May 5, 2011

The Best Way To Repair a Bare Patch on a Lawn

Repair Bare Patches on a Lawn: The Most Successful Way

The solution is here: Pre-germinate your seeds!  You'll save time, effort and money!  by pre germinating your seeds you'll gain 300 to 400% in time, increase your success rate by more than double and you will also save yourself a lot of watering and increase the success of your project.

Grass seeds need between 10 to 28 days* to grow in good conditions, this method provides a foolproof jump start and will cut down the time needed by up to 400%.  If you try it, you'll never go back to the old method, believe me! : I have witnessed first hand grass sprouting in less than 3 days!
*Tall Fescue 10 to 14 days  to germination
*Kentucky Bluegrass 21 to 28 days to germination
This method allows you to reduce the time needed by more than half.

By pre-germinating your seeds, you can control the process and provide the absolute best environment. As you know, seeds needs constant moisture in order to germinate, providing such on a patch of lawn means that you need to water constantly, which can be costly and also a hassle to monitor. 

This trick was given to me by a pro landscaper working in very affluent suburbs and it works like a charm.  20 min of work, 3-5 days of rest, and you'll be amazed: No constant watering and a much better germination rate.
To do so, you'll need:
  • A wheel barrel, bucket or any recipient.
  • Good Soil (Scott's Lawn soil )   Avoid cheapo "Top Soil" as it is mainly tree bark and is poorly suitable for grass seeds
  • Scotts Lawns Start Fertilizer  or any type 20-27-5.  Do not use "regular, weed preventer or established lawn" fertilizer,  Weed preventer will stop germination and regular fertilizer has too much Nitrogen and often zero Phosphorus. (Phosphorous is what we are looking for)
  • Rake if you have larger patches to fix
  • Plastic bag

The Preparation:

1) In a wheel barrel or any recipient, pour Scotts Lawn Soil and mix well to break and remove clumps. Use your hands if necessary.  (shown here:  half a bag, about 1CF)

2) Sprinkle the Scotts Lawns Start Fertilizer over it (about half a cup) and mix very well

3) Add the seeds. I use about 3 to 5 cups of seed, and mix well again. Don't forget to mix the corners too :-) you want to spread the seeds uniformly 

When done, it should look like that.  (US Quarter shown for size)  There is no need to "overseed" Don't forget that you can only see the surface ;-)

4) Water slowly! Add about a gallon of lukewarm water (~ 75F) is better than cold.  Do NOT over water , it will do more harm than good.
The soil should be damp but not soaked.  Mix well to spread the moisture.  let rest 5 minutes, and add more water if necessary.  be careful to not create pools of water on the bottom: seeds can be damaged by too much water or simply rot.

5) Compact gently to provide good soil contact and cover loosely with a plastic bag or some newspaper to limit evaporation.  That's it.  Let it rest for 24hrs. You can rest too, and don't forget to come back the next day for 5 minutes.
For best result, the temperature should be between 60 to 80F (16 to 27 deg Celsius) under, the germination will take longer, over , water evaporates quite fast.  Expect between 3 days at 80F to 5 days at 60F.

Day 2:  Add some more water if necessary and mix gently. re-compact lightly if necessary

Day 3:  Repeat Day 2 and take a close look at the seeds, you should see some cracking on the seeds hull, which is a good sign. (magnifying glass needed)

Day 4:   Look at the seeds, very closely, and you should see a tiny white dot emerging. This is the sign that tells you that the seeds should be planted within 24hrs max: Don't let the seeds germinate fully and develop roots in your wheel barrel!  Plant them!

On the parts that need to be patched, loosen the soil on 2" (5 cm) deep, remove debris and dead grass. Pre-water the area generously, don't hesitate to water a larger area than the one(s) patched and spread the mixture over. Apply about 1/2 inch thick of it.
Compact lightly and water frequently rather than deeply. (the use of a Digital Water Timer will do great service to you: 10-15 min watering every 3-6hrs will keep the seeds and seedlings moist.  

