Category Archives: Easy Care

Lawn Tools

By   October 14, 2015

Maintaining your lawn only requires a few lawn tools. You don’t have to go overboard, but when you buy tools, select good quality. The basics include:

  • Lawn mower: Choose gas, electric, riding, or manual. Mowers are covered in depth on another page.

    Assortment of basic lawn tools

    Assortment of basic lawn tools

  • Leaf rake. Choose one that’s lightweight and large enough to cover ground quickly.  Bamboo has been the traditional light weight material, but it dries out and breaks easily.  Plastic has become the material of choice.  I like to use a metal leaf rake for my gardens and tough to rake areas, but it’s noticeably heavier than plastic.  The weight is ok for a small areas … my old arms can’t handle it over large areas.
  • Garden rake, either flathead or bowhead for seeding.
  • Long handle shovel.  Your first shovel should have a tapered and sharpened blade to cut through the ground and sod easily, a rolled top to make it easier to push with a foot, and a handle long enough to use without bending over.  Other styles can be added later.
  • Lawn cart or wheelbarrow. Some of the new lawn carts are easier to use than the traditional wheelbarrow for light jobs.
  • Rotary spreader. Drop spreaders are ok, but the cost of rotary spreaders have come down so that if you have a large area, rotary is the way to go.
  • Hose. We have a whole page on hoses here.
  • Nozzle and sprinkler. More on sprinklers here.

Always buy good quality lawn tools. Better quality tools will last longer and, in many cases, be easier to use. Lawn work goes a lot easier when you have a rake with a handle that’s long enough to avoid bending over or a shovel with a handle thick enough to hold easily. Many good quality lawn tools can be purchased inexpensively at yard sales or flea markets.

Oops, I left off the most important tool there is. Be sure to pick up a half pound of elbow grease! ;-))

Watering

By   October 12, 2015

Most northern lawns need about an inch of water a week, and most of this requirement is filled by the quick changing weather that we’re famous for.

Rainfall guage

Rainfall gauge

Of course, one inch is only a guide. If you have real sandy soil that drains instantly, you’ll need more. Conversely, clay type soils might need a lot less frequent attention.

The summer brings the biggest problems. Hot sunny days evaporate water from the soil and grass quickly, and without replenishment, water in the soil drains down and away from the roots. Most grasses are able to go into a dormant state, where they shut down all above ground growth and even let their tops die back. By saving their remaining resources, once moisture is available again, the plants are able to resume growth.

Watering requirements are also influenced by the variety and condition of the grass. Good, healthy, mature grass has roots that go deep and can pull water from a greater volume of soil than shallow-rooted species. Young or unhealthy grass won’t be able to do this.

Some grass varieties have lower watering requirements than others. Generally, the Fescues are the most drought tolerant, followed by Kentucky Bluegrass and Perennial Ryegrass. Bentgrass has a very low drought tolerance and needs frequent (once or twice daily) watering. Of course, young grass plants of any variety haven’t had an opportunity to grow long roots or store up some resources will need frequent waterings also.

There are a couple of ways to tell if your lawn is parched. The simplest is to use a shovel to examine the soil a few inches down. If it’s dry, it needs water. It’s not always easy to tell when grass is wilting. Sometimes, when the plant’s internal water content drops too low, the plant cells begin to droop and shrivel. The grass plants lose their bright green color and turn a blue-green. Walking on wilted grass will leave footprints that don’t spring back.

Most grasses are able to recover from these initial stages of wilt, but it still puts a lot of stress on the plants and repeated wilting definitely isn’t good.

Sprinklers

By   October 11, 2015

It takes a long time to spread enough water to penetrate deep into the root zone and it’s really tough spreading the water evenly. Instead, use a sprinkler. Put out several empty cans and let the sprinkler run until all of the cans have an inch of water in them. You might have to move the sprinkler a few times to get even coverage, but even the simplest sprinkler will apply the water more evenly than a hose.

Oscillating sprinklers water a rectangular area evenly

Oscillating sprinklers water a rectangular area evenly

Watering with a hose nozzle is ok for new seedlings after the initial thorough watering and before your grass sprouts as you only need to keep the surface moist. Seeds will germinate faster if they are kept moist.

