Posts tagged mowing

All about lawns

   It’s spring and attention is turning to lawns. Two things today about lawn care. The first is from Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith and the second came to me from Dustin Vande Hoef, communications director for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey sent the message to remind homeowners that spring is an ideal time to improve soil quality in our yards and that restoration of the soil can help retain water, prevent erosion and protect water quality.

 

This is from Claire Smith:

 

   Are you ready for some mowing?  Depending on the weather, your summer lawn mowing and maintenance can begin anytime in April.

Did you service the mower last fall?  If you didn’t have time then, you should take time now.  Beg or bribe your favorite spouse or relative to change the oil, kick the tires, replace the spark plug and air filter, and be certain the blades are sharp and not bent. 

If the ground temperature is 55-60’ you can commence any necessary re-seeding and repairs. Lawn repair kits that will contain seed and mulch can be purchased.  But remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is so do not succumb to terrific sounding no maintenance grasses and groundcover.   Apply the patch after you have removed the dead turf and loosened and amended the soil.

   Pizza or ice cream treats may create some enthusiasm to have the kids or grandkids help you rake and remove clumps of leaves and other debris left over from winter ice and snow. Initiate a game of pickup sticks (branches). Tamp down runways created by winter vole activity and fill in holes. 

  Hose off lawn areas along walks, drives and roadways that have been exposed to deicing compounds or your grass may not reappear.  Keep newly seeded and sodded areas moist to reduce stress on young and developing root systems.   Watering an established lawn is not necessary now.  Wait until May to fertilize.  Over watering and over fertilizing does more harm than good on your lawn:  strike a happy medium.  Excessive use of insecticides may reduce nature’s aerating machines, the earthworm. Monitor your lawn for any insect damage prior to spraying. 

   Proper mowing is a real key to a healthy lawn.  The suggested mowing height is 3-3 ½” Taller grass forms a deeper root system.  Stronger plants are more likely to fend off insects, disease and weeds.  Remove only 1/3 of the total height of the grass and leave the clippings on the lawn to decompose. Clippings add nitrogen, moisture and organic matter to the soil.  Varying the direction and pattern of mowing will reduce the wear and tear on the lawn.

   So, are you ready for some mowing?  Grab a bottle of lemonade and your hat and sunscreen. Hop on the mower and enjoy the spring weather and the start of a beautiful lawn.

 

From Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship:

 

    Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey today encouraged homeowners to consider incorporating soil quality restoration efforts into their annual spring yard work.

   Often in urban areas, especially new developments, the topsoil has been removed and what is left is compacted.  Restoring soil quality helps yards and green spaces absorb and infiltrate rainfall, which reduces the homeowners need to water their yard while protecting water quality and preventing runoff.

   “Iowa is known for it’s great soil, and rightfully so, but we need to make sure we are taking care of that soil so that it is healthy,” Northey said.  “What made our soil so productive was the high organic matter content and porosity that absorbed rain and allowed roots to grow deep.  Soil quality restoration helps recreate those conditions that allow plants to thrive.”

   If you are establishing a new lawn, perform deep tillage (8-12 inches deep) before seeding or sodding to breaks up compacted soils.  Add compost to increase organic matter.  It is recommended that soils have 5 percent or more organic matter before sodding or seeding, which can be achieved by incorporating 1 to 3 inches of compost.

   If you have an existing lawn, consider aerating the soil and then apply a blanket of compost in the spring or fall.  An application of one-quarter to three-quarters of an inch of compost following aeration will help fill the holes with organic matter to amend the soil and allow existing turf to grow through the compost amendment. If your turf is patchy, add seed to the compost application to thicken up the vegetation.

   “Improving the soil quality in your yard will make your lawn healthier, require less water and reduce the need for fertilizer and pesticide applications,” Northey added.  “A better looking lawn and improved water quality in the state are possible when we better manage runoff through soil quality restoration and other measures that allow water to infiltrate.”

   There are a number of other lawn care tips to help care for your soil and promote infiltration of water and prevent runoff.

  • Begin mowing after the first of May and end near Labor Day.
  • Set the mower at three inches high. The higher the grass shoots the deeper the grass roots, making it better able to survive dry periods.
  • Use the mulch setting on your mower to leave the grass clippings on the yard. Don’t lower organic matter content by removing clippings.
  • Consider using native plants for accent in planting beds or in rain gardens to minimize the amount of turf grass.
  • Seed your lawn to a native turf mixture that has deep roots and thrives in Iowa’s weather conditions without extra care.

   More information about urban conservation, rain gardens and a soil quality brochure are available on the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s website at www.IowaAgriculture.gov

 

 

               

               

 

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Master lawn care

The following comes from Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith:

 

                Did you remember to stop the mail and newspapers and let the neighbors know you’d be gone when you went on vacation this summer?  What did you do about your lawn?  If you planned to be gone for more than a week, did you have someone mow it for you?  How about watering it?  Vacationing during hot and dry July and August might mean you will need someone to water for you.

