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Felder’s Lawn Mowing

Felder Rushing

Donuts on Cake

When it comes to how we approach certain garden chores, some can quickly devolve into darned if you do, darned if you don’t situations. And when it comes to cognitive dissonance, no matter what, somebody or something is gonna be unhappy.

A few obvious polarizing issues include pruning crape myrtles, the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides or herbicides, and growing either native or imported plants that others consider to be weeds. Oh, and which tomato tastes the best.

But it isn’t always the gardener that takes exception to what we do, we humans aren’t the only players in the garden. Sometimes Nature herself rebels, and usually wins in the long run.

Take lawn stickers, sometimes called burr weed, for example. Home gardeners see them and other weeds as invasive devils in need of killing, while (pardon the deconstructionism) I see them as pioneer plants looking for a good place to grow. And what better place than in bare dirt?

They are in effect a symptom of a neglected lawn that is thin and weak. We can kill the sticker plants easily enough with midwinter sprays, while they are young, small, and most susceptible to herbicides, not when they are mature, already going to seed, and about to die anyway from summer heat. But unless the lawn is thick enough to shade out new seeds in the fall, spraying them becomes a Sisyphean task to be repeated January after January. With chemical herbicides.

The best way to control stickers is to thicken up the lawn, which means treating the lawn from its own perspective, not our own.

Here’s the situation: The types of turfgrass we grow in the South - mostly St. Augustine, centipede, bermudagrass, and zoysia – are not a single organism; they are dense mats of thousands of individual plants, none of which lives for more than about three weeks. What keeps the lawn going is how individual plants continually replace themselves with new plants, which repeat the process with new runners and new plants.

Think about the implications. If you simply try to keep a lawn looking good by mowing alone, especially if it is cut close like a carpet which removes its energy-gathering leaves, it will be less able to reproduce itself.

Funny how some folks get their knickers in a knot over other people pruning crape myrtles, yet get indignant when I point out they are killing their lawn by scalping it every mowing. Overlook the low-growing wildflowers on which pollinators and other insects that birds feed on depends, mowing too close causes real problems with the lawn itself, usually leading to gradual decline.

And guess what is waiting in the wings to take advantage of the newly sunlit soil? Stickers.

So, a bit of MSU Turfgrass Management 101: If you want to get rid of stickers, and have a nice-looking lawn, don’t mow as often. Raise your mower and leave it there. Tell your mowing crew they won’t get paid if they cut too low. Fertilize lightly every two or three years. Water deeply at least once a month, better every couple of weeks (never more than once a week - really). Doing these chores will thicken up the lawn, making it look better, withstand bad weather and pest attacks, and be better able to shade out weeds. Really.

Don’t want to mow high, or are unable or refuse to fertilize or water deeply as needed? Then hunker down, expect a mediocre mow-what-grows lawn, and either spray every January, or get flipflops for your kids and dogs, because stickers grow better like that than grass.

Donuts on Cake
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