Putting down water is a fairly simple task and there are many types of sprinklers available to do the job. Some might be easier to use depending on the size and shape of the area of your lawn. Larger areas might also require moving hoses and sprinkles from time to time, and some styles are easier to use than others. We’ll look at installed systems on another page, here’s a brief summary of what’s available for portable sprinklers:

Rotating sprinklers are simple and inexpensive. Look for one with multiple nozzles (water outlets) for even coverage, and wheels or a sled base so that you can move it by dragging the hose without getting wet. Their main drawback is that they have a round watering pattern which doesn’t fit well on most lawns.

Oscillating sprinklers are also inexpensive. These cover a square or rectangular area well and have even coverage. Some have pattern size controls and a timer.

Impulse or pulsating sprinklers are the ones that make the click-click-click sound as the head goes around. They cost slightly more than a rotating sprinkler but are still inexpensive. Most have controls for distance and water flow. Generally, this type of sprinkler breaks the water droplets up into a finer spray for a more gentle application (good for flowers and new lawns).

Sprinkler hoses provide an even, gentle spray, but are a real nuisance to place and move. They are better for gardens where they can stay in place.

Hose

By   October 10, 2015

Garden hose might seem like a simple commodity item, but purchasing the right type can make your watering job easier.

Different sizesed and colored garden hose

Garden hose is available in many lengths, capacities, and styles

Hoses come in many different lengths with the most common being between 25 and 100 feet. Of course, you can hook several up together if needed, but it’s sometimes more convenient to have just one the correct length. Having a hose that’s too long can also be a challenge as a hose full of water can be cumbersome and awkward to move around.

The diameter of a hose determines how much water can flow through it. Sometimes a thin ½ inch hose doesn’t allow enough water for a sprinkler to reach its full range, especially if it’s long. The larger diameter ones pass more water, but they’re also heavier and more expensive.

A few companies are advertising compact hoses that shrink when empty or coil up on their own. It’s a great idea, and I have purchased several of them only to be disappointed. The ones that coil are so thin that they only supply enough water for watering individual flowers. It would take forever to do a large area, and the stream wasn’t heavy enough to wash my car. There are several newer ones that have soft walls that shrink without water. These look promising.

kinked garden hose

Hoses that kink are a real nuisance. Spend a bit extra for kink resistant models.

A well-constructed hose will last for years. To choose, look at the quality of the couplings and the construction of the hose walls. Better built ones have brass couplings and sometimes have ergonomic shapes that make tightening connections easier. Also, look for hoses that are kink resistant. It’s real frustrating when you are watering your flowers and every time that you move the hose it kinks. Then you have to put down the nozzle, walk back to the kink, straighten it out, and start again. I called the customer service number for one of the hose companies about it; they said that it was because I coiled my hose when I put it away, and that left twists. I won’t leave my hose out on the lawn, so I still coil it; I just got a heavier kink proof hose.

Some hoses are made of just plastic or vinyl walls. Unreinforced hoses usually don’t last long and will eventually blow up like a balloon and burst. Better hoses have plies of reinforcement in the sidewall, the more plies, the stronger the hose. More plies also make the hose less likely to kink.

My biggest problem with hoses always seems to be in stretching it out to where I need to water and rolling it up when I’m through. A few companies make rollup storage units. They’re a great idea, but make sure that you get one that’s strong enough. Over the years, I have been given a few as gifts, and they just can’t handle the weight and stiffness of a long hose.

Store your hose coiled on the ground or on a special hanger that distributes the weight, hanging on a peg or a nail can damage them. Freezing with water in them is also very hard on the sidewalls and can cause early failure.

The most common hose problem is loss or damage to the washer, a round piece of rubber or plastic that goes inside the coupling. Replacements are very inexpensive and easy to install. It’s a good idea to keep a few on hand. If you spring a leak, there are repair kits made. Most involve cutting away the damaged hose and reconnecting the two ends with a connector kit.