                During these hot days, sustaining your lawn is important. If you choose to continue watering, clay soils should get a good soaking weekly; sandy soils should be watered at least, ½” twice per week and growing lawns need one inch per week.  Watering early in the day saves water lost to evaporation and reduces disease problems.  Actually, you could just let the lawn go dormant for the rest of the season.  It will turn brown during this stressful period, but once the weather cools and fall rains commence, it should green up again.  There is still time to lay sod if you have a new lawn but it will require extra care.  Be certain the soil surface stays moist until the sod roots into the soil below.  Once rooted it will still need thorough although less frequent watering. 

                Do not fertilize dormant or non-irrigated lawns now.  Fertilization can cause damage and may even kill the grass. 

                Crabgrass may be starting to appear.   Now would be a great time to pinpoint its location on your lawn map making it easier to target pesticide application as crabgrass is usually eradiated in early spring.

                Mow grass at 3-3 ½” tall. Taller grass is more drought tolerant and better able to compete with pests.  A plus to warmer dryer weather is that you can mow less often.  Leave grass clippings where they fall.  They impart organic matter, nitrogen and earthworm food.

                Rules of thumb:  mow high, keep pests under control and choose proper watering patterns.

 

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Mowing tips

   The amount of rainfall we’ve received in Eastern Iowa this weekend alone has been incredible. For homeowners who like a green lawn, it’s a boon. Personally, I don’t mind letting my lawn go dormant to save on the weekly chore of mowing, but it doesn’t look like that will happen anytime soon.

 

   Richard Jauron, of Iowa State University’s Department of Horticulture, offers the following tips for those of us who will once again be getting the mowers out this week:

 

   Sound mowing practices are important during the summer months. Kentucky bluegrass lawns should be mowed at a height of 3 to 3.5 inches during the summer months. (During cool weather in spring and fall, bluegrass lawns should be mowed at a height of 2.5 to 3 inches.) The additional leaf area during summer shades and cools the crowns of the turfgrass plants. Extremely high temperatures at crown level can kill the turfgrass.

When mowing the lawn, never remove more than one-third of the total leaf area at any one time. Accordingly, a lawn being mowed at a height of 3 inches should be cut when it reaches a height of 4.5 inches. Removing more than one-third of the leaf area weakens the turfgrass and reduces its ability to withstand additional environmental stresses. Weakened turf is also more likely to be invaded by weeds.

If possible, mow in the cool of the morning or evening. Mowing at midday may place additional stress on the turf. Also, make sure the mower blade is sharp. Dull blades tear and bruise the leaf tips.

Dormant lawns (those that have turned brown) should not be mowed. Pedestrian and mower traffic could damage the turf.
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

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Exposed roots

The following is by Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith:

 

Ouch!  Ouch, again!   Oh! The sound is definitely not music to my ears.  How much damage did I do to the blades that I didn’t want to replace until season’s end?  Have you ever inadvertently mowed over a tree’s exposed roots?  Those are the surface roots growing just a little above the soil.  They are important to the support and health of a tree.  Continual wounds from a lawn mower blade or weed whip create entryways for insects and diseases. 

Here are some hints for easily eliminating a stressful situation:

§  Do not try to correct the situation with an ax!

§  Use mulch (one of my favorite items).  A two or three inch layer is attractive and provides a good environment for the roots.  Prevent smothering the tree trunk by keeping the mulch two or three inches away from the trunk.

§  Plant a shade loving perennial ground cover around the base of the tree.  The plants will insulate the roots but won’t out-compete the tree for water and nutrients.   Try some of the hundreds of varieties of Hosta that are just waiting to be chosen.

§  If you like some grass under the tree(s), strategically space plantings. 

§  Plan for a bit of elbow grease as weed control is critical. 

§  As a last resort, you could eliminate all of the grass by covering it with layers of newspaper.           

§  Do not build a raised bed around the tree.  Burying the tree roots will kill many species of trees.  And, the roots that don’t die will eventually reach the surface again.

§  Do not rototill or add soil to the planting area.

§  Amending the soil with organic materials such as peat or compost is very acceptable. 

There is still time to plant this summer. Change the landscape under the tree and save that mower blade and weed whip string for necessary areas. 

 

 

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Burn calories in the garden

June 6th is National Garden Fitness Day, so get off the treadmill and into the garden!

 

The following fitness tips are from Bunny Guiness, co-author of “Garden Your Way to Health and Fitness.”

She suggests turning your garden into a gym because once you start gardening, you get carried away and barely notice how hard you are workingJ

 

SIX GARDENING FITNESS TIPS YOU CAN USE!

