Seven Tried and True Methods to Care for your Lawn & Garden

Are you a new homeowner who is wondering just exactly how much work is involved in taking care of your lawn and garden? Don't be overwhelmed. Caring for your yard and garden only involves large blocks of time during certain periods of the growing season. It's not something that you do every day or even every week. You'll do a few things in late winter, a few things in early spring or mid-spring and a few things in autumn.

Taking care of your yard isn't that hard and doesn't take up that much time. In fact, you'll spend most of your yard-care time mowing your lawn. By adding a few other tasks in their proper season, your lawn and garden will look fantastic. This gives you far more time to relax and enjoy the beauty of your yard.

1. Stop Weeds from Growing

The best time of year to address the growth of unwanted plants, or what we commonly call weeds, is in the springtime. Use a type of weed control (either liquid or granular) that prevents seeds from germinating. Apply this pre-emergent herbicide as soon as your lawn begins to show the first signs of greening up. This will stop annual weeds like crabgrass from germinating and taking space, moisture and nutrients away from your grass. In mid-spring, use a sprayed-on weed destroyer. This type of herbicide destroys seasonal weeds like dandelions and Creeping Charlie.

2. Fertilize Your Lawn in Fall

Don't be tempted to fertilize your lawn in spring. The best time for fertilizing grass is in early fall, when the nighttime temperatures begin to cool off. Grass grows best in cooler weather. Don't wait too long into fall to fertilize though, because the new growth your lawn puts out after you fertilize needs time to harden off before winter temperatures arrive. If you absolutely must fertilize your lawn in spring, do so very early in the season, at least six to eight weeks before the heat of summer arrives.

3. Mow Your Lawn to the Optimal Height

Early in the growing season, cut your grass to a height of about three inches. Because you should never remove more than one-third of the height of the blades of grass, this means that you should mow in spring when the grass reaches a height of about four inches. Letting your lawn grow a little higher in spring will help shade out unwanted weeds like crabgrass. In summer, cut your grass when it is about three to three and a half inches high, to bring it down to about two and a half inches high. Try to maintain this height throughout the summer. Take your lawn down to a height of about two inches for the final mowing in fall.

4. Remove Leaves from Your Lawn in Fall

Unfortunately, different species of trees drop their leaves at different times during autumn. It's best to rake up these fallen leaves promptly, even if it means going over your lawn several times. Dead leaves can mat down, depriving your lawn of air, water and nourishment. It's also critically important to thoroughly remove all fallen leaves after all the trees have dropped theirs. Leaves left on a lawn over the winter can destroy the grass beneath them. If you must postpone raking during fall, make sure to at least rake thoroughly before winter. Your grass will have a better chance of surviving without any autumn leaves covering it during the winter months.

5. Remove Spent Plants in Fall

Another task you need to do in autumn is to remove the dead and dried tops of flowers and herbs. Cut seasonal plants off at ground level. They will regrow from their roots in spring. Pull annual flowers out, roots and all. They are one-season-wonders and will not grow back. It's important to remove all spent growth of flowers and herbaceous plants before winter because the dead leaves and stems are a good place for pests and diseases to overwinter in your garden. Remove the dead growth and reduce the possibility of problems next summer.

6. Mulch Flower Beds, Trees and Shrubs in Spring

Although mulch makes your garden beds and the base of trees and shrubs look pretty, it is actually good for your plants. First of all, it suppresses the growth of weeds, which compete with your landscape plants for water and nutrients. Any weeds that do manage to grow through the mulch will be thin, spindly and easy to pull out. Second, mulch keeps the moisture in the soil from evaporating quickly. This means your plants are kept evenly moist and you won't have to water them very often. Depending on the annual rainfall in your area, you may even get by on rainfall alone, without artificial watering. Finally, mulch keeps the roots of your plants cool and dark, just the way they like it.

7. Prune Trees and Shrubs in Late Winter

You want to prune trees and shrubs late in winter, before the buds begin to swell and the sap begins to rise. Keep an eye on trees and shrubs that need shaping or thinning out as the days become longer. When you notice the slightest swelling of the buds, that is the time to prune.

Begin by removing any dead or obviously diseased branches. Next, remove any branches that are rubbing against another or growing out of kilter with the rest of the tree or shrub. Finally, selectively remove a few more branches with an eye to creating a pleasing shape. One caveat: try not to remove more than one-third of the total branches from any tree or shrub when pruning. If one of your landscape specimens needs a massive pruning, it is best to do it over a period of two or three years.

When you prune, do not make the cut flush with the trunk or remaining branch. Doing so takes the tree or shrub longer to heal and can invite disease to take up residence. Instead, leave a small stub—about one-quarter to one-half of an inch long. The cut will heal faster and your plants will be healthier.

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