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Don't cut your lawn shorter than 3 inches or you'll damage it. Stock Photo
A baker’s dozen lawn tips

By Ellen Barcel

Well, winter is over and it’s time to think about spring and gardening and that includes your lawn. If you followed recommendations, you fertilized your lawn last October and patched bare spots. You removed fallen leaves. Now, what should you be doing?

1. Remove any leaves from the lawn that may have accumulated over the winter. These can be composted, but leaves do take longer to break down than greenery so it’s best to shred them. The more surface exposed, the faster the composting process will happen.

2. Gather up any broken branches that came down during the winter’s storms. I use this wood for my fireplace, but each wood has a different scent. Apple wood is wonderful but weeping willow wood is definitely not. If you have a chipper you can turn downed wood into mulch.

3. If you had a lot of weeds in your lawn last year, consider applying pre-emergent weed killer. Personally, I just mow them over since they’re green, but if it’s a problem for you, spread the weed killer.

4. If you haven’t patched bare spots or new ones developed, spring is the ideal time to do that. Most of the lawn grasses we grow on Long Island are cool weather grasses and grow best in spring and fall.

Don’t plant grass right up against tree trunks as the bark can be damaged during mowing. Photo by Ellen Barcel

5. In general, grass won’t grow well in very shady areas. The plants need sun, but fescue tolerates some shade. So, when patching, look for mixes that note that they do well in some shade.

6. Turn on (and repair as needed) any irrigation system you have once the danger of frost has passed.

7. You can spread fertilizer after the beginning of April. (Suffolk County law prohibits spreading it before that time to prevent chemicals from polluting the groundwater. Lawns just don’t take up fertilizer from November through March.) Don’t apply fertilizer to zoyzia grass until it has greened up, however, since it is a warm weather grass.

8. When mowing, don’t cut the lawn shorter than 3 inches. Remember these are plants and if you “scalp” them, you can kill them. They need a certain amount of greenery to thrive. While it’s tempting to cut the lawn really short so you don’t have to do it that often, you’ll damage the lawn.

9. Leave the clippings on the lawn as they will break down and return nutrients to the soil. If you must gather them up, then compost them.

10. Don’t walk on the grass, for the same reason. You wouldn’t walk on your tomato plants or bean plants, so don’t walk on the grass. Install some sort of walkways for frequently trodden paths.

11. If your soil is substantially below a pH of 6.0 to 7, you need to periodically add lime to sweeten the soil. So, test your soil, then follow the manufacturer’s direction on quantity and frequency of application.

12. Generally, on Long Island, your lawn needs 1 inch of water per week. On average, Long Island gets 4 inches of rain per month. During spring and fall, and with cooler temperatures, rain frequently takes care of this need, but come the heat of summer you will probably have to supplement the rain. However, be on the lookout for periods of drought like we’ve had the last two years. Remember that two inches of rain all at once, quickly drains from the soil.

13. Don’t plant grass close up to the base of trees. If you do, the trees may be damaged as you mow each week. Instead, put mulch and/or annuals or perennials around the base of trees. That way, a “weed wacker” won’t damage the tree bark.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

This gardener cut back on lawn mowing by planting trees and shrubs. Notice that the lawn itself does not grow up against the trees. This way the trees are not damaged while mowing the lawn. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Many aspects of gardening that we on Long Island take for granted are actually imports. We take honeybees for granted, but in actuality they were imported from Europe. The honey that we routinely enjoy and the pollination benefits they provide for gardeners and farmers are a result of this import. The earthworms that gardeners love to see, creating fertile aerated soil, are also imports, again courtesy of the early Colonists.

Our lush green lawns are another thing we take for granted. Yet before Colonial times, the native peoples had no use for lawns. Natural grasslands, like the prairies of the Great Plains and many other parts of the U.S., supported the buffalo and other grazing animals. Where native peoples farmed, they removed the vegetation and planted, in particular, corn, beans and squash, referred to as the Three Sisters.

So, where did our lawns come from? It’s a long story, but in a nut shell, European grasses were imported into North America, but initially only the rich could afford their maintenance, both here and in Europe. Grasses were trimmed by humans with scythes or by animals grazing on the property.

Interestingly, goats are currently being used in New York State to help eliminate invasive plants in the same way that grazing animals kept grasses trimmed before the lawn mower. They are currently being used on the Underhill Preserve near Jericho Turnpike and Route 106 to clear the land of invasive plants. A particular benefit is that they eat the roots, so that these invasive plants are wiped out. Plans are to remove the goats in mid-October. Hopefully native plants will fill in.

During World War I, a flock of sheep was kept on the White House lawn. It saved manpower and the wool was sold to raise money for the Red Cross. But, no, I’m not suggesting that we as homeowners should keep animals grazing on our lawns. For one thing, in most cases zoning laws prevent it. For another, caring for these animals is work.

In 1830, the mechanical lawn mower was invented, and beginning in the 1870s lawns began to appear, but it wasn’t until the 1930s that front lawns proliferated. They are a product of suburbia. Look at cities and you’ll see very few, if any, in the way of front lawns, even in areas where single- or double-family houses are located. Where suburbs developed in areas of frequent drought, even to this day, there are fewer lawns.

Remember that unless you live in a community with strict landscaping regulations, you don’t even need to have a front lawn. You could plant a variety of ornamentals and ground covers together with statuary. Using native plants, in particular, means less concern with watering and, of course, less mowing. A gardening acquaintance of mine had two acres of manicured lawns. He complained bitterly of the amount of time he spent mowing each weekend. He could have planted more trees and shrubs, removing much of the lawn, just keeping enough in the front of the house for appearance and enough in the back for relaxation.

Next week, we’ll take a look at fall lawn maintenance for those who enjoy their lawns.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.