Cover lightly with grass clippings to limit evaporation.
Depending on the soil temperature, you may expect sprouting between 2 to 3 days, That's between 10 to 15 days faster than the regular seeding method. You'll also notice a higher rate of germination.
Furthermore, the main reason for failed grass to grow is the lack of moisture during the first 10 days, with this method there is very little rick of such.  You have also saved you a lot of time and effort watering the seeds


Lawn Cut Height 
Don't scalp!
Most people cut their lawn too short. In spring when the temperatures are cool and the weather wet, you can allow a short cut if you need to core aerate, dethatch or overseed, but keep in mind that the blades are the Energy Factory of your lawn. When cut too short you force the lawn to take resources from the roots.  Longer blades promotes longer roots.
by cutting too short you'll also give direct sunlight to soil and allow weeds to germinate and water to evaporate faster.  And don't forget to keep your mower blades sharp!
It is better to mow the lawn late afternoon in summer. If cut during the morning, the sun will bake the freshly cut grass all day long.  Give it a fresh night to recup!   

Spring:       2 to 2.5 In   5 to 6 cm
Summer:    2.5 to 3 In   6  to 7.5 cm
A good article on proper mowing is linked here:

Also, mulching does good:  Instead of bagging your grass clippings, if your mower can  mulch, do it: it feeds the lawn and reduce the need for fertilizer and watering, it does not create mulch as long as you mow your lawn frequently,  don't let the grass grow 10" tall and then cut it to 1". Mow frequently and cut only an inch rather than the reverse.    Thatch is mostly created by shallow watering and the overuse of fertilizer.

Fertilizer type 20-27-5

The 3 numbers indicate the content (%) of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K)A 20-27-5 fertilizer means that it contains 20% Nitrogen, 27%Phosphorous and 5% Postassium as active ingredients

Phosphorous is necessary for good root development. For instance the Scotts® Turf Builder® Lawn Fertilizer has a fertilizer analysis of 32-0-4. With 32% Nitrogen, this is a bit high for brand new seedlings, and has 0% Phosphorous (Phosphorous promotes root growth and germination) 

Grass Seeds 
Depending on your area, location and amount of sunlight, choose your grass seeds accordingly. Don't go against nature: you'll win the first month and will loose for the next 10 years.  Don't hesitate to ask your local Hardware store or research on the internet. 
Tall Fescue:  Grows faster than KGB (Kentucky Blue Grass), needs less water but does not self repair. Tolerant to shade.  Tall Fescue is also known for deeper roots.
Kentucky Blue Grass:  Self repair (propagate by rhizomes) less drought resistant than TF,  less tolerant to shade, great color. Need about 23 days to germinate, 10 with this method. 

I use different type of seeds depending on the amount of sun (sun/shade & Heat-Tolerant Thermal Blue)  
Picture courtesy of American Lawn

Patch Test on Heat-Tolerant Thermal Blue
Vs. Tall Fescue.

The 2 key factors of your success will be the following: Water and soil. Water as a start, soil for prosperity of your lawn. Don't hesitate to amend the soil: you'll see a great deal of positive difference. I, personally, can see a great difference where I have amended the soil: greener & healthier.

Soil/Lawn improvement go from dethatching, core aeration, loam or compost addition, the use of the Harvard Brew, or Ironite / Milogarnite*

*Milogarnite (can) also acts as deer repellent. Please read the Wikipedia on that subject.

Apr 24, 2011

Lawn Tonic, Harvard Organic Brew,

Harvard Organic Brew

It's the roots,  Stupid! 
 Plants, Trees and lawn are only good as their roots.  Great roots mean great lawn!
so, if you wonder how to have 10 inches roots on your lawn Vs. your average 3.5, you need to check this! 
Take 9 minutes to watch this video and save yourself 100's of dollars and lawn care hours.(From Harvard U. & Ask This Old House) (Bonus: Wicked Boston Accent From Roger The Landskeyppah)*

Deeper roots = less watering, Drought Resistant Lawn, Healthier, Grub resistant.
MUCH Cheaper, about 10 times cheaper  (1 Gal of Tea per 1000 sqf, Cost for 10,000 sqf = $5
Promotes healthier lawn.  

Harvard Organic Tea Brew Recipe

Barrel Size Compost Kelp Molasses Fish Hydrolysate Vegetable oil

15 Gal  (57 l) 3 - 4 lbs 1/2 cup 1/2 cup 1/2 cup 1 TBS
30 Gal  (113 l) 6 - 7 lbs 1 cup 1 cup 1 cup 1 TBS
50 Gal  (190 l) 7 - 8 lbs 1 1/2 cup 1 1/2 cup 1 1/2 cup 1 TBS

Liquid Kelp, 32 fl. oz. 
Fish Hydrolysate 1 Quart
Liquid Molasses

Note: If you use domestic water, aerates for 30 min prior to adding the ingredients (aeration removes the chlorine in the water)
Mix as explained in the video and run the Pond Pump or the aerator for 24 hrs to 48 hrs. As a tip, you can use the pump outlet an attach a small tubing next to the exit, it will create a Venturi effect and makes lots of bubbles ; -) 
Apply to the lawn at a rate of 1 to 2 gal per 1000 SQF 

Homemade Lawn Tonic
This recipe is from Jerry Gardner, it uses household product to make a lawn tonic. at first, it may look strange but if you take a second look, everything is there for a reason. Bonus: it works!

