Helen’s Haven converts from tall fescue to Eco-Lawn

Posted by on November 7, 2013


Eco-Lawn is a blend of carefully selected fine fescue grass seed developed by Wildflower Farm. Eco-Lawn is a lawn grass that grows in full sun, part shade, and even deep shade! Highly drought tolerant, Eco-Lawn has a beautiful deep green grass color. Eco-Lawn requires less fertilizing and can be mown like a regular lawn or left un-mown for a free-flowing carpet effect.

Grass under the chestnutThe area under the chestnut tree is bare…again. It’s an annual rite of fall passage to turn a blind eye in that area of the lawn. It’s not the chestnuts per se, but rather the shade from the overhanging branch.

By all accounts, 2013 was a good lawn year, we had a (relatively) cool summer and plenty of rain. Not knowing what the summer will hold from year to year and after chatting with Miriam Goldberger, I decided convert my grass to Eco-Lawn.

I agreed to re-seed this fall with the fine fescue blend developed by Wildflower Farm. I wanted an environmentally friendlier option, even though I maintain my fescue on the friendlier side. Near as I can tell though, Eco-Lawn might be a better option.

Raleigh (zone 7b) is in an interesting location; we are right on the edge where neither warm season or cool season grasses do particularly well. In this area, most people choose a cool season grass, such as tall fescue. “Tall” is the operative word here, since it is taught that the height of the grass is needed to shade and cool the shallow roots. If you go just a little bit south, you’ll find warm season grasses grown, such a zoysia or centipede. My parents grew zoysia in Norfolk, VA. If you go way south, it is different altogether.

l like the lawn I have in terms of size. The scale is perfect for the design of the beds and the height of my two-story brick home.

Tall fescue at Helen's Haven

To me, there is no denying a healthy lawn’s beauty. It becomes a foil for my beds and a place for my kids to play. Nothing feels better than to walk across a soft fescue lawn in my bare-feet. It’s heaven to me, and it takes me back to a happy place in my childhood.

On the benefits side, grass (like all plants) releases oxygen and adsorbs carbon dioxide, absorbs many air pollutions too, including particulate matter, and grass cools the area it covers. I don’t want acres of it, but I like what I have. Mind you, if I had acres, I’d be a farmer.

Helen's Haven Mixed BorderAs much as I want grass, it is also high maintenance, and I worry about it way too much.  It takes a lot more effort for me to keep the grass looking green and lush than it takes to keep the garden beds thriving.

There is no question that my gardens are easier to take care of than the lawn. Then it occurred to me, why is that the case? That was when I had an ah-ha moment.  It’s not that the lawn is more work, but my beds just need less work, and that was no accident.

It’s not that I’ve forgotten that I have a waterwise garden design and I’ve spent years perfecting the placement of all the plants grouped into specific zones to meet their watering (and sun) needs.

@Mirianwildflr, It just never occurred to me to look for a more environmentally friendly alternative grass to replace my existing fescue. That’s what Eco-Lawn will do. @Helen Yoest   Click to Tweet!

I now think of this in terms of an equivalent approach–to choose a seed that is waterwise, so by its very nature, the lawn will be less worry. But it’s more than that, from all that I’ve read and heard, there are other benefits to using Eco-Lawn.

To keep a Raleigh lawn green and lush, here is a list of what needs to be done. I don’t necessarily do them all, but when I don’t it shows in the results. Look at the quotes from Eco-Lawn…some really good information here:

Water. Typical fescue lawns need about an inch of rain a week. Even through Raleigh gets about 44 inches of rain a year, it isn’t spread out equally. There are some weeks we can get two inches, others none. A long time ago, I choose not to water my lawn during times of drought. I just let it go dormant. I’d prefer green year round, but I can’t justify watering. Eco-Lawn states, “Eco-Lawn produces grass blades that are very thin and thus don’t require the amount of water that typical, thick bladed lawn grasses demand. Eco-Lawn also creates roots that grow deep into the ground, so Eco-Lawn can seek out needed nutrients and water naturally, thus eliminating the need for watering….Once your Eco-Lawn is established, you’ll only need to water it during extremely dry periods, if at all.

Fertilizer. Any soil test results  will tell the Raleigh home owner to add nitrogen. It’s standard. Since nitrogen can’t be measured directly, the suggestion is based on historical data. Otherwise, the testing is very useful offering practical advise on what is needed to amend the soil.  Eco-Lawn states, “Eco-Lawn, unlike traditional turf grasses, creates a deep root system. It will make roots up to 9 inches (22.86 cm) deep in hard pan clay soils and up to 14 inches (35.56 cm) deep in sandy soils! These deep root systems enable Eco-Lawn to naturally source the nutrients it requires from the soil so you don’t need to add chemical fertilizers!”

Eco-Lawn further states, “Fertilizer should be applied sparingly, if at all, in early spring or late summer only. Slow-release, balanced fertilizers with nearly equal portions of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are best. This encourages strong root development to keep your turf healthy without excessive top growth that requires mowing. With minimal fertilizing and watering, you’ll reap the benefits of reduced maintenance, lower costs and a healthier environment!

Mow. During the spring comes the spring rains. During this time, I’m mowing the grass two times a week. Mind you, I don’t mind mowing the grass. I really don’t. I’ve been doing this since I was 11. But I’d rather have the time to work in my garden beds. Like I tell my husband, mowing is yard work and I would rather garden. Eco-Lawn says, “Eco-Lawn while quick to germinate, is a very slow growing grass that has a fine textured, dense, low-growing habit, so you don’t have to mow it if you don’t want to! Left un-mown, over the course of a full growing season, the grass blades of Eco-Lawn will grow to about 9 inches long, but because the blades of Eco-Lawn are so fine, it falls over to about a 4 inch height creating a gentle, flowing carpet-like appearance. If you prefer a more cropped-lawn look, occasional mowing will be necessary. Mow Eco-Lawn no more than once a month to a height of 3 to 4 inches for a classic lawn look.

