundcover seed (several more months or longer), groundcover starts spaced at twelve inches (a year or more). Some groundcovers grow faster than others, even within the same genus (for instance, Thymus serpyllum is much faster than T. praecox). In order of day-to-day work load: sod is easiest, then groundcover starts, then (tied for pain-in-the-neck) grass and groundcover seed. Taking time into account, grass seed moves up. * MAINTENANCE Once the plants are well established and you have achieved full coverage, it doesn't matter whether you used seed or sod/starts. * Mowing Grass needs mowing once a week, or oftener if you object to it being shaggy, whereas, while some groundcovers benefit from occasional mowing, few require it. Even if you decide to mow groundcover for some reason (deadheading old flowers, encouraging compactness), it won't need it often. It grows slowly in comparison to grass, and stops at a preset height, which may be short enough to suit your needs. A couple of mowings the whole summer (or none at all) will keep it tidy. A number of thymes stay under four inches, for instance creeping and coconut thyme, and in some cases under two -- woolly, minus, praecox, prostrate varieties of lemon thyme. The neighbor's patch of roman chamomile is three to four inches high. White clover gets about six inches tall, or shorter with occasional mowing. Bugleweed (ajuga) is two to three inches high. I don't have personal experience with woolly yarrow or the traffic-tolerant groundcovers that require moist soil, which we have trouble providing -- creeping veronica, Mazus reptans, corsican mint, etc. * Weeding For people with no objection to broadleaf herbicides (which ain't us), grass is easier, hands down. Assuming you indeed object to poisoning earthworms, polluting the water table, giving yourself estrogen-mimic problems and your grass-nibbling cats kidney failure, etc. etc., the key to not having weeds is (a) not growing weed seeds, (b) having no place for weed seeds from elsewhere to germinate, and (c) the seedlings having no light if they do. Healthy grass doesn't provide invaders much of a toehold. Some groundcovers grow that densely, many do not; some will shade out weeds, some won't. Weed-free sod gives you a headstart. Broadleaf weeds are more obvious in a manicured lawn -- bad for appearances, good for weedhunting. * Fertilizing Grass needs fertilizer for optimal health. A mulching mower can help. Some groundcovers want rich soil. Some prefer poor soil and don't want to be fertilized. Fertilizing isn't as major a chore as others, and if you prefer to avoid synthetic fertilizer you can screen compost and use it instead. * Watering You can control this by your choice of groundcover. Some groundcovers require less water than grass (thyme, yarrow, clover), some require more (corsican mint, irish moss). With an automatic sprinkler system, the amount of labor is equal, but the water bill is still worth considering, and the environmental impact of the massive water projects necessary to sustain Utahns' iron-willed determination to "make the desert bloom like a rose," instead of something more suitable such as agave or oriental poppy. * Workload Considering each maintenance step separately, -- weeding: possibly close, but I'd give grass a slight edge here. -- mowing: groundcover, saves major amount of labor. -- watering: groundcover, saves slightly on water bill. -- fertilizing: groundcover, saves small amount of labor. Overall: groundcover. * TOTAL WORKLOAD, START TO ETERNITY I weighed the greater initial work of groundcover (starts or seeds) against the greater longterm maintenance of grass, a year of weeding (and weeding and weeding, don't underestimate this) vs. decades of mowing, and campaigned for groundcover in the areas we require some traffic tolerance but don't expect high use. For our two designated play areas, we put Kentucky bluegrass sod on one and buffalo grass seed on the other. > * Other plantings will likely draw bees that may sting us when we walk > through. I'd much rather tangle with a bee than a lawn mower. Compare the dangers. For most people and most insect attacks, getting stung is an inconvenience -- It hurts and you have a welt afterwards. However, even in the case of severe reactions recovery is usually complete. Nonfatal mower injuries require stitches if you're lucky and amputation if you're not. People who are at risk from insect stings are frequently aware of their vulnerability and take it seriously. Not regarding a mower as dangerous is exactly what puts someone at risk. Results of a web search: Estimates ranged from 25 deaths per year from insect stings (about 1 per year from africanized honey bees) to a high of 100 with the caveat that many are probably misdiagnosed. Articles on africanized bees indicated attacks mostly occur around hives -- buildings, trees, etc. References: http://extractor-kit.com/bee-sting.htm http://cnas.ucr.edu/~ento/CAAHB/ahb-facts.html#Deaths "It is estimated that between one and two million people in the United States are severely allergic to stinging insect venom.... For one person in 100, the sting of an insect can be fatal." -- http://www.ag.ohio-state.edu/~ohioline/hyg-fact/2000/2076.html Lawn mower injuries per year were in the 75,000-85,000 range (25,000 from riding mowers). Deaths from riding lawn mowers were 75 per year. If (big if) walk-behind mowers have the same injury-to-death ratio as riding mowers, that would be 225 deaths annually. References: http://www.outreach.missouri.edu/newfront/summer/lawnmowing.html http://www.aap.org/family/tipplawn.htm "More than 2,000 children are permanently disabled each year by power lawn mowers ...." -- http://call-sql.medctr.luc.edu/media/newsrel/jul97/mower.htm It sounds to me like it's a toss-up which is more deadly. If someone in the group is violently allergic, you can take steps. A friendly solution is to mow during the flowering season (sometimes just a few weeks), since flowers typically grow above the foliage. And no picnics, since bees will take fried chicken over flowers any day. (Despite growing up with a yard full of clover and buttercups, the only bee-sting I got was at the municipal swimming pool.) Sorry, another of my responses that goes on forever .... I'll send it now, before I remember one more thing I need to add. Kay Wasatch Commons Salt Lake
Grass Substitutes Gretchen Westlight, May 24 2000
- Re: Grass Substitutes Kay Argyle, May 31 2000
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