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					                                                  The




                                                                                 BYEVAN      ROTHMAN




                               A gardener and a gentleman, David Cira, a paramedic with the New York City Fire
PHOTOGRAPH   BY CHRIS   BUCK   Department, doesn't normally wear a tux when he cuts grass, but he does know how to
                               give lawns the white-glove treatment. He shares his tips with us, beginning on the right.
                                                                                             POPULARMECHANICS.COM                    I   APRIL    2012     83




                                                                    HEN ASKEDTO DEFINE A PERFECT LAWN, Peter J. Landschoot,
                                                                    the director of the Center for Turfgrass Science at Penn State,
                                                                    sounds like a philosophy professor. "There is no perfect lawn,"
                                                                    Landschoot says. "It depends on the user's expectations,
                                                                    the lawn's environment, and the owner's sense of aesthetics
                                                                    and lifestyle. It's personal."
                                                                         Nonetheless, there remains a committed breed of home-
                                                                    owner eager to give perfection a try. Take David Cira, a 32-
                                                                    year-old paramedic with the New York City Fire Department.
                                                                    He grew up in a condo in Queens but spent countless happy
                                                                    weel<ends at his grandfather's home nearby, where the lawn
                                                                    was always just so. "Nothing thrilled me more than mowing
                                                                    the lawn and helping in the garden," Cira says. "I was good at
                                                                    it from an early age, and it was a passion I never got away from."
                                                                        Today, Cira maintains his parents' pristine lawn in Mineola,
                                                                    N.Y. He has taught summer adult education classes on turf care,
                                                                    and he has consulted for a landscape designer. To his friends
                                                                    and neighbors, he's an oracle oflawn wisdom. "with a beautiful
                                                                    lawn, you get more out than you could ever put in," he says.
                                                                         On the other hand, perhaps you've loved your grass but it
                                                                    hasn't loved you back. We understand. We've been there. Lawn
                                                                    enthusiasts like Cira and Landschoot know it's a year-round
                                                                    relationship, not just a summer fling. That's why we worked
                                                                    with them to develop a four-season guide to the perfect lawn.




                     Spring
                                                                                  require a spring dethatching.           herbicide). Next, instead of the
                                                                                  "This will allow the soil to breathe    normal step 2 (fertilizer with a
                                                                                  and permit nitrogen exchange            weed preventer, or weed-and-
                                                                                  with the atmosphere to get the          feed), he uses a straight fertilizer
                                                                                  lawn started off in a really good       with high nitrogen content
                                                                                  place," Cira says. He recommends        and spot-sprays a separate,
                                                                                  buying or renting a power               selective weed control as
       IITEST THE      SOIL                 cost around $10, but some             dethatcher (power rake) instead         necessary. "Weed preventers
       For a healthy lawn, you've got       nurseries do the test for free.      .of breaking your back with a            don't prevent weeds-they kill
       to work your way up from the                                               manual rake.                            preexisting weeds-and anytime
       bottom. So start each spring         aWAKE UP YOUR LAWN                                                            you add chemicals to the lawn,
       with a soil test. Grass grows best   There is no better way to jump-      IILESS IS MORE                           you stress it," Cira says. "Treat
       in soil with a neutral pH (about     start your lawn than with a proper   Cira starts his lawn-care year           weeds individually. The results
       6.5 on the pH scale) and a           mowing and edging. That's a          in April, when soil temperature          are much better, and it's much
       region-appropriate amount of         given. In the age-old debate about   supports growth but before               less expensive."
       phosphorus, nitrogen, and            whether it's better to mow before    weeds can get a foothold (it may             Don't forget to clean up.
       potassium salts, aka potash. "If     trimming or trim before mowing,      be February in the southern U.s.).       Sweep or blow excess fertilizer
       your soil isn't the greatest from    Cira puts himself firmly in the      He begins work on a six-week             off walks and driveways and
       the get-go, you're going to have     latter camp: "This way you mow       lawn-chemical schedule, starting         onto the grass; otherwise the
       problems all year," Cira says.       your trimmings. It looks neater."    with a typical step 1 product            chemicals will wash into public
       You're also going to waste                A very dense lawn could         (fertilizer with a pre-emergent          waterways.
       money on fertilizer and other soil
'"
Z
:J     amendments that won't work
'"
....
U1
       properly because the soil is too
n:     acidic or too alkaline. "I know a
w
co     lot of people who put down lime
o      annually because they feel they
'"
>-
co
       should," Landschoot says.                                                 BECOME A LAWN JOURNALIST
       "If your soil has a good pH

                                                            -       x,
                                                                                 One of Cira'5 most effective tools to help him keep a lawn looking
U1                                                I ..
z      and adequate phosphorus and
o                                                                                consistently pristine is ajournal. Starting in the spring, he makes
       potassium, all you need to do                                             notations about weather and rainfall and takes digital images. He also
~
n:     is put down nitrogen fertilizer                              x-
....                                                                             chronicles the products he uses, and battles fought and won-or lost.
U1     every once in a while, which                                              You can forget a lot just a month later, and you're certainly likely to forget
:0
...J   is easy to do and relatively                                              from one year to the next. For exampi'e, if you had a lawn problem and
...J
       inexpensive." Home soil tests                                             bought a product that didn't work, but two years later the same thing
                                                                                 happens, you don't want to waste money on that product again. Ajournal
                                                                                 may seem obsessive, but lawns respond best to obsessive behavior.




