(Almost Too) Late Season Lawn Care

    Debris and overly long blades like these are a recipe for springtime lawn disaster.

Leaf debris and overly long grass blades like these are a recipe for springtime lawn disaster.

This past September I opened my garden for a quick tour, and as the group departed I heard one of the guests comment “I wish I had a garden like Michael’s, where nothing seems to go wrong.”

While I was highly flattered – this was a group of master gardeners after all – I was very quick to assure my guests that in fact many things went wrong here, and that only difference between my garden and theirs was that as a professional gardener, I simply have much more time to correct my mistakes than other people do.

Sometimes however, Mother Nature takes a hand in hiding my errors far more effectively than I ever could – at least, temporarily.

The product of my frenzied labor: one of the many piles of debris waiting to be collected off the orchard lawn

The product of my frenzied labor: one of the many piles waiting to be removed from the orchard lawn

Take last week’s 14″ inches of snow. The day before the storm, I was sitting in the gazebo in shorts and tee-shirt, enjoying the 60º weather while I corrected a manuscript. Completely oblivious to the impending snow forecast, I blithely presumed I had ample time to do the final work needed to put the lawn to bed.  Whoops. The next morning I awoke to a land of white, and the realization that I had lost the best chance to get the last of the leaves and tree debris off the grass in the orchard. This task, seemingly mundane, is critical to the health of the turf: leaves and debris left on the grass will kill the blades beneath it, leaving you with a patchwork of dead spots next spring. It’s also important that you don’t allow the grass to go into winter too high: overly long blades crushed down by snow act just like debris, covering and killing their neighbors. The short of it is that your lawn should go into the winter with a final mowing and all debris removed.

I had botched it.

One of the handiest tools in the late season gardener's arsenal: a battery mowered mowever for last minute lawn jobs

One of the handiest tools in the (late season) green gardener's arsenal: B&D's battery powered mulching mower, perfect for lawns up to 1/3 acre. I've owned one for five years and LOVE it. Click the pic above to review the product at Amazon.com.

But then came a reprieve. In typical New England fashion, the foot of snow was followed by several days in the high 40s and rain, almost entirely erasing white from the garden. So out I raced this morning with rake and wheel barrow – madly collecting debris from the snow-free areas of the lawn ahead of the wintry mix and freezing temperatures forecast for later in the day. Anyone stopping by would have thought I was crazy: huffing and puffing with a rake in late December, then running up and down with the battery powered mulching mower to set the lawn to the correct winter height (about 2″ for cold season grasses like mine) as well as to chew up any remaining leaf debris I missed in my mad dash with the rake.

It was a close call: as I returned the mower to winter storage, the first flakes were beginning to fall. I had been saved, yet again, though more through luck than good gardening practice.

So the moral of my story is this: as gardeners we all make mistakes, some remediable, some not. The key to success is to fix the those you can, and don’t sweat those you can’t. After all, one of the things that makes gardening so enjoyable is that it comes pre-packaged with an almost inexhaustible set of do-overs, and a nearly infinite supply of that most marvelous of phrases: “there’s always next spring.”

Best though, to keep both in reserve whenever possible.

Happy New Year everyone!

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