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"Can't dance and it's too wet to plow"

Bob's tips for spring garden tilling and lawn mowing

I'm not sure where that expression originated, but it definitely applies to this Spring! Farmers have had few opportunities to plow their fields, even if they aren't under water. This is one of the wettest Springs in memory, perhaps in history. Severe flooding in the midwestern US is a real tragedy.

The Pittsburgh area, already known for its wet springs, is 6-inches above normal rainfall for the year. Most homeowners have been struggling to keep their lawns mowed this spring. So what can you do to ease your lawn mowing problems?

Bob's Top 5 mowing tips...

1. Wait. The first is to wait until late-May to fertilize your lawn. This will mean not getting your crabgrass control applied in a timely fashion (since crabgrass germinates when Forsythia blossoms drop) but crabgrass control may not be necessary after having years of a "crabgrass free" lawn. There are some products available for treating crabgrass without also fertilizing your lawn.


2. Slow Down. Grass comes out of winter 'charged up' and 'ready to grow,' so an application of nitrogen (the first number on the fertilizer label) will further accelerate your lawn growth, especially if you use less expensive 'fast release' forms of nitrogen like Urea. Guess what most lawn care companies use? You got it. When you add extra rainfall to quick release nitrogen, grass takes off like a rocket!

3. Mow High. Not that kind of high. Set your lawnmower's cutting height all the way up to 3-inches or more, as high as you can mow your grass without it laying over. Some people mistakenly think that mowing their lawn super-short will 'stunt it' or allow them more time before the next cut. Wrong!  Any time you remove excessive top-growth from your grass by mowing it real short, your grass shifts into high gear to grow new blades of grass, at the expense of root growth.

4. Discharge Clippings. As opposed to mulching or bagging your clippings, consider discharging the clippings through the discharge chute onto the lawn. You may have to do some raking later, but this helps avoid some of the clogging when mowing tall, wet grass. You may also want to stop periodically to clean the underside of the mower deck, but be sure to follow all safety instructions while doing so. Fingers don't grow back!

5. Mow Often. Mowing the lawn once a week can feel like a chore, but if you increase your mowing frequency to twice-a-week, that chore will become much easier.

"...and it's too wet to plow"

Bob's garden soil tips:

Wait to Rototill. Most people don't think of soil as having "structure" but it does. The fastest way to destroy soil structure is by rototilling your garden when the soil is too wet. The result is hard clumps once the soil dries. (When soil conditions are correct, it is best not to turn your soil into a powder consistency by tilling too long)

Dirt Ball Test. There is an old standard to see if soil is dry enough to rototill called the Dirt Ball Test. Take a snowball size hunk of soil and form it into a dirtball. Hold it straight out at arm's length and drop it. If the dirtball breaks up when it hits the ground, your soil is dry enough to till. If not, wait until it passes this simple test.

Organic Matter. By adding more organic matter (like compost) to your garden each year, it will pass the Dirt Ball Test earlier each Spring. Many municipalities and landscape supply yards sell spent leaf compost. Consider improving your garden's tilth by adding more organic matter to the soil. When spring comes, you'll be glad you did!



Cold surprises in May

  Check your trees in Spring


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