Category: Lawn Care

7 Uses For Fallen Leaves

By the time autumn hits full swing, many trees will have shed their leaves for the season, and the last vestiges of red, yellow and orange magic will have faded to brown. Raking, blowing and collecting leaves becomes the primary chores of lawn and yard maintenance, and presents most homeowners with large piles of gathered leaves to tend to. It is impossible to count just how many leaves fall to the ground each year, or just how many pounds of leaves get collected curbside, but the numbers are substantial. Cleaning up leaves is considerable work, but not all of those leaves need to be carted away. In fact, there are several different uses of leaves that can be beneficial.

1. Spread leaves as a protective mulch to cover tender perennials or root crops/bulbs in the ground. The leaves will form a natural insulating cover that keeps the soil and the plants within a bit warmer over winter.

2. Create a pile of leaves that will break down and form a crumbly, compost-like material called leaf mold. Even though leaf mold may sound like a blight, it’s actually a good amendment to garden soil, improving its structure and ability to hold water. Leaf mold also attracts beneficial organisms that are vital in healthy soil.

3. Brown leaves can be added to green materials in compost piles to improve the health of the compost being formed. According to the healthy living resource Care2, the ideal ratio is 75 percent brown to 25 percent green materials in compost. Turn compost piles regularly to aerate them.

4. Store dried, mulched leaves in a dry spot so they can be used in the spring as a weed barrier for spring plantings. They will keep weeds at bay and help retain soil moisture to ensure small sprouts have the resources to grow.

5. Use shredded leaves as a lawn supplement. Pass a lawn mower over leaves left on the lawn to break them down into pieces too small to rake. This will help keep the lawn healthy throughout the winter without blocking out needed sunlight.

6. Bag dried leaves and pack them tightly together in cold areas of the home, such as basements or garages. They can act as added insulation. Bags of leaves also can be placed around planting containers to protect them from frost.

7. Gather a few of the best-looking leaves and preserve them. Use an iron on a low setting and press leaves between two pieces of waxed paper until the waxed paper seals together. Or use clear contact paper to achieve the same effect. Fallen leaves can be used in many different ways throughout the year.

Problems That Can Lead to Lawn Damage

A beautiful lawn is a goal for many homeowners. Some homeowners may find that lovely lawns may last momentarily, only to disappear when damage – be it pest-, weather- or child-related – sets in.

While well-established turf can be resilient, even the most well-maintained lawns can be vulnerable. Preventing lawn damage first involves getting to the root of the problem.

· Lack of sunlight: All plants need the proper ratio of sunlight to grow. Too much sunlight and plant blades can scorch. Too little sunlight and grass may turn brown and die. Although there are shade-tolerant varieties of grass, homeowners also can explore alternative landscapes. Work in a garden bed or create a design that utilizes gravel or mulch. Avoid aggressively pruning back trees to give the lawn more sunlight in that area, as this may just damage the trees.

· Chemical spills: Gasoline and fertilizer spills and pesticide applications in high concentrations can cause the lawn to yellow or brown in spots. Carefully refill lawn gas tanks and fertilizer spreaders on the sidewalk or driveway to avoid overflow onto the lawn. If spills occur, flood the area promptly with water to dilute.

· Foot traffic: Lawns can take a pounding from foot traffic, leading to compaction and spots of dead lawn. Try to redirect the traffic elsewhere to give worn down areas a break. Aeration can relieve soil compaction. If a certain area has become the de facto pathway, install a paver, gravel or concrete walkway in that spot.

· Debris: Leaving a tool, kids’ toys, piece of wood, or any debris on the lawn can quickly suffocate the grass beneath and cause the lawn to die quickly. Make sure that no items are left on the lawn for an extended period of time.

· Mowing patterns: Running the mower in the same pattern over and over can cause ruts in the grass that lead to damage, so avoid mowing in the same direction on consecutive cuts. Avoid mowing on very hot days or when the lawn is soggy. Both can cause tracks to form in the lawn.

· Mowers: Dull lawn mower blades can damage lawns, as can mowing too fast. Grass blades can be torn, snapped and more, resulting in brown spots.