Weeds. There seems to be a weed for every season. Some weeds are preventable, others are predictable. I don’t try to kill every weed that invades, but if I can prevent some with a pre-emergent, I will. In February (when the forsythia is in bloom) I will add a pre-emergent to prevent crabgrass (and some other weed seed such dandelions) germination. In August I add it again to prevent Poa annua, also known as annual bluegrass, germination. But then there is no preventing the nutsedge, oxalis, and my worse weed of all, Bermuda grass. It’s just creepy…literally.  Eco-Lawn writes, “Please note that most weeds germinate in spring and early summer and this will inevitably result in some weed competition with your Eco-Lawn. Weeds will grow much faster and they can sometimes out-compete spring planted seedings. Once your Eco-Lawn is about 3 inches tall, you can combat those weeds with a variety of organic methods….When your Eco-Lawn is fully mature, it becomes allelopathic which means that the grass itself emits a natural, pre-emergent herbicide that prevents other plants (weeds) from germinating!” Excellent!

Fungus.  I dread the fungus each year. It’s predictable and nothing I do prevents it. Once the summer evening temperatures are on the rise, and there is an afternoon rain, the growing conditions are prime.  Eco-Lawn says, “Don’t water Eco-Lawn in the evening, Watering at night can promote fungus. Watering at midday is inefficient because much of the water evaporates before it can be absorbed. Watering in the morning is ideal.” This is a perfect world scenario…but of course, we can’t tell that to the rain.

Acidity.  Because Raleigh is acidic (as is much of the east coast), we typically have to add lime. Eco-Lawn says, “Eco-Lawn is not fussy about the soil it grows in. It grows well in loam, well drained clay and even in dry, sandy soils. It thrives in full sun, part shade , deep shade and even in the acidic soils found under pine trees!”

Thatching. My lawn has some thatch build up each year, and I try to give it a good rack before I reseed. It’s a nuisance, but I’ll get over it. I do it for the overall health benefit of the fescue. Eco-Lawn says, “Don’t let thatch build up. Thick layers of dead stems and roots are an invitation to disease. Hard rake the area or use a power rake when needed to remove thatch.” I don’t know what a power rake is, but I like the sound of that!

Aeration. Another annual rite…aerating lawns. We live in the land of red clay. Any walking or what seems like the weight of the earth itself will compact southern soil. Compaction is a real problem with our clay soil, and aeration loosens the soil. It’s also helpful to add amendments. I’ve gone several ways, hiring it out, and renting an aerator, and doing it myself.  I find the core aeration is better than just spikes in the soil.  In a conversation with Miriam with Eco-Lawn, she says, “Aeration is NOT needed. Actually, it’s even better not to do it, since the seed would be too low to germinate.” We typically aerate because of compaction, but Eco-Lawn grows right on through. Yeah! I will not miss aerating.

Re-seeding. Pony up, baby, it’s time to buy seed. Every year we must seed or we end up with thin turf that is soon taken over by competitive grasses and weeds. Eco-Lawn says, “A thick healthy lawn is the best defense against weeds, disease, drought and insect damage. Over-seeding your Eco-Lawn every year or two (again early spring or Labor Day weekend is ideal) will foster new growth and keep your Eco-Lawn thick and healthy. Overseeding will also quickly repair a lawn that is thin and patchy from winter damage, damage from insects or other damage. When overseeding, sow Eco-Lawn seed at ½ the original seeding rate”


Helen's Haven tall fescue after mole cricket infestation

Pest. This is a new one for me this year, and only in the back. I’ve not really had any pest problems, but I hear of others with them. With all the rain we had this year, my back lawn should have been lush. The front certain is. But I watched the back lawn die a not so-slow-death. In fact it was dead in the time it took a cricket to chirp–literally! I took several soils samples to send to the, lab; but as I was gathering these cores, I noticed tunnels throughout the soil. I had a mole cricket infestation. Geesh, one more thing. And Japanese Beetle grubs are another problem. I found the information at Eco-Lawn very informative, “Grubs are the larvae of June Bugs and non-native Japanese Beetles. These creatures live as grubs in moist soils for two years and then emerge as adults in early summer. The adults only live for about 6 weeks, so their number one goal is to reproduce! In nature the female beetles, once pregnant, lay their eggs in the moist soils of pond edges and streambanks. Today, grubs are most often found in well watered lawns. This is because the traditional lawn has no real root systems and demands that you water it, making the soil surface of your lawn soft and damp – the exact conditions that the female beetles want to lay their eggs in! Since Eco-Lawn requires very little, if any, watering once established, the surface of the soil is hard and thus it is less attractive to the adult beetles looking to lay their eggs. So they simply go somewhere else to lay their eggs and you don’t get grubs!” Oh, this makes so much sense to me!

Sun. The Rebel Tall Fescue I’ve used in the past likes full sun. There re some varieties that will grown in the shade, but growing and thriving are two different things. In the end, you can only count on good growth where it is growing in the sun. Eco-Lawn, says, “Eco-Lawn thrives in full sun, part shade and even in deep shade conditions!” I will let you know!

Time. On yes, time is a factor for me. As I mentioned earlier, I would rather spend my time gardening and not doing yard work. Lawns are yard work. So less mowing, no aeration, etc, will give me more time. I like that. Tweet This!


For more information on Eco-Lawn, visit these sites:

Key Benefits of Eco-Lawn™ 

When is the best time to plant Eco-Lawn?

For more information email Eco-Lawn at info@wildflowerfarm.com

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