published Saturday, March 16th, 2013

Preventative maintenance: Your lawn, garden need it, too

Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia homeowners don't have it easy when it comes to lawn maintenance.

That's because the area, according to Outsidepride.com, is in a transitional zone.

"Grasses used in Tennessee consist of warm-season and cool-season grasses," according to the website. "What this means is that summer ... is too hot for cool-season grasses to perform well, and winters are often cold enough to injure or kill warm-season grasses. Unfortunately, maintaining lawn grasses in the transition zone is more difficult than in many other parts of the United States."

Nobody has to tell Southeast Tennessee transplant Dan Howard about the difficulties. The professional landscaper has noticed the trend away from cool-season grasses since moving to the area from Seattle in 1987.

"I've observed a warming and drying trend," he says. "Warm-season zoysia and bermuda [grasses] are becoming ascendant."

Since the region is beginning to warm for spring, it's time for homeowners to prepare for the onslaught of grass and its best friends, weeds.

"If you want to have a turf-quality lawn," says Howard, "you need to have a lawn chemical program -- to contract with someone for five or six treatments." A local contractor should be used for better service, he says.

An automatic irrigation system would make an even bigger difference by keeping the lawn well watered, Howard says.

Since most homeowners don't have the desire or cash to maintain a turf-quality lawn, he says, there are other things that can be done. One of those is to use a pre-emergent weed killer.

"It's critical to do that right away to keep them from coming up," he says. "A rule of thumb is [to apply it] when forsythia plants bloom, and they're struggling to bloom right now."

Sam Brown, owner and landscape architect at Fiddleheads Garden Center in Dalton, Ga., says pre-emergents are best "if you've got a good stand of grass."

"If the grass in thinning," he says, you can overseed instead to fill in the gaps.

"In our area," Howard adds, "you cannot go wrong by putting down lime. It helps the grass uptake the nutrients that are there [in the soil]."

That's especially true, he says, if the soil of the lawn is too acid-based on the measurement of a pH scale. You can take a sample of your soil to your county extension agent to get it tested.

In the few weeks before the grass begins to grow with abandon, Brown says, homeowners should consider taking their mowers and other lawn equipment in for service. Otherwise, he says, once the repair shops get busy, "you may have to wait a while."

The first mowing, according to Brown, should come well after the pre-emergent is applied. Depending on the growth, he says, eager lawn jockeys may just want to "get out and top it off with a slight haircut." However, "I typically let it grow out a little bit."

Beyond preseason grass maintenance, Brown says homeowners can prune areas where spring-flowering plants will emerge and prepare beds and soil for planting "annuals, perennials and what-not."

For raised vegetable gardens, he says, homeowners should "start amending the soil and getting tilled-in leaf compost or whatever you prefer" for veggie-growing season.

Gardening experts say the last frost also should signal activities for homeowners. For Chattanooga, the average last freeze is April 1 and the average last frost is April 14.

"You want to get your shrubs and trees in as soon as possible [after the last freeze]," says Brown. "They need to establish their root systems before we hit the July 100s."

A good root system will help them withstand both the heat and the common summer drought, he says.

Howard says waiting until after the last freeze for remulching flower and plant beds will provide "better bug kill-off." Preseason edging between the lawn and planted beds will help the mulch stay in place, too, he says.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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