Wednesday, May 18, 2016

To Mow, or not to Mow?

I planted grass in my tiny back yard a few weeks ago.  My grass had been trampled and peed to death by a rescue dog that was afraid to potty away from home.  It was a desert.  Before it had been sort of scraggy, crabgrass and such.  Nothing pretty, but at least green, and easier on the eyes than packed dirt.  I didn't cut it often, so it was leggy and kinda funky. 

The dog got a home, where she is employed in helping a fellow Border Collie manage a flock of 40 goats.  Winter came and went, and I decided to plant some grass.  In a week or so I had verdant little spears of fescue popping up like they meant it.  It looked like this:

Then in looked like this:

Now it looks like this:  (The Ponies are about 4" tall, and standing on a flagstone)

I don't mind cutting it - even though I'll have to do it with grass shears - the yard is really small, and the grass is no more than 3 or four square yards.  But I wondered...  Could I just let it keep growing and be tall?  After reading about it, I decided to cut it.  Here's why:

What happens to grass if we don't cut it?

from: Quora  by Tim Laughlin, definitely a bio-guy, especially the grasses

Boy, it seems like a simple question . . . but in reality, it’s pretty complicated.

The short answer is that if you don’t cut the grass it will grow taller, at least for a while. The longer answer comes into play after that.

When people think of “grass” or “lawn” they typically think of something very green and short, like what you might see on the fairways of a golf course, or in well-maintained park. Sort of like this:

You will notice that it looks trim, and uniform, but that is a little deceiving. Whether placed as sod, or planted as seed, the “grass” is essentially a whole lot of plants, forced to live very close together, and often forced to grow when they would naturally go dormant. The forces applied that make continuous growth possible are: cutting, water and fertilizer.

Whether sodded or seeded, the lawn is almost always a mixture of several different grass species and/or cultivars (varieties bred for specific purposes). Some may be better adapted to the local conditions than others. Some of the grasses are referred to as caespitose (ses-pi-toes) or individual plants forming a cushion-like bunch, growing outward from the center, but maintaining the “bunch” growth habit. Other grasses are rhizomatous (rye-zahm-uh-tuss), sending out root-like stems either at the surface, or just below the ground. New growth occurs along these stems, pushing up toward the surface. These grasses spread widely from where they first germinated as seedlings.

If you stop cutting the grass, as mentioned before--it will grow. New growth occurs at the bases of the bunch or springing up from the rhizomes, or tillers as they are sometimes called. The leaves of grass grow from where they are attached to the stem, which may be very short. First growth is by cell division, then by cell elongation.

At first, say a week or two after you last mow, the lawn will look something like this:

You can see that it becomes less even in height, sort of lumpy looking. This is because the various types  (species) of grass have different growth habits. In this lawn, both rhizomatous and bunch grasses are growing together.

You didn’t mention whether the grass would continue to get supplemental water. What happens after this depends a lot on the available water supply, but also on the season for many grasses.

As the grasses continue to grow, some will be more vigorous than others, growing taller and wider. If they are not genetically programmed to bloom at a specific time, when they are large and robust enough, they may send up flowering stalks, or culms, as they are called:

All the while the grasses are growing, they are competing with one another for available water and nutrients--there are winners and losers. The end result is that the lawn (if you care to call it that) becomes more patchy looking, and broadleaf weeds like dandelions or clovers may start to appear if there is a local seed source.

If adequate water is not supplied, the grasses will “brown off” looking dead at the surface. This is the way they would be in “natural conditions,” particularly where I live in California--the golden state--which got its name not from the precious metal, but from the color of the grassy hillsides from about late May until November when the rains come and growth begins again.

Here’s what a meadow of native California grasses looks like when dormant:

These grasses receive no supplemental irrigation.

Here’s the same area in early spring:

So there you have it.  I can have bunchy, leggy, funky grass, or I can have a nice, carpet-like mini-lawn.  

1 comment:

Molly Kate said...

Yep, I vote for the grass clippers ;-)