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IN THE GARDEN ARE LUSH GREEN LAWNS WORTH THE WORK, EXPENSE?

Byline: JOSHUA SISKIN

In the midst of what seems like the longest Valley heat wave anyone can remember, you cannot help but question the wisdom of having a large lawn. It costs a small fortune in water bills to keep the grass green during a heat wave, and, even then, you will invariably have your fair share of brown spots.

One of the insurance policies against dried-up lawns is a procedure known as aeration.

An aerator, which can be leased at equipment yards for around $65 per day, removes cores of turf 1 inch in diameter from the lawn. This is a decompaction procedure as it allows grass roots of the remaining turf to spread out; it also makes it easier for water and fertilizer to penetrate into the lawn's root zone, reducing run-off. Ideally, aeration should be done three times per year: in mid-February ,just before our early Valley spring arrives; in early July, at the end of June gloom, just before the onset of summer heat; and in late September, just before the arrival of cooler fall temperatures.

Now is not the best time to aerate because of the heat, which can dry out the grass that much quicker once lawn cores are removed. However, if the soil is extremely compacted, you can aerate now as long as you immediately spread compost over the aerated lawn and keep it well watered for the next few weeks. Of course, you can reduce your lawn headaches considerably by reducing the size of your lawn.

In El Paso, Texas, a ``cash for grass'' program pays residents $1 for every square foot of lawn they remove in favor of water-thrifty plants. And now the local water district in Victorville, just east of us in the Mojave Desert, is thinking about instituting a similar program.

Another future scenario, which would keep our lawns intact, involves recycling of domestic water. Both micro- and macro-systems are being discussed. Micro-systems, which already exist for individual homes, recycle so-called gray water from laundry and shower for lawn and garden use. Macro-systems would tap into the water that currently leaves sewage processing centers - in the Sepulveda Basin, for example - on its way to the ocean.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this processed water for irrigation purposes, and it could be sent - once piping was installed - alongside our regular water supply throughout Los Angeles.

One of the hottest landscaping innovations replaces conventional lawn areas with putting greens composed of artificial grass. This is no cheap green carpet or AstroTurf but highly refined nylon fibers, closely resembling real grass, that cost between $4 and $7 per square foot. ... Well, at least nylon does not need to be mowed.

Q: I recently saw a letter in a magazine that extolled the virtues of buffalo grass for lawns. I know this grass grows in the Midwest. Would it grow well in Los Angeles? Thank you.

- Jerry Fagin, Valley Village

A: Buffalo grass is a water-thrifty grass that requires little, if any, mowing. You can imagine how it would impact our landscapes if it was a truly attractive alternative to tall fescue. (To the novice, tall fescue is the most commonly used lawn or turf grass in Southern California; unfortunately, tall fescue is costly to maintain, requiring nearly daily watering, weekly mowing and constant fertilization to look its best.)

I remember a large home owner's association in Thousand Oaks that utilized buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides) as a lawn substitute in some of the association's common areas. It had been in the ground one year and, during the summer season when I saw it, consisted of thousands of tufts or clumps of dull green grass.

This grass grows in slowly, and you must have patience to see it through to its full development. Still, it is obvious that buffalo grass will never be as lush as a traditional green lawn.

Yes, buffalo grass is much, much less costly to maintain than fescue; the question is whether its looks are acceptable to you. It should also be mentioned that buffalo grass is a warm-season grass that goes straw-color dormant in the winter and grows best - from late spring to late autumn - where winters are cold. It would be a better choice for a lawn grass in the Antelope Valley than in the Santa Clarita or San Fernando Valley.

TIP OF THE WEEK: Now is the time to order bulbs by mail for the fall. (Try tulips.com or bloomingbulb.com, for example). If you wait, the varieties you are intending to plant may be out of stock since many bulbs are shipped as early as Sept. 1. You will receive your bulbs at the time they should be planted, so make sure you have your bulb area prepared for planting well in advance.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 23, 2003
Words:799
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