Ammonia:  Ammonia is mainly nitrogen = fertilizer. plus, grass and lawn must absorb nitrogen in gaseous form and that's what Ammonia is made of ...
Soap: Surfactant, helps as a wetting agent and bugs don't like the taste 
Yeast: helps breaking down the thatch. (use baker's yeast, not baking powder). Some people use (real) beer.  Baking (bread) Yeast is Saccharomyces cerevisiae  If your latin is not up to par, "cerevisiae" means "from beer".  Drink your beer, use yeast for the lawn, plus yeast is incredibly cheap.  
Sugar/Molasses:  carbohydrates: feed the lawn. Molasses are preferred to sugar.

Do not overdose on the Ammonia, Just as well as you can burn lawn with and excess of fertilizer, you can also do it with ammonia. 
Don't use antibacterial dish washing liquid, either use a super cheapo or a more "environment friendly type". If your soap is the type "concentrated" use half!

Chemical Fertilizer or not? 
I am not saying NOT to use Chemical Fertilizer, but what I am saying is: Unless you don't pay attention, a bag of Scott's Fertilizer is $55 and If you follow the Scott's Lawn Care program it's roughly a $300 tab worth of fertilizer for the season
I like Scott's, it's good quality, but if I can use less chemicals on my yard, I'll take a look at it. On the top of that, the amount of fertilizer recommended is grossly exaggerated: Experts recommends to reduce the amount by between 33% and 50% per application: You are better off spreading two applications over 3 weeks than overfeeding your lawn with a giant meal once.  About 30% of the nutrients are flushed away and ends up in stream and rivers. Hence, unless you are willing to dump money for nothing, think twice and apply on the light side. Just as you, your lawn would be more willing to have multiple small meals spread out than one giant one per month.

One of the issues with Chemicals Fertilizer is the very short "green effect"

Apr 19, 2011

How To Make Your Own Rain Barrel

 Rain Barrel 101

Rain Barrels are the new crave, and for a good reason: Everything green is thirsty! Plus, why not use good pure free water instead of using chlorine loaded city water?
So, if you have a roof and some rain fall, you may qualify for free water. With an average 3 inch of rainfall per month, you can easily collect (realistically) about 600 gallons a month on only 1/4 of your roof surface. (2335 gal/month on the full surface ~1300 sqf).  Those 600 gal/Mo translate to about  $160 worth of water per year (April to October)
Financially speaking, the ROI is about 6 months for a simple system, or 1 year if you add a sprinkler pump, or 1 1/2 year if you use top notch materials. 

Let's review the  tips and trick to make your own rain barrel for few dollars, or If you feel like it, making your own state of the art watering solution for a bit more ...

Here is how I made my 120 Gallons Rain Water Barrels Station.
As a rule of thumb, and to make your life easier: Do NOT reinvent the wheel: Use what's has already been invented!

The barrels
Look for a Car Wash and go there with your brightest smile.  If your wife or daughter is willing to participate, send them along ;-) 
Car-Wash businesses  use 55 gal plastic drums for car soap: Smile and ask if they would not mind give you one ..or two empty ones:  You just saved $50 a pop
I like the Car Wash Drums for the following reasons:
They are stackable, vertically or horizontally, have the volume markings and the top caps have often double thread for your regular homeowner hose

Before you go and drill, I suggest that you consider the following:  Do you want a temporary rainwater collection system, or do you expect to collect water for more than a summer?
If you expect to collect for more than a season, out of my own experience,  I would suggest the "better example". 

