- The age-old lawn question. How do we keep them green? Is your always perfectly emerald?
- Chris: As much as I do love lawns, my lawn is not irrigated [with a sprinkler system]. I call it a Cape Cod lawn. That means I make it native. If there's a drought, my lawn's going to be brown. Right now my lawn is green -- it looks just as nice as an irrigated lawn but it's not, just because we've had some rainy weather.
- What about in dry places, like the Southwest, where rain is rare. Should we even bother trying?
- Chris: When I was working out there, not many people wanted lawns. Or if they did, they wanted a small one, like a small area they can just water once or twice a week, run a mower on it once or twice a week, but nothing too big. Just because it's so hard to maintain, it's costly. So people don't like it as much.
- Are there any special types of grasses that work better in a dry climate?
- Chris: Zoysia grass. One of my clients here has it. It's almost like a vine grass. It's strange, but it does really well in hot, dry climates. It's really good to walk on, so you can walk all over it and it doesn't get crushed. And if it gets really hot it goes dormant. So that way it takes care of itself in extreme heat. It's kind of a funny grass. I only knew about it because 15 years ago one of my clients seeded his lawn with zoysia grass and we wouldn't have to mow it too much over the summer because when it got really hot it would stop growing. And it would conserve all of its resources.
Bermuda grass is another one that grows really well in hot weather. And buffalo grass.
- Solve a mystery for me. I have the same gardener as my neighbor. We mow the grass once a week, water it a few times a week. Yet mine is patchy and brown, while theirs is like Brigadoon -- a magical carpet of flawless verdant green.
- Chris: First question is, what time do you water your lawn? The problem most people have is they don't water it at the right time. If you water at night, then you can get some fungus and moss growing because it stays wet and damp all night long. When it gets cool it promotes moss and fungi.
Six or 7am is the best time to water. Once or twice a week is good... for 15-20 minutes. That way the water gets really down, soaks in the roots, and then by the time it gets warmer, all the excess water dries out and evaporates. That's a good trick for keeping your lawn green like the neighbors do.
And then when you get the lawn mowed, since it's such a hot climate, don't mow it too low. Sometimes people mow it too low and that's not good. Mow it a little higher in warmer climates. That way the grass is thicker, so when the sun gets to it, it won't beat down to the soil right away. It'll keep the soil a little cooler and moister.
And your neighbor might have a different type of grass, they might fertilize it a lot more, and they might water it a lot more. In L.A. they might water it 4-5 or even 7 days a week.
- Watering gets incredibly costly. What are some more sustainable lawn alternatives that still give great curb appeal?
- Chris: We did a beach for a front lawn. We brought in beach sand, did some beach grasses, and put in a couple stone steppers to the front door, and that was it. It looked like they were on the beach. As low maintenance as you could ever get. There's no weeds, they don't have water, the beach grass you don't have to water at all. And it looks kind of cool -- it's Cape Cod. This is probably something that wouldn't work as well in the Midwest. But in L.A. it might even work.
Another thing we've done for people is, instead of having grassy front lawn we just mulched it and did different perennial flower areas. Some ground coverings, like a creeping juniper in one area. We did rhododendrons in another area. We did different areas of either gound cover, perennial garden, or bushes. So that way it set up a front lawn that looked like a planting area.
My aunt's house, she went with just wild flowers. So her whole front yard... we tore it all up. She just got packets of wild flowers and threw them into the front lawn. So now, instead of a front lawn it just looks like a field of wild flowers. She doesn't do much to it. She goes out there and picks flowers, it looks kind of neat. During the summer it gets to like 3.5 feet tall. It's pretty cool to look at, but it's that fine line of natural and out of control that is nature.
- Speaking of lawns, what about pets and kids? Are there any types of plants to avoid?
- Chris: A lot of very common plants are in fact poisonous. Rhododendrons, hydrangeas... they're poisonous to kids if they were to eat them. But they're very common. As long as kids don't eat them, you don't have to worry about them.
And anything with berries. Like hollies -- they're poisonous. Jasmine, mountain laurel, privet has little berries that aren't good. Yews -- they have little things that we used to throw at each other that aren't good to eat. There's a list of at least 25.
It's amazing how many things are poisonous not only for humans but for dogs. Animals know better than eat things that are poisonous. It's kind of ingrained in them, for the most part. But kids will eat poison berries. Growing up my mother always had a bottle of ipecac because we'd eat berries and think they were blueberries and they ended up being poisonous. My brother Eric got sick. There was this wild fern in the back yard and had these blue looking berries on it. He ate them one day with my cousin and he started getting sick. My mom asked, "What did you eat?" He pointed out these berries, and I remember to this day -- my mom gave him the ipecac and made him run around in circles until... yeah. She was a nurse. Some things are harmful if you throw them back up. So this is something I'd call poison control on, but she knew her stuff.
Mistletoe. That's another one. It's so prevalent during the winter over Christmas. Kids see those little berries and they might pop them in their mouths.
And mushrooms. There's a high percentage of mushrooms that are poisonous, so don't ever eat a wild mushroom even if it looks like one you had for breakfast. No, it's not.
Chris Lambton, host of HGTV's 'Going Yard'
Chris Lambton is host of HGTV's 'Going Yard' and a professional landscaper, gardening and lawn care expert based in Cape Cod, Mass. He is co-owner of E. Lambton Landscaping with his brother, Erik. Keep up with Chris on his Facebook page or on Twitter @ChrisLambton13.
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