In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
May, 2010
Regional Report

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A good mechanical aeration should remove 3 to 4 inch plugs.

Avoid Mistakes in Managing Turf

When it's time to care for my lawn, consider me a bit lazy. My preference has always been to let nature do its part since lawn grasses have been surviving for eons without a lot of human intervention. But there's a point where things get out of balance and lawn problems begin to take a "roothold". Managing your turf becomes a chore if certain enemies become a part of the "picture-perfect lawn"

Many aspects of lawn care come across my desk and during the radio show throughout the year. You just might find you are guilty of some of these practices. Just by changing a few of your lawn maintenance routines may breathe new life into your lawn and save you time and money.

Many a valiant turf warrior starts by mowing the grass too low in an effort to clean up last fall and winter's dead growth. Unfortunately, this just creates a condition called "scalping". Scalping a lawn ultimately weakens grass plants, encourages disease problems, invites certain insect pests, and increases weed invasion. This starts a cycle that can turn into an unending battle. Lawns that are mowed too short soon become "water hogs" since their shallow root systems cry out for water to survive in the heat of summer.

I've found that my cool-season lawn grows and looks best when mowed to a height of 2 to 3 inches. The old rule applies here; mow frequently enough so that you remove no more than one-third of the grass blade at each mowing.

There are times when a lawn becomes overgrown and looks like a jungle. But mow it down gradually by reducing the height a little each time, removing one-third of the leaf blades at each mowing. Mow one day; let the lawn recover for a day and come back and mow again, following the rule of one-third. You will eventually get to the desired height. This technique will prevent stressing the lawn and causing the yellowing and browning that occurs when you try to do all in one day.

Lawns are to be used and enjoyed. Parking vehicles on areas of the grass, walking the same pathway, heavy pet traffic, and a myriad of other situations will compress the soil. This compression will drive out oxygen and make it hard for water to penetrate. Grass plants that can't breathe or drink will soon thin out and the lawn surrenders to weeds that thrive in compacted soils. Weeds like mallow, plantain, Japanese clover, goose grass and crabgrass are opportunistic and will find a home in soil too compacted for grass.

To correct compacted soils, make it a rule to core-aerate in the spring and again in the autumn. Be sure the machine will remove 3-to 4-inch plugs that will actually open up the soil. These holes left from aeration are gateways for air, water, and nutrients to reach the root system of the lawn. This will help to thicken up the lawn and prevent weed invasions. I always make sure that my lawn has been thoroughly watered the day before the grass is aerated.

Man's best friend can be a lawn's worst enemy. My dog loved to dig up areas, tread the same pathway, and leave his occasional marks on the lawn. I've even heard of the feline types of being guilty too! Lawns and pets can coexist if we help to train them to use certain areas in the landscape and minimize lawn usage. Remember though, lawns are meant to be used and enjoyed by all creatures.


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