Best Example: Top loading 

I can't emphasis enough that the Oatey system is by far the most effective and most convenient system.
As mentioned previously,  CarWash 55 Gal Drums have 2 caps with a double thread.  One is a 3/4 thread for your average hose.  Just buy a Mystic Rainwater Diverter and install it in 5 Minutes. Chop-Chop You are 95% done!
What I particularly appreciate with the Oatey, is the fact that when the rain barrel is full, the water goes down the original downspout and you do not need a special overflow.
You can also collect from 2 different downspout, place one Oatey Mystic on each Downspout and run a hose back to the barrel(s).  Gravity will work as long as the Oatey Mystic is placed above the highest point of the barrel.
I also love that it looks good on your house and does not "degrade" the overall look. If you opt for the Mystic Rainwater, you will not need a large top cut, mesh filter, Flex Spout,  etc.  It also has a plug, so when winter comes, just plug it and your gutter system returns to its original state.

To let the water out, you have basically 2 solutions:
Gravity with a simple valve or spigot, or if you want to use sprinklers or a hose, a pump.
The pump solution is more adequate it you have more than one rain barrel, or if you wish to water your lawn / plants with the water collected: After multiple trips to the rain barrel with your 2 gal water can, you will, like me, realize that it takes 27 trips to empty a rain barrel :-)
I have 2! going on 3 ...
I also enjoy the pump for the following reason: I mix or make my lawn tonic, Lawn Tea, or fertilizer directly in the rain barrels and water with either sprinklers or hand held Watering Wand ... No fuss, no mess.
The pump :    1 HP 720 GPH Portable Pump  50 PSI output / 180 Ft Head.

Second Example: Flex + Mesh
That's your average DYI rainbarrel.  If you can't get your hand on a  Mystic Rainwater Diverter , the Flexspout and mesh are the most accessible solution. Otherwise, the regular top cut is more work, and look more "DYI": You'll need to cut a hole on the top, and cover it with a Mesh Strainer or a Mesh.   Be aware that if your hole is not covered, you'll breed mosquitoes and collect debris, leaf, etc ..
I like the Kitchen mesh for the following reason: Cheap, already made, has a handle (easier to empty the debris, and if you decide to dump your rain barrel; you can keep the kitchen strainer)

The Hardware
On your way home, stop at your local hardware store, or shop online from the comfort of your home.   Depending on your setting you may need the following:

  • A Kitchen Mesh Strainer ( Not Needed if you use the Oatey)
  • Some Silicone for waterproofing 

Valve:  The better fitted for this purpose are the "1/2 Brass Boiler Drain Valve".   Please note that the plastic lock nut is included.  If you can, get a second lock nut.  This valve cost about $6 on Amazon. The long shank is threaded straight, others are threaded conical and will prove difficult. -Believe me!- If you do not want to deal with all the small parts, just get a RainReserve Barrel/Tank Spigot Kit  : Your life will be easier!

Kitchen Mesh Strainer
Choose a Stainless one: It will act as filter for debris and as mosquito preventive system:  4-1/2-Inch Kitchen Mesh Strainer, Stainless
Or Use a kitchen one (you can always use it in your kitchen winter )
3-1/4-Inch Very Fine Mesh Strainer. During pollen season, just add some rock wool as extra filtration medium and discard when dirty. (As extra filtration, one can use an old sock, or nylon pantyhose. instead of trashing directly your old lonely sock, put them to a second use and discard when dirty)

Flexible Downspout / Diverter
You can get a flexible downspout Flex-A-Spout and hook it to the rain barrel, or get the Mystic Rainwater Diverter: It filters the large debris and when the Rain Barrel is full, diverts the rain water back to the original downspout.  I also love that it looks good on your house and does not "degrade" the overall look. If you opt for the Mystic Rainwater, you will not need a mesh and flexible downspout.

The Work

  • Rinse / wash your rain barrels well. 
  • Choose the location: Normally , quite close to a gutter downspout, unless you use an Oatey. If your property has a slope, try to put the rain barrels on the high spot: you'll gain some water pressure.  
  • Put the drum in place and check that everything look good (is it leveled? can you see the volume marking? etc ..)  
  • Check the height: You'll need to leave some room between the valve and the bottom of the rain barrel:  It stabilize the drum and allows you to place a bucket / water can under. 
  • Go get a pencil and trace around the exterior of the mesh strainer on the top of the rain barrel. Make a second trace 1/4 inch inside the first trace.  With a jigsaw, cut the inside mark. 
  • When the hole is made, put your arm in the rain barrel and reach down as far as you can on the side,  then move up one inch and mark the exterior of the rain barrel with a pencil:   This is where you'll drill the spigot hole : DEWALT DW1587 6 Bit 3/8-Inch to 1/4 Inch Spade Drill Bit Assortment.  1/4 inch spade drill bit will do the trick,  don't forget to remove blurs
  • Wrap the tread in Teflon tape and screw one lock nut flat face facing the barrel.  cover that flat face with silicone.  Gently but firmly, screw the valve into the hole you just drilled. Stop when the lock nut is in compression. 
  • Take the second lock nut, place your arm into the top hole and screw it to the valve: The 2 lock nuts will will work in compression and hold your valve firmly while providing waterproofing. 
  • Drill some holes on the crown to avoid water stagnation on the top. (the drum should already have holes )   
 If you have made a "mistake"  of if you doubt the waterproofing, you can use JB WaterWeld instead of silicone. JB WaterWeld is an epoxy resin that can fix about anything, it also cures under water. it only cost few bucks but has a million uses and will save your life. 

