Take back control of your lawn and landscape

In my latest book, New Decade Gardening, I included the Top 10 Best Things and Top 10 Worst Things to happen locally regarding horticulture and gardening.

The Worst list has dyed mulch in the No. 1 spot, but I might have to swap it with the No. 2 these days.

No. 2 was about how people no longer do their own lawn care. I’ve seen local soil and mulch yards trending away from selling dyed mulch, so now I need to get on my soapbox about lawn care. You should do it yourself whenever possible. I swear you’ll have a much better-looking lawn, and you’ll have reduced disease and weed pressures. As evidence, all the photos here are from avid GardenLine fans who follow my lawn care schedule and mow their own grass.

Photo: GardenLine Listener

Here’s essentially what’s in the book:

#2: People Don’t Do Their Own Lawn Care Anymore. I’m famous for saying if you have neither the time nor inclination, hire things out. But, because people don’t do the simple work themselves – mowing, trimming, mulching, etc. – they end up hiring the nearest or most convenient landscape company. I estimate that only one in 50 landscapers has any real knowledge of proper care practices.That’s why so many diseases and weeds are shared from yard to yard. It’s why “crape murder” happens with regularity. It’s why dyed mulch is so unnecessarily prevalent. And it’s why weed-and-feeds are improperly used. If you want things consistently looking good and staying healthy in your landscape, but you really “have neither the time nor inclination” to do the work yourself, at the very least carefully vet the landscaper candidates. Otherwise, take back control of your lawn and landscape by doing the work yourself.

I see this situation a ton in my consulting business because I get called out to help people who want to start taking back control. In about 75% of the cases, they have just been using a lawn-mowing service to apply mulch – and, yes, almost always dyed mulch. And the landscapes are anemic. And the lawns are mowed short and look necrotic. And in the majority of cases, the lawns are riddled with weeds and showing signs of fungal diseases.

Photo: GardenLine listener

Mowing your own lawn keeps weeds and diseases from travelling to your place with crews and their lawnmowers. Mowing your own lawn means you’re doing it at the right height - mowing crews almost always mow shorter than they should, and that leads to sick lawns. Doing your own fertilizing (per my schedule, of course) prevents poisonous and generic products from being applied. And I could go on and on. Instead, I’ll just say if you want a great lawn and landscape, take back control. Otherwise, at least work closely with your crew or their supervisor, and encourage them to mow tall each time they visit.

Instead of using a national lawn-fertilization service, pay your crew a little extra to apply products you purchase yourself - the right stuff. If you have bermudagrass or thin-bladed zoysia, taking back control is even more important, because you should be cutting it with a reel lawn mower. And purposefully shorter. Very few lawn-mowing services even have reel mowers, and that’s why bermudagrass lawns cut with typical rotary mowers always look so ragged.

Photo: GardenLine listener

The bermudagrass lawn photo above is from a longtime listener and avid adherent to my fertilization schedule. He also cuts his own grass with a reel mower. If your present lawn crew won’t make the changes you ask for, find someone who will.You have the power in this situation.

By the way, in the book No. 1 is still …

Dyed Mulch.There’s more detail on why dyed mulch is so bad for our landscapes in the “Soils” chapter but let me remind you here of a couple really bad elements. Mulch should first and foremost provide three beneficial elements.
  1. Reduce weeds
  2. Conserve moisture
  3. Add organic matter to the soil.
I also think mulch should look natural. Black- or red-dyed mulch don’t look natural, and neither will add organic matter. They are almost always made of chipped-up wood from pallets or discarded timbers. And even if it is dyed with something “organic,” it’s still a dye, and it will leach into the soil.
If you don’t do mulching yourself, tell your landscaper to use only natural or native hardwood mulch. If they refuse, fire them immediately.


Photo: GardenLine listener

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