· Wildlife: Animals and insects can destroy turf roots. Animals or insects may feed on the grass from underneath its surface, compromising the lawn’s ability to procure nutrients and water. Animals like moles or raccoons may feed on grubs in the lawn, and treating for grubs can alleviate torn-up turf.

Lawns can be hearty, but they’re also highly susceptible to damage. Even seemingly harmless things can compromise the integrity of a lawn. Understanding the causes of lawn damage can help homeowners protect their lawns.

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Stay Safe When Landscaping

Landscaping is typically viewed as a chore by homeowners, many of who enjoy doing some work on their lawns and gardens. But only few homeowners may recognize the potential dangers of lawn maintenance.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that more than 230,000 people per year are treated for various injuries resulting from lawn and garden tools. Common injuries include loss of fingers, lacerations, broken and dislocated bones, eye injuries, and burns. Many of these injuries are entirely preventable if homeowners prioritize safety when tending to their lawns and gardens.

Understand the equipment

Homeowners should not assume they know how to use all of the tools necessary to maintain lush lawns and bountiful gardens. Familiarize yourself with the proper operation of manual and motorized equipment by reading the owner’s manual thoroughly, making special note of recommended safety guidelines.

Take some time to locate the power buttons and other parts by comparing them to illustrations in the guide. Once you feel comfortable handling the equipment, then you can begin to use it.

Wear appropriate protective gear

Failure to wear protective gear can lead to injury. Personal protective equipment includes gloves, eye protection, ear protection, boots, and a hard hat if necessary. When working during visibility conditions or at night, wear a reflective vest.

Other protective items include a hat to shade your eyes from the sun’s rays. Sunscreen will protect the skin from UVA and UVB radiation. Long pants and sleeves can guard against flying debris.

Watch your surroundings

Thousands of injuries occur to children and pets who get hurt around mowers. It’s best if children and pets remain indoors when homeowners are mowing or using other power equipment that may kick up debris. Children under the age of 12 may not have the strength or ability to operate lawn tools. Also, never make a game of riding a child on a riding mower. Nobody under the age of 16 should operate riding lawn mowers.

Get approval before digging

It’s difficult to know what is beneath the ground without having a property surveyed and marked. Digging without approval can result in damage to gas lines or water/sewer pipes. Always check with the utility company before digging trenches or holes.

Unplug or turn off all equipment

When not in use, keep lawn equipment off. Do not try to repair or fix a snag or obstruction in equipment while it is on. Don’t modify the equipment in any way, such as removing protective guards.

Exercise caution with chemicals

Follow manufacturers’ safety instructions when using pesticides or fertilizers. Avoid application on windy days or right before a rainstorm, as this can spread the product and damage the ecosystem. Keep people and pets away from treated areas.

Maintaining the yard is both a necessity and a hobby. Homeowners who prioritize safety can greatly reduce their risk of injury.

Identifying Problems That Can Threaten Lush Lawns

Landscaping can be a rewarding hobby that instills a sense of pride in homeowners. Whether you prefer to get your hands dirty planting perennials or devote the bulk of your attention to crafting a lush, green lawn, chances are you will run into a problem during lawn and garden season.

Some problems are easy to identify, while others are more complex. The following are a handful of diseases homeowners may encounter when spending time on maintaining their lawns and gardens over the next several months.

Anthracnose

Anthracnose is a term used to describe various diseases that produce a host of unsightly symptoms. Those symptoms include tan to brown leaf spots or blotches; distorted, cupped or curled leaves; irregular defoliation, such as leaves falling in spring; and dieback, a condition in which trees or shrubs begin to die from the tips of their leaves or roots backward. Permanent damage due to anthracnose is rare, but the diseases can weaken trees over time and that can leave them vulnerable to pest infestations.

Brown Patch

Brown patch is unsightly and most likely to occur during summer. According to the Penn State Center for Turfgrass Science, perennial ryegrass, tall fescue and bentgrasses are the grass species most susceptible to brown patch. When a lawn is suffering from brown patch, its leaves and stems die out in large, circular patches. In high-cut grasses, these patches can stretch from a few inches to several feet. Tall fescue grasses may not exhibit symptoms of brown patch in patches. In such instances, the brown patch may be noticeable on individual leaves that feature tan or light brown lesions, and the Center for Turfgrass Science notes that these lesions will be surrounded by dark brown borders.

