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COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: It’s time to mow those lawns
The third week of June is high time for mowing matters. This means mow your lawn high this summer and see what a difference it makes. Lawns in Western Washington are made up of cool-season grasses and these do better when the grass blades are allowed to grow at least three inches high. Then mow off no more than one third of the blade. Not tidy enough for you? The crew cut is no longer in style; military precision and the low-mow uses more water and allows for more weeds to attack the lawn. By making less maneuvers with the mower you’ll be protecting your lawn from hostile take overs.
But let’s get down to the grass roots and share the top tips for a healthy summer lawn.
1. Leave the clippings on the lawn
This is called “grass cycling” and it returns up to one-third of the nitrogen back to the soil as the clippings decompose. You‘ll need to fertilize less if you leave the grass clippings. Grass clippings left on the lawn do not cause thatch – that is an old wive’s tale – but leaving the clippings does mean they will more likely get tracked into the house; that may be why old wives do not like clippings left on the lawn. Better remember to take off your shoes after mowing.
2. Mow when the grass blades are three inches tall – then remove only one-third of the blade.
Those “putting green style” lawns that are kept super short belong on the golf course. That is where they are grown from special bent grass seed. You do not want bent grass in your home lawn because it needs constant water and fertilizer, must have a sandy soil to do well and needs mowing every other day. Do not try this at home. No one but a professional should bend over backward to grow bent grass.
3. Change the direction when you mow
One week cut diagonally, the next go across then down so you don’t leave permanent ruts in your soil from the weight of the mower wheels.
4. Sharpen the blades on your mower
This simple bit of mower maintenance makes a huge difference in the appearance of the lawn. Dull blades tear the grass. You can bring your mower in for sharpening or learn to use a file to sharpen the blades yourself.
5. Fill in the dips and low spots
You can even use a very sandy loam to fill in the low spots and let the grass grow up through the sand or cut a section out of the lawn where the ground is low, fill in with soil, then replace the sod on top of the new soil. Having a lawn that is level and flat means you can cut your lawn high – at 3 inches – and it will still look neat, tidy and closely-cropped, due to the optical illusion of uniform height.
6. Dig out the weeds
You can use a screw driver or Diggit garden tool but hand weeding the worst of the dandelions and other weeds is often quicker (and always cheaper) than mixing up a herbicide or spreading weed killer all over a lawn that is mostly grass. Another option is to spot-treat just the weeds, not the entire lawn. This keeps less herbicide from washing off into the ground water.
7. Edge the lawn every few weeks
A crisp, sharp edge either made with a string trimmer or with a half moon spade makes any lawn look like it’s had a makeover. Clean edging on your lawn is the quickest route to instant curb appeal.
8. Mow often – in early summer this means every five to six days
By mowing more often you’ll be removing only grass blade and not grass stem. A torn grass stem is what makes a healthy lawn have a yellow or tan cast to the color. Remember the part of sharpening the mower? A sharp mower also keeps a lawn looking green.
9. Got moles, voles, moss, dog spots, slopes, shade or just weeds? Hang up the mower and plant groundcovers, not grass.
The world was not meant to be covered with lawns. Diversify your growing stock. Add stepping stones and plant ajuga, vinca, thyme or a gravel garden instead.