                                                                (
                                                                                                                l
84   APRIL   2012     I   POPULARMECHANICS.COM




                                                                          1. WATER WISELY As temperatures increase, so does lawn
                                                                         stress. Under normal conditions, a lawn needs about an inch
                                                                         of water a week. But when conditions are hot and dry or, worse,
                                                                         hot and windy, you need to add water to replace what has
                                                                         evaporated. Depending on rainfall, you may need to go from
                                                                         watering intervals of every five or six days to every four or five days.
                                                                         Buy yourself a water gauge. It's especially important for homeown-
                                                                         ers served by municipal water systems, not wells. "A lot of towns
                                                                         have lower water pressure in the summer because of pools and
                                                                                                                                 i
                                                                         carwashes," Cira says. "Just 5 psi less can equal Yo!nch less water
                                                                         per session, so increase its time to compensate."
                                                                             Water has to have a chance to soak in so it reaches the roots.
                                                                         Each watering session should provide 1 inch of water. Avoid brief
                                                                         watering sessions, which contribute to shallow rooting. For the
                                                                         gearhead there are all manner of toys to eliminate guesswork,
                                                                         such as temperature-sensing       weather stations that connect
                                                                         wirelessly to your computer. Yet Cira is partial to simple devices,
                                                                         such as a cup-style rain collector. "The techie stuff can be helpful,
                                                                         but I still like the old-school stuff the best," he says.


