Green shoots

PLAYING croquet with friends and family on a lush carpet of green -- that's the image that motivated me to put in a lawn. It was fall, the proper seeding time for our region. So we analyzed the soil. We rototilled. We purchased a bulk-rate amount of fertilizer and spread it over our dirt patch as carefully as if we were frosting a cake. In two weeks, results appeared. Tiny green shoots were struggling to rise above the fertilizer (and who could blame them?). But within the following month, we saw trouble. The shoots were turning brown, and we were fairly sure we hadn't planted tobacco.

I decided to seek advice.

The neighbor on our right said it had probably been given too much water. ``We made the same mistake,'' he said. ``There's a tendency to swamp it at first, thinking the more you put on, the lusher it will be.'' His explanation seemed convincing, and I said, ``I'll just have to use more restraint from now on.''

But two days later another neighbor said, ``Hey, turning brown is your lawn's way of crying out for a drink. Give it more water.'' And after talking to him I felt very miserly for having deprived those innocent little blades of liquid nourishment.

I hoped that my gardening manual would clear up this matter, but it's not easy to convey with words what the proper amount should be. The book's explanation went something like this: ``Give your lawn plenty of water, but not too much. That is, give it somewhat less than `a lot,' but be generous enough to exceed `a little' by a substantial margin, as long as the margin falls well shy of overabundance.'' It sounded as if my two neighbors had collaborated on the text.

My friend Greg claimed that watering had nothing to do with my problem. ``It's grubs,'' he said. ``Grubs are the cause. I guarantee it.'' But I had to bear in mind that Greg had been heatedly battling grubs on his own property and was now ready to blame them not only for my ailing lawn but also for inflation, pollution, and the high cost of owning a boat.

My wife, meanwhile, had occasion to visit with a friend whose thumb is notoriously green. This woman felt she could be of assistance since she knew for certain why her houseplants do so well. ``It's because I maintain a personal relationship with each one,'' she said. ``I treat them as feeling individuals. I talk to them.''

One couldn't refute the effectiveness of her approach, for her plants were robust and full. But my wife felt that there were differences between speaking to a fern and to an entire lawn. For one thing, the lawn held hundreds of individual grass blades, and my wife has never been comfortable addressing crowds.

At long last, I consulted someone at a nearby nursery. The man brought up the watering issue again but was not so much concerned with the amount as with the intervals. He suggested that I try watering lightly three times a day, as I had when the lawn was newly seeded. Simple advice, but it worked. The lawn has thrived ever since.

My wife concluded that we should have gone to an expert in the first place, but I disagreed. It was fun to have a problem to discuss with the neighbors and to hear about their lawn experiences. As a matter of fact, it was more fun than playing croquet.

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