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November 21st, 2012

Last Mowing of the Year

blog-dougDoes it make sense to get out my mower again to shred the fall leaves that remain on the lawn? My grass has stopped growing and I haven’t mowed for about a month.

I like to give my lawn a final trim with a mulching lawnmower after all the leaves are down. I move the blade down a notch from where it’s been set and remove the bagging attachment. And I sharpen the blade, if I haven’t done that recently. It usually takes two passes (the second time, I mow at right angles to the first pass) until the leaves are shredded fine enough to filter down among the grass blades. Over the winter months, the leaf bits and grass clippings will start to break down, adding humus to the soil.

This won’t work if your lawn is ankle-deep in leaves. Earlier in fall, when leaves are abundant, I rake them onto a tarp and transfer them to a compost bin to make leaf mold. Even two passes with a mulching mower won’t shred deep drifts of leaves enough that they will disappear into the turf, and they’ll end up smothering the lawn. If you can’t see the grass for the leaves, it’s better to clean them up with a rake, not a mower. But toward the end of autumn, when there are just a few leaves remaining, it makes perfect sense to return their nutrients to the soil.

The worst thing you can do, in my opinion, is to rake your leaves to the curb to be hauled away. Whether I compost leaves or shred them for mulch, I prefer that their organic goodness remains in my yard.   —Doug Hall

November 2nd, 2012

Rescuing a Storm-Toppled Shrub

After the hurricane passed, some of the lilacs in my yard were lying on their sides with half their roots out of the ground. Can I do something to save them?

blog-dougIt’s best to leave the righting of large, heavy plants like trees to the professionals (as well as the decision of whether or not a tree can be saved). But straightening a toppled shrub is not difficult. Do it now, while the soil is still soft from all the rain.

All you have to do is firmly shove the shrub back into an upright position, then pound a few tall stakes vertically into the ground to keep it upright. Position the stakes where they will provide support for the shrub; you may need to tie branches to the stakes.

Try to protect the already compromised roots from further disturbance. If roots have been pulled out of the ground, you may need to carefully excavate a hole for them on the lilac’s upwind side. Then replace the soil, burying the roots at the same depth they were before the storm. Finish with a layer of organic mulch. Ideally, the shrub should be secure enough so that another strong wind won’t rock the plant and tug on the root system.

If the roots were damaged severely, consider pruning some of the top growth to compensate for the loss. Selectively remove a few of the oldest stems, cutting them all the way to the ground. This practice, called renewal pruning, rejuvenates older lilacs and promotes better flowering, even when the shrub hasn’t been pushed over by a hurricane.   —Doug Hall

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