Lawn Care Maintenance Monthly Tips: Caring for your Lawn and Landscape
Spring is in full bloom, how sweet it is. Take advantage of the cooler temperatures to catch up on these tips.
1. Check your sprinkler system to ensure all stations are working properly. Check for broken heads or broken water lines. Poor pressure could indicate a broken or leaking pipe. Install risers or relocate sprinkler heads if the spray is not reaching properly. This is sometimes necessary as plants mature and grow and the spray pattern is obstructed to other plants. Flower beds can be timed 5-7 minutes per station. Lawn areas, 8-10 minutes. Lawn strips may vary, perhaps 5-7 minutes. A daily operating schedule set to 5:00 am is advisable March through August, but every other day is also a reasonable schedule to begin the season. First of all, learn to assess your properties watering requirements by looking at the condition of your lawn, plants, flowers, and trees. Then, find out how many minutes your entire program is running and taper down the number of minutes per station that appears to run longer than necessary. A rain sensor will automatically turn off the system during a rain and prevent needless irrigation. Don’t forget to check for rotors or heads that are spraying onto the street needlessly and make the necessary adjustments.
2. Reduce your monthly water bill by applying with the city waterworks department for a permit to install a separate water meter expressly for the irrigation system. There is no sewage cost attachment on water used for irrigation purposes since it is not disposed of into the city’s sewage plumbing system. The city has its own list of approved plumbers who will install your irrigation water meter for you. Prices vary between plumbers, and $1000 is not uncommon, but the savings are worth it when you consider that each dollar of water used is matched on your statement with another dollar charged for sewage disposal.
3. Sprinkler upgrade attachments are available to enable distribution of organic fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and mosquito killer on a regulated schedule. A mechanical attachment with cabinet storing contained chemicals can be spliced in to your existing irrigation system at a modest price.
4. Thin out Liriope borders if these plantings are overgrown. Replant where needed without making a new purchase. A fun and easy technique is to press a sharp straight-edge spade 6-7 inches straight into the soil along the outside edge of the growing “row” of Liriope. Do this for a length of 2 feet, then repeat along the inside edge of the “row”. Next, repeat at the end of both 2-foot lengths. Now use the shovel again at the front of the “row” to tilt and thereby loosen the Liriope. After this, set the spade aside and, using both hands, grab the Liriope “by the hair” and pull. Out will come a beautiful, rectangular section of Liriope. Lay it on its side and quarter it with the straight-edge spade or a machete into a desirable re-planting size. It’s as easy as dividing up a cake. Repeat until all the Liriope is quartered. Then, space out all the new plantings in the resultant 6-7 inch deep trench and backfill with bagged garden soil on both sides of the new row.
5. Apply tree and shrub fertilizer to flower beds, as well as blooming fertilizer around blooming plants. Color Star is an excellent blooming fertilizer as it contains blood meal and bone meal.
6. Mulch flower beds 3-4 inches deep with a premium pine bark mulch. Look for one with vibrant color and that does not appear in a dried out condition. Premium pine bark mulch can be purchased in bulk at a local soil and mulch yard. Stop by and visit before ordering to examine the materials on site. These stores also carry stone and other natural materials for your gardening needs. Mulches average $35 to $50 per cubic yard and a delivery fee. The delivery fee is waived if their minimum purchase requirement is met. There are other mulches available, such as hardwood, but they leach out the nitrogen and moisture available to the plants from the soil. The colored mulches appear attractive, but the artificial color bleeds out in a few months. These mulches are made from shredded wooden pallets. By comparison, the pine bark mulch provides alkaline enzymes, which azaleas love, and other nutrients for plants. Do not mulch plant roots more than 1-2 inches, to prevent root rot. Trees are often mulched notoriously high. This robs oxygen and moisture and draws insects to the tree trunk.
