It all started because I don't like crabgrass. It sticks up rude pointy parts at odd angles waaaaay before the rest of the grass needs mowing and makes me look bad. So I started down the path of crabgrass destruction.

I asked some questions, got some answers, which led to more questions, which led to.... a stalemate. More research was needed.  Crabgrass is an annual grass. So the way you get rid of it is either to choke it out or keep the previous year's seed from from sprouting. Or you can kill it with a "weed & feed" blend. Trouble is, the weed & feed would also kill off my violets, which feed our fritillary caterpillars.  It also kills clover, which both we and the bees like. So that option was out.

So I did a bit more research. I was leaning towards applying a pre-emergent, designed to keep the crabgrass from sprouting. A local landscaping guy said that was fine, but I would need to over-seed first with whatever it was I wanted to have instead--he was promoting fescue--and then apply the pre-emergent about a month later. This was sounding reasonable, until the guys at work were talking about how rabbits don't like fescue. Since I love rabbits, This Would Not Do. More research was needed--to see if this was true, if nothing else.

I determined that I wanted to use white clover as a seed for the "lawn." It will take mowing just fine and serves as a nitrogen "fixer" that helps to improve the soil for other grasses and ground covers. And I am all about improving the soil. In fact, white clover used to get used in lawn grass mixes, until the weed & feed mixes came out. The broadleaf killer (the "weed" part) in the weed and feed killed the clover, so clover got re-labeled as a weed. [Fine Gardening, April 2010.] It had originally been included in lawn seed mixes because it had value in improving the lawn soil---seems to me like that's still a good idea.  Now in some states, white clover (which is actually a legume) is an invasive--Tennesee is one of these. So if you live in Tennessee, behave yourself and use something else!

But what about the fescue? I like having a "restful place" for the eye between the planting beds--an area of lawn serves this function well. It provides an easy path from one part of the yard to another. A carpet of fescue sure seemed like a good idea (at least until I heard that bunny rumor).

Turns out fescue is allelopathic, just like black walnut trees. It gives off a chemical that inhibits or kills the competition. It has even killed species that would seem to have more "uumph" like sweet gum trees.  Fescue isn't toxic to rabbits, but they, like us, need a diversified diet. Since fescue chokes out the diversity, it ends up driving out the rabbits. The US Department of Agriculture is actually studying using tall fescue around airports because a monoculture of fescue chokes out the other plants that make those grasslands attractive to wildlife. Around an airport, I can see the point. Fewer Canadian Geese flying into planes is a Good Thing. But in my yard? Where I have other plants I want to thrive? And I would love to see bunnies?

Fescue excels as a turf grass precisely because of this ability to choke out the competition, so if you want the perfect lawn, a fescue blend is probably exactly what you're after. However, this blog is devoted to those of us who wish to have a more "lively" yard--one that supports butterflies, birds, and maybe even bunnies. If that is the objective you wish to achieve, fescue is not a good choice.  [Another note on fescue for those who have livestock... old news, I'm sure...tall fescues can harbor a fungus that at high concentrations harms livestock. Get more information here. Never use a turf grass mix as pasture for livestock.]

So I'm planning on diversifying our lawn. I may never rid myself of all the crabgrass. We will introduce more clover, keep our mosses, our violets and our shreds of existing grasses. We will plant no fescue. Where possible, we will substitute creeping thyme, or mazus in the shady areas. Clusters of sedges, already popular with our birds (and one of our cats--he likes to assault the clumps) will get more places to call their own in the landscape. And maybe one day, I'll see a rabbit in the yard again.

Did you know they like crabgrass?

Setting the Stage

Black Walnut "Blight"