To spruce up lawn, cut down on mowing

Garden Q&A

April 19, 2008|By Ellen Nibali and Jon Traunfeld

Why is my lawn so miserable? I have it fertilized and limed yearly. I only pay to have it mowed every other week, but I have the clippings raked off.

Incorrect cutting of grass height is an under-diagnosed cause of turf problems. It stresses turf when more than a third of a grass blade is cut per mowing. If your mower is set to 3 inches, do not let grass grow longer than 4 inches. In the spring, when grass grows fast, this may mean cutting more often than on the weekend.

(A bonus is that the grass clippings will be short and can be left to filter between blades. This recommended practice of "grass cycling" provides one-fourth of your turf's nutrition as the grass clippings decompose, and it gives other benefits as well.)

Do not mow during hot, dry weather when turf isn't growing. Mowing then causes more stress on the grass. Perhaps you can skip some summer mowings and pay for more frequent mowing in spring and fall.

I am considering a permanent deer fence. I understand that deer can jump a 10-foot fence with a running start. How much of a deterrent would a solid wooden 6-foot fence be? Is there a better choice?

A 10-foot fence will keep out all but the most talented deer. A 6-foot fence provides some deterrence, but a determined deer can jump it. Note that deer are afraid to jump in small fenced areas.

A dog can be a good deer repellent, even in cases where it is only outdoors during the day and occasionally at night.

Rather than put up a fence or send a dog outside, many people find it easier to save their garden by planting species that the animals don't like. For a listing of deer-resistant plants, read the Cooperative Extension publication FS655 Resistance of Woody Ornamentals to Deer Damage.

Checklist

Learn to identify alien invasive plants in your area and be on the lookout for new invaders, such as wavyleaf basketgrass. Remove and replace any invasives you find.

Ellen Nibali, a horticulture consultant, works at Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center, and Jon Traunfeld is the director of the Home and Garden Information Center. The center offers Maryland residents free gardening information. Call the center's help line at 800-342-2507 or e-mail plant and pest questions through the Send a Question feature at hgic.umd.edu.

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