The guy with the greenest lawn in town has some advice, but there is a caveat: He does not practice what he preaches.
"Try to keep activities off the grass," says Don Marshall, who encourages people in spiked shoes to run all over his domain, which is the field at Anaheim Stadium and the fairways at Anaheim Hills and Dad Miller golf courses.
Marshall, golf course operations manager for the city of Anaheim, has a special task this year: Anaheim Stadium hosts the Baseball All-Star game on Tuesday, and millions of people will see whether his lawn looks good. Nothing less than perfection is permitted in this age of television.
This time of year, when hot, dry weather bakes the verdant spears into a dull, yellow-brown on many an Orange County lawn, Marshall will pull all kinds of tricks to keep the turf at the stadium telegenic-green. Like lightly watering several times a day, over-seeding frequently and cutting the grass to exactly 1 1/4 inches deep almost daily.
As we said before, do not try these stunts at home. Marshall would not do this to his own lawn, or one of the golf courses, especially in July.
"You should mow the least amount possible," he says. Turf height should be about two inches, which might hamper a ballplayer but preserves precious moisture in a conventional lawn.
October, not July, is the best month to over-seed or reseed, since the intense heat and dryness take their toll on newly sprouted grass seed. And watering should be done not lightly and several times daily but perhaps two or three times a week, depending on the weather. Do it for good, long soaks, say 20 minutes, but do not allow runoff. This allows the water to get down to the roots to provide a deep lawn rather than a shallow one that is more vulnerable to weather changes.
At the stadium, they water periodically during the day, but the best time for lawns is early in the morning, "about two hours before dawn," Marshall says. This gives the ground time to absorb the water before the sun causes transpiration. It soaks the roots, leaves the leaves dry, and it actually washes the grass. Washes the grass? Oh come on, Don. Some of us have enough trouble keeping our cars clean.
The man is serious: "You know the dew that you see on the grass the first thing in the morning? Well it contains a high amount of sugars; the sugars attract organisms."
Organisms that lust after your lawn, that is. So, OK, life is sort of fair sometimes. Your lawn can't just lie there; it has to go on a diet just like the rest of us.
"Yeah, before dawn is a good time to water," Marshall concludes, "but do it with a timer because who the hell wants to get up at that hour of the morning?"
The field at the stadium, which is ripped up every January and a new one planted in March, a few weeks before baseball season begins, currently consists of bluegrass with a rye grass over-seeding.
Marshall says the bluegrass, which was his second choice after the usual Santa Ana hybrid Bermuda grass turf became unavailable, is holding up well under the exertions of the Angels and their opponents. But bluegrass is a cool weather species not really adapted to this area, so it probably would not be a good choice for homeowners.
Marshall recommends a strong Bermuda, with ryegrass over-seeding during the winter, or one of the new patented fescues, which stay green all year with the right care. Marathon grass, a thick fescue, is a good choice for a lawn but does not rejuvenate very quickly after damage, so it is not a good choice for ball fields. Bermuda types quickly recover from abuse because of their creeping stems.
Pesticides are rarely used on the stadium field because of its protected venue and short duration but are used at the golf courses. "We don't use any Category I (highly toxic) materials," Marshall says. "We wouldn't use anything on a golf course that I wouldn't use on my own lawn." He would not recommend that a golfer consume anything that has touched the grass, such as a cigar tossed aside in between shots. But he warns against "hysteria" about pesticides. "Hell, the cigar will kill you before any of those pesticides will."
For lawns, any good commercial product will do, Marshall says, especially those that also fertilize while killing bugs.
As for fertilizers, again, what is good for the stadium is not necessarily good for the lawn keeper. The stadium bluegrass is a winter feeder, so Marshall rarely fertilizes. Bermuda grass is a summer feeder, and should not be fertilized in the winter.
Where the line is drawn is not exactly clear, especially on lawns that are combinations of many grasses. And there are no guarantees. Marshall, who has been caring for golf turf since 1957, stresses:
"As my old agronomy prof told me, 'You can't make grass grow; you can only help it grow.' "
So what if all efforts fail? Is Marshall above adding a bit of artificial color to keep that stadium field a dreamlike green?
"That's kind of a professional insult," he says, slightly ruffled. "Since 1982, we have not applied colorant to this field. If you have to paint the field, you might as well have Astroturf."