Merced County Times Newspaper
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Master Gardeners seminar gives healthy lawn tips

‘A lawn is very inefficient because grass is something you grow only to cut,’ says Master Gardener Stan Bunce.
‘A lawn is very inefficient because grass is something you grow only to cut,’ says Master Gardener Stan Bunce.

On the morning of July 13, community members were treated to a Master Gardeners seminar at the UC Cooperative Extension Office in Merced on how to have a healthy lawn at their residence.

“Lawn Care for the Central Valley” covered what kind of grass to plant, and the correct use of fertilizer and pest control, irrigation and various management techniques to have a lawn fit for the Central Valley.

Also covered was replacement of a lawn with other forms of ground covering.

During an interview with the Times, Master Gardener Stan Bunce, who put together the seminar, explained, “The type of lawn a person chooses for the Central Valley should be warm season grass — Bermuda or St. Augustine — to deal with the hot summers we have. It’s grass that goes dormant in the winter.  Bermuda is a very heat tolerant grass. = If you take care of it in your lawn, it looks very nice.  It can stand a lot of punishment. If kids trample it by playing sports on it, it re-seeds itself.”

“You can buy Bermuda seed at a garden shop, and you can buy plugs, which are little pieces you put in every couple of feet.  Grass grows and fills in.  Each branching of the grass can send down roots and blades by itself, so you can take the equivalent of clippings and they will take root and grow.

“If you want better Bermuda grass, you can get Hybrid Bermuda grass. It’s bred for its good qualities.  It’s less weedy, and more lush, and is easier to take care of.”

Describing a different planting method, Bunce said, “You can also lay sod. There is a local company that grows sod commercially and it is used for ball fields and they roll on the sod.”

The seminar included the type of fertilizer to choose, how to apply it, what to do and not to do, the most effective way to provide irrigation, how to use least toxic but most effective pesticides to manage pests, how to mow the lawn safely, and how to treat the grass so that you don’t damage it, like not just cutting it without knowing the type.

Information was provided on how to replace a lawn with something easier to take care of that is more cost efficient than grass, and at the same time, addresses the drought and issues with conserving water.

Bunce said, “We encourage people to switch to bushes, trees, native grasses which are like tufts, yard art, shrubs, rocks, or mulch, and there’s a State rebate program to help.”

He explained, “The largest amount of water is used in lawn care.  Most of the water in the home is used on the lawn.  It’s potable water — it takes time to prepare it for human consumption — so it’s a very expensive commodity when you consider what we do to take care of it.”

There are problems with over-watering a lawn which makes things even more expensive.

Over-watering can lead to thatch, fungus, weeds, puddling, runoff and leaching.

Bunce said, “A lawn is very inefficient because grass is something you grow only to cut. Two hundred years ago, it used to be a status symbol and the mark of nobility to have a green lawn, but  now we find it’s a liability. It’s a lot of work and costs a lot to take care of, and it doesn’t contribute much to the ecology of the planet. It doesn’t sequester CO2, it doesn’t conserve water, and it doesn’t provide food value.”

Bunce’s example of a good alternative to a conventional grass lawn is using native grass. One that is thriving in the area that is attractive is Purple grass.

He said, “Purple grass is being grown in the parking lot of the Starbucks on 16th Street in Merced.   It’s almost like a small bush, but you can tell it’s a wild, native grass. There are clumps which are about four feet by four feet, and then a mulch area, and then there’s another bunch farther down, or maybe they’ve put in a small tree.  It’s very attractive and inexpensive. Only in the hottest part of the summer would it require irrigation.”

When asked to explain how to use Purple grass, Bunce said, “Almost any nursery will have a section called native plants or drought tolerant plants. They’re very popular now. Even if you don’t replace your lawn, you could still have areas where you want plants to make it attractive. To plant it, people might mulch an area and then put in plugs of purple grass, and a variety of things like small palm trees for interest. This is an option to replace the endless green of a lawn.”

The seminar touched on fertilizers and pesticides.

Bunce said,”We want people to use fertilizer and pesticides judiciously, and not risk poisoning the environment by being ignorant of the instructions that come with these products.  Many people never read them, just thinking you dump pesticides on weeds and fertilizer on lawns.”

Master Gardeners, a volunteer organization providing free information and consultation to the public, is seeking to add more people. To be a Master Gardener, one needs to take training classes starting on January 8.  Applications are due on Oct. 25.

Describing the process to become a Master Gardener, Bunce explained, “We interview candidates, and they have to be cleared through fingerprinting because sometimes we work with kids. Some of the training classes are held on Wednesdays, and some are on Saturdays. The class costs about $200, and there’s a test at the end of the course which has to be passed with a 70 percent score or better.”

Describing the organization’s informative outreach program, Bunce said, “The seminars through the end of the year are:  Aug. 24, Grow Your Fall Greens/Seed Saving; Sept. 7, Fall Gardening Workshop; Sept. 21, Attracting Pollinators/Wildlife Habitat; Oct. 12, Tree Selection and Planting; and Nov. 16, Grow Your Soil, How to Improve Soil in Your Landscape.”

He continued, “These seminars are all from 10 to 12 on a Saturday morning, usually the second Saturday of the month, and they are free to the public.”

Meanwhile, if people have a landscaping question or a bug question, they can bring a specimen by the office, if they want to know how to manage a problem. Master Gardeners will identify the problem and provide advice so people can solve problems in their own landscape.

For those interested, the Master Gardeners phone line at the UC Cooperative Extension office on Wardrobe Avenue in Merced is 209-385-7403.

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