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How To Maintain "Meadow Lawns"

Feb 25, 2008
The word lawn can and should have more than one meaning for you if you own a fairly large piece of land (perhaps one or two acres or more, depending on the layout). A well-groomed turf is important around the house, but it may not be necessary to give the same pampering to outlying parts of the property.

These areas can be quite attractive if kept as a rough-mown meadow. There the grass need be cut only three or four times a year, just often enough to keep scrubby weeds and woody plants from taking over. If seeding is necessary, a rate of 10 to I5 pounds to the acre is ample.

The rough-mown meadow qualifies as a "lawn," even though it does not look exactly like a fine turf. Certainly, unless you have an unlimited pocketbook, a perfect sod several acres in extent is a foolish extravagance. I remember examining a ten-acre tract of perfect creeping bent on an estate owned by one of the Rockefeller clan. It had cost $200,000 to build it and maintain it for five years, the superintendent told me. Even a Rockefeller did not stand such an outlay for long. That estate has been subdivided and not a trace of bent remains.

Easy Meadow Upkeep

A rough lawn needs only minimum care. Oftentimes, if the native grasses are fine leaved and deep rooted, mowing a wild field regularly for a few months will produce a quite satisfactory lawn.

A friend of mine who has an eleven-acre place near Chicago has built up a turf of native prairie grasses that is superior to many I have seen seeded to heavy, sun-dried Kentucky Bluegrass. A lawn of native grasses has a big advantage over most lawns made from seeds grown commercially: the native grasses have been subjected to severe weather conditions and exposed to disease and other troubles in the area until, by natural selection, only the best-adapted individual plants are left.

Usually, all that is needed to convert a grassy field into a fairly good lawn (in addition to occasional mowing) is to fill potholes over one inch deep with loose soil. If the native grasses are vigorous their roots will expand into the fresh soil and establish a good turf without further seeding.

Self-Sufficient

If clippings are allowed to accumulate (not always good practice on fine turf but satisfactory on a meadow-type lawn), there may be no need for fertilizing.

The inclusion of clover in a fine-mown turf is now frowned upon by most experts, but in a meadow lawn it is a great cost-saver. Clovers are capable of extracting nitrogen from the air and fixing it into the soil in a form that grass plants can use.

In the South, Ladino Clover or Lespedeza is suitable for this purpose. North of the Ohio River, a small amount of White Dutch Clover will serve. Up to the center of Ohio and Indiana, ladino is also good. The extra cost of the so-called Wild Kent Clover is not justified; I have never been able to see the difference between it and White Dutch in any planting I have observed.

Some argue that if clippings are returned to the sod, all the food they contain goes back into the soil, making clover unnecessary. This argument overlooks the fact that bacteria and fungi, in breaking down the clippings into fertilizer elements, utilize some of the food for their own energy and growth. This fertility is lost to the soil. Hence some feeding, even if light, helps the rough meadow.

There are various grasses which can be used if the area has been in cultivated crops and must be seeded. A pure stand of Dutch or ladino clover in the North or lespedeza or ladino in the South can be beautiful. A major danger is that anthracnose, a fungus disease, may kill out patches in unfavorable weather.

Perhaps the best rough mixture for the North is a combination of Common Kentucky Bluegrass, Redtop and a fine-leaved fescue. If not mowed too closely, redtop is a fairly permanent grass and may reseed itself.
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