Lawn renovation, pruning and garden cleanup | Marianne Binetti

The second week of March is a good time for lawn renovation, pruning and garden cleanup. If your soil is dry and your grass is high you can start your motors and get mowing. Better yet, consider a new landscape design that shrinks your lawn so you can downsize to a lightweight, super-quiet push mower.

Lawn Rangers are folks with a quest for the perfect lawn and lucky for them growing green grass is pretty easy here in western Washington. You just need to understand the grass roots movement taking place under your feet.

Five Secrets of Natural Lawn Care

1. It’s all about the roots.

The deeper you can encourage your grass roots to grow the less dependent they are on you for food and water. This means preparing the soil to a depth of 24 inches and improving with it with organic matter will guarantee you a lush green lawn all year. Too late for good soil preparation because your lawn is already in? Keep reading.

2. Our soil is naturally acidic – your lawn wants you to add lime.

Dolomite lime, Super Sweet, calcium carbonate – these are all inexpensive soil additives that make the soil less acidic so grass can absorb more nutrients. Lime also helps break up hard-packed clay soil over time.

3. Lawns need nitrogen – slowly.

You must fertilize lawns if you want them to look their best. But home gardeners tend to dump too much nitrogen onto the lawn all at one time. This causes a flush of soft green growth that is weak and more susceptible to disease. A lot like a diet of junk food. Get your flabby lawn into shape with slow-release nitrogen from organic or slow-release lawn foods. You won’t see such instant results but, over time, the roots will be encouraged to reach deeper into the soil to grab the nitrogen.

4. Grass clippings are a free source of nitrogen. Leave them on the grass.

Yes, I know if you don’t pick up the clippings they will get tracked into the house or left as soggy clumps on the lawn, but those tiny bits of cut grass are an excellent source of organic matter that breaks down into free fertilizer. Collect the biggest grass clumps after you mow and bury them in your beds to compost or plop the wet mass on top of weeds to smother them.

5. Mow more often, but set the mower on high.

We grow cool-season grasses for our climate and they like to be 2 to 3 inches tall before a mower removes only the top one-third of the blade. A short-cropped lawn has less grass blade available to make its own food and also demands more water to stay green. Unless you own a golf course, there is no reason to give your lawn a crew cut.

Lawn rangers who love the tidy look of a closely-cropped lawn can enjoy the illusion of a short cut with a few mowing tips, but that’s a cutting-edge story for next week’s column.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her website,


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