Plain Gardening: Plush Lawns

MOBILE, Alabama (WKRG) —  Is your yard dead? With big bare spots where even weeds won’t grow? You’re not alone.

Gardening Expert Bill Finch says while new sod can make a difference, that difference will be short-lived without the right preparation.

First is what he calls “cracking” the soil. A hardpan develops in our lawns after many years that resists draining and hinders grass roots.

Take a garden fork—not a pitch fork— push into the ground and lift the soil until it cracks. Tillers can overdo the top layer without opening up the deeper soil, so do this by hand.

If you put your sod down now, it’ll grow okay, but there will still be problems with holes and unevenness. You want the dream lawn, so go just one more step in that direction.

After cracking the soil, come back with a layer of crushed pine bark, about 2-3 inches thick. Bill says it’s one of the cheapest soil amendments you can use, and it works wonders.

Rake it smooth, water it in, rake it again so that it’s smooth and drains properly.

The grass should take to the pine bark almost immediately, and the bark will eventually just break down into new topsoil.

Water every day for about 2-3 weeks, but don’t water on rainy days. Another very important reminder: don’t mow short.

Mow your grass at what is probably the highest setting on your mower—about 3-4 inches. Bill planted a new version of zoysia called Palisades that still looks great with tall cutting. Bill says to remember that your lawn is not a golf course.

You want grass to roll around in and walk on barefoot. This grass is like walking on a beautiful, soft carpet.

But the preparation tips work for any kind of grass. Learn more by calling Bill’s radio show Sunday mornings from 9-11 on 106.5FM or email

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