Dollar Spot

The American Phytopathological Society notes that dollar spot refers to a disease of the leaves of turfgrass. Grasses suffering from dollar spot will have white to straw-colored lesions that progress downward from the leaf tip or laterally across leaf blades. Leaf blades affected by dollar spot may have several small lesions or one large lesion, and in some instances, the entire leaf blade may be affected. Turfgrass affected by dollar spot may be susceptible to weed invasions.

Summer Patch

Summer patch is most common in warm climates and is characterized by yellow to straw-colored patches that can be several inches or several feet in diameter. According to Scotts Lawnservice, summer patch is often linked to shallow root systems that result from poor soil conditions. Large swaths of grass suffering from summer patch can be an eyesore, appearing as though the grass has burned under the summer sun.

Lawns, gardens, trees and shrubs are susceptible to the elements. Identifying lawn diseases quickly can help homeowners find solutions before the problems escalate.

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Post-Winter Garden Prep

Lawns and gardens can bear the brunt of winter weather and are often in need of tender loving care by the time spring arrives.

Preparing a garden for spring and summer involves assessing any damage that harsh weather might have caused. As temperatures climb, gardeners can heed the following post-winter garden preparation tips in an effort to ensure some successful gardening in the months ahead.

· Assess the damage. Even if winter was mild, gardens might still have suffered some damage. Inspect garden beds and any fencing or barriers designed to keep wildlife from getting into the garden. Before planting anew, fix any damage that Mother Nature or local wildlife might have caused over the past several months.

· Clear debris. Garden beds and surrounding landscapes that survived winter without being damaged might still be littered with debris. Remove fallen leaves, branches and even litter that blew about on windy winter days before planting season. Make sure to discard any debris effectively so it does not find its way back into the garden.

· Turn the greenhouse into a clean house. Spring cleaning is not just for the interior of a home. Cleaning a greenhouse in advance of spring can help gardeners evict any overwintering pests that can threaten plant life once spring gardening season arrives. A thorough cleaning, which should include cleaning the inside of greenhouse glass and washing flower pots and plant trays, also can prevent plant diseases from surviving into spring.

· Check for pests. Speak with a local gardening professional to determine if there are any local pests to look out for and how to recognize and remove these pets from gardens. Pests may hibernate in the soil over the winter, and such unwelcome visitors can make it difficult for gardens to thrive come spring and summer.

· Assess plant location. If plants, flowers or gardens have struggled in recent years or never grew especially vibrant, then gardeners may want to assess the location of their plant life before spring gardening season begins. Some plants may not be getting enough sunlight in certain locations on a property, while others might be overexposed to the sun during spring and summer. Moving plants that are not thriving prior to the start of spring gardening season may be just what gardens need to flourish in the coming weeks.

Spring gardening season is right around the corner, so now is an ideal time to prepare gardens for the warmer seasons ahead.

A More Eco-Friendly Lawn is Just Steps Away

Maintaining a lush lawn is a healthy and rewarding hobby that affords homeowners to spend some time outdoors in nature. Lawn enthusiasts can make their hobby even healthier by adopting several eco-friendly lawn care strategies that not only make for a healthier lawn, but a healthier planet as well.

Responsible landscaping has grown increasingly popular in recent years, as more and more homeowners are adopting eco-friendly lawn care practices in the same way they have embraced environmentally conscious behaviors in other areas of their lives. The following are a handful of ways lawn care enthusiasts can incorporate eco-friendly practices into their landscaping routines.

Maintain an appropriate grass height

When temperatures start to peak in summer, homeowners may be tempted to cut their grass as close as possible so they can reduce the number of afternoons they spend riding or pushing a mower in the hot sun. But cutting too low makes the grass increasingly susceptible to infestations and disease, and such problems may need to be remedied with potentially harmful pesticides if no other approach proves effective. Even if it means an extra afternoon or two mowing under the hot sun, maintaining an appropriate grass height can lead to a healthier lawn, as longer grass soaks up more sunlight, allowing it to grow a deep root system that will help a lawn survive drought and other potential problems.