7. Plant annual seasonal flowers. These are grown from seed and become available to the public by mid-March. Check with an established nursery for availability and variety. For best installation, the flowers should be placed for 5-10 minutes in a tub of water prepared with Miracle Grow, or root stimulator, to moisten and vitalize the root systems. To plant, first set all the flowers out in the desired pattern and spacing. Then, individually plant each one. The best method is to use an aluminum planting trowel. Start by holding the trowel in a downward, stabbing fashion, the trowel facing toward you. Then, in a vertical, forward, down, and stabbing motion, create a circle of movements that will stab and mix the soil and mulch to a depth of 4-6 inches in the area the flower will be planted. Scoop to one side the loose soil and mulch. Place the plant in the hole and smooth the loose soil and mulch around the base of the plant. Do not plant the flowers too deep or will not survive. Plant almost even with the flower bed surface, allowing for a ½ inch covering of mulch. After planting is completed, sprinkle snail bait among the flowers to protect them from snails. Snails love to eat flowers during the night, as well as slugs and pill bugs. Snails and slugs eat the edges of the leaves, while pill bugs make holes in the leaves. If you notice leaf damage to your flowers, get snail bait. It comes in pellets or flakes. The pellets are best as they last longer.
8. Water the newly mulched flower beds to establish a uniform moisture level and deep enough to reach the plant roots.
9. Birdwatchers and bird lovers: Add a concrete birdbath to your garden, as well as a feeder. Be certain to keep a fresh supply of drinking water for them in the birdbath for birds are thirsty. Plants that make berries are also a consideration. Check with a local nursery for the different varieties available. Your gardens can become both a haven and a food establishment for birds of all kinds. Don’t forget to attract hummingbirds as well by placing hummingbird feeders in your garden.
10. Mow weekly March through June at 3 inches high. Use a measuring tape to measure the blade height. This should be done on a level concrete surface. By use of a mulching mower, the clippings can be recycled and nitrogen put back into the grass. The clippings are an organic fertilizer. If you mulch the grass, however, do not mulch grass that is too high. It will develop an excess of clippings in the thatch and the hot weather and humidity will cause a fungal bacteria to grow. The grass will begin to yellow and lose its vigor and rich, green luster. It is always best to use a blower or rake to disperse or collect any excess clippings if you are mulching your grass. Excess clippings on your lawn are an indication to raise the mower. Therefore, if your grass is hard to cut at 3 inches, raise the wheels 1 notch, which is 1 inch higher.
11. Take a break and visit The Mercer Arboretum, a multi-acre botanical garden on Aldine Westfield just north of FM 1960. The azaleas bloom early in March, so tag along your digital camera for awesome photos. Engaged couples, sweet 16’s, and a host of other visitors have their professional photographers meet them there on purpose for photo shoots.
1. Fertilize trees to take advantage of April’s generous rainfall. At a local hardware store, purchase a 40-pound wrecking bar, to be used as an earth augur. These tools are commonly used to break up concrete and tear apart lumber structures. The wrecking bar is an ideal tool for making a network of 18-inch deep holes in the ground at least 4 feet away from the base of the tree and approaching the drip line, or edge, of the tree’s canopy. Depending on the breadth of the tree’s canopy, the holes can be 2-3 feet apart. Standing with both feet apart, and using both hands, raise the wrecking bar 2-3 feet and bring it down forcefully into the earth. Depending on the earth’s hardness, it may take 2-3 “strikes” in the same hole to achieve a depth of 18 inches. Then, with the wrecking bar inside the hole, rotate the bar slightly around in order to create a small funnel at the top. Once the hole is completed, remove the wrecking bar and use the funnel opening to pour in 2 cups of tree and shrub fertilizer. The holes can be left open or dressed with topsoil. Your trees will benefit from this planned nourishment for 6-9 months. When performing this procedure, be aware or irrigation lines or utilities.
2. Fertilize seasonal flowers with Color Star blooming fertilizer. Practice broadcasting by the handful from a plastic or aluminum bucket. With your right hand, grab and hold a closed fist-full of fertilizer. Next, a wide, deliberate sweep from 3 o’clock to 11 o’clock as your hand opens will spread the granules gracefully in an evenly distributed pattern. Make certain the flowers are not wet so that the granules will not attach to the leaves or flowers. Gently brush off with your hand any granules that did not fall to the ground.
