Friday, March 4, 2016
Some call it fake grass, while others call it Realtor grass. Still others call it spray-painting your lawn. What is Annual Ryegrass and why would you want to use it?
As I noted in earlier postings, when you plant a lawn, you are declaring war on nature. A smooth, uniform, trimmed lawn is not a naturally occurring thing, and Mother Nature will do her darnedest to thwart your intentions. She will send down plagues of insects, moles, weeds, and various forms of blight. She will strip your lawn bare or cause it to grow a foot overnight. She will make it turn brown in the winter from the cold, or brown in the summer from heat. She will dry it out until it crackles or douse it with water until it dies of root rot. The only thing she will not do is cooperate in your designs to create an outdoor organic carpet.
As a result of all of this, people spend a lot of money on lawns. My neighbors put in sprinkler systems and then when they get the water bill, they dig a shallow well to run the sprinkler. The brackish water ends up staining their houses and sidewalks a dark brown (Rust and scale remover from the dollar tree will remove this, with some scrubbing - one side of our house was doused by a neighbor's sprinkler this way). They fertilize, they insecticize, they put down grub control, ant control, lime, and god-knows-what-else in bags. Here on the island, the soil is basically sand, so growing grass here is an experiment in hydroponics - there is little in the way of organic matter in the soil.
And what little there is, is scooped up by huge lawn mowers from a lawn service, or blown with leaf blowers, into huge piles of organic matter which is then scooped up by the trash people and taken only God-knows-where. All this money is spent, and in many cases, their lawn still looks like crap. Oh sure, you might get it to be "perfect" for a season or two if you poison your existing lawn, scrape it all up and throw it away and lay down a perfect bed of sod. For "only" a few thousand dollars you can have a lawn that is the 'envy of the neighborhood' - that is, if anyone in the neighborhood even cared.
One neighbor did this, but was paranoid that people would park on the lawn, so he has arrayed a perimeter of punji sticks made from PVC pipe, to keep people from parking by the side of the road (which is part of the right-of-way and not even his property). Perfect lawn, surrounded by scrap pieces of plumbing pipe. Attractive.
But eventually, the perfect lawn develops bald spots, from insects, moles, lack of watering, over-watering, lack of plant food, too much plant food, or whatever. And these patches drive the lawn-master nuts. His perfect lawn! Ruined! How?'
What I have learned over the years is that a lawn can be a real money-drain to your finances. And no, no one really gives a shit about your lawn, driving by at 35 miles-per-hour. No one - and I mean no one - says, "Hey, look at that house! They have a perfect lawn! I am so envious!" Maybe in the dream world the Lawn Nazis live in, but not the real one.
Depending on where you live, the things that attack your lawn may vary. As I said, we live on a sandy island, and the problems are enormous. In the summer the heat goes up to 100 degrees, and only hardy Southern grasses like St. Augustine or Bermuda or Centipede can take the heat - and thrive. But they do require constant watering in the heat. Other grasses simply shrivel and die.
In the winter, these same grasses turn to an even brown color and look like a cocoa mat. You can water all you want, they just thin out and look like crap. In fact, too much watering can make them look even worse. And of course, the more you water, the more you have to mow, mow, mow, which is either a lot of work for you, or a huge expense with a lawn service.
One cheap trick that some folks use to have a nice lawn in the winter is to spread annual ryegrass seed. As the name implies, it is an annual grass that lasts one season. The cost is low - a huge bag of the stuff can be like $25 or so, and often you can plant an entire yard for less than $100. Toss it in the spreader and spread it around. A few days of rain and it comes up like topsy (or you can water with a sprinkler and hose for a while). It stays green - bright green - until the first days of hot weather. It loves the cold, doesn't need much in the way of fertilizer or water, and grows only to about 6-8" in height, which means you might not need to mow it for months.
In the winter, mowing the lawn is a monthly chore - if that. And instead of bagging and removing organic matter, it is far easier to leave the bag off and then set the mower to "mulch" and let all those leaves and grass clippings get chopped up.
As the nickname implies, "Realtor Grass" is often used to sell a house that might have a lackluster lawn. You throw $100 of rye seed around and in a week or so, you have a lush, luxuriant green lawn that looks great. Of course, next year, it is gone entirely and you are back to dirt and weeds. But for the price of fertilizing your lawn once, you can bring it right back.
I planted ryegrass seed last year as an experiment and did it again this year. It didn't cost much and the lawn looks like I actually cared for it. It lasts from about October to April, and by May or June gets burned to a crisp. In July we leave, so who cares? The summer grass is just a pain in the ass that I have to pay someone to mow if I am not here.
Best of all, since the ryegrass needs little water (and the rainy season is in the summer) I don't have to spend enormous sums of money on watering the lawn (installing a sprinkler system, maintaining it, paying the water bill or installing a well). A good looking lawn, all based on benign neglect.
The neighbor, who is obsessed with a perfect lawn, can't understand why my lawn looks so green while theirs is turning brown. They water constantly! Their lawn should be perfect and mine look like a junkyard! It's not fair! So they turned up the watering until puddles formed on the lawn, leading to mildew, mold, and root-rot which turned even more lawn brown. You can sense their frustration.
Maybe I should tell them about ryegrass. Maybe. Maybe not. It's sort of fun to watch lawn Nazis melt down.