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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Proper Mowing

Many people who want a handsome lawn do not realize just how important the job of mowing really is. There are five dimensions of mowing to be considered. (a) Cutting height (b) Mowing Frequency (c) Mowing pattern (d) Blade Sharpness, and (e) Disposal of clippings.


Cutting height of different varieties of grass is mentioned below. Lowering the cutting height can be disastrous. Removal of a large portion of the leaf results in reduced carbohydrate production, because the leaves are largely responsible for photosynthesis.


The general rule for mowing is that no more than 1/3 of the leaf should be removed with any one cutting. Mowing frequency varies according to the time of year, weather conditions, and general rate of growth.


The mowing pattern is far less critical but should be considered. A side-by-side mowing pattern is acceptable if the 360° turns can be made on sidewalks or roadways. If the turf is thinning due to about face sums, try a circular cut.

Blade Sharpness

Sharp mower blades cut the grass blade cleanly. If the blades aren't they don't cut cleanly they will shred your grass. Shredding the grass blade makes the grass more susceptible to disease.

Do not remove clippings.

Short clippings decay quite rapidly and do not contribute to thatch formation. The only two situations when clippings should be removed (a) When excessive clippings may smother the lawn. (b) When surface clippings give the lawn an objectionable appearance.

The two most common errors of mowing are:

Lawn isn't mowed often enough.
Lawn is mowed too short.

The proper heights are:

Bluegrass (Common Kentucky) — 2" to 2 1/2"
Bluegrass (Improved Varieties) — 1 1/2" to 2"
Fescues — 2" to 3"
Ryegrass — 2" to 3"

Landscape Watering

One of the best ways to reduce the risk of potential insect or disease problems is to water the landscape properly. Nothing is more important to a plants ability to survive than proper watering. Too little water will reduce the plants ability to establish itself and thrive thereby leaving it susceptible to possible pest damage. Soils kept too moist will weaken a plant thereby leaving it susceptible to rot and other diseases. When asked to try and diagnose a particular insect or disease problem, more often than not it will somehow be related to moisture.

Factors that influence how often you may need to water are temperature, soil types, amounts of sunlight and mulch (types and amounts). The easiest way to check if supplemental watering is necessary is to check the soil. If the soil is dry to a depth of approximately ½", watering will be necessary. Some plants in the landscape could also be used as indicator plants. These are plants that typically will wilt or begin to scorch when sufficient water is lacking. When daytime high temperatures are in the mid-70s, watering once a week may be sufficient, whereas when the daytime high temperatures are in the mid-90s, watering as often as every other day may needed. Clay soils will typically hold more moisture than sandy soils so adjustments may be needed based on the soil types. Heat stressed areas of the landscape may also need more attention than the shaded areas. Stone mulches may also require more water than a wood type mulch since moisture will evaporate faster from the stone mulch.

As for the amount of water, the soil should be kept moist but not water logged. Watering once a week thoroughly is better than a quick brief showering every other day. Watering the area underneath the plant is best. Simply let a slow gentle stream of water run from the garden hose in this area. An occasional watering over the tops of the plants will also be beneficial in washing the plants free of potential insect problems. Yes, washing is beneficial in pest management.

The best time to water is in the morning. This gives the plants time to dry off thus reducing the possibility of disease problems. Midday watering is O.K. but realize that more water may be needed to offset the evaporation that occurs. Also, plants may scorch in the mid day sun if water is left on the plant surface. Evening would be the worst time to water. It lets the water sit overnight on the plant surface and increases the potential of disease activity. Watering at the least preferred time is still better than not watering at all.

Watering the landscape today is much easier than in the past. Complete irrigation systems can be installed using the latest equipment. Various types of irrigation heads, hoses, connectors and nozzles can be purchased at the local Home and Garden center.


Thatch is the layer of living and dead stems, roots, and crowns that forms a type of blanket over the soil of your lawn. A small amount of thatch (one-half inch or less) is acceptable and even good for the lawn. But when thatch accumulates to over one-half inch, it can become one of a lawn's most serious enemies.

