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Lawn care habits may lead to extra summertime problems

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By JENEEN WICHE
Weekend Gardener

I don’t worry about my lawn so much; I see all the weeds, yellow dandelions and purple violets as food for our growing lambs. As the grass grows, I think, “Where will I move them next?”

I do understand, however, that this is not the point that most people are operating on. Most do worry about the appearance of their lawn but the funny thing is that many of our lawn care habits actually create additional problems that need some sort of intervention. It is a vicious lawn care cycle. Fertilize, mow, spray, fertilize, mow, spray…why not just mow high and enjoy the clover?

No matter how many times agronomists warn us not to fertilize in the spring products fly off the shelf in April and May. Fall is the time to fertilize, if you must. The grass will be lush and green in the spring on its own; it will grow twice as fast as any other time of the year and it will use up any fertilizer you put down on this speedy growth. You just made your mowing chores more urgent; and most of the fertilizer washes away in spring showers.

Over feeding can also cause a higher incidence of summer lawn diseases and the build-up of thatch. Thatch is not caused by leaving grass clipping on the lawn, rather it is a condition where grass roots mat on the surface and make it difficult for oxygen, water and nutrients from reaching the more important deeper roots.

Mulching grass clippings back onto the lawn has many benefits, in fact. Decomposing grass provides trace amounts of slowly released nitrogen and encourages healthy microbial and earthworm activity that feeds and aerates the lawn further. And, too much nitrogen in the spring is linked to fungal lawn diseases like red thread, dollar spot, brown patch and frog-eye.

Alas, mowing your lawn properly can solve a great many lawn care problems. The No. 1 rule is to mow high. No one pays attention to this recommendation, either, but it makes a great deal of sense in terms of overall best management practices. I suppose, too, if people have lawn care companies doing the mowing for them they may feel cheated if their lawn is not cut close. We need to rethink this mentality and encourage our lawn care companies to mow a bit higher, as well.

If you mow high, at 2 1/2 to 3 inches, you can greatly reduce the amount of weed seed that can make contact with soil thus eliminating many annual weed problems in the lawn. If weeds do exist the taller grass will out-compete weed seedlings for sunlight, water and nutrients. Research also shows that taller grass has deeper roots; deeper roots mean less drought stress.

Mowing frequency is also linked to lawn health. Agronomists recommend that we remove about one-third of the blade at each mowing. If you mow grass common sense tells you when it has gotten too high, grass clogs up the mower, or causes it to cut off or hesitate. Allowing the grass to get too high between mowing also stresses the turf when you do actually mow especially if you mow really short. Essentially you have just removed the grass’s ability to function if only a stub is left behind. No photosynthesis, no nutrient storage, etc. Do this week after week in the summer and it will cause stress.

It is not that difficult to have a decent lawn if you follow healthy management practices. Also, plant tall type fescue in Kentuckiana, it is the most resilient for our environment. Tall fescue is more forgiving when it comes to poor soil and it will save itself during a drought by going dormant.