3. Butterfly lovers should plant milkweed. Butterflies love to eat the leaves and will purposely come to eat and lay their eggs. You and your loved ones will get to witness caterpillars in a state of metamorphosis and the emergence of beautiful butterflies.
4. Hummingbird lovers should plant the fire bush. This is a fairly large-growing plant with flowers consisting of red tubules that hold nectar for hummingbirds. Check to be sure your hummingbird feeders are full. This should become a regular chore which will bring many rewards for the hummingbirds will keep your home on their radar.
5. Trim shrubs and hedges to maintain their shape and appearance.
6. Cut rose flowers that are spent to promote new stem, leaf, and bud formations. A spent “sprig” to cut can be identified by that cluster of stems holding all the spent flowers. Cutting this “sprig” off will prepare the cut stem to create another splash of colorful roses. Pruning brings new life, so do not be afraid to cut.
7. Provide periodic care for roses to stave off damage from insects and bacterial disease. If the rose buds are opening but appear sickly, open partially or not at all and appear decayed at the edges, an examination will reveal movement of tiny insects called rose mites crawling about inside the petals. The rose mites will devastate the crop of new and setting buds. A more visible external insect is the aphid, which will cause the spreading of black powdery mildew on the plant and leaves and weaken its nutritive and growing capacity. A systemic rose insecticide spray should be applied to the entire plant in the cool of day, to avoid chemical burn in combination with the sun’s heat. Black and yellow spots on rose leaves are caused by a fungus, which should be treated with a systemic fungicide. The fungus could come from over watering; poor drainage, like a clay soil condition, which should be removed and replaced with good soil; or over mulching. The bud union, or “ball” of the rose plant, located at its ground level base, should not be covered with mulch or soil at all. If the rose was obviously planted too deep, it must be raised to expose the bud union. Systemic chemicals are preferred for all plant applications because they are absorbed into the leaves, bark, cambium, and roots and insulate the plant from insect and bacterial damage. Some rose fertilizers are available with systemic ingredients already added.
8. Inspect crape myrtles, hibiscus plants, and azaleas for insects. Crape myrtle trees get aphids. They leave shiny, wet-looking clear exudates on the leaf, which turns into black powdery mildew and contaminates surrounding plants. Hibiscus plants get whitefly, which feed on the leaves and leave a clear exudate that turns into black sooty mold. The azaleas are prone to lace bugs, which suck sap from the leaves, turning the foliage from a healthy green to a mottled tan. There is a hidden insect world among plants. A magnifying glass is very helpful in insect identification. Malathion is a recommended chemical to spray for these three insects. Gilmore produces a fine, plastic hose-end sprayer that has a metering dial to properly mix the ratio of chemical to water. Use goggles, a nose mask, and a long-sleeve shirt during any chemical applications, spraying in the direction of the prevailing wind patterns to avoid spray back-drifts.
9. Inspect fruit trees for sap that is bleeding from the bark due to fruit tree borers. Lindane has recently been removed from the market but there are other replacement products at a local chemical store. The best ones are systemic which can be mixed in a bucket and used to douse the tree’s roots for absorption into the entire plant.
10. Spray all shrubs with insecticide as a preventive measure.
11. Tip on retail mosquito yard sprays: Do not purchase products labeled Mosquito Yard Spray! Read the label first, to find out the main ingredient, and then buy the cheaper product, with the same main ingredient, by the same company! Companies are selling the same product under a different label for more lucre!
1. Add tree silhouette lighting and landscape lighting to your gardens and property. These landscape upgrades create an exciting dimension at night, as well as security for your home.
2. Use a broadcast spreader to fertilize your lawn with a premium, slow-release 15-5-10 fertilizer. This is a non-burning fertilizer that does not require watering but, of course, works best when watered in. Purchase a spreader that has a dispersal guard, to keep granules from going unnecessarily onto streets, sidewalks, driveways, and patios. Be especially careful with the inside of the pool for the iron granules will cause rust marks to appear all over the paint job of the pool’s floor. The pool may need to be drained and repainted in the worst case scenario. After the application, be sure and use a powered blower on all paved areas to prevent oxidation marks from fertilizer granules. These granules can be blown into the lawn or garden areas.
