By Kay DiVerde
After you've taken the time to plan the landscaping in your yard, and to plant the varieties of plants and trees that fit your style and lifestyle, the last job is to maintain the yard. If you planned correctly, you considered the amount of maintenance each plant and tree would require. Providing your yard with the required maintenance will save you from having to spend time correcting problems.
The key to lawn care is to provide it with constant and consistent care. Get into a regular habit of mowing the grass. Be sure to alternate directions each time to prevent a striped look. Alternating your path also cuts the grass blades more sharply and evenly. In the dry summer, cut the grass higher to conserve water and to crowd out crabgrass. In shady areas, also cut the grass higher or less often. If you mow often enough, the clippings can stay on the lawn. The short pieces will decompose quickly and will give the soil nutrients. Edging and trimming are not a must, but they do give your lawn a neater appearance. Take care not to damage tree bark while edging.
In addition to mowing on a regular basis, water your grass deeply and thoroughly about one inch a week or not at all. Even when grasses go dormant in the dry summer, once rain returns they usually turn green quickly. You can make the grass strong and healthy to withstand drought and control weeds by applying fertilizer. In the spring, opt for a 2:1:1 fertilizer ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus and potash. In the fall, use a 1:2:2 ratio fertilizer. For every 1,000 square feet, apply about 4 pounds of fertilizer. Choose a slow-release fertilizer. Fertilizing and thriving grass are the best control for weeds and pests. The best time to reseed bare spots is in the early fall or spring.
Plants, trees and shrubs also need watering if you get less than an inch of rain each week during active growth time. It is best to water early in the morning or late in the afternoon, so there is time for the foliage to dry before nightfall. Any newly set plants will need more frequent watering. A new tree can take up to five gallons of water each week, and it can take up to three years for a new tree to establish good root systems. Along with watering, your plants need to be fed at least once in the early spring. Annuals and woody plants need to be fed again in the summer or after any pruning. Feed perennials whenever buds form. Bulbs need feeding at planting time.
Cut your work level and promote growth by using mulch. Not only does it cut down on weeds (saving you weeding-pulling time), it conserves moisture and lets it reach the plant roots. If you choose an organic mulch, it will decompose to add extra nutrients to the soil. Mulch also helps the soil temperatures to stay more even. It also increases earthworm and bacterial action in the soil.
Even with mulch, you may need to weed ground covers until they have spread. Every few years, you will need to separate perennials. Each spring add new annuals to your flower gardens. Throughout the flowering season, remove all dead flowers.
Young trees can require a little extra care the first few years. Stake the new trees to keep them straight. Keep the amount of support to a minimum the first couple of years to allow the tree to get used to some wind. During a young tree's first winter, wrap its trunk with tree wrap or heavy paper for extra protection.
Pruning is an essential maintenance job in order to keep shape and healthy growth in your trees and shrubs. Ornamental trees require little pruning except to begin a proper shape. In general, trees need to be pruned to a central leader. Fight the urge to top trees. This will cause shrubby growth. Remove dead, broken, crowded or diseased branches and ones that form too low or are at too narrow angles with the trunk. Trim lower side branches that may take over too much of the tree. When it is later cut away, it may leave an unsightly canopy. Prune shrubs and vines to keep their shape and keep them in place.
Providing regular care to your yard is essential. The amount of time required depends on how elaborate your landscaping pis. A well thought-out plan should have taken into consideration the amount of required maintenance. Don't turn your yardwork into a chore. Make it part of a regular routine and enjoy the time outdoors. Your family will enjoy your work's benefits all year long.
Kay DiVerde is a freelance writer, horticultural researcher and consultant for Orchard's Edge. DiVerde also writes for a variety of newsletters and publications in the Midwest.