It’s Lawn Time!

Locally owned garden centers like mine and others across the state are a bee hive of activity these days.  We’ve been receiving shipments of trees and shrubs along with soil amendments, gardening tools, bug and weed control products.  You name it, chances are we’ve received a shipment of it.  It’s all in preparation for the gardening season to begin.

Well here’s the funny part, usually the rush for spring-time planting to begin is late April not early April and we’ve gotten our fair share of early gardeners showing up to inspect this year’s crop.

This spring we’ve had unseasonably warm weather and our outdoor plants are about thirty or so days more advanced in their development than last year, including our lawns.  Already I’ve seen people out mowing their lawns.  So let’s have a chat about how to effectively manage your lawn.

The first thing I’d have gardeners do is to set the mower’s cutting height to at least 2.5 inches or higher.  The reason for having a higher mowing height has everything to do with the lawn’s health.  Think of your lawn as a giant solar collector.  The more leaf blade, the more it can convert sunlight into plant food.  In fact there is a direct relationship to grass height and grass root development.  The higher the grass the deeper and more developed the root system will be.  As the season progresses into summer a more robust root system will better manage the hot conditions of a Wyoming summer.

Next, consider not bagging your lawn clippings.  By leaving your lawn clippings on the lawn, it’s the equivalent of having a free fertilization.  As the mowed leaf blades get eaten by the microbes in your lawn they release the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium back into the soil for the lawn to use again.  During the early part of the season the breakdown of the grass blades may take about two weeks for the microbes to do their part but as the weather continues to warm this breakdown will occur at a much swifter rate of just a few days.

If you want to start an argument with gardeners about their lawns just bring up their fertilization methods.  They all have an opinion.  I’m not here to change their opinions, but I would have gardeners wait till mid to late April before applying fertilizer.  The reason to wait simply allows the grass to fully wake up so it can use the fertilizer more effectively.  That advice is for quick release man-made fertilizer which most gardeners apply.

If you are using organic fertilizers skip my advice.   Apply anytime you want.  Organic fertilizers require the aid of microbes to break down the organic molecules into the fertilizer components the plants can utilize and that takes time.  Applying organic fertilizer now means it might be ready for the grass to utilize it by around the first of May.

Given the warm to very warm conditions this spring and lack of precipitation, it’s time to start irrigating.  Irrigating this time of the year means maybe once every ten days or so.  Your lawn simply is not consuming much water now.  That’ll change as we get more into spring.

Lastly, I was reminded by a gardener in Riverton who remembered his childhood days playing in lawns that were at least fifty percent clover.  Today it’s rare to find any clover in lawns.  Back in those days the clover was a natural source of fertilizer for the lawn grasses.  My point in bringing this up is that forty years ago we were practicing organically based lawn management prior to it being a hot topic item.  Maybe it’s time to add clover back into our lawns; the old timers really did know a thing or two about sustainability.

Originally published in the Casper Star-Tribune, April 5, 2015