Dead Lawns Don’t Lie

John was one of those lucky single guys able to purchase a medium-sized single level home in the suburbs of Atlanta. It had a finished garage, a huge backyard surrounded by blueberry bushes and a few established hardwoods. Deep down, John wanted this home as a future home for his future small family. There were plenty of improvement projects to keep him busy in the meantime.

The older couple from whom John bought the house maintained a beautiful lawn. When they built the place they made a special effort to have loads of biologically-rich topsoil and balanced amendments hauled in, to bolster the classic red clay that is so common in the area.

John was completely settled by August of 2001. Even with the heat and minimal care, his lawn remained pristine. By the first lawn emergence of 2003 the lawn had become wilted, stunted, and dark green only in a few patches.

Get Healthy

John made it a priority to get his lawn healthy by the end of the season. He rented an aerator and provided room for new roots to grow. Next came the right amount nitrogen fertilizer. The lawn was about 10,000 square feet, so he used about 50 pounds. He then started a watering regimen that increased his utility bill, but he thought it would be worth it to have the best lawn in the neighborhood like he used to.

A month passed and the lawn didn’t look any healthier. He increased the height on his lawn mower and cut the lawn far less frequently to avoid “shoot shock.” Nothing happened. In fact the lawn started to look worse. Finally, John tried over seeding the lawn with a couple of broadcasts of new seeds. He spent the next two weeks treating the lawn like a newborn baby trying to get it to liven-up. He even spent time chasing birds away that apparently were drawn to the prospect of a seed buffet. Only about 10% of the seeds emerged, but they were never hearty.

Neighbors noticed a disheveled and depressed-looking John standing on his back patio obviously out of ideas. It was nearly noon and he hadn’t even changed out of his bathrobe. Barefoot, John walked onto the prickly and sad dying grass, turned on the hose, and began one last watering effort by hand. It was a sad, yet all too common sight. After ten minutes of half-effort sprinkling John suddenly winced in pain. A sharp unfamiliar sting shot into his right foot and calf. He slapped is leg and looked down. Several dozen translucent red ants only two or three millimeters long were encircling his position and making their way upward. Down went the stream of water at the critters. John watched as the scrambled away. When the spray ended, more ants emerged. Again, down with the water. This time, an incredible number of ants, along with hundreds of slimy white eggs flooded out of the roots of his poor lawn.


Of course! In all of efforts, John never thought that he could have a general bug infestation. His first experience with the lawn was one of awe and inspiration. What he didn’t realize was that the couple who owned it before him were diligent about pest control each season they lived there. The next spring, John had a professional examine samples of the lawn’s composition and root system. The infestation of ants, beetles, and grubs was so bad, they could be seen on every sample. The pro treated the lawn with fertilizer containing slow-release insecticide. He also designed a health plan for John to execute for the next few months.  It worked. By summer the lawn was nearly as green as when he first saw it. There was even evidence of new, young grass cycling through.

It never occurred to him, that his lawn was so healthy that it was prime real estate for plants and pests alike! By 2007, John was married and working on a brood that could appreciate a big, green Georgia lawn. It’s unclear if the lawn is what made that happen, but stranger things have happened!

Words of Wisdom: Beautiful lawns are more than what is seen. What’s going on below the surface is perhaps more important than water and sunlight above ground. Don’t be like John- Have a lawn care specialist examine the lawn before it becomes too frustrating.

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