A GROWING CONCERN: Time for grueling, repetitive, annual seasonal service

TODAY’S THE MIDDLE of late early spring, in five days it will be the middle of spring.

Haven’t you been enjoying the fragrance of the hyacinths in flower, the lingering smell of the daphne in bloom, and the scent after cutting back your Russian sage?

Spring is not just the visual blast of color and contrast in sky and dark soils, but pleasing of touch — except around barberry plants. In theory that means sunshine and warm, maybe even hot, weather is just around the corner.

It also means your grass is vigorously growing about a quarter of an inch every day, and this April rain is making you rush out between showers to keep up with its growth.

So with summer looming in our front view, let us again review your turf, its needs, your jobs and the desirable outcome.

Don’t forget my acronym GRASS, referencing its requirement of “grueling, repetitive, annual seasonal service.”

Then remember that short, green, perfectly weed-free grass is a product of post-World War II affluence.

Plague of our society

The obsession for a golf course in the front lawn is not as much a craze of the resident as it is the product of our particular society. It is supposed to signal to all who see the lawn that this house has all the time and money needed, regardless of the fact it is an endless job to achieve the perfect lawn.

I must confess, I have a disdain for the American lawn, as most folks pursue it. It is a crazy, never-ending task of jobs — but nevertheless, everyone wants to have theirs look better than their neighbor’s lawn, so here we go, our secret to the gold-star lawn:

Mowing properly

An improper cut can harm your lawn faster than any group of insects or most diseases.

Proper mowing keeps lawns dense, aids in maintaining a healthy lawn, encourages root growth and alleviates brown-out.

Ninety-eight percent of the problem is a lawn cut too short. Removing too much of the blade at once shocks the plant.

It also causes the plant to re-energize its leaves at the expense of root development. It is also the No. 1 reason lawns are brown in August, because the sun and the wind beat down directly on the soil, drying it out at an accelerated rate.

Grass cut too long does not produce dense turf, and the long blades left do not breakdown but rather cause thatch.

So mow your lawn as often as needed, but leave at least two thirds of the blade intact. In our region, a 2 ½ to 3 inch cut is ideal for the average lawn.

As a bonus, a taller lawn uses less water, as the ground is cool and shaded.

When to aerate

If your lawn is in an old, established yard; if it is compacted from heavy foot traffic; or if it is a top dense, heavy soil, then aerate it!

This chore accomplishes numerous tasks from water retention improvement, to root stimulation and development, to increased water flow and nutrient retention.

Aeration devices are available for rent, for purchase or from your neighbor’s garage (ask first of course). There is even a scout program out of Port Angeles offering this service (I chuckled that their ad reminds homeowners to pick up their pet waste before they arrive).

Weed control

Weeds love your grass.

Why? Because you obsessively water and fertilize it, so weeds thrive in this environment.

Liquid weed killers work best but can damage all your other plants. “Weed-and-feed” products are safer but don’t work as well. Hand pulling is the safest, but for most people the size of lawn and number of weeds make this option unworkable.

Keep it clean

Wash your lawn. Spray your lawn with liquid dishwashing soap.

Use a sprayer attachment for your hose and spray topically over the entire lawn. Soap has a real advantage in the summer, improving the water penetration ability of soil.

In our dry summers, this wash-down is a big bonus. In addition, soap arrests many turf insects and even combats turf diseases. Give soap a try.

Water your lawn correctly

Water your lawn early in the morning— that’s before 8 a.m.

This allows water to soak in, not evaporate.

It also gives grass the much-needed moisture for growth early in the food-producing phase of the day.

Early watering also has the blades of grass and soil dry by the evenings when bugs and disease need the moisture for their reproduction.

Water enough

Do not water less than half an inch or you turn the roots up to the surface where it is drier and hotter than several inches down.

Disease control

Know the disease before anything is done.

Most turf diseases must be attacked at specific times and with exact products.

Here is where local professionals or your county extension office is handy.

Aeration with early spring dethatching greatly reduces disease problems.

Get those bug(ger)s

Insect control — Same advice.

Before any control you need to know the exact bug. Also, most insects in your lawn come and go quickly.

Living with a few weeks of a problem, especially with the rate our grass grows here, is generally better than chemical warfare.

Only attack with chemicals when you have a severe problem. And even then organic solutions are feasible (see master gardeners or county agriculture agent).

Lie on the lawn

If you follow the above advice, then make sure you enjoy and relax.

Get out that blanket or lawn chair, get your friend or spouse, gather the children, dust off the croquet set and let the blades tickle your toes.

With scenes of water and mountains and our great summer days ahead, an afternoon on the grass with family is what life is all about.

Besides, what smells better in the air, then a freshly cut lawn, except hearing the buzz of lawn mowers throughout the neighborhood, knowing they’re working on the same honey-do list as you are!


Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] dailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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