Keeps out the good and protects the bad

Like an old-time thatched roof, the thatch on your lawn creates a barrier which prevents the free movement of water, air, fertilizer, and insect controls into the soil. Since thatch is an ideal breeding ground for many diseases and turf-destroying insects, a heavy thatch layer can quickly become a serious problem.

Grass clippings not to blame

Contrary to popular belief, grass clippings are not the prime cause of thatch build-up. Clippings are almost all water. Once dried, clippings add very little bulk to the thatch layer. Thatch is mainly made up of the heavier crowns, stems and roots. Clippings of moderate length can be left on the lawn without fear of quickly increasing the thatch layer.

Reduces lawn care effectiveness

Heavy thatch prevents fertilizer and water from reaching the grass roots. This can result in a lawn that is thin, off-color, and prone to disease, insect, and drought problems.

You have two choices.

You can ignore the thatch, and hope it will decay before it does any harm. However, a thatch problem will almost always get worse with time, not better.

The second alternative, the option we most often recommend, is core aeration because it offers the least amount of disturbance to the healthy plants.


Crabgrass is an annual weed. This means it dies completely every year and sprouts new from seed produced the year before. A healthy crabgrass plant produces up to 4,000 seeds during its short one-season life.

Why it's such a problem

Crabgrass is a very fast-growing plant. It has to be because it only has one season to live. Since it grows so fast, it can choke out slower-growing permanent grasses in your lawn. Once crabgrass gets a foothold, a cycle of summer crabgrass followed by winter weeds begins, leaving patches of bare dirt in the seasons in between.

Stopping the invasion

To get crabgrass under control, a thick stand of desirable grass has to be established. To do this in one season, the best approach is to concentrate on eliminating the crabgrass through the spring and summer. Use of pre-emergents (to stop the seed from sprouting) or post-emergents (to eliminate the plants once they germinate), or a combination of both is the best way to do this. Plan your seeding for late summer or early fall, and try to establish the new grass soon enough to mow it two to five times during the fall. Then an application of pre-emergent the following spring will be effective against any crabgrass, without harming your new turf.


Common errors.

The most common error committed by people is light irrigation. Too little water too often encourages a multitude of problems such as shallow root system. The need for watering depends mainly on your soil and of course, the weather.

Rainfall is no guarantee.

Light showers merely wet the surface. Short down pours do the same. Most of the water is lost in runoff before it can soak in.

How much water is needed?

A lawn will use as much as two inches per week in hot, dry weather — a fraction of that when it is cooler. If you decide your lawn needs water, you should put on enough to wet the entire root zone.

When is the best time?

If you can, avoid late afternoon or evening irrigation. Grass that stays wet for a long time favors development of diseases. However, do not avoid watering at these times if this is the only time you can water. The important thing is water. Avoiding late afternoons is secondary to providing the needed water. In heavy clay soils prevent watering to the full amount at one time, frequent watering is then necessary.

Growing Grass In Shade

Grass plants have four basic needs

In order to survive they need light, air, water, and nurtrients. In other words, you need sufficient amounts of L.A.W.N. in order to have a full, healthy lawn. Even if one of these basic needs is not met, the grass may begin to decline and eventually die.

The problem we come across, in many older landscapes, is heavy shade caused by large trees. Trying to maintain turf in these areas is very difficult and often times impossible due to the lack of one or all the ingredients in L.A.W.N.


The lack of light is the most obvious problem that shade creates. Turf requires 3-4 hours per day to remain thick and healthy. Lawns receiving less than this tend to be thin and weak.


Although air is available in shade areas, location of trees or the amount of trees in the yard can create a problem with sufficient air movement or circulation. This can cause excess dampness, which can lead to disease or fungus activity.


Between 1-2” of water each week throughout the growing season is required for a healthy lawn. The lack of rain is a problem because the tree will act as an umbrella and not allow rain to get to the ground. Because of this, the soil under the tree does not receive adequate moisture or valuable nutrients that rain provides.


The nutrients that do reach the turf, either by rain or fertilization, are being taken up by the roots of the tree as well as the turf roots. A complete soil test will show the nutritional make up of your soil and will determine the type of fertilizer required for your situation. (See our seasonal tip about soil testing.)

