By Ted Werth
The month of May is a time of great anticipation for those of us who like to work in our yards.Â With that in mind I’m highlighting one of my favorites, “Those Pesky Weeds,”Â during the month of May.Â Enjoy…
When I was growing up we had what was probably the worst lawn in the neighborhood. It wasn’t that the competition was stiff. It had more to do with the fact that we lived on the corner and our yard made for the perfect whiffle ball field. We would play so much baseball that there were basepaths worn into the yard. We had a pitching mound, although it wasn’t elevated. Even the toughest weed grasses couldn’t survive the constant pounding of our Chuck Taylor sneakers. As it turns out this was all a bonus because we also loved to fish. Almost every Friday we would water the lawn in the early evening and after dark some combination of my dad, brother and I would go pick up night crawlers for our Saturday fishing trip. The bare dirt pitching mound was prime night crawler ground since they would just lay there in plain sight on the bare dirt all but offering to volunteer for duty. My mom never seemed to complain, even though her roses would take a beating from all of our foul balls. And the truth is that on occasion, I would mosey over to one of the flower beds and use the unopened flower heads on her peony plant as the focus for my on-deck practice swing. Not when any adults were around mind you.
Later on I took up golf during my high school years and I came to admire the grass found on the courses. I had the opportunity to play on many of the finest courses in Oregon and I used to marvel that the best ones had no weeds and were so green and uniform. There is just something about a nice carpet of grass that is relaxing and calming. Imagine yourself walking across a rich thick green lawn in the summer sun and you can’t help but have a good feeling.
In 1990 we moved to Roseburg with our two small children. We bought a house that was not landscaped. I decided it would be a great opportunity to try for one of those perfect lawns. I rented a trench digger, installed automatic sprinklers, brought in eight dump truck loads of prime river loam and then bought the best roll out lawn turf available in the area. Erecting a fence and assembling a new swing set for the kids, I now had a perfect lawn. Well, near-perfect. The perfect lawn is a utopian fantasy.
You see, “near-perfect” is never good enough once you start down the path to a nice lawn. Friends and family would compliment my lawn but what I saw was a couple blades of poa annua that didn’t belong. Or a spot that was darker because it got a bit more fertilizer. It was kind of like looking in a mirror as a teenager. It is impossible to see past the flaws. So I studied my Better Homes & Garden lawn book until the binder started coming apart looking for new tips; even reading between the lines and creating my own experiments.
Then one morning I heard a guy named Jerry Baker on the radio. He had crazy ideas for making a near-perfect lawn perfect. I shared this with my friend Gary who was also on this crazy search for perfection. We went all out in adopting the Jerry Baker methods. I was mixing combinations of ammonia, dish soap, beer and other minor elements, and spraying it everywhere with a hose-end sprayer. In addition to the jumbo bottle of ammonia, I opted for the cheapest six-pack I could find. Gary opted for the large beer bottles like you might see laying around a run down city park. Afterward we would compare notes and discuss new strategies. We even managed to work chewing tobacco into our concoctions; bugs hate it you know. Come spring and fall we would go in together to rent a commercial thatcher and aerator. At one point we even contemplated wearing golf shoes with the old-style metal spikes. Jerry said it would help us aerate the lawn year round.
Eventually we moved to Salem and the cheap entertainment our wives enjoyed through this whole process came to an end. We bought a new house six months after moving; it was a great deal and there was no additional work to be done. The deck was installed, underground sprinklers were in place and it had been maintained by paid landscapers. I mostly just fertilized and enjoyed it all for the first several years. But then something started to happen. Two nasty forms of weed grasses took root and despite my best efforts they started to win. I killed them with Roundup one year prompting a neighbor to ask why half my lawn died so suddenly. I told him I sprayed it and he gave me a funny look. Three years ago I finally gave up. The weed grasses had won.
I decided it was time for a new strategy; lawn restoration. I read more books and searched the internet reviewing the local Extension Service articles on how to properly restore a lawn. I was ready to go. I sprayed the whole lawn with Roundup and waited, watered, and then sprayed some more. Six weeks later I just knew every nasty grass blade and seed had been put out of its lousy misery. Then, just to be sure, my son and I placed several inches of prime river loam on top of the old soil. Soon enough the new grass started to grow and by the following spring, with some minor weeding and a little fertilizer, I once again was within a whisker of having the perfect lawn.
My near perfect lawn was short lived. A mere eighteen months after replanting I noticed a few blades of grass that were growing way to fast. Ah hah! The weedy grass thought it would pull a fast one when I wasn’t looking. I carefully grabbed these few dozen grass plants by their collective roots, extracted them and figured that was that. Next year they were back, but there were more. There were too many to ever pull them all so I tried a new strategy offered up by a friend. I put on latex gloves and slipped cotton gloves on over those. Dipping my protected fingers in a solution of Roundup I crawled around the front lawn brushing these fast growing grass stems growing above the rest of the lawn. I felt confident that this new strategy would take out the enemy grass once and for all.
Wrong again. This spring I admitted total defeat. The ugly grass was everywhere. What was left of the nice Kentucky Bluegrass I had planted three years earlier was quickly being choked into submission. I had lost any motivation to try yet another lawn restoration. I figured that would only last another three years. So I reluctantly accepted defeat and figured it was time to just mow what was there and move on to other activities.
End of story? Not quite. While working around the garage several weeks later I spotted a specialized herbicide that I had added, but never used, to my arsenal of chemicals several years earlier. I peeled off the little book of fine print from the plastic bottle and after several minutes of consideration figured the worst that could happen would be my whole lawn would die. I wasn’t sure that my problem was covered by this chemical but I was pretty desperate and figured there was not much to lose. I filled up my hose-end sprayer and sprayed the whole yard. Amazingly, two weeks later, I could see the nasty weed grass starting to weaken. Another dose and soon the problem was gone. Victory! I wanted to do a happy dance but was afraid the neighbors would see me. I waited until the garage door closed and I was safely out of view.
I’ve thought about this whole process; earlier this week I noticed a small number of grass blades that don’t belong; they are growing too fast. I now have the answer. I’ll soon be mixing up the perfect solution in a small spray bottle, relaxed in the knowledge that this solution will work.
I’ve reached a conclusion about all this. I’ve concluded that when it comes to lawns, there is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the way of weeds. If you are struggling with “weeds” in your life it may be that the answer is sitting on your shelf. It was for me. Just read and apply as directed.
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