The First 10 Tips for Maintaining Lawns and Gardens

  1. Mowing Lawns in shade

    There is nothing wrong with mowing lawns at 2 different heights. For sunny areas, a height that both the client and contractor is comfortable with, but for shady areas it is essential the lawn is mown at a longer length. Generally in shady areas, the mowing height must be at least 50mm high, and often a height of 60 to 70 mm is best. The extra leaf area is needed to help the lawn survive. Naturally there are other things that can also be done. You can keep fallen leaves off the lawn, prune trees at the appropriate time of the year to reduce shade, attempt to reduce wear, and try to use a more shade tolerant variety of lawn. Even more shade tolerant varieties need 2 to 3 hours sun a day, so if there is less light than this try something other than a lawn. EG; a garden of Mondo, Liriope, Lomandra Tanika or even paving. If the lawn variety you or your client has is failing, try over planting with Viro-Cells of Palmetto Buffalo Turf, which is good in sun or moderate shade areas. These are small cell grown plants that can be planted in the existing lawn, and will gradually take over in the shade. (See Photo.)
  2. Long Deep watering

    Provided relatively tough plants and turf varieties (Warm season, not cool season types) are used, weekly heavy watering is adequate in most parts of Australia, even in summer. Sandy soils may require more than this, but for other soil types it is better to water heavily, say at least 50mm once per week in summer. In the cooler months this can be reduced or even suspended. Long deep infrequent watering encourages the root systems of plants and turf to follow the water deeper into the soil. Frequent shallow watering encourages a shallow root system, and weaker plants and turf. Water authorities around Australia should be encouraging people to water once per week heavily with sprinklers, rather than lots of shallow waterings with a hand held hose. Personally, I believe by allowing even numbered houses to water their gardens with sprinklers on Saturdays, and odd numbers on Sundays, weekly watering would be encouraged, resulting in big water use reductions.
  3. Rescuing trees in Drought

    A hot dry summer can really take its toll on plants, so when you are trying to keep yours or your clients plants alive over this period, don’t forget the trees. Firstly, spread 50 to 75 mm of coarse grade mulch around the base of the tree, extending out as far as practical. This will reduce evaporation, will reduce weed competition for what water is available, and will even help keep the surface root zone area cooler.

    With scarcity of water special survival strategies may need to be implemented. Wait till the leaves start to drop, then give the trees a good 50mm soak. If you are under severe water rationing, you may not be able to water the entire tree. Make sure you water at least half the radius of the trees water intake zone, and the next time you can water the other half. 50mm of water should last at least 10 days in hot conditions. If you only water lightly, most of the trees feeder roots will be in the top 75mm of soil, which makes it more susceptible to injury. In a severe drought emergency, focus on the hardiest plants. Abandon, or get rid of the weak ones.

    Only as a last resort prune the tree. It is generally dangerous to do this when a tree is stressed by summer and a lack of water, coupled with other detrimental effects. Gardeners often are told that pruning woody plants helps reduce water use. However, half the tree’s foliage would have to be pruned to have any real noticeable effect. Taking that much foliage reduces shade that shelters the rest of the tree, and could lead to sunburn. In or out of drought severe incorrect pruning can kill a tree, so before pruning you should research the best times and appropriate pruning techniques, or better still have an expert do it.
  4. Have a bag on a lawn mower or wheel barrow

    Don't you hate it when you are mowing a lawn and you come across a piece of rubbish? You have to stop, pick it up and take it to a rubbish bin. A simple tip is to tie a small bag on to the lawn mower, and as you come across rubbish simply put it in the bag. One walk to the rubbish bin saved every time you come across litter. Over a week that could turn into 50 or 60 trips saved. Even for ride on mowers it is worth having a rubbish bag on board. Another tip is for when you have to pick up leaves. Rather than have some one hold a bag open, use the handles of a wheel barrow to hold the bag open, then simply put the eaves into the open bag. Full bags can then be placed in the wheel barrow. More time and money saved.
  5. Use Primo on fast growing lawns in summer

