A fine, well-kept lawn is a source of pleasure and pride to the owner, and how unseemly it would be to see a fifty-thousand-dollar mansion surrounded by a weedy, ill-kept lawn. I have remarked some years ago, perhaps only to myself, that the lawns of the temperate and moist parts of Europe (such as Great Britain) were made to walk on; ours are made to look at. "Keep off the grass" is assuredly more frequently seen here than there. " The Emerald Isle" gets its poetic designation because the grass is green the year 'round. Ours in summer is brown in color, and for months in winter an "invisible green." So we prize our lawns, spend money on them, and pay large water bills for the privilege of frequently spoiling them, but withal I must say that for trimness and neatness and greeness in our cities our lawns will compare most favorably with those I saw in England twenty years ago. In fact, the latter were a disappointment, and badly needed the water-cart or hose.
Whether you use sod or seed to make a lawn, the ground should be dug or plowed a good eight or nine inches deep; the deeper the roots can go down in the soil, the less your grass will dry out in summer. If you cannot afford that amount of good top soil you should at least have the soil dug that deep, and into it work a good lot of well rotted manure. Break it up with plow or spade, so that the roots will go down into it. If for sodding, you should have at least two inches of good surface loam, so that the roots will quickly take hold.
In grading a piece of ground you may have had depressions to fill up in some spots several feet deep. In other places you have had to take off the surface, leaving that part very solid. The filled up portion will be sure to sink, so it should be got down to its permanent grade either by ramming or by water. In small areas, such as where excavations have been made for sewers, there is no rammer equal to the hose. Flood it with water, if practicable, and that willtake it down solid. This is particularly true of clay.
Obtain the best and cleanest sod you can, and here is a chance for you to pull out the dandelion and plantain; their roots are severed in cutting the sod, and it takes little time to pull out the tops with the short pieces of root. It is seldom we get sod that is evenly cut, but if the ground has been nicely graded and the soil not too solid, you can overcome that, and a good heavy roller will flatten down small inequalities. There is nothing more to do but give the sod a good soaking of water. In a few days pass the mowing machine over it and you have a lawn pleasing to the eye, and if you are a reasonable person your eye will not see it as it is today, but will picture it after a month's growth and several cuttings, and your prophetic vision will be looking on something like the surface of a billiard table.
Where there is any quantity of lawn to make or renew, seeding is always preferable to sodding. Not alone does it make a better looking lawn, better grass and better quality all around, but it is far cheaper. The same care in digging deep and manuring is essential, and the top two inches of surface should be of good, friable soil, that the delicate little plants may get a good start.
You can, when preparing for seed, put on an absolutely perfect grade, whether it be for a bowling green, which is level, or a gradual fall to any point, or a pleasing slope in any direction. When I say you can, I mean you can if you have an eye and know how to handle the rake, and you are not supposed to be leveling or grading if you can't. Some men have a great gift at this kind of work and some are created to play golf - gaawf.
In small, defined areas, when seeding it is a good plan to lay a strip of sod around the margin. Sometimes a bed for flowers or shrubs is laid out on the lawns. If a strip of sod, say a foot wide, is laid around these at a correct grade, they are a good guide when leveling, or what may be called " putting on the finishing touch" for intervening spaces.
I may have rather an elaborate way of sowing grass seed, but it answers well. When you have finished raking and have the surface as nearly perfect as your eye tells you, give the whole a light rolling. You will see much plainer then any little inequalities than when the ground was left rough by the rake. Mend any imperfections and roll those places again where you disturb the soil. Then sow the seed on the smooth surface. Next pass over the surface with a rake, not raking as if you had stones and rub-'bish to rake or leveling to do, but let the teeth of the rake pass backwards and forwards lightly over the surface. This will just work in the seeds, or enough of them, for if one in a hundred grows you have enough. After that light raking pass over again with a light roller.
Just one digression. How pleasant it is to see a man with his back bent (or your own) and handling the rake as an expert, for expertness can be exercised with a rake as well as with a bat, a ball, or a billiard cue. Don't handle the rake like the interesting schoolmarm among the hay fields of her country cousins during vacation. Men that are expert with these simple tools and keep sober are never out of employment.
Sodding is done as soon after frost as the ground is dry till about June 1, and again in the fall if the weather is not too dry to cut it. Seeding is also done in early spring, but not safe to do after the end of May, as we frequently get a dry spell, and unless you can reach it with the hose it may be a failure. The very best time of the whole year to seed a lawn is from the last of August to middle of September; even a little earlier in August is all right. We are almost sure to get some showers the last of August, and if within reach of the hose you are not dependent on showers, and if sown at that time or very early in September you have a lawn well established before winter sets in.
Further experience has taught us that lawns can be made from sowing seed any time during the entire summer, from spring till the last of August, providing you are within reach of the hose. When the delicate little cotyledon first emerges from the seed a severe drought, if only many of our florist's plants suffer in the for a few hours, may destroy it, as so seed pans, but if the surface of your grass plot is kept continually moist no harm is done, and in two weeks you have a lawn even in the hottest weather.