Cut back on harmful pesticides

Many homeowners now prefer to avoid pesticides at all costs, but sometimes pesticides are a last resort when lawns are falling victim to harmful insects and organisms. Homeowners who want to embrace more eco-friendly lawn care practices can cut back on their use of pesticides, first trying more environmentally friendly options. For example, biopesticides are made from naturally occurring materials, including animals, plants, bacteria, and certain minerals. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, biopesticides are often inherently less toxic than more conventional pesticides. In addition, biopesticides typically affect only the pest causing the problem, whereas broad spectrum pesticides may affect surrounding organisms, such as birds and mammals, in addition to the targeted pest. The EPA (www.epa.gov) advises homeowners hoping to use biopesticides first learn about managing pests so they can effectively remedy problems on their properties.

Harvest rainwater

Lawns need water, especially when temperatures rise in the summer. But watering lawns can have an adverse effect on your community’s water supply, draining that supply and hurting the community in the long run. Homeowners who can harvest rainwater can drastically reduce their impact on their community water supply, thereby helping the planet and their community, especially if they reside in locales where water resources are traditionally scarce. When rainwater is harvested, it is collected from downspouts before it washes into nearby sewage systems. Many lawn and garden retailers sell rainwater harvesting systems, which homeowners can install themselves or pay a landscaping professional to install for them.

Lay mulch down around trees, shrubs and flower beds

Trees, shrubs and flower beds need water, especially in the summer when rising temperatures pose a threat to plants. Homeowners can cut back on the water they use to protect those plants by laying organic mulch in the spring. Organic mulch conserves moisture in soil, promoting stronger roots in plants and helping homeowners cut back on the amount of watering they need to maintain a garden that’s both healthy and pleasing to the eye. Organic mulch, which might be made of bark, is also heavy, making it hard for ugly weeds that rob plants of water to thrive.

Maintaining a Bird-friendly Environment This Season

Bird watching is a pastime enjoyed by people of all ages. While many people trek into the woods to see their favorite birds, homeowners can take steps to entice these fascinating and feathered friends right to their backyards.

Homeowners who want to attract birds to their properties can do so by providing the birds food, shelter and places to wash up or cool off. Installing a bird feeder and a bird bath in your yard is one way to attract a bevy of winged creatures that can provide hours of enjoyment.

Establishing a bird-friendly environment may seem as simple as hanging a feeder on a pole or tree and erecting a bird bath nearby. But a certain level of maintenance is needed to keep birds healthy and happy.

According to the experts at the Bird Watcher’s Digest, recent research indicates feeders can sometimes be a source of disease for the birds visiting them. The Audubon Society echoes that warning, saying that bird feeders and baths can serve as transmission stations for diseases such as aspergillosis, avian pox and salmonellosis. Recently, scientists noted that the spread of trichomonad protozoan parasites is on the rise, especially among mourning dove and band-tailed pigeon populations.

Such warnings are not meant to deter budding birding hobbyists. Organizations like the Audobon Society hope that such warnings send the message that disinfection and maintenance is necessary to maintain sanitary environments for birds. Doing so is relatively easy and well worth the time for birding enthusiasts.

• The Humane Society of the United States advises cleaning hanging feeders once every two weeks or more often if they’re heavily used. Ground-feeding designs should be cleaned every two days. Feeders can be immersed in a very-diluted solution of bleach to water (nine parts water to one part bleach). Let soak for a few minutes, and then scrub the feeder with a stiff brush or scouring pad before rinsing. Allow the feeder to dry completely before refilling it with seed.

• Bird baths should be emptied of water each day. Brush or wipe the bath clean, then rinse and refill with fresh water. Do not leave standing water overnight; otherwise bird baths can easily become a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other parasites.

• Frequently collect discarded seed hulls and clean bird droppings from beneath feeders. If the area around the feeder has become especially soiled, relocate the feeder elsewhere and clean its initial location.

• Follow proper instructions with regard to seed and other bird food. For example, reduce the amount of suet offered in hot weather. Heat can cause suet to spoil, and sticky suet can become stuck in birds’ feathers and make it hard for them to keep clean.

