Not long ago, we talked about growing grass in heavy shade. This time, we will explore your options for growing grass in areas where heavy foot traffic is a problem.
John from Philly sent in this question:
Last summer our family adopted a standard poodle puppy. He is a wonderful dog and has definitely enhanced the family. He does not use the lawn as a bathroom. However, he does like to tear around the yard, which is hard on the lawn. The back lawn, which is in partial shade, is pretty much down to a scattered wisps of grass here and there. The front lawn is better, though when it has rained and the soil is wet and soft, the dog can
do some serious damage there too. On the positive side, I guess his toenails are doing something to reduce the thatch. I am wondering if you have suggestions for making the lawn more robust for an active pet
(and the kids).
This is a common concern for homeowners. On the one hand, you want a nice lawn for sheer looks, and because it gives you and your neighbor something to talk about while you drink beers on your back patio. But on the other hand, you want a nice lawn so your kids have a place to play football, baseball and freeze-tag.
Can we have the best of both hands? Yes, and here’s how…
Regulate the traffic
In the industry, we refer to these as “cultural practices” and they have to do with the culture you set with your pets and family. In other words, what you do and do not allow. If I were Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, I’d have the answer as to how to calm the dog down in the back yard. I think Cesar would have you take the dog for brisk walks daily to tire him out so he is not so rough on your turf.
But I’m no “pack leader” so I’d tell you to consider building a dog run (an area fenced off from the rest of the yard)and train the pooch on where he can and cannot run. In his designated area, you install mulch or pea-gravel for him to step on, and reserve the lawn areas for your enjoyment!
As far as the kids, you can allow them to play football in the front yard for a couple weeks, then switch to the back yard for a couple weeks, etc. Rotate the traffic and allow the grass to recover between tramplings like they do with professional football fields. Also, here in the Chicago area, our kids play football in the street! But we’re tougher than you Philly folks!
I’d also do my best to keep them (dog, kids and cars) off the lawn completely after a rain to avoid the muddy mess. If they want to play mud football, have them go to the local park.
Plant the right grass and keep it healthy
The other side of the equation is keeping the turf itself healthy under stress. I would recommend using Turf Type Tall fescue blended with perennial rye grass. Tall fescue is a bit more coarse than bluegrass and stands up to a beating a little better. If you lived further south, I’d recommend Zoysiagrass, but where you live, it will stay dormant until later May. If you can live with brown grass until May, then go for Zoysia. (but I think the Tall Fescue will do just fine) Here’s a great article on grass seed.
Secondly, core aeration is a must in high traffic areas. Constant stomping compacts the soil and chokes the turf’s root system. You should core aerate every spring and fall to reduce this compaction. I’d also recommend fertilizing a minimum of 5 times per year using 20-10-10 fertilizer for overall health and strength of grass plants. Always mow high as you eluded to, and keep it consistent.
I hate that I’m going to say this, but you may want to consider some of the artificial turf that’s available these days. I’ve seen it installed in a few public areas and it is really gorgeous stuff and will fool even the best of us. It’s very expensive, but lasts nearly forever! Many pro sports fields have gone to this new “artificial” turf and you’d never know it. This stuff ain’t your father’s Astro-Turf! Artificial grass would work well in the dog run or for your entire back yard.
If you will institute some of these ideas, I think you’ll see some improvement. I know that the above is not a sure-fire way to gain healthy turf under constant tramplings, but grass can recover from just about anything if it is moderated properly.
best of luck!____________________________________________________________
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