Tag Archive | Lawn Care

It’s All About the Grass

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I knew we could make this an “All Spoiler week” if we tried.

Last week–just exactly a week ago–we had a soil scientist from the lawn care company that mistakenly trespassed on our property, poisoned my  vegetable garden and “treated” some of my perennial and shrubs with broad leaf weed killer come out, allegedly  to take “soil samples and tissue cultures” from the affected plants and areas.

Perhaps they got nervous when I started saying words to them like “trespass” and “irreplaceable” plants. Nevertheless, I permitted them to come.

When I told the Spoiler they were coming, he said, “Oh good. There are some brown areas in the grass I want them to look at too.”

“Some brown areas in the grass.” Long time readers of this blog know that we don’t irrigate our lawn. It was August 25 when they came–a very dry August, I might add.

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Nevertheless, it is undeniable that they did spray a lot of this broad-leaf weed killer all over the lawn. So I simply said, “that’s fine, honey. You just be here so you can show them where.”

I have to keep the Spoiler happy, after all.

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Summer is Winding Down–What Should Gardeners Be Doing?

Last week I posted a photo about the quality of light that told me that the seasons were changing. I also had a photo of a type of spider that appears this time of year in my garden (at least in a size when its big enough for me to notice).

Since seasons are changing in the northern hemisphere, what should gardeners be doing?

Certain lucky gardeners can plant whole second gardens of course. And if I were organized enough, I could get in a second crop of faster growing things like leaf lettuces and radishes and perhaps even peas if I had started then a bit earlier. But honestly, between the drought this summer and the poor critters that have been coming to the gardens to get at the produce because there’s no other sources for moisture, I really don’t have much desire to plant anything else as a “salad” crop for critters.

If this has not been your problem, by all means, plant a second crop of edibles!

One thing that should be done this time of year–even for those of us in drought stricken areas unless there is a watering ban–is to renovate the lawn. But please, folks, once again, let’s do this sensibly.

I noticed that one of my neighbors–the one that has been having a lawn company pesticide the heck out of their lawn literally every single week all summer long–finally had some core aeration done. Any wonder why that was necessary? This is the same neighbor that “tried” organic care last year but then said that the lawn looked terrible. I hate to tell you what it looks like this year. It’s completely fried from all those chemicals in a drought. But no one’s asking my advice.

If someone were, I would say the core aeration is a great place to start. A little layer of compost might be next.  Ditch the pesticides and don’t fertilize–not in this drought! Lawn renovation might have to wait. But compost and aeration will never do any harm.

If you haven’t gotten around to ordering bulbs, you probably should. Even where I live, it’s still too warm to plant. But you definitely want to reserve them so that you get your choice. The growers won’t ship until it’s the appropriate time to plant anyway. And bulbs are remarkably forgiving.

Finally, get out to your garden centers. Anything that is left over is going to be on sale at a nice discount. And they most likely will have brought in some great new fresh stock for fall planting too. While that may not be discounted, you might see just the thing (beyond mums, cabbages and pumpkins) to liven up the yard for years to come. Just remember that you will need to water it if nature is not helping you.

So what are you waiting for? Fall has some of the best gardening weather around. Go out, enjoy, and get planting!

Our Latest Eco-Friendly Mower

20160525_164847This is the Spoiler’s newest toy. We’ve been mowing with battery operated mowers for decades–no mean feat when your yard is just about an acre and probably half of that is devoted to grass.  Our neighbors to the north and south use lawn tractors, the one behind us uses a stand on commercial mower, and the one in front of us has gone to using a lawn service–so more tractors and gas blowers.

As I am fond of saying, our neighborhood sounds like an industrial zone from spring until December, when the last of the leaf blowers get put away. There’s no such thing as peace and quiet. The commercial guys are there every day of the week from 7 am until dusk and on the weekends, the homeowners start up. Many of them don’t even have the decency to stop at dusk.

So the only little place where there’s less noise–I won’t say no noise because I am startled still by how much noise these things still make–is on our property. We use nothing powered by gas except a commercial grade leaf blower on occasion in the fall to move leaves from the back to the curb (when you have a heavily wooded property, you can’t use all the leaves you create, no matter how hard you try) and of course our snow blower with the tractor treads for our ski slope of a driveway.

But the lawn mower, hedge trimmer and “weed whacker,” as well as the light use leaf blower for most jobs are all battery powered.

