Fall Lawn Care

The lawn maintenance contract for the yard next door was on the market this spring and guess who had the winning bid?  Yours truly!  The field of entries was stacked with lawn doctors and local landscaping companies and when the offers were reviewed my bid of zero dollars for time and labor rose to the top.  Last year I was already doing the mowing, but some chem-lawn was handling the other stuff… now it’s all me.

She did express some doubt in my laissez-faire approach to lawn maintenance but in the long run I think the economics won her over.  My own lawn is only now just reviving from the drought of summer.end of summer lawn

Without boring you with the details (your welcome to ask for more info if interested) my lawn care consists of the following: use an (expensive) quality blend of grass seed (I don’t like rye grass, so the less of that the better), use the cheapest plain old fertilizer you can find (I usually go for the K-grow from that K-store), mow on the high side and if it doesn’t bother you leave the clippings on the lawn.  Forget everything else.

Because I don’t water, the lawn was completely dead from late July on, but as soon as rain and cooler temperatures arrive it comes back fast.  To get it prepared for this rebirth I gave the dead lawn a close haircut without a bag and left all that thatch wherever it fell.  I threw around some of the cheap fertilizer and waited for the fall to do its magic.  Two weeks later and two weak rain storms and it’s started to green up again…. although I did do a little supplemental watering for my MIL’s yard (we’re still 8″ short of normal for rain this year….)fall flower beds and grass

The patchy spots will fill in over the next week or two as that grass comes back to life, but it’s real important to get the lawn nice and thick now so that it’s too dense for crabgrass seeds to sprout next spring.  Also never cover the whole lawn with grub killer.  Grub killer may kill grubs for a season, but it also kills off the earthworm population, and there’s nothing better than earthworms for free fertilizing, free aeration, and free thatch removal.

The down side to all this is that lawn mowing is back on the to-do list.  My lawn can still wait a week, but the extra water next door means mowing this weekend.  Oh well, the clippings will give the earthworms over there a well deserved end of summer snack!

My best weed

My garden lacks sophistication.  There’s little if any structure, the planting schemes are weak, it’s usually a mess, and I have plenty of weeds.  To help get around these faults I’ve taken to accepting volunteer help in designing the beds and plantings.  What this means is I avoid a lot of unnecessary work by letting things self sow and keeping most of these volunteer seedlings as “design elements” instead of admitting they’re unplanned weeds.  Oxeye daisies are one of these and they do a great job filling every little gap anywhere they can.  I don’t mind.oxeye daisy

Between the daisies, fennel and verbena bonariensis I could keep this border filled all year without lifting a finger, but even I would have to admit it’s more of a highway wayside look than a garden.  I’ll need to pull most of these this week as I work through the bed thinning overgrowth and then adding a few annuals and tropicals for summer color.

Daisies are even easier in the no-man’s land between the industrial park and our development.  Rather than keeping a tame suburban lawn here I’ve opted for a meadow of rough wildflowers and waving grasses.  The grasses are slowly establishing but the daisies filled in the first year.meadow daisies

Rather than beating this area into submission every week, I let it go until July or so and then give it a cut to spread seeds and wack back the less-preferred sumac and golden rod.  With a mown path for more civilized access this is a popular area for the kids and their friends.  Many bouquets find their way out of this weed patch and onto our kitchen windowsill, and the grasshoppers and bunnies are just as popular….. unfortunately they also eventually find their way out of the meadow.meadow grass

To my surprise this meadow area is not as popular with the grownups.  It’s become a tradition each spring to engage in the ‘cutting of the weeds’ argument and then take the day long vow of silence that follows.  But for now the grass and daisies stay and the wildlife rejoices.

Just another day at the salt mines

I can sorta relate to the people looking for low maintenance plants and landscaping.  I for one love being outside, watching things grow, tending plants, dividing, staking, deadheading…. even weeding.  About the only thing I really don’t care for is watering, so when it’s spring and I have a list of projects to work on and halfway through start to think it’s more trouble than it’s worth….. well it might be time to hit the lawnchair with a drink.  In a sick way I sometimes look around at my fellow suburbanites and think their yards look just as good as mine, but then I remember it’s unlikely they have a couple dozen different iris coming along into bloom, and they probably don’t even have any more than one or two snowdrops.  That helps my mood and I go through and finish the day with a smug grin, quite pleased with myself all over again.

The late tulips are still holding out, these (probably “Dordogne”) mixed in with all the others keep the patch colorful even after the rest are over.  Unless Sunday’s high winds beat them silly, they should last another week.late tulips

I think what beats me down is the lawn maintenance.  If you want to talk high maintenance a lawn is right there on top.  Part of that is my fault, I’m stubborn and insist on using a corded electric mower instead of something bigger, stronger, and faster.  It’s not the most manly mower, but from someone who’s always wandering the yard looking at his flowers….. well, the mower doesn’t help.

fothergillaSomething that’s mostly no-maintenance is fothergilla.  It doesn’t need pruning, blooms with these nice white bottlebrush flowers, is presentable all summer, and come fall puts on a nice show of glowing reds, yellows and oranges.  The blooms don’t last long for me, somewhere around two weeks, but that’s plenty.  You miss it when it’s gone, which in my opinion is better than a plant that wears out its welcome.

Round around July the lawn starts wearing out its welcome.  Mowing in the heat stinks and I look forward to the summer sun and drought sucking the green out of its blades.  As long as I mow on the long side it just goes dormant, and the summer vacation from mowing is much welcomed, since mowing clearly cuts into pool time.  But right now I need the flush of green clippings since they’re my number one mulch for the vegetable garden.   I use them and some leftover chopped maple leaves to smother the grass and weeds that are buried in this new bed.new vegetable bedMost of the weeds and grass will die, and hopefully by the time tomato planting weather rolls around (2 more weeks?) I can carefully dig down to soil level, plant the seedlings, top the bed with new clippings, and admire my avoidance of actually digging up this patch of hardpacked gravely “soil”.

Since I don’t have enough better things to do I actually transplanted some of the grass from the new bed into the former bed-turned-new-pathway (lower right of the picture).  I’m a big sod mover.  I hate waiting for grass seed to sprout.  People will disagree, but I like grass paths through the garden.  If you noticed, mine are edged with fancy pink marble sections.  Some people have compared the look to “deep south cemetery”, but it’s the best use I could think of for the stone we pulled off the house front.  Maybe it’s the second best…. we also have a pink marble compost bin.

apple blossomIn the orchard our new “Freedom” apple has even put out a few blossom clusters.  I should of course nip them off so the tree has more energy to establish, but I don’t care.  For all I know the tree could die tomorrow, so I’ll enjoy the blooms today.

vegetable seedlingsSpeaking of dying tomorrow, we have a frost predicted for tonight.  I brought in a few succulents and four or five early summer plant purchases.  The rest of the stuff is on its own.  Planning for low maintenance gardening means not sweating the small stuff like late frosts.  The cold weather veggie seedlings will tough it out (strong sun would damage them more than cool weather).

So we will see where the weather takes us.  I figure if the tulips and iris don’t mind this afternoon’s snow, they shouldn’t mind a slight frost.snow on tulips