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Grass Won't Grow? How to Go From Lawn to Outdoor Specialty Area

Posted Dec. 1, 2006

Over the years, I have observed that we try to force nature to do unnatural things when it comes to landscaping homes and businesses. A common example is trying to get grass to grow under shade trees. As small trees become established in the landscape, we mow around them until the lower limbs become a pain. Usually, we remove the lower limbs to aid the mowing process and, at some point, the trees finally produce a real shade we can truly enjoy. As the maturing process proceeds, shade is cast onto the turfgrass underneath the trees, and growing grass becomes a challenge that is difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. As a general rule of thumb, turfgrass needs at least four to five hours of direct sunlight daily to produce a vigorous, healthy stand. Let's not fight a losing battle any longer.

Other times, areas of weak-growing turfgrass are pathways from the house to a gate or the garage or another high-traffic area. Usually, these areas are bothersome because when they are dry, the soil blows, and when they are wet, they become muddy.

Perhaps the best way to handle these places is to convert them from turfgrass growing areas to all-weather surfaces by using bricks, rocks, wood or other landscape materials to cover them. There are numerous landscape material application patterns that are quite attractive. Some examples of brick patterns are running bond or basket weave. Other choices of all-weather surfaces are cobblestones or smooth river rocks. Concrete even can be dressed up with stains, stamps and textures. But remember, trees need water don't eliminate your trees' source of water. The use of wood or synthetic wood products to create a runway or a deck area should not be forgotten. Use your imagination to personalize your work. An idea previously expressed in my Ag News and Views article from September 2004 was to use the handprints or footprints of young family members in concrete as a decoration.

When planning the conversion of these areas, be sure to make allowances for the drainage and locate any utility lines before disturbing the soil. For future convenience, a 2-inch (or bigger) diameter pipe should be laid under walkways or patios for any wires or water pipes that may need to be laid without disturbing the all-weather surfaces after the work is completed. Some weather extremes may make use of an area impractical. When we consider all the needs and conditions related to use of an area like this, we can plan for and make accommodations for its use. Does it need cooling, supplemental heat in the winter, supplemental light for night use, etc.? Don't do something hasty plan it out, visit with family members and neighbors and maybe even consult with an experienced landscaper.

I think you are getting the idea - let's visualize this area as an asset. It has shade and can be converted from a lawn to a specialty area for outdoor use, like a picnicking or outdoor cooking area, seating or lounging area, play area for youngsters or possibly an area to exhibit outdoor art. Enjoy your handiwork as you and your family relax under the shade tree where the grass won't grow. Cook some burgers and listen to music in your newly created specialty area.

On another note, don't forget the Oklahoma and Arkansas Horticulture Industries Show at the Holiday Inn in Fort Smith, Ark., on Jan. 5 and 6, 2007. Educational sessions are scheduled for vegetable, fruit and herb producers, as well as sessions for public garden employees, sustainable agriculture/farmers market producers and Christmas tree producers. There will also be exhibits from numerous sources displaying a vast array of horticulture industry-related items and supplies. If you have an interest in horticulture, you may want to consider attending this event.