• Try to provide more than one feeder and bird bath to prevent overcrowding. Crowding can contribute to the spread of disease.

• Do not situate feeders and bird baths under perches where they can be soiled by droppings.

• If you notice birds look sick or are not acting strangely, halt feeding and bathing to prevent healthy birds from becoming ill. Wait a week before resuming feeding and notify wildlife officials if you find dead or sick birds around your property.

• Locate feeders and baths at least 30 feet away from windows so birds do not get confused by reflections and collide with the glass.

• Store seed in a dry container with a tight-fitting lid to prevent mold from forming and moisture from getting in.

Creating a thriving habitat for bird watching is easier than one might think. But once birds begin visiting a yard, homeowners must diligently maintain clean feeders and bird baths to ensure the birds stay as healthy as possible. Any questions about wild-bird care can be directed to a local Audubon Society chapter or by visiting a pet store or bird hobby center.

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The Importance of Clean Gutters

Every autumn, trees and shrubs take on their brilliant display of reds, oranges, purples, and yellows that mark the end of the growing season. Fall foliage may make for ideal photo backdrops and scenic days in the countryside, but closer to home leaves may be more of a hindrance than an aesthetic pleasure.

The hundreds of leaves that adorn the maples, oaks and other trees near homes will eventually fall as autumn turns into winter. Some will float down to lawns, while others will get lodged in gutters and downspouts, posing problems that can cause substantial and potentially costly problems for homeowners.

Homeowners know that gutter cleaning is an important part of fall home maintenance, but they may not completely understand why. Gutter cleaning can be a messy and time-consuming project, making it a project many homeowners are apt to put off. Waiting to clean gutters can lead to considerable problems, so it’s best to tackle the job well in advance of the winter.

Gutters guide rainwater and runoff from the roof so it drains properly away from homes. When gutters are clogged with leaves, a number of problems can occur.

· Leaks: Water will take the path of least resistance. When clogged gutters do not allow the water to drain away properly, water will find other ways to the ground. It may work itself right into the walls and ceilings of the home. In addition to damaging walls and ceilings, moisture inside the home can promote mold growth. It also makes interior spaces more appealing to pests.

· Excess weight: Gutters are meant to hold the weight of traveling water and not much more. Gutters filled with leaves and other debris can quickly become heavy. This stresses the entire gutter system and can cause the gutters to fall off of the home entirely.

· Nesting areas: Clogged gutters can serve as nesting areas for insects and birds. Mosquitoes and other insects lay eggs in pooling water. Gutters can quickly become breeding spots for harmful pests. Furthermore, birds may nest in gutters, creating unsightly messes and more damage. Seeds that sprout in clogged gutters can grow unchecked.

· Ice-damming: Left untreated, pooled water and leaves in gutters can freeze over. Blocked water can back up and push against the roof, lifting shingles and destroying the roof in the process.

· Foundation trouble: Clogged gutters also may contribute to flooded basements and cracked foundations. Leaking water will pool around the foundation, expanding when frozen and causing cracks in basement and crawlspace walls. It also can cause driveways and other cement areas around the home to sag and crack.

Gutter cleaning should be scheduled in the spring and fall of each year. Homeowners can hire gutter-cleaning services to handle the job or do the job themselves. Rinse the gutters with water from the hose afterward to ensure good run-off. Take the time to seal any leaks as well. This routine maintenance can save homeowners many headaches and prevent some very expensive repairs.


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Creative Ways to Recycle Leaves

Leaves cascading down from trees indicate the arrival of autumn. However, colorful and awe-inspiring autumn leaves can be a hazard if left to lie on the ground too long.

Fallen leaves form a dense insulator to protect trees’ roots and prevent competing plants from growing. Decomposing leaves also provide nutrients for the tree. But wet leaves can be a safety hazard and leaves left on the lawn through the winter can pose a threat to the grass. These are just a couple of reasons why so much effort is placed on leaf clean-up in the fall. The following are some creative ways to recycle leaves that fall from your trees in the weeks to come.