    Heat, and a little rain can make lawns grow at a crazy rate. The best way to reduce unreasonable summer mowing is by talking your client into putting in a moderate summer growing lawn, such as the less upright growing Palmetto Buffalo, a good slower growing couch variety, or Empire Zoysia. If you are unlucky enough to have to mow super fast growing lawns such as Kikuyu, one of the ultra fast growing Buffalo varieties such as Sir Walter Buffalo, or a well watered fescue lawn in summer, try a dose of Primo. Primo can even be quite useful on the moderate growing lawns. Primo is a turf growth regulator, that tames the rapid well watered summer growth of a lawn. Often it cuts mowing frequency in half. Apply as per the label rates, with some varieties needing lower rates than others, and reduce your mowing by half. Two applications, should last the whole of summer. This tip should be particularly useful for lawn mowing contractors, that either struggle to keep up with mowing all their client’s lawns in summer, or get paid by the month rather than by the mow. Either way, by using primo at faster growing times of the year, lawn maintenance contractors can make more money. Firstly they can take on more clients, by allowing them to slow the growth rate down of the grass in the warmer months, contractors can service more clients, and that way in the cooler months they can have more clients and more lawns to mow. It is all about making the gap between mows more uniform throughout the year. It makes great business sense. If you can reduce the mowing visit to every 10 to 14 days in summer instead of once per week, you can have more customers. Another way to make more money by using Primo is to charge the client a monthly fee to mow the lawn, based on a yearly contract. The client will normally have to pay for say 25 mows per year. You can tell the client that you can treat the lawn in special ways, which will reduce the amount of mows. Share the savings with them a little, but most importantly increase the cost per mow charged. Use primo as a way to make more money. Primo can save golf courses, parks and gardens departments, and sporting oval maintenance companies both a lot of time and a lot of money. Primo Maxx is available from Globe Australia 1800 244 300 or Nu Turf 1 800 631 008. It costs about $600 for 5 litres, but that 5 litres goes a long way.
  6. Rip Plants Out

    Yes, your eyes read correctly, rip plants out. In any garden’s life, there comes a time when plants need removing. There are lots of reasons why a plant is no longer required in a garden. So I urge you to stand in front of your or your clients garden, take a deep breath, and ask yourself or your client the following questions. Do any of the plants in the garden have any of the following problems or characteristics?
    • Make the garden look like an overgrown Jungle. A cluttered effect.
    • Constantly look untidy, often look bad or have disease problems.
    • Shade, dominate or cause problems for other more beautiful plants.
    • Cannot be pruned or rejuvenated with a little maintenance. EG; Ornamental grasses, or strappy leaf plants can easily be trimmed back.
    • Causes major maintenance problems compared to other plants in the garden. Get rid of high maintenance plants EG: It may need more watering than other plants, and is simply becoming painful. Naturally some people have sentimental attachments to some plants, so they may prefer to keep them and put in the extra work required.
    • No longer find interest in that plant. Prefer something else.
    If ripping out plants seems ruthless and extreme, do it in stages. As the garden becomes more open and new opportunities for new and better plantings present themselves, you will become more assured, hopefully finding it easier to rip out old and tired looking plants, or simply enjoy un-cluttering the garden. When choosing new plants for the garden, try to choose more drought tolerant plants, as water restrictions unfortunately do not seem to want to go away, and even if they do, they will return someday.
  7. Keep a good lawn spade edge around the garden

    Spade edges around gardens look natural and blend in beautifully. Here are some hints to a good spade edge. Firstly, only some lawns are really suited to a spade edge. Lawns such as Kikuyu and Couch, are simply to much work for good spade edge to eventuate. These lawn varieties have fast growing runners that grow above the ground, and extremely fast growing invasive underground runners (Rhysomes) that create havoc around any garden. No matter how good your spade edge is kept with these turf types, (Rhysomes) will creep into the garden. For couch and Kikuyu lawns I would recommend a hard edge such as concrete, that is at least 100mm wide, and 200mm deep.

    Lawn types such as Buffalo, Empire Zoysia, Centipede grass, Fescue, and Rye grass, allow for easily maintained spade edges. Buffalo lawns, and Centipede lawns only have above ground Runners (Stolons), which means a simple regular trim with a brush cutter will take out any runners trying to creep into the garden. Fescue and Rye grass lawns are easy to edge, as they do not run at all, however they do require a lot of water compared to the other lawns mentioned, and as they do not run they find it harder to recover from wear damage. Empire Zoysia does have both above ground and underground runners, but the under ground runners are much slower growing than Kikuyu and Couch runners, so it is much easier to keep a spade edge on this lawn.