Here are a few tips on how to possibly improve the situation:

Do you need the tree?

Often times, too many trees were planted because people did not realize how big they would be when full grown.

Thin the tree

You can thin the tree by removing some inner branches or raise the canopy by removing some lower branches.

Add some topsoil

Tree roots are near and often on the surface not allowing enough soil for turf plants to grow. They’re also robbing the plants of valuable nutrients.


Only after doing some or all of these other things, loosen the soil with a rake and reseed. Some varieties of grass do better than others, so be sure to read the labels and stay away from annual varieties.


Whenever you do any seeding, be sure to keep soil damp by watering daily for about 3-4 weeks. You may have to water more often each day depending on the type of soil you have. You can cut back to weekly watering once you establish good turf growth.

Soil Testing

Whether you are trying to establish a lawn or simply maintain an existing one, you need to first know what condition the soil is in. The success or failure of any crop, from corn to turf grass, can be linked directly to the health of the soil in which it is growing. Without the proper nutrient levels in the soil, plants will be unable to thrive and remain healthy.

A complete soil test should be done in order to determine your soils pH and nutrient levels. This is done by pulling several soil cores from throughout the lawn area. Remove the cores at a depth of about 1-2 inches, then remove any thatch from them and put them in a bag or other suitable container for shipment. Once the sample is collected, send it to a qualified laboratory for testing.

Your local extension agent can usually provide you with a listing of qualified labs for this type of work. Once you receive your test results, you can then determine your fertilization requirements as well as any additional soil amendment requirements, such as lime, that may be needed.

Most fertilizers for home lawns contain 3 major nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, all of which are necessary for good plant health. Each of these nutrients are responsible for different portions of the plants development. If your soil is lacking in one or more of these nutrients , you may see a decline in the health or vigor of your turf.

At One Step, we believe so strongly in the importance of soil testing, we have made this the foundation of our exclusive "Natural Care Plus" lawn care program. We begin each of our full service customers with a complete soil test for their lawn. Once we know the pH and nutrient levels of each individual lawn, we can then tailor our program to deliver exactly what is required for optimum turf growth and development.

Planting Trees and Shrubs

Think of the tree you just purchased as a lifetime investment. How well your tree and investment grows depends on the type of tree and location you select for planting, the care you provide when the tree is planted, and the follow-up care the tree receives after planting.

Planting the Tree

The ideal time to plant trees and shrubs is during the dormant season—fall after leafdrop or early spring before bud-break. Weather conditions are cool and allow plants to establish roots in the new location before spring rains and summer heat stimulate new top growth. However, trees properly cared for in the nursery or garden center, and given the appropriate care during transport to prevent damage, can be planted throughout the growing season. In either situation, proper handling during planting is essential to ensure a healthy future for new trees and shrubs. Before you begin planting your tree, be sure you have had all underground utilities located prior to digging.

If the tree you are planting is balled and burlapped, or bare rooted, it is important to understand that the tree's root system has been reduced by 90-95% of its original size during transplanting. As a result of the trauma caused by the digging process, trees will commonly exhibit what it knows as "transplant shock" (TS). TS is indicated by slow growth and reduced vigor following transplanting. Proper site preparation before and during planting, coupled with good follow-up care will reduce the amount of time that plant experiences TS and will allow the tree to quickly establish in its new location. Carefully follow eight simple steps and you can significantly reduce the stress placed on the plant at the time of planting.

A: 2-4" layer of mulch

B: Keep mulch 2-3" back from trunk

C: Cut burlap and rope away from top third of root ball

D: Trunk flare — keep visible

E: Use two opposing, flexible ties — when staking is necessary

F: Gently pack back-fill, using water to settle soil around root ball

G: Set ball on firmly packed soil to prevent settling

1. Dig a shallow, broad planting hole.

Make the hole wide, as much as three times the diameter of the root ball, but only as deep as the root ball. It is important to make the hold wide because the tree roots on the newly establishing tree must push through surrounding soil to establish. On most planting sites in new developments, the existing soils have been compacted and are unsuitable for healthy root growth. Breaking up the soil in a large area around the tree provides the newly emerging roots room to expand into loose soil to hasten establishment.

