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"You can only expect so much of grass," says Valentine. "This constant pounding! Golf carts, mechanical mowers—it's like rabbit-punching the grass. When does it get a chance to grow? You go to bed at night, but now they play night golf.
"Between the middle of August and Labor Day, that's when you don't want to eat, when you feel wilted, just like the grass. You have to be careful with everything, even your watering. You can't just throw water around like a wild man. We had to go into our fairway watering program at night," he said resignedly of the dry spell he and the grass were currently enduring, "and we held our greens pretty well, but we probably started new diseases."
It is generally agreed that in the extremely dry parts of the country, where you could not grow a fungus in a wet bucket, regular night watering may encourage fungus disease, but you have to allow golfers on the course during the day. It is just one of the crosses green-keepers must bear. "A little bit of water is deadly," Valentine says. "That's like teasing grass, so to speak. I don't know how to explain it. Like you just walked across the Mojave Desert and you want a drink and somebody gives it to you in a saltcellar."
Other experts (except for the Scotts lawn-care company) agree with Valentine that no watering is better than a little. A bit of water encourages the shallow-rooted undesirable weeds and grasses, strengthening them and doing nothing for the deeper-rooted turf grasses. Some unwanted grasses can even be controlled by using dry conditions to choke them out while the good turf holds on. "A fairway that has never been watered," he says, "that doesn't get watered year after year, has better grass in it. It acclimates itself, and when you get a cool night and some rain it comes back better than ever."
In 1895 F. Lamson-Scribner, the gentleman who delivered himself of those observations about a man's lawn and his character, wrote, "The gardener will...soon discover individual peculiarities in the plants he cultivates, and detect variations which may be found to be as fixed or permanent as those which limit species." It is the intensity of a grass gardener's concentration on his plants' "individual peculiarities" and his knowledge of the infinite variety of effective circumstances that result in a superior turf.
And it is the absence of this specific knowledge and attention that constitutes the relative weakness of lawn-care-company grass-growing. The large lawn-care companies necessarily deal with their customers en bloc, and any plan, even a ponderously flexible one, that involves a lot of general directives probably will produce acceptable but not optimum results. Companies do their best, of course, since it is not going to be to their advantage to advocate procedures that will leave a customer with a patch of mud. But seed mixtures, amounts and kinds of fertilizer and multiple-purpose pesticides, all meant to be used across large chunks of the country, stand less chance of being the best for any given lawn.
"They recommend materials we don't need here," says an Arizona agent. "They develop mixes that cover everything, so you're spending money for two or three things when you're only trying to control one."
"They do advocate program, though," says another, "and I like program."
For a reasonable man who has enough trouble without falling in love with a lawn, for a man who does not require perfect grass or worry about paying for chemical controls he may not need, commercial programming is usually sufficient. A grass maniac, however, should, and would, enjoy really learning for himself what he is doing. All over the United States he will receive courteous and informed assistance from his local county agricultural agent, who will be knowledgeable about the specific local conditions on the one hand and the recent agronomical advances on the other. "We know from experience what will work here," an agent in Wyoming says, "and we aren't trying to sell anything."
"We answer two or three hundred calls a day about lawns," says Nassau County Agricultural Agent Bill Titus. "Our most serious problems are the wrong variety of grass, and insect and disease damage. The queries vary with the time of the year, and usually we can take care of a lot of them over the phone. The first thing we hear in early spring will be leaf spot. Then drought. The grass will be turning smoky gray, and following that will be browning out. It's hard to convince people that that's what they've got, because they water, so you go out and look, and it's wet on top, and you dig in and it's powder-dry underneath." The Nassau office sends out releases on current problems, works with commercial lawnkeepers and garden-supply centers and in the summer holds lawn clinics. "We have had as many as 3,000 people show up—we were a little overwhelmed."