Meet Mark Cullen

Canada's best known gardening personality, Mark Cullen believes that Canadians of all ages need to play more - preferably in the dirt. A best-selling author with over 400,000 books in print, Mark reaches over one million Canadians every week through various media outlets. He is Home Hardware's horticultural spokesperson and regularly contributes to various magazines, gardening shows and newsletters. With a familiar style that people can relate to, he delivers a message that is compelling, fun, informative and inspirational - all based on his organic approach to gardening. In his spare time Mark enjoys driving his Ford Model A - and of course he loves to garden.

A '101' Tutorial on Lawn Care

Judging by the number of lawn questions that I am getting at it seems to me that the season of seeding, sodding and lawn fertilizing is here in earnest.

For several years now I have been saying that late August and early September is the best time of the year to thicken an established lawn or start a new one. Many of my associates in the business have been saying the same thing.

The heavy dew in the evening, the cooler temperatures at night (generally) and the regular rainfall of late summer/early autumn combine to create the perfect conditions for grass seed germination and the ‘putting down of roots’ of freshly laid sod.

Here is a short tutorial on late summer lawn care. I offer the information in the form of answers to the many excellent questions that I am getting on my web site:

How do I control Creeping Charlie, plantain, dandelions etc in my lawn without the use of chemicals?

Answer: Compete them out of existence by spreading fresh grass seed over the weed infested area.
Think of lawn weeds as competitors… nothing more. You give them the space in your lawn to put down a root and they will take the opportunity to thrive and multiply.

How useful is it to dig or pull weeds out of my lawn?

Answer: A good weed puller can be useful when bringing weeds under control but if you do not overseed with fresh grass seed at the same time you are often just postponing a bigger lawn weed problem. The ‘hole’ in your lawn that the weed leaves is an invitation for the remaining root to re-grow and other weeds to put down a new root.

How do I sow grass seed in an established lawn for best results?

Answer: Spread a 2 cm (one inch) layer of triple mix (1/3 top soil, 1/3 peat, 1/3 compost) over the area that weeds are thickest.
Broadcast quality grass seed over the area at the rate of ½ kilo per 40 sq meters (one pound per 400 sq. ft.). I spread the seed by hand but you may opt for one of those hand-held whirly gigs. In any case just make sure that you spread the seed as evenly as possible and incorporate the seed with the triple mix by raking it in lightly and then stepping on it with flat soled shoes to get firm contact.
Use only the best quality grass seed. I only use Golfgreen.

Is this a good time of year to fertilize my lawn?

Answer: if you have not fertilized since spring (within the last 8 to 10 weeks), now is an excellent time of year to do it. Fertilizer is not a substitute for good quality soil, but a quality brand like Golfgreen, So Green or Green Earth will provide the elements that your lawn craves the most.
Note: The most important application of lawn fertilizer all year is in the late fall – about 8 to 10 weeks from now!

Should I use an organic fertilizer?

Sure. There is no reason why you shouldn’t. However, keep in mind that you will not get the ‘lasting’ results of a sophisticated synthetic based fertilizer and as a result it will not last as long. I use Green Earth 9-3-4. It contains natural kelp for a broad range of nutrients.

How often should I water my lawn?

Answer: If we enter a period of more than a week without substantial rain (over a centimeter) and with no rain in the forecast, I advise that you apply water from a quality lawn sprinkler once a week only. Leave your sprinkler on for 2 to 3 hours to allow the water to sink deeply into the ground: the goal is to get to the root zone.
A daily sprinkling of water on your lawn accomplishes nothing and encourages shallow roots that are not drought tolerant.

How should I cut my lawn?

Answer: Cut it high (at least 6 to 7 centimeters) and use a mulching mower.
The taller the grass blades the deeper (and more drought tolerant) the roots.
The mulching attachment on your mower returns the natural ingredients in the raw grass clippings to the root zone of your lawn where they break down, providing nutrition and an insulating layer that protects against the drying effects of the sun.

How can I produce the ‘perfect’ lawn?

Take a page out from the British: cut your lawn with a ‘reel type’ lawn mower, like the one pictured. Or use a manual reel type mower. Keep the blades sharp and clean.
And for added effect, put down a line of string that is 90 degrees diagonal, follow the line for the entire area of your lawn and repeat the process going in the opposite direction.
This way, you will end up with a ‘look’ that is professional: like the ball parks on TV that use natural grass.

For me – I will stick with my Honda powered Yard Man. And I will cut it only once.

Thank you very much.

Keep your knees dirty!