2. Identify the trunk flare.

The trunk flare is where the roots spread at the base of the tree. This point should be partially visible after the tree has been planted (see diagram). If the trunk flare is not partially visible, you may have to remove some soil from the top of the root ball. Find it so you can determine how deep the hole needs to be for proper planting.

3. Place the tree at the proper height.

Before placing the tree in the hole, check to see that the hole has been dug to the proper depth, and no more. The majority of the roots on the newly planted tree will develop in the top 12" of soil. If the tree is planted too deep, new roots will have difficulty developing due to a lack of oxygen. It is better to plant the tree a little high, 1-2" above the base of the trunk flare, than to plant it at or below the original growing level. This will allow for some settling (see diagram). To avoid damage when setting the tree in the hole, always lift the tree by the root ball, and never by the trunk.

4. Straighten the tree in the hole.

Before you begin backfilling have someone view the tree from several directions to confirm the tree is straight. Once you begin backfilling it is difficult to reposition.

5. Fill the hole, gently but firmly.

Fill the hole about 1/3 full and gently but firmly pack the soil around the base of the root ball. Then, if the tree is balled and burlapped, cut and remove the string and wire from around the trunk and top 1/3 of the root ball (see diagram). Be careful not to damage the trunk or roots in the process.

Fill the remainder of the hole taking care to firmly pack soil to eliminate air pockets that may cause roots to dry out. To avoid this problem, add the soil a few inches at a time and settle with water. Continue this process until the hole is filled and the tree is firmly planted. It is not recommended to apply fertilizer at the time of planting.

6. Stake the tree, if necessary.

If the tree is grown and dug properly at the nursery staking for support is not necessary in most home landscape situations. Studies have shown that trees will establish more quickly and develop stronger trunk root systems if they are not staked at the time of planting. However, protective staking may be required on sites where lawn mower damage, vandalism or windy conditions are concerns. If staking is necessary for support, two stakes used in conjunction with a wide flexible tie material will hold the tree upright, provide flexibility, and minimize injury to the trunk (see diagram). Remove support staking and ties after the first year of growth. Leave protective staking in place as long as necessary.

7. Mulch the base of the tree.

Mulch is simply organic matter applied to the area at the base of the tree. It acts as a blanket to hold moisture, protect against harsh soil temperatures, both hot and cold, and reduces competition from grass and weeds. Some good choices are leaf litter, pine straw, shredded bark, peat moss, and wood chips. A two to four inch layer is ideal. More than four inches may cause a problem with gas exchange. When placing mulch, care should be taken so that the actual trunk of the tree is not covered. This may cause decay of the living bark at the base of the tree. A mulch free area, one to two inches wide at the base of the tree, is sufficient to avoid moist bark conditions and prevent decay.

8. Follow-up care.

Keep the soil moist but not soaked, overwatering will cause leaves to turn yellow or fall off. Water trees at least once a week, barring rain, and more frequently during hot weather. When the soil is dry below the surface of the mulch, it is time to water. Continue until mid-fall tapering off for lower temperatures that require less frequent watering.

Other follow-up care may include minor pruning of branches damaged during the planting process. Prune sparingly immediately after planting, and wait to begin necessary corrective pruning until after a full season of growth in the new location.

After you've completed these eight simple steps, further routine care and favorable weather conditions will ensure that your new tree or shrub will grow and thrive. A valuable asset to any landscape, trees provide a long-lasting source of beauty and enjoyment for people of all ages. When questions arise about the care of your tree, be sure to consult One Step for assistance.

Trees and Turf

We’ve all seen thinning grass under large shade trees; large surface tree roots that cause safety hazards and mowing obstacles; young trees that don’t seem to grow; and tree trunks badly damaged by lawn mowers or string trimmers. All of these undesirable affects can be caused by trees and turf growing too closely together.

Woody plants and turfgrasses are both critical components of design plans for homes, offices and parks. Trees and turf offer distinct personal, functional, and environmental benefits. Personal preferences for color, fragrance and form should complement the functional properties of size, shape, density, and placement of plant material.