    When setting up your spade edge, I would suggest keeping a gap of about 150 to 200mm between the edge and the garden. The spade edge works best when it takes the form of a small ditch of between 100 and 150mm deep. So once you have dug the spade edge around the garden, it is only a matter of running the brush cutter or edger along it. I find that if I do this every second mow, it is easy to keep up with.
  8. Establishing and maintaining a lawn in water restrictions

    Firstly, if water restrictions are on the agenda, I would suggest establishing a warm season turf (Buffalo, Empire Zoysia, Couch etc), and not a cool season type such as Fescue. Most good warm season varieties will survive the drought period. When establishing the lawn, try to do so in spring, autumn or winter if water restrictions are present, unless exemptions are available. If a lawn must be established in summer, and often it is necessary, or you just really want to, top dress the lawn immediately after it is layed. Use a washed sand, or specialized weed free top dressing mix. Spread the top Dressing over the top at a depth of about 4 to 7 mm, rubbing in into the lawn with the back of a rack, or level lawn. Make sure that at least a third of the leaf is poking through the soil. Top Dressing will allow the lawn to survive up to 2 days between waters, but generally it is better to water the lawn daily for the first 2 weeks. Most water authorities will give exemptions for the establishment of new lawns and gardens, so it is worth checking with them. Water crystals can also be mixed in with the soil at the preparation stage, and this will help the turf survive the dry times better. During the drought, only use complete well balanced fertilisers, preferably slow release types, as too much nitrogen can make the lawn more water hungry. Once established water the lawn weekly, with heavy watering periods, rather than shallow water applications. Mowing the lawn at a longer length will help the roots grow longer, providing a more drought tolerant lawn. With warm season turf varieties, provided that they are at least 1 year old, it is generally fine to let them brown off, and as soon as they get water again they will come back. The only exception to this rule are some weaker, shallow rooted fussy forms of Buffalo. If using Buffalo, stick to the Palmetto, Sapphire, or Sir Walter varieties, and you will find them extremely drought hardy, and excellent for surviving water restrictions.
  9. Only use coarse grade mulch in gardens

    It is widely accepted that a 50 to 75 mm layer of mulch will reduce the amount of water a garden needs. This is not always true, as some mulches can be hydrophobic, and actually repel water and stop it from soaking into the ground below. Generally these are mulches with a lot of fines in them. Mulches with a large amount of composted fines have another major problem, and that is they often help weeds grow, rather than stop them. Think about this, fine grade composted mulch derived products are used in potting mixes for growing plants, and germinating seeds. So surely you do not want seed growing media in mulches that are supposed to stop weeds. Fine grade well composted mulches are better used as soil conditioners, and not garden bed top mulches. Leaf litter breaks down too quickly, and again in a short time you have a mulch ideal for germinating weeds. The best types of mulches for spreading on top of a garden are course grade mulches, generally about 20mm in size, and with no fines. These types of mulches allow water to pass through them to the ground below, provide a cooling effect, help reduce evaporation, and best of all greatly reduce weed invasion. It is very hard for weeds to germinate in 75mm of coarse grade mulch, which has no fine grade material. So what are the best mulches? Hard would chip that has no fines, and is of a consistent size of around 20mm is excellent. This grade of mulch can be spread by hand, skid steer, or blower. If you use a blower, make sure it does not produce fines when it spreads the mulch. Some of the better blowers do a good job. Make sure the much is spread evenly, which is more important than you think. So often I see a mulched area either too thin, or way too thick. There are even specialised drill bits for planting plants into mulch. This allows you to spread the mulch first, and plant the plants later. The drill bits make holes, while at the same time wiping the mulch out the way. (See www.plantplanters.com.au). Other good mulches are any mulch, such as Pine bark, or recycled mulch that has NO FINES, and has been graded to be about 20mm to 25mm in size. If pine bark is used, it must also be composted slightly to help remove tannins.

    After 3 to 5 years the mulch will not be as effective at weed control, so by this time it is essential to have a thick bed of plants. The aim should be to have no gaps after about 2 years. It is important to plant plants close together to achieve this. If there are still gaps in the planting after a few years, it may be necessary to top up the mulch again, thus giving more years of weed control. I believe the Roads and traffic Authority in NSW has got it right, as they generally stick to the above coarse grade mulch specifications. Roads departments around the Australia should take a close look at the success of many of the recent NSW RTA landscape projects, particularly their mulching policy.
  10. Sharpen those blades

    Imagine a butcher using a blunt knife to cut meat. The butcher would produce a terrible product, and have untidy cuts of meat. So when you mow a lawn, cut a lawn edge, prune a tree, trim a hedge or even trim an ornamental grass or strappy leaf plant, use a shape blade, and don't butcher the job. The torn effect of a lawn mown with a blunt blade is ugly, but even more importantly; a plant trimmed with a blunt blade can damage the plant. So why do we see contractors, or council maintenance workers hack into plants such as Lomandra, leaving a round about full of shredded plants. Rather than using a line bush cutter, they should be using sharp shears or a knife. It may take twice as long. but the sharp blades will ensure an eye pleasing job, and the Lomandras will like it too, as they will reshoot quicker and in a more healthy condition.

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