With Spring just a week away and Summer always hot on its heels, more and more outdoor events are taking place. Here in Savannah, GA we are well known for our St. Patrick’s Day celebration (our parade is the second largest in the US with only New York City ahead) and expect over 300,000 visitors to be in town this year! Unfortunately, all of those party goers dressed in their finest green attire can leave our grassy areas in need of a pinch as their natural green fades to brown. While most of us don’t have guests lists the size of Pittsburgh’s population, attendance at backyard barbeques and community events can be a shock to grassy lawns that aren’t accustomed to heavy foot traffic.
Grass is one of the most resilient plants on the planet but when the soil underneath becomes compacted, water has a difficult time reaching the root system. Without water and other nutrients, grass will turn brown and eventually die leaving an unattractive bald spot in your lawn.
Like any good coach or Boy Scout will tell you, preparation is the key to success. If you are designing a space that will frequently encounter heavy foot traffic either as a pathway or during events (concerts, sporting events, community gatherings, etc), a completely natural grass lawn may not be the best option. Consider utilizing a combination of soft and hardscapes where appropriate:
- stepping stones
- artificial turf
If you plan to host only occasional events, depending on the space needed and use of that space, simple rope barriers can limit the areas which will be most impacted. In these scenarios you can route foot traffic along areas that are already in need of replacement or on the areas healthy enough to handle the stress. For multiple day events, consider re-routing the traffic each day to disperse the distress and allow areas of need recovery time.
If there is no getting around the fact that your lawn will have lots of feet trampling it, here are a couple of tips for preparing it the best you can:
- If you haven’t done so recently, aerate the lawn with a punch core aerator and rake in a layer of finely sifted compost.
- Avoid mowing the grass very short in advance of the event – a little extra length will provide more cushion for the soil and the soles of your guests.
- If you need to water your grass the day of the event, make sure to do so with ample time for it to dry – heavy foot traffic on wet grass can often lead to a muddy mess. Mud becomes slippery and slips can lead to grass being torn from the roots (as well as become a safety liability). Since most grass needs only one good, deep soak per week, plan ahead and water a few days before the event (also make sure your automatic sprinklers aren’t scheduled to go off while the lawn is occupied).
- While you don’t want excess thatch in your lawn, if there happens to be a little extra, leave it in place as some added cushion until the event is over.
Once an event has taken place, evaluate your grass to see how it has held up. If it’s a bit matted down but still firmly rooted (try tugging a few blades in several areas), some simple grass repair techniques may be enough to nurse it back to its former glory.
- Give it a light rake to get the blades standing upright.
- Assuming it is firm and dry, resume your normal weekly watering schedule; if it is at all muddy – hold off on watering until the soil is dry to the touch.
- If needed, apply fertilizer or compost.
If your grass is no more and bald patches of hard dirt are all that remain (hopefully it was a good party); it’s time to start fresh. Whether you decide to lay sod or plant seed, prepare your soil accordingly. Research the best grass varieties for your region, amend your soil with compost and fertilizers, and consider potential irrigation and drainage projects that may put your lawn in a stronger position to survive the next big event.
Even if you’re considering tackling the project yourself, it doesn’t hurt to contact your local landscaper to learn more about how and when to plant grass and other lawn services that may help yours become the best on the block (irrigation, fertilization, weed control, fungal disease treatment, pest control, etc).