Turfgrasses provide many of the same environmental benefits as trees. They (1) change carbon dioxide into the oxygen we breathe; (2) cool the air by changing water into water vapor; (3) stabilize dust; (4) entrap air polluting gases; and (5) control erosion.
Turfgrasses, in addition to being environmentally beneficial, are attractive in formal and informal designs. There are many advantages to combining trees and turf in the landscape.


When trees and turf are used in the same areas, extra attention must be given to plant material selection in addition to the usual hardiness, climatic and soil needs. An effort should be made to make the trees and lawn compatible. Grass is generally a sun-loving plant. Most grass species will not grow well in areas that get less than 50 percent open sunlight; however, new varieties with improved shade tolerance are being introduced. Consult your garden center specialist or sod producer for recommendations of shade-tolerant grasses for your area.

In areas where the lawn is the primary design feature, select woody plants that do the least damage to grass growth and maintenance. The woody plants should be small, have an open canopy (trees that allow sunlight to penetrate to the ground) or have a high canopy. Select trees that do not root near the soil surface; surface rooting is most serious where a shallow topsoil is present. Remember, tree roots get larger as the tree gets older.


Trees, shrubs, ground covers, and lawn grasses all require sunlight, water and rooting space for growth. Each plant in the landscape competes with the neighboring plant regardless of types or species. Some even produce chemicals that are exuded from roots to restrict growth of nearby plants. For each plant to do well, it must have adequate space. Since perennial woody plants increase in size each year, they require additional space over time. The landscape design should provide adequate space for these plants.

While shade may be the greatest negative, tree-related influence on turf growth, tree roots also create problems. Contrary to general thinking, most tree roots are in the top three feet of soil. More importantly, the majority of fine, absorbing roots are in the top six inches of soil. While grass roots ordinarily occupy a much greater percentage of the soil volume than the tree roots and out-compete them for water and nutrients, especially around young trees, grass root density is often much lower in areas where trees were established first. In these situations, tree roots compete much better for water and nutrients and prevent or reduce the success of establishing new turf.
Competition is especially important when transplanting, seeding or sodding. The newest plant in the area must be given special treatment and must receive adequate water, nutrients and sunlight. This frequently means that competing sod should be removed from around transplanted trees and shrubs, or that some of the lower branches should be removed from existing trees above a newly sodded lawn.
Mulching is an alternative to turf around trees and its use eliminates potential competition. A 2 to 4 inch layer of wood chips, bark or other organic material over the tree rooting space is recommended because it: (1) helps to retain soil moisture; (2) helps to reduce weeds and control grass; (3) increases soil fertility when mulch decomposes; (4) improves appearance; (5) protects the trunk from injuries caused by mowing equipment and trimmers that often result in serious tree damage or death; and (6) improves soil structure (better aeration, temperature and moisture conditions).

Maintenance practices

Maintenance practices for trees and turf are different and treatment of one can unintentionally damage the other. Because tree and grass roots exist together in the upper 6 to 8 inches of the topsoil, treatment of one may damage the other. Fertilizer applied to one plant will also be absorbed by the roots of a nearby plant. Normally this is good; but excessive fertilization of either trees or turf can result in tree-crown or grass-blade growth greater than that desired.

Trees and shrubs are broadleaved plants as are most weeds in lawns. Many herbicides or weed killers that are used in turf can cause severe damage to trees when misapplied. This can occur on windy days causing the drift to fall on non-target plants or on hot days when the herbicide may vaporize and diffuse into the air. While most herbicides do not kill tree roots, some, such as soil sterilants and a few others do. Herbicides that can cause tree damage have statements on their labels warning against using the product “near trees.”

Problems can also result from misuse of other pesticides and fertilizers. Label instructions should be followed precisely, and pesticides/foliar fertilizers should not be applied on windy days. Consult your garden center staff for advice on pesticide selection and use.

Watering of lawns is beneficial to trees if the watering is done correctly. Trees need the equivalent of one inch of rain every seven to ten days. Applying frequent, shallow watering does not properly meet the needs of either trees or turf and can be harmful to both.