The new lawn mower is a Black and Decker. It’s probably our fourth. We trade in the old ones so the batteries get properly recycled. This one is 40 volts. All the others were 24 volts. That means it will run longer so that ideally the Spoiler will only need two charges to cut the grass instead of three.

It also comes with two batteries so that when he runs through the first one he can pop in the second and keep on mowing. Now knowing that it took at least three charges from the old lawn mower to get through our lawn, we’ll see how well this works. But because this mower is more powerful, perhaps it will have a longer running time and he’ll be able to get the lawn done with just the two batteries.

He was so excited when he got the mower that he called me out to try it. I was still in my work clothes. He made me push it, then made me push it with one hand. I told him that it was very nice but since I never mowed much with the other one, I really didn’t know what to say.

“But you can push it with one hand,” he said.

“Oh, I see,” I replied. “It’s so light, I can mow in my work clothes. Hold on, I’ll go put on my pearls and then you can get a photo.”

So that was part of the attraction too–that the new mower is lighter than the old. As for me mowing–in my pearls or not–that’s not happening any time soon. I have too much work elsewhere in the yard!

Feeling Patriotic? Grow A Freedom Lawn This Year!

I would love to say that I came up with this concept but I did not. It’s not even a new concept. It’s been around for a decade or more as I wrote about in a post that you can read here.

In fact, the concept is even more relevant now with all of the drought going on in various parts of the country. Look what has happened regarding drought in the last ten years or so–we’ve had sort of a rolling drought that persisted for years, moving from the south, through the southwest and then into California.

And let’s not even talk about the persistent wildfires that get bigger and burn hotter each year out west.

With all that going on, it’s downright unpatriotic–to me–to attempt to plant a perfect carpet of grass. (But remember, if we all liked the same thing, what a boring world we would have. I know my male readers are just cringing right now).

So how do I define a “freedom lawn?” At my house, in my clay soil, even in a drought, we are fortunate enough to remain a lot wetter than most, so what I try to do is to persuade the Spoiler to allow most of what wants to grow there naturally to remain.

Not only do we garden in wet, heavy clay, but we garden on a slope. So this is really a tough climate for grass.  Our pH is really low so the soil is very acidic–again not ideal for grass–but perfect for moss! So in a lot of spots, I have convinced the Spoiler to just leave the moss. And it’s working!

So there’s no mowing and very few weeds that invade. Anything that comes up, I hand pull–but in that environment, very little invades. Some plantain might occasionally come up. But we do get lots of little ferns. Very pretty.

On the flat, sunny slopes, we have violets–perfect nectar spots for the bees and butterflies. This is a tough on to balance because the violets can over-run a lawn. In our clay, they do not seem to get out of control.

Occasional dandelions will also come up. I will let them flower, but we weed them out before they seed since they are perennial. The flowers are great for early tiny bees.

And clover, which also occurs naturally if you let it, is a wonderful asset to the lawn. Not only does it feed bees and butterflies but it helps fix the nitrogen in the soil because it is in the legume family. Prior to all the 4-Step programs, clover was actually sold in grass seed mixes for just this purpose. Once the commercial fertilizer programs came along, they couldn’t figure out not to kill it along with the other “broad leaf weeds” so they just chose to list it as a weed.

And if that isn’t a sad tale, I’m not sure, what is!

Early Spring Chores

On Friday I talked about the danger of working in soil that was too wet and the danger of soil compaction.

Today I am going to talk about what to do if this is not your problem–or if your your soil has dried out sufficiently. Early spring can be one of the nicest times in the garden. Often it is much cooler than later in the season and certainly the sun is less intense no matter where you live. The birds are singing happily–what’s not to enjoy?

On the first nice day you can certainly go out and prune. It is always acceptable to prune anything that’s dead. It doesn’t matter if it’s spring flowering, summer flowering or whatever. If you are quite sure it’s dead, you can prune it off.

Where there is ambiguity, however, don’t prune. I can’t tell you how many times I have cut into a hydrangea cane thinking it was surely dead and found green wood underneath, (meaning, therefore, that I had just cut off that seasons’ blooms! Wouldn’t you think I would know better by now?!)

Try to learn from my mistakes. If you are not sure, give it another few weeks to show some growth. Or scrape a little bit of the branch to see if there is any green wood underneath before you just callously cut into it and prune.

