Turf restoration can be difficult

Manicured New Jersey lawn ~ njaes.rutgers.edu/garden/

Throughout New Jersey lawn maintenance varies.  Some homeowners invest a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money to achieve a dark green lawn with no weeds.  Lawns such as these are often a result of the application of considerable amounts of fertilizer, water, and sometimes pesticides and regular mowing.  Environmentally-conscious homeowners, on the other hand, may conduct soil tests to determine whether they need to adjust the pH (degree of acidity) of the soil with lime and to determine the need for nutrients like phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.  They apply appropriate amounts of nutrients.  These homeowners also tend to be conscientious about irrigating.  These homeowners are often satisfied with a reasonably green lawn, with some weeds or a dormant cover in the summer months (Mangiafico, 2011).  Yet, other homeowners place little value on how their lawn looks.  In fact, their lawns may appear to be unattractive, sparse, have an infestation of weeds, and may have an unhealthy stand of lawn grasses.  These lawns typically result from improper soil drainage; soil compaction; excessive shade; improper lawn grass for the location and/or use; soil that has insufficient pH or excessive lime; limited enrichment of the land; chemical injury; mowing too closely; prolonged soil moisture stress—particularly in hot weather; improper watering techniques; excessive thatch accumulation; insect infestation; disease damage; intensive use; neglect; and vandalism (Murphy, 1993). 

Hydroseeding in a residential development ~ www.rnllandscaping.com

In Ben Franklin’s words, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  For some, caring for a lawn can be equated to providing preventative care for health.  Similar to managing health care, the idea is to prevent problems from occurring, so that you don’t have to incur the cost and time to treat what could have been prevented. 

Steps towards turf restoration:

  • Set realistic goals  

  • Research grass varieties 

    • Consider the climate

    • Learn about the amount of water and nutrients the grass will require

    • Learn about the resistance to pests

    • Learn about the tolerance to shade

    • Consider the  degree of wear that the grass can withstand 

  • Contact the local Rutgers Cooperative Extension County Agent if you need assistance 

Lawn renovation, if done properly, can correct adverse conditions and may be a good option when a lawn area has adequate soil drainage and a level shape.  However, the process can be costly and can be financially burdensome to homeowners.  Lawns that are in such poor conditions, such as the two lawns that were recreated in East Greenwich Township, may need a professional renovation which could cost as much as $25,000 to $35,000.  For more simple cases, perhaps the soil can be amended by aerating it, or by adding organic material, or balancing the soil composition with lime.  For lawns which retain some turfgrass cover but have become sparse, the cause of poor growth should be determined. 

Performing a soil test can help the homeowner determine whether the soil has the correct pH and levels of nutrients for turfgrass.  Amend as recommended by the results.  Perform a soil test to determine organic matter content.  If the results indicate low organic matter content, amend with organic matter source such as composted manure or food compost.  Determine if your soil is compacted.  Compaction might be indicated by ponding water after a rainfall or the presence of certain weeds like prostrate knotweed or goosegrass.  A simple test is to push a sharpened pencil into the soil when the soil is moist for less than 3 and 4 inches using firm arm pressure, the soil may be compacted.  For compacted soil, use tine aeration, and follow soil test recommendations for adding calcium and organic matter.  Overseed this area with an appropriate turfgrass species.  Be sure to choose one that is appropriate for the conditions of the site, such as if it is sunny or shady and has wet or droughty soils.

For a lawn in a more moderate state of despair, homeowners can take steps to restore their lawn to a healthier condition while being environmentally conscious.  This can be accomplished by transitioning lawn areas to alternative landscapes of native vegetation.  For New Jersey, plants are considered native plants if they were found in the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic region before European settlement of North America.  While a variety of native trees, shrubs, flowering perennials, and other plants are sold for use as landscape plants, many of the plants we traditionally use for landscape plants are not natives.  Native plantings may be more desirable because they are tolerant of local soils and climate.  Native plants tend to be more drought tolerant, and so conserve water relative to some non-native plantings. With regard to maintenance, native plants tend to require fewer inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides.   Native plants can also provide habitat and food for local insects, birds, and butterflies. 

Creative landscaping ideas:

Rain Gardens are a simple, cost-effective tool for homeowners and municipalities to create diverse, attractive landscapes while protecting the health of the natural environment.   A rain garden is a landscaped, shallow depression that captures, filters, and infiltrates stormwater runoff.  The rain garden removes nonpoint source pollutants from the stormwater runoff while recharging the groundwater. 

Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program rain garden ~ www.water.rutgers.edu

Xeriscaping is a term used for landscape practices that reduce or eliminate the need for irrigation. It is most commonly found in arid climates like the Western United States.  The principles of xeriscaping, though, can equally be applied in New Jersey.  Xeriscaping promotes the use of drought tolerant plants and non-living landscape features that do not need water such as stone, mulch, and native rocks.

Xeriscaping ~ www.cleanairlandscaping.ca

Here is what municipalities can do to help homeowners learn more about renovating lawns:

  • Provide educational programming on renovation at the local garden centers or home supply stores.

  • Provide information on the township website, such as a link to Rutgers Cooperative Extension Fact Sheets and a link to the local county Rutgers Cooperative Extension office.

  • Ask your local Rutgers Cooperative Extension County office to provide programming on healthy lawns.

  • Promote and encourage alternative landscapes and native vegetation in lieu of turfgrass areas. 


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