Turf growing under or near trees should be mowed at the top of its recommended mowing height. Mowing off no more than one-third of the grass blade’s height and letting the clippings remain on the lawn will do much to ensure a healthy and vigorous lawn. In an ideal situation, tree and turf maintenance would be handled by the same individual in order to maximize the benefits of all maintenance practices.

Special situations

Construction damage prior to lawn establishment.

Compaction of topsoil containing tree roots by heavy equipment kills more trees around homes than disease organisms. Compaction is greatest when the soil is wet. Consult a tree care expert about tree protection prior to home construction projects.

Fill dirt around existing trees.

Fill dirt is frequently added around existing mature trees so that a level or more visually desirable lawn can be established. Fill dirt changes the ratio of oxygen to carbon dioxide around tree roots and the roots may die. Consult a tree care expert before adding fill constructing soil wells around tree trunks.

Establishing lawns around existing trees.

Preparation of a seedbed for lawns requires disruption of the upper 4 to 6 inches of topsoil. This soil contains the feeder roots of trees. Damage to tree roots often results in declining tree tops.

Tree root buffers created with turf.

A sufficiently wide strip of turfgrass between trees and hard surfaces such as building foundations, sidewalks and roads can help to reduce the potential damage caused by tree roots as well as provide an area where water and nutrients can soak into the soil and be beneficial to both turf and trees.

Lawn watering in arid sites.

Homes are sometimes built in woodlots. In the West, this is especially damaging when dryland trees encounter watering required to maintain grass. Excess water at the tree trunk encourages growth of fungi that can kill trees.

Numerous other special situations exist. Sod producers, arborists or garden center operators will have suggestions for correcting or alleviating problems that may arise concerning trees and turf.

Think turfgrass growing around trunk-scarred, weak trees need not be a common sight in the landscape. With proper preplanning, proper plant selection and placement, and reasonable management, the many and varied benefits of both trees and turf can be readily achieved.

Landscape In Drought Conditions

Landscape Plants

Common symptoms of inadequate water for trees and shrubs include leaf scorch, wilting, premature coloration and leaf drop. The consequence of all of this is a reduction in carbohydrate production, leaving the plants experiencing stress and becoming more susceptible to damage by insects and diseases. In addition, if plants are stressed in the fall they are more susceptible to winter freezing damage and dieback.

Steps you can take during drought situations.

1. Irrigate plants thoroughly. Recently transplanted woody plants need special attention due to their limited root systems. During periods of prolonged drought even established plants need to be irrigated. Water slowly in order to percolate down into the soil rather than run off the surface. Containers that hold water and let moisture slowly trickle out can make this process easier. A commercially available product called a Treegater® does the job, as does a large plastic bucket with small holes drilled in the bottom or a soaker hose.

2. Mulch plants with a 2 to 4 inch layer of organic material (shredded bark, bark nuggets, wood chips, etc.) to conserve soil moisture, reduce weed problems and improve soil structure.

3. Inspect all plants for insect and disease problems and manage them as necessary.

4. Prune out dead branches immediately.

5. Do not fertilize. If fertilization is necessary, wait until adequate soil moisture is present to avoid fertilizer burn.



  • Improves soil structure
  • Adds organic matter
  • Aerates
  • Retains soil moisture by reducing soil water loss
  • Encourages root development
  • Suppresses weeds
  • Protects against temperature extremes
  • Reduces erosion


Organic mulch

  • Shredded pine bark, cedar, wood chips
  • As they decompose, they add beneficial organic matter to the soil


  • Mineral base, stone, brick chips, lava rock
  • Tend not to blow around
  • Generates heat

Proper technique:

Proper depth should be 2-4", over mulching can lead to plant suffocation.

Never bury stems or pile mulch up against the trunks of trees and shrubs.

This holds moisture in the wrong place leading to rot, decay, dieback and even plant death. Trunk flares should always be visible.

Leave an area of approximately 2-3" around the base of the plants clear of any mulch.

Make mulch donuts, not mulch volcanoes.