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Gardening

It’s spring – so stay off that soggy lawn

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: April 12
  • Published April 12

Members of Girl Scout Troop 197 including Brittany Youngberg, 11, Ericka Bautista, 11 and Allison Ross, 10, volunteer a few hours to pick up dog poop from the Moose Track trail near the BLM Campbell Creek Science Center in 2004. (Marc Lester / ADN archive 2004)

You know the snow is melting for good when you start to see the lawn commercials on TV, in magazines and on social media feeds. Give me a break. And yourself, too.

Oh yeah, the other sign of spring is this column's first seasonal rant about using chemicals in the yard.

I can't help it. Every year, a little tiny patch of lawn appears, and it is on! No time to waste making sure we all understand we must apply that weed and feed-filled lawn product four times a season and all will be right with the world. And if it isn't, you can always reach for that little red or green bottle to squirt glyphosate on pesky weeds.

I know I will get hate mail, but dear reader, I simply cannot let you forget that there is a raging scientific debate as to whether glyphosate, the active ingredient in these products, causes cancer or is considered to be an endocrine disrupter. This is not some silly, liberal worry. Stripped to its essence, my question is this: why would you want to expose yourself, your family, your pets and your neighbors to this stuff until the debate is settled?

If the science doesn't work to convince you, it is time yardeners face the truth no one else likes to say out loud: Weed- and feed-type lawn products don't really work. If they did, you wouldn't be told to apply them four times a season (year in and year out). Stop pretending you are beating the dandelions.

Real gardeners will ignore the onslaught of lawn food and Roundup ads. All your lawn ever needs to start out a year is water, though obviously not as the snow is melting off. Once your lawn is growing again, you can decide what, if anything, it needs, though in no case does a lawn need glyphosate or chemical fertilizers.

In the meantime, stay off the lawns that make up your yard until they dry out. Walking on a wet lawn this time of year compacts the soil, which is a sure way to invite problems that will detract from your lawn's appearance. The first thing to go under compact conditions are those all important mycorrhizal fungi that help feed your grass.

If we have a good freeze, however, you can and should go out on your lawns and get any leavings of Fido while they are "easy" to handle. Otherwise, just leave the winter's debris. Hopefully you will be able to run most of it over with your mower and turn it into useful fodder for the soil food web.

Voles may have created trails in your lawn and some damage may be visible. When things dry out, you can rake this area and assess the damage. You may need to put some grass seed down, but usually the existing grass will fill in the trailways.

And, while now is definitely not time to be thinking lawn fertilizer, it is time to make sure your mower is in good condition and working. The first run over the lawn is not the time to discover you have a problem with your machine. Spend some time with yours this weekend.

I am told it is a good idea to get rid of any gasoline that has been sitting in your machine all winter, unless you put some stabilizer in your tank last fall. Your machine spews out enough pollution as it is.

Second, if you really want to do something good for yourself and your neighbors, tune (or have someone tune) your mower's engine. You have probably heard a lawn mower spews out four times as much air pollutants as does a car. True or not, they are filthy spewers and you should get your machine working efficiently.

And finally, now is when your mower blades should be sharpened or replaced. Mowing with dull blades results in torn grass tips. These turn yellow, white and brown, which are not the colors you are trying to maintain in your lawns.

I always mention blade sharpening or replacement in the spring, but you never follow through, do you? New blades are not expensive and will have a much more positive impact on your lawns' looks than those chemical, weed and feed fertilizers that are trying to force their way onto your lawn.

Jeff's Alaska garden calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: Now is a great time to join. It will get you admission to the garden, discounts at local nurseries and classes, early admission on the garden's plant sales and much more. alaskabg.org

Alaska Pioneer Fruit Growers Association: Want to graft some fruit trees to grow in your yard? The annual grafting workshop is on Saturday, April 21, from 1-3 p.m. For more information contact Mark Wolbers, APFGA president at mewolbers@alaska.edu or 907-903-2913.

Chocolate and painting: 12-1:30 p.m. Saturday, April 21, at Alaska Botanical Garden. Adults and children will learn how to make hot chocolate right from the beans and do some great painting. More info at alaskabg.org

Flowers to start: Asters, nicotiana, cleome, ice plant, zinnia, salpiglossis, schizanthus, nigella, phlox, nemesia, marigold and nasturtiums

Vegetables to start: Broccoli, cauliflower

Geese, seagulls, thrushes and swans are back: Look up and pause to listen, gardeners

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