 

·         One hour in the garden doing things like shoveling, mowing, and pruning, is roughly equivalent to jogging four miles. Achieve better strength, balance, and flexibility in preparation for gardening’s rigors by stretching before you begin.

 

·         Three hours of gardening and one hour in the gym burn about the same number of calories: 600 – 700. Because gardening has prolonged energy expenditure, as opposed to shorter bursts of intense aerobic activity, you burn more fats than carbohydrates, which is better for weight loss.

 

·         Try a back-and-forth rotation of your body while doing chores like planting, raking, and hauling dirt. It allows using opposite sides of your body and feels strange to start with, but you will find with practice it helps to keep your body balanced.  

 

·         Make exercise a part of each day all year around to develop core muscle strength. Become conscious of engaging your core muscles when gardening, so in time, it becomes automatic as your muscle memory becomes trained.

 

·         Enjoy Pilates, floor ball exercises, yoga, or whatever suits you. Begin with a series of stretches. These low-impact workouts help to balance and strengthen your body so you can garden better and longer, and avoid painful injuries.

 

·         Create a special space in your garden for stretching, yoga, and favorite exercise routines. Gardeners often live longer, probably because they become motivated by their gardens and gardening, regularly putting their bodies through a great range of diverse movements. Providing it’s done correctly, both you and your plants will thrive.

 

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Lawn care fun

One thing I haven’t missed with this late spring is mowing the lawn, although that time will come soon enough with our regular rain and warmer temps.

Read on for a fun story my sister passed along about the nature of lawns:

The Gardeners

 

Anyone with a lawn or garden should get a kick out of this.

 

GOD: Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect, no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long lasting blossoms attracts butterflies honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all I see are these green rectangles.

 

ST. FRANCIS: It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers “weeds” and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

 

GOD: Grass? But it’s so boring. It’s not colorful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms. It’s sensitive to

temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

 

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

 

GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

 

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it– sometimes twice a week.

 

GOD: They cut it? Do they then bail it like hay?

 

ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

 

GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

 

ST. FRANCIS: No, Sir. Just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

 

GOD: Now let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

 

ST. FRANCIS: Yes, Sir.

 

GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

 

ST. FRANCIS: You aren’t going to believe this Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

 

GOD: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil. It’s a natural circle of life.

 

ST. FRANCIS: You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

 

GOD: No. What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?

 

ST. FRANCIS: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

 

GOD: And where do they get this mulch?

 

ST. FRANCIS: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

 

GOD: Enough. I don’t want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

 

ST. CATHERINE: Dumb and Dumber, Lord. It’s a real stupid movie about . .

 

GOD: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

 

  

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Exceeding a gardener’s appetite

This post is from Master Gardener, Claire Smith:

    The old fashioned Pick-Up-Sticks game didn’t thrill my six year old granddaughter. For that matter, neither did picking up sticks in the yard, but it’s so great to be outside with the riding mower and wagon that even picking up sticks isn’t all bad.  Next comes cleaning up the flower beds.  Now I think compost. Compost is so wonderful as soil enrichment.  Did you know that about anything but the kitchen sink can go into a compost bin?  And the “bin” can be anything from a pile on the ground to a garbage can to a commercial container?  We’ll have more on compost in future articles.

    This year, my first goal is to be better organized.  I’m learning to be realistic in how much time I have to devote to gardening because gardening for me is like eating; my eyes always exceed my appetite.

·         To create less labor and more curb appeal, we’ll reshape a right angle corner to a soft angle in one of the beds.  It will be so much easier to ride the mower around a curve than to kneel and pull weeds or use a hand edger.  A border grouping between an old concrete water tank, a water way and a wooden fence where the lawn mower won’t fit will eliminate weed whipping there. 

·         An old rake head, attached to a wall will hold garden tools.           

·         The mower blades—that should have been sharpened last fall will be sharpened this week.

·         While weeding is easiest right after a rain, I’m adding a pair of pliers to my tool box to pull mulberry tree seedlings and other stubborn weeds that grow in my xeriscape.

·         Speaking of weeding, a good recycling use for old newspapers is as mulch. Create overlapping layers six to eight deep (black and white, not colored pages). Cover with a thin layer of mulch (i.e. wood shavings) for weight. You’ll eliminate weeds, conserve moisture, and save so much time watering.  And, as the paper disintegrates, it encourages earthworms who will aerate the soil for you. 

·         While I’m not a real bird aficionado, I like bugs less, so we’ll be adding some birdhouses.  Did you know a wren feeds as many as 500 bugs to her young in ONE AFTERNOON?  And, the many colors and designs will enhance the gardens esthetically as well.

·         Remember you can call the Iowa State University Extension Horticulture Hotline at the Linn County office with any gardening questions at 319-447-0647.  Happy Cleanup! 

                       

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