Berkshire garden Journal: It's time to prep the lawn mower


April is National Lawn Care month. No, Congress had nothing to do with that declaration -- if it was in their purview, the issue would still be in debate in December. It is the Professional Lawn Care Association of America that came up with the designation, obviously to promote business. Nevertheless, it does draw attention to lawn care needs even for us do-it-yourselfers.

The first order of business is raking lawns, but only if the ground is not wet, muddy, or -- dare I say it -- covered with snow. Raking may seem like a waste of time since many lawns have already turned green and grass is starting to grow. However, raking loosens matted grass and removes dead grass and debris, exposing the soil to the warm rays of sun. Warm soil will stimulate growth of grass roots.

The next task needing immediate attention is the reseeding of bare spots in the lawn. Before seeding, loosen soil to a depth of about one inch, using a garden fork. Scatter grass seed and lightly rake to cover seeds with about a quarter-inch of soil. Water lightly every day until the new grass is well established.

For most, if not all of us, lawn mowing will have to wait until grass gets up about three inches. What won’t wait is prepping the lawn mower, assuming you don’t have a flock of sheep to do your mowing and fertilizing. Be sure the mower blades are sharp, the oil has been changed, the air filter has been cleaned or replaced, the spark plug is in good shape, and fresh gas is in the fuel tank ... hmm; wish I had a flock of sheep.

That’s about it for this lawn minimalist. Let’s move on to other tasks:

n Apply a repellent to trees, shrubs and spring flowering bulbs if deer, rabbits, voles, or your vegetarian friends are browsing on these plants. I often alternate between two different kinds of repellent for fear that the critters might get used to one.

n Continue regular applications of fertilizer to your holiday plants, i.e. Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti, poinsettias, cyclamen, azalea and amaryllis. After flowering is completed, they start actively growing again and therefore need more nutrients. With conscientious care, these plants should continue to provide holiday color for many years.

n Dig up and transplant small trees and shrubs that need to be moved. Do this soon since the window of opportunity is a short one. Once new growth begins, moving established woody plants gets risky. The ground is soft and moist now, ideal for moving plants, including herbaceous perennials. If soil is muddy, wait a bit until the excess moisture drains away.

n Start seeds of tomatoes indoors this weekend or next. I’m sure I heard someone snort, "That’s too late." Not at all! Starting seeds in early April will yield 7- or 8-week-old seedlings for transplanting to the garden in early June. Studies have repeatedly shown young seedlings of this age always outperform older ones.

n Start seeds of fast growing annuals, such as cosmos, marigolds and zinnias, indoors. Cold-tolerant annuals that can be seeded directly in the flower garden early this month include calendula, larkspur and sweet peas.

n Continue to water and fertilize spring flowering bulbs that have been forced indoors. Once the leaves turn brown, let the soil dry. Then plant the bulbs outdoors.

n Save the green Velcro tapes wrapped around the heads of Romaine lettuce sold at super markets. They’ll make great ties when staking tall perennials later this spring.

On that note, I think I’ll go out and look for a flock of sheep to tend my lawn this year.


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