To Improve Your Lawn, First Improve Your soil

I was recently asked to prepare recommendations for the maintenance of a large property with lawns and gardens. While I was evaluating the property, I observed one of the maintenance men on a tractor pulling an aerator followed by a steel roller filled with water. I immediately advised the owner to get rid of that apparatus. Aerators of that type — nothing more than a bunch of spikes punching holes in the ground — only add to the problem of soil compaction, and  the roller, which must have weighed close to 400 pounds, only made it worse. It is no wonder that the lawn looked like the Wreck of the Hesperus.
    The person in charge told me that the roller was needed to press the grass back into place because winter’s frost had pushed the sod upward. That sounded like some old spouse tale to me.
    Soil compaction is a major problem, a result of too much foot traffic, heavy mowing equipment and activity on wet grass. The most effective means of resolving the problem is to core-aerate the lawn in early spring or fall and then spread an inch of compost over the lawn. Then drag a timber or rake through the compost to level and fill the holes made by the core-aerator.
    Soil compaction is also a major problem on athletic fields. During my years of research with compost, I worked with the sports-turf specialist at the University of Delaware, Dr. Bill Mitchell. He did his research on the university athletic fields and at nearby community sports fields. He found that the combination of aeration using a core-aerator and top-dressing with compost not only solved the soil compaction problem but also provided the nutrient needs of the sod. The results were spectacular and superior to results he got maintaining fields with commercial fertilizers.
    It only goes to prove that good soil makes the difference. Fertilizers alone cannot give you the perfect lawn.

Skip Gourds for Purple Martin Houses

Q    I’d like to attract purple martins to my home. Where can I get gourd houses for the birds?

–Susan Shaw, Huntingtown

A    Sorry but I cannot help. Growing purple martin-sized gourds is quite a trick. They’re grown on fences, with only five or six gourds on each vine. The vines are subject to powdery mildew and must be sprayed. After they have matured, they require six to eight months to dry. When they sound like a baby rattle when shaken, they are ready to cut, but you must wear a dust mask when cutting and cleaning them as the dust is very irritating.
    I grew them one year. After watching them fall apart after only two years of hanging, I decided to purchase plastic gourds from the Purple Martin Society. These can be easily cleaned, and they last many years.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at [email protected]. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.