Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
May, 2010
Regional Report

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Dandelions thrive in short mowed grass and wither in long grass.

Conscious Spring Lawn Care

Aren't those beautiful yellow flowers in the grass phenomenal right now? Dandelions are facts of life, and there certainly doesn't seem to be a way to get rid of them completely. So, maybe it's time to think about other alternatives. Lawns are lush and beautiful now, and in order to help you keep them that way, I thought I'd offer a few tips to keep in mind as we move into summer.

Change of Attitude

We are used to the look of the traditional Kentucky bluegrass lawn that is mowed at about and inch and a half, is dark blue-green and doesn't have a weed in it. But the cost to the environment to keep a lawn such as this is exorbitant. Perhaps it's time to begin to look at lawns differently and to work with nature to produce a healthy lawn, instead of relying on the petroleum companies for fertilizers and pesticides.

Mow Lawn High
The first step in reducing weeds and re-establishing a natural balance is to mow your lawn high. Setting the mower at three or four inches (or higher if you can stand it) will help shade out weeds. The longer grass also keeps more moisture in the soil. Dandelions and other weeds thrive in poor soil conditions and will win the battle in a lawn that is stressed or overly succulent.

Don't Remove Clippings
When mowing, don't remove your clippings. If you mow often enough, the clippings should only be about half an inch long, and leaving them gives your lawn an amazing source of fertilizer. They don't add to thatch because they decompose quickly.

Watch Your Thatch
Thatch, the brown, peat-like material you find between the grass crown and soil (get down there and look for it), is not always a bad thing. About a quarter inch of thatch is okay and actually helps keep moisture in the soil. But any more than that will begin to impede rain from reaching the soil.

Core Aerate
If you have high thatch, the absolute best thing you can do is core aerate your lawn. Dethatching removes some of it, but does a lot of damage to the grass crowns. Instead rent a core aerator or hire someone to do it, and run it over the lawn. The aerator pulls small plugs of soil, grass and roots out and drops them to decompose on the surface. The hole left behind admits air and water and creates a perfect growing situation for new, healthy roots. This will eliminate thatch and give you a great lawn.

Reduce Synthetic Fertilizers
Consider getting your lawn off synthetic fertilizers that can overload your lawn with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Unfortunately, their use often leads to a weakened soil system which in turn makes the lawn more vulnerable to attack by insects and diseases.

Reduce Pesticides and Fungicides
This vulnerability may then lead to the use of pesticides and fungicides. Eventually, lawns can't survive without this cycle of chemical treatment. Pesticides usually wipe out all soil organisms, good and bad, and then we are no longer able to work with nature to keep things balanced.

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