The month of June has been officially recognized as “Great Outdoors Month.” With the pleasant weather and the end of the school year, many folks will begin spending a lot more time outside this month. June is a popular time for family vacations into the “Great Outdoors” at a favorite beach or one of our beautiful National Parks. It is also a time when we find ourselves spending more time in our own “Great Outdoors,” be it working in the garden or relaxing on the patio with family and friends around the grill. During the upcoming summer months it is important to that you remember to take certain precautions to make sure that both you and your landscape emerge from the heat of the summer in good health and good spirits!
You can help keep your house cool and your energy costs low with strategic placement of plant material. Large deciduous shade trees planted on the South and West sides of your house can keep your home cool and reduce your air-conditioning expenses by as much as 50%. (By using deciduous trees, when the leaves of your trees fall off in the fall you will still get the benefit of solar heating during the winter months!) The shady area under a large tree can be up to 9 degrees cooler than the surrounding air so they can provide a welcome respite for you too as you work in the yard. It is also a good idea to use trees and shrubs to shade your outdoor air-conditioning unit, but be sure not to plant so closely that you restrict air flow to the unit. Maintaining proper air flow and shading your air conditioner will ensure that it runs as efficiently as possible.
When you are working outside in your yard be sure to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and possible heat stroke. It is best to try to plan do your outdoor work in the morning or evening when temperatures are cooler, however if you plan to be outside working strenuously on a hot day, a good rule of thumb is to drink 4 to 8 ounces of water for every 15 minutes you work. Do not wait until you feel thirsty as that is an early signal that your body is ALREADY dehydrated! Stick to water and avoid sodas and alcohol as those can actually increase dehydration problems. Be sure to continue drinking fluids even after you have come back indoors for the day to replenish what you lost sweating during your work.
Like you, your plants and lawn will also require more water in the summertime. Although it is most important to make sure your plants get sufficient water whenever you can, the best time to water is in the early morning. Afternoon watering is not efficient because so much of it is lost to evaporation before it even gets to the plant, and evening watering is not encouraged because it can create an environment more favorable for diseases that can harm your turf and plants. Most turf and plant material will be fine if they receive 1” of water (rain or irrigation) every 7-10 days. It is best to water deeply on a less frequent basis to make sure that plenty of moisture is reaching the root zone. Frequent, but short watering encourages shallow root growth that is harmful to your lawn and plants over time and makes them far more likely to succumb to drought or disease in the future. Any recently installed plant material will require even more water for several weeks while the roots get established, so pay special attention to those plantings to make sure your investment does not wither away!
Other ways to help your plants through the dry summer months include making sure you have a good mulch layer or groundcover plantings to cover your beds. These will help retain soil moisture and also reduce the growth of weeds that complete with your landscape plants for precious water. Spring and fall are the best times for planting, dividing, and transplanting perennials, so if those tasks are on your to-do list, you would be best off to wait until temperatures cool and rains increase in late August and September. If you do plant now, just remember to be extra vigilant about watering. Choose plant material that is drought tolerant so that they can withstand long periods of little rainfall without requiring extra work on your part to keep them hydrated. Often native plants are most hardy because they have become adapted to our climate and weather patterns. Mow your grass at a height of no less than 3” and leave the clippings on the lawn. Unless you want to fertilize and water with the frequency of a golf course, you should not mow your personal lawn as though it was one!
One more very important tip is to protect your skin from the sun. Skin cancers are the most common form of cancer in the United States and most of these are due to sun damage and are preventable. You can get a sunburn even on a cloudy day, if you are outdoors long enough, so always wear sunscreen with at least an SPF 15 rating. When you are working outside, wear a hat with a wide brim to protect your face and neck as an extra precaution. Finally, seek the shade of a large tree or pergola over your patio from time to time to take a break; this will also help prevent heat exhaustion.
Spending time in the “Great Outdoors” is an American pastime; there is nothing like being outside on a sunny, warm summer day. Whether you are at a ball game, on a boat, or just mowing the lawn, if you follow these simple tips, you can make sure that you and your landscape beat the heat this summer. After all, you want to be sure that both you and your plants are in peak condition when it comes time for the bright colors of fall!
If you like to spend your hard earned money on lawn waste bags, cram them full of grass clippings, and then drag them to the curb for pick up, don’t bother reading this. However, if you wish that you could make your lawn cutting chore a little easier, a little cheaper, and help the earth while you are at it, you might want to read on.
First of all, lawn waste bags are an unnecessary waste of paper. We may have to cut the grass, but we shouldn’t have to cut down trees to use for hauling away those clippings! Grass clippings are made mostly of moisture and nitrogen. You pay good money, in the form of fertilizers, to put nitrogen on your lawn to make it grow, be lush, and have a healthy green color. Why haul away all the fertilizer that you’ve paid for? Don’t waste more of your own money by bagging your lawn clippings which is a completely unnecessary process. Leave it on your lawn and not at the local landfill.
The most common misconception that leads to homeowners bagging grass clippings is the thought that clippings contribute to lawn thatch. This could not be any more incorrect. Lawn clippings contribute less than 3% to a lawns thatch layer. The thatch layer is primarily made up of un-decomposed dead stems and roots that become matted. So what causes thatch you might ask? Stressing the lawn is the number one reason for lawn thatch build up. Ok, great you say, so, what stresses the lawn? The primary stressors are cutting your lawn too short or cutting more than one-third of the total height at any one cutting. Our turf lawns are not putting greens. Turf type lawns should be cut around two and one-half inches to three inches in height. Other stressors are too much water, too little water, too much nitrogen fertilizer or too much compaction, all of which can all lead to an unhealthy lawn. Raising the height at which your mower cuts will make your lawn healthier by encouraging deeper roots which, in turn, make your lawn require less water and be more drought resistant. You’ll save water by cutting your turf higher!
Grass clippings are high in nitrogen and mulching them right back into your lawn makes great sense. You can save yourself the back-breaking effort of bagging, you can save the landfills from unnecessary yard waste and you can put those hard earned nutrients right back into your soil. The only time you will need to remove excess clippings is when you let the lawn go uncut and it gets too tall. Bagging your lawn clippings, on average, can add up to 30 percent more time to an already tedious chore. Often the lawn mower is left running while filling the yard waste bags. This adds fuel to the list of items you are wasting…in addition to time, money, paper, etc. etc. If you feel that you must bag your clippings, consider making a compost pile somewhere on your premises.
Yard waste makes up around 20 percent of all waste material at landfills. Also, bagged grass consumes far more energy by the need of large trucks to haul this unnecessary yard waste to the dumps. You can be the envy of your neighbors by being a better educated and responsible steward of your lawn. Your overall lawn will be healthier, your lawn will remain greener longer and you won’t need to work as hard. All of these benefits and you’ll be helping our environment all at the same time. Dump the bag!