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Lawn alternatives

    Date Posted: Wed, May 03 - 4:23 pm


  • I want to find an easier alternative ground cover to grass that is native to Virginia. I was thinking clover, but I worry because in some cases it can be more invasive. Any low maintenance ground cover plants that help improve the soil would be welcome!
  • Answer

  • Hello there, Of course, plant selection depends on many things, exposure (north, south, east, west and combinations of those), soil type and structure, hours of direct sun, etc. I'm guessing since you have a grass lawn you are getting a good amount of sunlight. There are really no plants that are low maintenance before they become established. I've had good luck with white clover though I use it in relatively small areas and I don't have a problem with it wanting to take over the garden. If you have a large area you might want to get more creative and use a variety of plants as your ground cover (which the birds and insects will appreciate). There are a couple of native violets you could use, also phlox subulata which is evergreen and mat forming. I'm attaching a link to a website that has good information on what native plants can function as ground cover locally. Here it is- I think you'll find some nice options there. Happy gardening!

Chamomile lawn

    Date Posted: Sun, Mar 05 - 1:28 am


  • Hi there! We live in the Museum District, and have a very small front lawn area, currently covered in mulch, in direct sunlight. We are interested in planting a chamomile lawn there. Do you know anyone who's done this in the area? Do you know where we could source chamomile plants, as opposed to having to sprout the seeds ourselves? Any suggestions in particular? We know that once we plant it, we can't walk on it for a few months. Many thanks!
  • Answer

  • Hello there, this is a nice idea. I'm thinking you're thinking of Roman chamomile, the perennial (the low growing version which is short lived but will self seed, which is a plus). Unfortunately, I don't have a source for chamomile plugs. However, if you have a nursery you like you could try calling them to see if they might be able to order some plugs for you so your lawn gets off to a quicker start. You may also be able to save some money by buying plugs. I know you have a small space to work with but I'm wondering if you wouldn't want to add another layer to the planting, to maximize the pollinator opportunities. It might be nice to have the ground covered with chamomile and some other plantings of echinacea or rudbeckia in a grouping or two. Either way, I think you'll be happy with the change. Good luck and happy gardening!

Lawn options-seed or sod

    Date Posted: Wed, Aug 18 - 2:00 pm


  • I’m trying to decide what to do about my front lawn. It’s a little under 60 square yards. Everything is killed off and tarps are covering the ground now to keep weeds from growing. There is no shade, all day sun. I would like to know if Tall Fescue is the best choice and also should I seed or sod. Cost is not the issue since it’s a small area. I hope you can give me some advice.
  • Answer

  • Well, I know you didn’t ask this but what about foregoing a lawn and planting a dooryard garden instead?. I’m not much of a grass person. A patch of clover is more to my liking, at least it gives the honey bees a place to land, adds some nitrogen to the soil. Maybe a combination of a lovely shrub border, a small tree, a mix of tall and low-growing perennials, groundcovers? Since it's a small area the expense wouldn’t be staggering and you can always phase in the plantings. Something to consider.... That being said, I think you’re doing a good job of preparing for a fall planting by covering the space and killing off the weeds. If I haven't persuaded you to take a different approach, I’ll try to answer your question about seed or sod. You didn't mention why your lawn was "killed off". Is there an issue with the soil? If so, you should request a soil test kit from the Richmond VA Cooperative Extension Main Office: (804) 786-4150. The results will let you know what, if any, amendments you'll need to add. I think the choice of a tall fescue is fine and fall is a good time to start a cool-season grass. When purchasing seed, check the bag to make sure you are buying all seed and no filler. Look for the two Virginia-Maryland labels affixed to the package so you know you are buying seed mixtures or blends which comply with the quality standards of the Extension Divisions of Virginia Tech and U of MD. First, you'll need to prep the soil. Remove all the dead weeds you've killed by covering and make sure there are no roots left in the ground. This can be tedious but it will pay off in the long run. Work in any amendments your soil test dictates. Add a layer of compost, you can till it in, or if your soil isn't compacted, adding 1-2 inches to the surface should suffice. Grade the soil with a rake so the surface is smooth and uniform. At this point you can seed. Disburse the seed with a spreader and go back and forth across the lawn, then in a perpendicular direction, attempting to get an even amount of seed across the surface of the lawn. You can add another fine layer of compost so that there is good contact between the seed and soil. (For a larger lawn you would roll the seed at this point.) Then you'll need to water immediately thereafter and continue to water until the seed germinates. (Be careful when watering, keep the soil moist, don't wash the seed away.) After that a total of 1-2 inches of water a week should keep the grass in good spirits. Hand pull weeds. An established lawn could take up to 2 years with seed. If this doesn't sound like fun, you can clean up the soil as above, amend as needed, grade it with a rake, and lay sod. Do not let the sod dry out. You'll need to water the sod daily for a couple of weeks (of course, less if there's rain). During this period the sod will be putting down shallow roots into your soil bed. Avoid walking on the sod during this period. After about a month the sod will have established a better root system. Around this time it will need to be mowed. Set the mower to 3 inches. The sod will provide a quicker route to a nice green lawn if the expense is acceptable. I hope I've covered all your options. Good luck with the project!