Soil often key to lawn maintenance

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— When it comes to a healthy Routt County lawn, it's the stuff you don't see that makes the biggest difference.

While the merits of various grass species can be debated a hundred times over, the fate of a lawn is often determined by the quality of the top soil, said Jeff Crochiere, owner of SOL Solutions, a Steamboat Springs-based lawn and tree care company.

"The more people invest in soil preparation, the happier they'll be five years from now," Crochiere said. "It makes a huge difference in the performance of the lawn and the (amount of) water you use."

Many people hesitate to spend the extra money on building a good layer of topsoil, but it is a critical foundation in an area with so much hardpan and clay, Crochiere said. Good topsoil enables a deep root zone for grass roots to develop a strong base, Crochiere said.

With strong topsoil in place, the type of grass becomes less important, he said.

Kentucky bluegrass, renowned for its deep green-blue color and soft feel, is the most popular Routt County grass species. Bluegrass requires more water than many other grass species, but it responds very well to most fertilizers, Crochiere said.

Native grasses, such as fescues, are coarser and stiffer than bluegrass and often more durable, Crochiere said.

"Types of grass definitely are a matter of opinion," he said. "It's really a preference of what you're trying to achieve with your lawn. Most people here want a pretty, green lawn. I think bluegrass does work well here."

For those who wish to conserve water while maintaining a lush lawn, Crochiere recommended planting multiple beds with drought-resistant bushes. More beds means less lawn, and therefore, less water, he said.

Regardless of the size of a lawn or the type of grass, fertilizing is an important step in ensuring a healthy, green lawn, Crochiere said.

But the wrong fertilizer can destroy a lawn. Slow-release nitrogen fertilizers with lower salt indexes are better than faster releasing nitrogen fertilizers, Crochiere said. Fast-release fertilizers spur quick growth and deep color, but the growth often halts after a couple of weeks and leaves lawns susceptible to burning from the sun and lack of water. Slow-release fertilizers spread the release of nutrients to a lawn, helping to preserve long-term growth and color.

Crochiere said he recommends two or three applications of slow-release fertilizer over the course of the season.

Using a fertilizer with 2-percent to 3-percent iron will evoke a rich, deep color from a lawn, Crochiere said. However, iron will stain rockwork and concrete surfaces, so apply with care, he said.

Aeration, a technique that pulls 2- to 3-inch plugs of soil from the earth, helps break up the soil and allows water percolation and airflow. Aerating a lawn once in the spring and once in early fall will help maintain a healthy lawn, Crochiere said.

Finally, lawn owners should refrain from mowing their grass too low.

"I'm a firm believer in mowing high," Crochiere said. "When you mow low or scalp it, it burns the lawn quickly. People then tend to want to throw lots of water on their lawn."

Cutting high -- removing no more than one-third of the blade of grass -- allows grass blades to shade themselves naturally, protecting the lawn and helping to conserve water, Crochiere said.

Numerous businesses sell sod and grass seed, as well as fertilizers and other lawn care products. Similarly, many companies provide lawn care service and maintenance. Check the Steamboat Springs phone book for company names and numbers.

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