The Wrong Practices in Lawn and Plants Care
Nowadays, we can hear or read about water ban versus water save problem. Some conclusions of dealing with that problem are: 1) Install synthetic grass. 2) Less lawn, more plants. 3) Plant drought tolerant plants. 4) Plant native plants. 5) Install a second water meter to separate sewer and outdoor water use. 6) Install irrigation system with sprinklers head with sensor. 7) Install drip irrigation system. 8) Bury a tank to collect rain water from houses’ roofs. 9) Promote products that absorb and retain moisture in the soil. Those conclusions are not the solution to the water ban versus water save problem.
We, human beings, always complain against the effects. We never, ever, complain against the cause of the effects. The cause is first, the effect (s) is the result of the cause. The clue, the key, the cornerstone of dealing with the water ban versus water save problem is how the soil is managed. In my 26 years of working in the Green Industry, 10 of those years working in my business, providing a totally different Lawn and Plants Care services, I have seen how the plants and lawn care has been and it is done wrong. Everything rests on this “business”, make money.
The information provided here, has not been taken from magazines, books, online, or other resources. It is my own experience of working and dealing directly with plants and lawns. These are The Wrong Practices in Lawn and Plants Care.
(I) Poor Soil
This is the most wrong practice in Lawn and Plant Care. When a house is built, all the good soil is taken out. At the end, 2 inches thick of loam is spread on compacted soil due to the back and forth of heavy equipment. Worst yet, many times, 6 to 8 inches thick of sand is spread arguing that it is for drainage purposes. On top of the sand, 2 inches thick of loam is spread. There, there is the problem. How do you expect to have a nice lawn and plants in a poor soil? The only way is to add water and fertilizers.
Many times when the lawn is repaired, all the weeds and some existing grass are taken away with good soil. That is totally wrong. That is the continuity of the bad beginning at the time of building the house. When I do a lawn repair, I bury everything using mulch and compost, the result is: I do not need irrigation system to have a nice lawn. If we have more than 30 straight days with no rain, the lawn is going to turn brown but it is not going to die.
(II) Lawn Mowing
When the lawn is mowed, the grass clippings are taken away. In the fall, the leaves from trees are taken out from the lawn. How is the soil going to be fed? Well, only with fertilizers. If the grass clippings and the leaves from trees are shredded into the lawn, that is rich organic matter, that feeds macro and micro-organisms, that feeds the soil. That organic matter holds the moisture and the moisture lasts longer in the soil. If the soil does not have organic matter then it is going to be a dry soil claiming for water and fertilizers. That organic matter propagates earthworms. The earthworms’ cast is highly rich in nutrients. Earthworms run in the soil keeping it loose. That is one reason why I’m not doing aeration. By leaving the grass clippings and shredding the leaves from trees into the lawn, the lawn obtains a great benefit.
What terrible the irrigation system is set up; 20 minutes every day. That is totally wrong. That makes the grass roots instead of going down, to stay on top of the soil creating and making a mat of roots because the little moisture is on top of the soil. Aeration must be done due to that wrong practice.
Notice the following example. This is not science, it is common sense. The drought in the soil starts from the top to the bottom. If one inch of the top soil is dry, there is moisture below that. If 2 inches of the top soil are dry, there is moisture below that, and so on. What does that mean? That means that the way the soil starts to dry is from the top to the bottom. The grass roots go down looking for that moisture in the soil, making them grow larger and establish a good root system which results in the lawn been more drought tolerant. That is one reason why I do not need irrigation system in order to have a nice lawn.
It is important to mow high; 5 inches high and not mow when the lawn is suffering summer stress. A tall grass shades and keeps the soil cool, and it absorbs more energy from the sun and that energy is converted into starch and sugar feeding the soil and the lawn. Mowing too short, the sunlight goes directly to the soil producing heat instead of cooling off the soil. In late September, the mow must be 3 or 4 inches high to avoid winter damage.
In the winter, when there is not snow on the ground or early spring, I enjoy seeing the lawns I’m taking care of, how they look different compared to the traditional lawn care.
(IV) Leaf Blower
There is one element in the soil called humus. This is really important in the soil composition. According to the information we have, it takes more than 500 years to build one inch of humus in the soil. Here is the problem, how is it possible to have humus in the soil if the lawns are extremely clean with the use of leaf blowers in the spring and fall? In addition, the grass clippings and the leaves from trees are taken away from the lawn. Never, ever, the soil is going to have humus. As a consequence, the soil will be poor claiming for water and fertilizers.
(V) Heavy Lawn Mower
We can see all around heavy lawn mowers. They compact the soil. Worst yet, they cause a lot of damage mowing on wet soil. In a compacted soil, water from the rain is washed away instead of going down the soil. A great resource is wasted. That is another reason why aeration must be done and why irrigation systems are required. Each wrong practice promotes more business.
In a new planted bed, 3 inches thick of mulch is spread. In the following years more mulch is spread, about 1 inch thick, and so on. Around the fifth-year (5), the ground level around the plants’ roots has been raised at least 3 inches high. In that case, the plants are going to be too deep planted and they are going to start suffering suffocation. Never, ever, those plants are going to be healthy. Maybe, they could look good but water and fertilizer must be applied.
Another problem with mulch is that it gets compacted, blocking water from the rain to reach the soil and the roots. Only heavy rain and long periods of rain can reach the soil. Most of the time, the water from the rain stays in the mulch, it does not reaches the soil, it evaporates. Great resource is wasted. As a result, plants claim for water and irrigation system is installed or plants are water by hand. Human beings, we create all of the problems we have. We complain against the effects but not against the causes of the effects.
If the soil is managed appropriately and mulch is not spread and instead ground cover is installed, the plants only need to be watered the year when they are planted. In the following years, Mother Nature takes care of them. Someone may ask what about weed control? To avoid weeds, groundcover plants help with that.
Another solution for the suppression of weeds is to plant perennial plants close together. They shade the soil and the moisture in the plants’ beds last longer. They provide beauty to the beds when they are blooming and they provide food for pollinators. Some weeds are going to grow, especially in early spring but that is not a big problem. Those weeds can be pulled out by hand. What is most important is to have healthy plants and save money in outdoor water use.
I learned to prune the traditional way. Trimming all around the plants, doing it that way, for me, it is not the correct way. Of course, there are some plants that the only way to prune them is to cut all around ex., ilex crenata. The correct way to prune a plant is to cut all the stems and branches growing tight together because as they get thicker and they are moving by the wind, they scratch themselves. As a result, they will be damaged; stems and branches are susceptible to disease or insect attacks. It is necessary as well to cut some branches to allow more sunlight and air circulation in the plants to avoid disease problems. Old stems must be removed, allowing new ones to grow to rejuvenate the plants. If the plants are only pruned all around, the result is weak plants with a lot of dead stems. I invite you, who’s reading this, to go outside and take a look in your plants to corroborate that I’m telling you the truth about pruning.
The key to perform a good job is knowledge, responsibility, and honesty. When a homeowner asks me to install an irrigation system in their lawn, my answer is, “Why are you going to spend money installing the irrigation system if when you are going to need it, you cannot use it due to the water ban?”
How the soil is managed, that is the clue, that is the key, that is the cornerstone of dealing with the water ban versus water save problem. It is important to correct The Wrong Practices in Lawn and Plants Care if we want to solve the water ban versus water save problem.
If you have any question, please do not hesitate in contacting me at the information listed below.
Massachusetts Certified Horticulturist