3. Fertilizing tip: Any time Bermuda start to grow in your St. Augustine grass, this is a sign of poor fertilization practices. Bermuda always takes over when the St. Augustine becomes weak.
4. Explanation of fertilizer ratios. The ratio is described by three numbers. For example: 15-5-10. To illustrate the purpose of each number, the 15 is nutrients for the leaves of a plant; the 5 is nutrients for the stem of a plant; and the 10 is nutrients for the roots of a plant. Chemically, the three numbers stand for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, in weight percent, in this illustration 3-1-2. The nitrogen is for greening, the potassium for stem strength, and the potassium for root health and stamina.
5. Use a broadcast spreader to apply insecticide granules for chinch bugs on your lawn. If you, or your neighbor, have not watered well and the weather has been very dry and hot, chinch bugs could develop in your lawn or migrate from your neighbor’s lawn to yours. These insects thrive in very dry and hot conditions. Chinch bugs cause the grass leaves to appear like the grass is dying for lack of water, but watering is of no avail. The reason is that these insects suck the sap from the leaves, but they first inject an enzyme to cause the sap to flow easily. This enzyme is poisonous and stays in the leaves, causing a discoloration and subsequent death of the entire lawn. In addition, the adults lay eggs and the larvae hatch to continue damaging the lawn. The adults are black, with a white diamond on their back, and about 1/16th of an inch in length. The nymphs, newly-hatched, are slightly smaller and are oval in appearance, like a pill, with a white stripe in the middle and pink and brown respectively opposite from the white stripe. An early warning sign to watch for when chinch bugs are present is a yellowing, or discoloration of the lawn adjacent to concrete areas or concrete edges, since those areas are naturally the driest and hottest.
6. Identifying chinch bugs for certain is to catch some, at least an adult. Look in a green grass area adjacent to a discolored area, in case they have already moved. Get down on your knees and quickly use all the fingers of both hands to spread apart the grass all the way to the ground. Scan the open area quickly with your eyes for insect movement. If you do not see any chinch bugs right away, move to another spot. You might see an adult or a nymph. Change locations until you do find some chinch bugs. If none are found, the yellowing could be caused from lack of water or a fungus called summer patch. If the area is watered and improves, all is fine. If it does not improve, apply a granular fungicide to the entire lawn with a broadcast fertilizer and water in.
7. Apply chelated iron to all plants and shrubs. It is a non-burning granular product and can be broadcast by hand. There is a brand named Ruff N Tuff. During the hot weather, plants may go into stress and the foliage begin turning yellow due to iron depletion. Broadcast by hand using the technique to fertilize seasonal flowers. Manually run the irrigation system or wait until it turns on automatically the next day.
8. Inspect pine trees for stress. If the pine needles begin to appear faded in color during the hot months, and it has been very hot and dry, the pine trees could be attacked by Japanese pine beetle. These insects bore holes about 1/16th of an inch through the bark, reach the tree’s cambium or hardwood layer, and “girdle” the bark of the whole tree. Girdling is the separation of the tree’s bark from the hardwood layer, leaving the bark to loosely hug around the tree, like a girdle. The pine tree will of course die, as did thousands in Houston from the recent historical drought. Examination of the bark will find countless entry holes, as well as sawdust trailing down and collecting at the base of the tree. If the bark is pulled off, the beetles will be seen “working” underneath. Stress from lack of rainfall, or sufficient irrigation, will weaken a pine tree and make it susceptible to Japanese pine beetle attack. The problem lies in not knowing that the Japanese pine beetles are present. It is too late when the signs are seen and the damage found. The best preventative is to irrigate and to spray the base and some of the trunk with Malathion, so the larvae will not seek out the pine trees from the nearby host plant where the eggs were laid.
9. Education is the best prevention to any horticultural problem or dilemma on your property. University agricultural and horticultural extensions abound in free online and printed information on entomology, the study of insects, and a host of related disciplines. Make it an assignment to learn what will make or break your success in having an awesome lawn and landscape. The neighbors will praise your achievements and request an audience with you.
Did You Know?Every month the list of lawn care and landscape tips changes to match the season,
so come back every month and we'll help make your landscape look its best...