Inground Sprinklers

By   October 9, 2015

If you want a show lawn, and still keep it easy to maintain, then inground sprinklers are for you. New sprinkler technology combined with electronic controls ensure that your lawn gets the water that it needs when it needs it, and without waste.

Many modern systems use flexible PVC pipe that can be laid underground often without digging trenches. They have a neat machine that sort of pulls the pipe into place underground through a narrow slit that covers itself up. The system is set up with several zones, so the entire system isn’t running at one time. If all the sprinkler heads were turned on at one time, it would be like like when you’re taking a shower and someone flushes a toilet, there wouldn’t be enough pressure to operate all of the heads properly.

Zones are electronically controlled so that each area of your lawn gets just the right amount of water. There are a variety of sensors available that check to see if water is needed, and prevent your sprinklers from operating if the soil already has enough water.

The sprinkler head is the part that sprays the water, and there are many types heads available. Just like your hose nozzle, they can be adjusted from a fine mist to a soaking spray. Pulsating heads are available for larger areas. Lawn sprinkler heads are designed to sit low to the ground when they’re not in use, so they are usually almost invisible. Then, they pop up when the water is turned on.

Ma inground sprinklers are professionally installed, but it’s possible to install a system yourself. There are several companies on the web selling do-it-yourself systems and new materials and technology has made installation easier than ever.  Layout is still the first step.  Plan your inground sprinklers so that all of your lawn and gardens are covered.  Dead spots where the water doesn’t reach look bad.

New materials for DIY inground sprinklers let you bury a flexible hose that will stand up to wear and weather just under the surface. The old way was to rent a trenching tool and did, dig, dig, bury semi-rigid pipe, then repair the damage done when you covered the trench.   The new hose lets you just open a slit and feed the hose in as you dig.

Weeds are a Pain!

By   October 9, 2015
Dandelion is one of the most common weeds.

Dandelion is one of the most common weeds.

Dandelions are a pretty flower, and they make good wine, but they don’t belong in a lawn.  They’re a perennial, so if you don’t take care of them, they come up year after year.

Bright yellow flowers form on their stems throughout the growing season.  After a few days, the flowers dry out to a globe of fine filaments attached to seeds that carry easily on the wind.  Children have fun playing with the seed heads and blowing the seeds away, but adults cringe when they think what the seeds may become.

A dandelion that has gone to seed

A dandelion that has gone to seed and will spread more weeds.

Pulling up dandelions is generally ineffective.  They have a long thin taproot that needs to be removed completely, otherwise the weed regrows.  Special forked tools are available to pull the whole roots out, along with a bunch of innovative removal tools. Some of these  entrepreneurs have great imaginations…there are dandelion heat zappers and flamethrowers,  along with high-pressure water guns.
There are several herbicides available that are effective on dandelions.  I’m reluctant to use the broadcast type because my yard has a lot of ornamentals which could be hurt by drift.  Instead, I use small amounts of a commercial killer in a spray bottle.  As a bonus, it gives me special satisfaction to shoot each individual one.

Dandelions seeds do best in thin lawns where they can find soil contact and sunlight.  As with most weeds, the best defense is to build a thick healthy lawn so dandelion seeds don’t have a chance to get started.


Other Weeds

Most other broadleaf weeds can be controlled by pulling them out by the roots, or with an application of weed killer.  Common New England weeds include clover, plantain, ground ivy, knotweed, and chickweed.

Weed grasses are a bit more difficult as they are less likely to be in isolated instances.  Weed killers won’t work due to their similarity to desirable lawn grasses.  The best treatment for weed grasses is prevention. Avoid cheap seed, study the contents label before purchasing.  Don’t mulch with hay…hay is, after all, mown weeds and it’s full of seed.  And keep your lawn thick and healthy to discourage weeds from gaining a foothold.


The Atom Bomb

If all else fails, there’s one sure method to eliminate weeds.  Glyphosate, aka Roundup, will kill just about any plant that it’s applied to, although it might take several applications.  Apply it carefully to avoid damage by overspray and don’t spill or dribble it on anything that you want to keep alive.  There are some warnings on the bottle, so keep it off your skin too.