You'll have no or little water pressure (don't expect to use sprinklers) unless you have a pump.  If you do, you'll be the king of your backyard and Master of your Garden: Add a timer and you'll sip your margarita watching your garden being perfectly watered ...

It's free water: up to thousands of gallons per months!
It's green: No energy needed to process the water, no treatment plant, better for your garden/lawn  and the environment! 
It's good water: No chlorine or chemical added. Rain Water is better than city water for your garden.
You can mix fertilizer right in the barrel: No fuss or guess.  You can even make your own lawn tonic or "garden tea" 
You'll easily save 100's of dollars in water, sewer bill and overpriced fertilizer

How much Rain Water can I collect?
If your house is average sized, (50'x25') and if you collect water only from 1/4 of the roof, you can expect about ~650 Gal per month on average in New England. Check your local average rainfall on for more.

Here is the detail:

Average Rainfall / Mo Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct
Inch 3.6 3.3 3.1 2.8 3.3 3.1 3.3
mm 91.4 83.8 78.7 71.1 83.8 78.7 83.8
Gal/Mo 1300 Sqf roof 2,992 2,743 2,577 2,327 2,743 2,577 2,743 full roof
Gal/Mo 650 Sqf roof 1,496 1,371 1,288 1,164 1,371 1,288 1,371 1/2 roof
Gal/Mo  325  Sqf roof 748 686 644 582 686 644 686 1/4 roof

Where I am (New England) that translate to about $150 ~ $170 worth of water from April to October (1/2 roof)
A 0.5 inch rainfall will deliver about 200 gal on 500 sqf ,  expect to collect ~150

Multiple Rain Barrels
You can add a spigot or valve to each rain barrel, topped by a Y-Connector (you need in/out) or directly a threaded male Y connector.
As for my 2 cents, I follow the KIS Mechanical principle (Keep It Simple) and the wonderful law of gravity. The less mechanical parts, the less chances of a problem. So I use tubing as siphon: once primed*,  the pressure differential in water level will equalize all barrels. No parts, no valves, just a tube going from bottom to bottom of the the barrels.
The Barrel receiving the rainwater is the one that has the valve connected to the  1 HP 720 GPH Portable Pump.   this pump delivers 50 PSI / 180 ft Head, and that's what you need for sprinklers or hand held watering. Household pressure are generally around 50~50 PSI (3.8 bar)

*To prime easily, use a cheap shut off valve on one end:
Open the Valve, Dip the tube in the barrel and fill it with water, close the valve and keep the open end under water, put the closed end under water too, open the valve and put in place.  The 2 open ends now must be kept below the level of the spigot, otherwise air will go in and stop the siphon.  Multiple Rain Barrels
Fertilizers, Organic tea, Lawn Tonic and Harvard Brew
 You can mix or make you own brew, fertilizers, or garden tea directly in the rain barrels for a fraction of the price of commercial products: What about 120 Gal of fertilized water for less than $5? (no, I am not kidding)
 Having the markings on the drum, you can mix exactly the right amount and use it over few days.  It's all explained here, in a brand new article.

Shopping List:  
1/2 Brass Boiler Drain Valve  Or  RainReserve Barrel/Tank Spigot Kit
Flex-A-Spout Or  Mystic Rainwater Collection System (preferred)
 4-1/2-Inch Stainless Mesh Strainer

In Re. To Dustin:
Bulkhead: a Foolproof, never leak way to secure your hose.
Stainless Steel Hose Clamp:

6 Bit 3/8-Inch to 1/4 Inch Spade Drill Bit
Teflon Tape, Silicon, Pencil