August 15, 2020 7:46:49 PM
Every summer I feel like hanging up my hat on advising about lawn care, because people gonna do what they're gonna do, regardless of what's best for the lawn.
Let me set this up, hoping I don't come across as whining. After over four decades as a dedicated nonprofit horticulture educator, I've developed some pretty basic bottom lines about what works and what doesn't. I do change, of course, given dependable new information or the occasional "Eureka!" moment. But some things simply don't change, and I stick with them as mantras.
And I've diagnosed a lot of predictable, frustrating conditions for which little can be done. Frustrating to both my clients and myself, because on top of the problems themselves, I too often have to bear the brunt of gardeners telling me that I'm "not much help" when, truth is, it happens in my own garden, and if there was something practical to be done I'd do it myself. But being honest isn't always soothing.
And yeah, my own garden has incurable rose diseases, repeated onslaughts of bugs, squirrels and possums eating tomatoes, daffodils not flowering, pecans dropping too early, lightning splitting treasured trees, neighbors' cats killing my songbirds, moss instead of grass in the shade, weeds that can only be killed by stuff that will also kill my flowers or which keep coming back from zillions of seeds ... and mosquitoes ruining garden parties. Not much I can do about any of those.
Difference is, my training and experience help me anticipate some problems even before they happen, and I'm comforted in a bizarre way knowing to just live with them as best I can. I mean, if horticulturist and botanic garden friends have the same problems, and we talk regularly about them and agree there ain't much we can do ourselves, why should I give false hope (lie) to home gardeners or peddle ineffective placebos?
So, it is with a heavy heart during my daily walks when neighbors ask for and receive good recommendations about something I am personally and professionally certain about, but don't heed the advice. As if I won't notice.
And nothing is more frustrating than midsummer lawn problems, where most folks have the closest interactions with their gardens. And the solutions, though very simple, don't fit in with what they want to hear.
Weeds, drought, insects, diseases, watering and fertilizing are hugely dependent on one thing more than any other: how the grass is cut. Whether you do it yourself or hire it done, this is by far the easiest trick for maintaining a decent lawn.
See, lawns aren't carpets; they are thousands of interconnected plants needing solar radiation hitting leaves. Not enough energy, from too much shade or being cut too low, weakens the plants, shutting down roots and new shoots. Over time, the lawn thins out and plants we call weeds quickly colonize and often grow better than the weak lawn.
The lawn can recover, of course, but not if mistreated over and over, especially in hot, dry conditions. Compensating with fertilizer and water can help only so much before causing their own problems.
It may seem counterintuitive, but the bottom line, from the summer lawn's point of view, is that more leaves means deeper roots -- better for coping with or recovering from heat, drought, weeds and pests. Meaning mow on the high side. Like it or not.
Do your lawn right. Mow high with a sharp blade, recycle the clippings, water deeply every now and then and fertilize every couple or three years. Ignore these basics, and everything else is moot. I'm done now.
Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the "Gestalt Gardener" on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to [email protected]