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Time to mow, weed and get some plants in the ground

The Compleat

Home Gardner

It’s the last week of March and you can’t ignore the garden any longer. The lawn needs to be aerated, fertilized and mowed, the weeds will take over if you don’t control them now and there is still time to divide and share perennial plants, plant peas, sweet peas and lettuce and add color to your garden with rock garden plants, and early-blooming perennials.

This is also the year to make a commitment to “go natural” when it comes to caring for lawn. In our climate it really is possible to have a great looking lawn without using “weed and feed” products, excess nitrogen or wasting water.

Here are some local experts with their best tips on having a healthy, environmentally friendly lawn:

1. Use a mulching mower

According to Ladd Smith, co-owner of In Harmony Sustainable Landscapes, one of the easiest things you can do is to change your mowing practices and mulch your clippings.

“If you use a mulching mower you can return finely chopped clippings to the lawn,” he said. “These clippings break down to supply up to 25 percent of the lawn’s nitrogen fertilizer needs.” In Harmony Sustainable Landscapes provides natural lawn care services and designs eco-friendly landscapes all over Puget Sound. They do not recommend “weed and feed“ products.

2. Fertilize with a slow-release plant food or fertilize by raking compost on top of your old lawn.

There are plenty of local companies offering slow-release lawn foods including Cedar Grove Compost, Uncle Malcom’s, Dr. Earth and Black Gold Organic Garden Amendments with Compost. Soil expert Donna Write recommends spreading organic soil amendments directly on top of your existing lawn every spring. The Black Gold Soil Conditioner comes tightly compressed in a bale for easy transport and uses bat guano, bone meal, earthworm castings and compost to feed soil microbes and improve the soil. Great soil supports low-maintenance lawns.

3. Consider a push mower

The new rotary push mowers like the new lightweight SunGrow model chops the grass blades into tiny pieces and is self-sharpening. You don’t have to worry about burning the lawn with gasoline spills or recharging a battery. Mowing expert Gillian Christie suggests a push mower for families concerned about safety not just from lawn chemicals but from power mower accidents. “A push mower won’t propel sticks and stones all over the yard and the new models are not only lightweight and easy to push but can be set higher which is better for your lawn. Plus there’s no noise pollution so you can mow early in the morning.”

4. Get rid of the weeds naturally.

Digging dandelions from a small lawn can be one of those instant gratification chores that even kids love and it is good for aeration because when you dig out that long tap root you leave a channel open for air and water to get down to the grass roots. You can use a pinch-type weeder that requires no bending over (one trade name is Weed Hound) or just grab an old kitchen knife or wedge-shaped “Diggit” hand weeder. Letting your grass grow to 3 inches tall before cutting off the top inch also controls weeds by shading out the sun-loving weeds. Adding dolomite to lawns with poor drainage discourages moisture-loving buttercups and moss. Loosening and aerating the soil also discourages the growth of clover.

5. Just relax about your field goals for perfect yardage. You can always learn to enjoy your imperfect lawn from a distance – the way your neighbors see it. Weeds are only noticeable if you don’t mow often enough or stare at the lawn up close. Mow at least once a week, make a nice crisp edge between lawn and beds and then when you get real close to less-than-perfect lawn, blur your eyes.

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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 Web site, www.binettigarden.com.

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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