With respect to pruning, you obviously don’t want to prune anything that will flower this spring–wait until after it flowers to prune it. You also don’t want to prune anything that has set its buds on old wood–the aforementioned hydrangeas, but also things like later blooming rhododendrons, if you grow them, and lilacs. Wait until those things bloom and then prune.

Things that bloom later like shrubby hibiscus (hibiscus syriacus) can be pruned now.

Roses should be pruned when the buds on their canes start to swell. They actually tell you the correct time to prune according to your region and weather. Don’t jump the gun and prune too early with roses–you’ll just cause more dieback. And don’t necessarily prune shrub roses like the Knockout series of roses just because they’re roses and you think they should be pruned. Only prune them if they’re getting too big for the space or they have dead canes or crossing canes or something like that. Remember, shrub roses are designed to be treated more like “shrubs.”

And if all else fails and you get frustrated, default to my standby position that I took on Friday: take a walk instead. Spring is too lovely a time to waste!

What to Do On A Lovely March Day

It’s been unseasonably warm this week in my part of the country (actually, if the truth has to be told, it’s been unseasonably warm all winter, but not crazily so so that you wanted to go out and garden. This week even I wanted to go out and garden!)

But unlike in other parts of the country where there is actual gardening going on this time of year, (a friend came to visit from Florida this past weekend and told us she was harvesting tomatoes. Talk about gardening envy!) this is not necessarily the best time of year to be “gardening” in my part of the country. The weather is fickle and late spring snows can easily undo some of the work you have just done.

So for those gardeners in colder climates, here’s what to do on those lovely spring days.

First, if your soil isn’t too wet to walk on (and that’s an important if. If your soil is too wet to walk on, stay off! You risk damaging the all important soil structure!) go out and begin the inevitable clean up from the winter. Pick up downed branches and larger debris.

At this point in the season, even though we are still in moderate drought, my heavy clay is going to be too wet to work. So I don’t dare go near the garden beds. Anything I can do along the edges is fine.Your garden may be different.

How can you tell? If you pick up a handful of soil and it sticks together like a snowball, don’t mess with the garden! That includes walking in there to prune shrubs! You’ll just compact the soil.

Long time readers have seen photos of moss in my garden. I adore it. But remember, moss needs 3 things to grow: acidity, shade and compacted soil. It gets all 3 in my garden. The heavy clay is naturally dense; I have lots of shade and the pH of my soil is in the range of about 3. But I certainly am not going to compact that clay any more than necessary by walking on it or working in it when it’s wet.

So what do I do on a glorious March day? Usually, I take a walk. There’s not a lot I can do in my garden without messing it up.

On Monday I’ll give you some tips for early spring chores.

Be A Garden Renegade–Pick Up A Rake

Wednesday is Earth Day (although with the rapid acceleration of issues and problems around the globe, I could argue that every day should be Earth Day!) And yet what happened on the first lovely weekend of spring in my neighborhood? The gas guzzling,  polluting power equipment came out in droves in my neighborhood. I could barely hear myself think because of the noise from leaf blowers, lawn mowers and even lawn tractors.

Now, I have to ask myself, what on earth were those folks thinking?! The grass isn’t even green yet. There’s nary a crocus in sight and the only daffodils blooming are against warm southern exposures–in microclimates, in other words.

So there’s nothing to mow! And if they were using that gas guzzling power equipment to pick up lawn debris, might I suggest a radical idea? Use your two hands to collect any large branches and then pick up an old-fashioned rake and rake up the small stuff.

You’d be surprised about the benefits of raking. It can be aerobic if you do it correctly and long enough. It can also be pleasant. Without the noise and the gas fumes from your blowers in your face, you can hear all sorts of things–bird song, for example. It might actually make you enjoy something that you once thought of as a chore.

And it has benefits for the lawn. It can lightly de-thach and remove things like snow mold (which we all have lots of after this winter!)

Then, if you are top-dressing with compost (a great idea) or lightly sowing new seed, it will make better contact with the soil.  All that mowing (particularly with tractors!) and blowing just keeps the soil compacted.

Even if you are (perish the thought!) putting down one of those chemical fertilizers, it will now remain in place better until a rain washes it in, because it will actually have some soil to make contact with–not that same hard-packed stuff to roll off of.

So this spring, be a garden renegade–pick up a rake, get outside and get a little exercise and fresh air. It won’t kill you!