· Mulch: Shredded leaves can make for a great amendment to fertilizer for garden beds and even the lawn. Leaves lying on the grass can be mulched into small pieces with a mulching mower so they don’t choke the blades of grass. Leaves also can be broken down with a string trimmer, a leaf blower that has a vacuum function or a commercial shredder/chipper. Add the shredded leaves to a compost pile or use them to fill container plants before adding regular potting soil.

· Insulation: Collect leaves to mound over delicate perennial plants and shrubs. The leaves will add more warmth to the soil and may help plants make it through harsh winters. Just remove the leaves slowly when spring arrives so that the soil underneath can get the sunlight and water it needs to thrive. Leave some leaves in the yard so that animals can use them as nesting material and line their dens for the winter.

· Stuffing: Create whimsical scarecrows as part of your autumn decoration scheme. Gather older clothes that you no longer use and stuff the sleeves of shirts and the legs of pants with leaves, which are less expensive and easier to come by than straw. Use a few pieces of straw around the neck and hand areas of the scarecrow for visual effect. Tie off with twine and display your scarecrow.

· Bedding: Chicken owners can use fallen leaves as bedding in their chicken coops. Dry leaves also may create more comfortable and drier conditions for goats and other livestock. Goats may look to recently fallen leaves as a nutritious food source. Gather the leaves and let the goats munch before you further rake and compost the leaves.

· Decorations: Natural leaves can be used as decorations both inside and outside a home. String freshly fallen leaves together and wrap them around a grapevine wreath for a rustic door decoration. Leaves can be placed in clear vases and put on display for a cheap way to showcase some autumn color. Preserve favorite leaves with a lamination machine or by sealing them between heated sheets of waxed paper. Cut out the leaf shapes and use for hanging window decorations.

· Recreation: Leaves have long been favorite toys for children, who eagerly await jumping into large piles of fallen leaves. Fill paper bags with leaves and draw a target on the front. Let kids test their skill aiming for the targets. Children can camouflage their clothing with leaves and masking tape and have a more intense session of “hide and seek.”


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Help Plants Survive Sizzling Summer Heat

Many people consider summer the most enjoyable time of year, as the summer sun and warm breezes make the season perfect for rest and relaxation. But the months of June, July and August, which are often characterized by rising temperatures and stifling humidity, can be tough to endure as well.

When summer heat becomes especially uncomfortable, humans can simply head indoors and beat the heat in air conditioned buildings and homes. Plant life is not so lucky, and homeowners may need to take steps to help the plant life on their properties survive the summer heat.

· Monitor soil moisture. Soil moisture, or a lack thereof, can help homeowners determine if their plants are struggling to survive the heat. To check soil moisture levels, use a ruler or even your finger, sticking either two inches into the ground where you suspect the soil is drying out. If the soil is damp two inches below the surface, then your plants are likely retaining enough moisture to withstand the heat. If the soil is dry two inches below, then you may want to give the soil a deep soak.

· Keep an eye on container gardens. Containers may have an especially difficult time staying moist in the summer heat. That’s particularly true for containers that sit in direct sunlight. Water container gardens daily during summer heat waves, being sure to adhere to any local water restrictions.

· Lay down mulch. Mulch helps insulate and protect soil during summer, when soil can quickly dry out. When applied correctly (ideally before summer temperatures get too hot), mulch helps the soil conserve moisture and prevents weed growth. Weeds can rob soil of the water it needs to promote strong root systems, which can help plants get the nutrients they need to withstand summer heat. Mulched soils also do not experience the fluctuations in temperature that non-mulched soils can experience during summer heat waves, helping plants to grow evenly.

· Move plants when possible. Plant location can affect their chances of surviving summer heat. Driveways lined with flowers or other plants may look nice, but driveways exposed to the sun can radiate heat at temperatures that exceed the temperatures noted on the thermometer. If possible, move plants to locations on your property that are less exposed to the heat and/or less likely to be affected by the heat. Move container plants beneath trees on hot days, and consider summer heat waves before planting new flower beds.

Summer heat can be especially harmful to plant life. But homeowners can employ various strategies to protect the plant life on their properties when temperatures rise during the dog days of summer.


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