                                                                         2. TWEAK YOUR LAWN HEIGHT
                                                                         that when the temperature
                                                                                                                  Top lawn scientists
                                                                                                       rises, so should your grass.
                                                                                                                                        agree
                                                                                                                                                    •
                                                                         Landschoot says a freshly mowed height of 2 to 2Yo!inches is a
                                                                         reasonable goal. The old ")13 rule" is still valid: You shouldn't cut
                                                                         more than one-third of the leaf tissue in one mowing. "Every
                                                                         time you mow too low, you're opening up the canopy. This
                                                                         increases weed infestation, since weeds need light to grow,"
                                                                         he says. Think ofthe entire
                                                                         plant system. Tall grass has
                                                                         more plant tissue to hold
                                                                         water, produce chlorophyll,
                                                                         and shade the ground below,
                    BEYOND THE MOWER                                     keeping it cool and reducing
                                                                         root stress. This also reduces
                                                                         water lost to evaporation, so
                                                                         more is available for the grass.
                                                                             Cira uses the holidays as
                                                                         a guide to adjust his mower
                                                                         height-up     a notch on Memorial
                                                                         Day and again on July 4, down
                                                                         a notch on Labor Day, and back
                                                                                                                      SOLVE
                                                                         to his starting point by the time            MYSTERY SPOTS
                                                                         Columbus Day rolls around.                   Don't assume a brown
                                                                                                                      spot is caused by a lack
                                                                          3. BATTLE BUGS Many                         of water or the neighbor's
                                                                                                                      gushing Great Dane.
                                    Lawn Junk                            homeowners buy a fertilizer
Difficult Terrain                                                                                                     A fungus may be to blame,
                                    It's no fun dealing with sticks,     with a broad-spectrum                        and this can be difficult
If you've got a large lawn or one
that's bumpy, invest in a better    nuts, vines, and especially litter   insecticide, but Cira isn't a fan.           or even impossible to
spreader. It's tiring to push       in the course of your lawn care.     Nationally distributed products              treat without professional
ajunky spreader with small,         Consider a no-clog rake like the     are formulated to kill a wide                advice. First, take some
solid-plastic tires; a narrow       Ames True Temper model above.        range of common pests, not                   high-resolution pictures
handle; and a balky feed            It's got rugged, interconnected                                                   of the blighted areas and
                                                                         always those specific to a
mechanism. It can waste             tines and a sturdy handle.                                                        share them with your
expensive lawn-care products.                                            region. Cira uses a simple                   nursery or a university
Buya spreader with a large          Rocky Soil                           organic, low-nitrogen fertilizer             cooperative extension
handle, pneumatic tires, and,       A tool suited to digging or          and a separate, granular pest                office. Whatever you do,
if needed, an edge guard to keep    weeding in rocky soil is one         control that targets certain                 don't just waltz into a
seed, fertilizer, and herbicide     drop-forged from a bar of                                                         nursery carrying a hunk
                                                                         bugs. This keeps his lawn
where it belongs-on the grass.      steel, like the Sneeboer                                                          of c;seased lawn. Fungal
                                                                         healthy while using the                      spores that break loose
We show a 7-gillion model by        forked weeder above. It's
Agri-Fab. It can spread a           beautifully made and covered         least amount of chemicals                    from it can spread. If the
 10-foot-wide swath in one pass.    by a lifetime guarantee.             necessary.                                    nursery says a sample is
                                                                                                                      okay, it will also tell you
                                                                                                                       how to contain it.
                                 Autumn
                                                                                                                                        ~~.
IISNATCH         THE THATCH
Thatch, a mat of yellowish dead
grass that can block air and
moisture, needs to be removed.
                                      ElGOTOSEED
                                      True lawn lovers.know that early
                                      fall is the season to reboot. If you
                                      need to reseed, Cira advises using
                                                                             IITURN        OVER A LEAF
                                                                             Remove leaves-they block
                                                                             sunlight just when grass needs
                                                                             as much light as possible for
                                                                                                                                       "lr
                                                                                                                               PICK UP STICKS
If you slacked on the dethatching     proprietary turfgrass seed,            photosynthesis and root growth.                   Autumn would be easier if
in spring, now is the time, but       available at nurseries, on the Web,    Grass should go from vigorous                     leaves were all that fell, but
don't go at it too aggressively.      and from landscape-supply houses.      growth into winter, not enter it                  it's also the season of
If you set the tines too deep on      Turfgrass breeders constantly          weak and underfed.                                seedpods, branches,
a power rake, you can destroy the     improve their seed, and many                Even when the lawn is                        nutshells, husks, and rotten,
lawn. ''you're better off making      produce specific regional types.       dormant, it needs to eat. You've                  unpicked fruit that has fallen
three or four shallow passes,         While this seed is more expensive      run the race all summer, now don't                out of the trees. Careful tree
in which you increase the depth       than what's sold at home centers,      fall at the last hurdle. Put the lawn             pruning can reduce the
of the tines, than going too deep     it's also more vigorous. Cira quotes   to bed with winterizer (or stage 4                problem but not eliminate it.
in one pass," Cira says. Likewise,    the old adage that a cheap tool is     fertilizer) sold at any big-box store.            You're going to need
use small flags to mark sprinkler     an expensive tool. "You might          "The potash in it promotes root                   something more powerful
heads to avoid collateral damage.     pay a few dollars more for a           stability, cold-weather hardiness,                than your handheld leaf
     Don't rent a dirty dethatcher.   proprietary seed, but the results      and disease resistance, so you                    blower to deal with this
It's always a bad sign when rental    are tremendous, and you don't          get great results come spring,"                   bulky, prickly mess.
equipment is beat up and dirty,       have to keep constantly                Cira says. "The lawn greens up                    Backpack and walk-behind
but more so if it's lawn gear.        reseeding," he says.                   much quicker."                                    leaf blowers are far better
Dirt and debris from a previous            To seed a bare area, Cira tills                                                     than handheld blowers for
customer can spread disease           the soil, applies the seed, and                                                          moving difficult debris off
and weed seed from the rental         then covers it with a thin layer                                                         the lawn or at least into piles
machine to your lawn. Choose          of lightweight, compost-soil/                                                            that can be gathered. If you
your rental center carefully.         peat-moss blend. Then he keeps                                                           can afford it, consider a
Look for clean, well-maintained       it moist. Once the seeds get dry,                                                        pro-quality lawn vacuum
equipment.                            they're dry for good.                                                                    (typically $900 to $1500).




                                           HIT THE BOOKS You finally have a little breather. Take some                   ,!,
                                                                                                                          .~~~~~~~ThetJ illl 51i
                                                                                                                             dlifttftJ
                                      final notes and start poring over your journal. It's as important to            first rule of winter storage is to
                                      study what went wrong as what went right. Visit sources online.                 do what the manufacturer of
                                      "Look for information based on research, and try to stay with                   your equipment recommends.
                                      local sources," Landschoot says. "Grasses are managed differ-                   Owner's manual instructions
                                      ently in different parts of the country. I'm obviously a biased                 trump anything we or anybody
                                      source, but university websites are a good place to start."                     else has to say. If the manufac-
                                      Universities with turf-care and horticulture programs and                       turer tells you to run your
                                      cooperative extension services often post weed-identification                   equipment dry and store it
                                      pictures ·online.lfyou know your enemy, what prompts its growth,                over the winter that way,
                                      and what it's vulnerable to, the battle is halfway won.                         so be it. If, on the other hand,
                                                                                                                      it advises putting it to bed with
                                           PREPARE FOR SPRING Now is the time to clean and repair                     a full fuel tank, that's what you
                                      equipment. Remove grass clippings and dirt that hold moisture,                  need to do.
                                      which can cause rust. Cira even disinfects under the mower deck                      The most important thing
                                      using a dilute 10:1 water-bleach    solution followed by a rinse.               to know is that today's ethanol

STAKE YOUR CLAIM                           Next, remove the spark plug and air filter on four-cycle and
                                      two-stroke machines. Drain and replace the engine oil on four-cycle
                                                                                                                      gasoline decomposes quickly in
                                                                                                                      storage. It can damage or even
Don't let nine months of
obsessively hard work get             equipment, and sharpen or replace the mower blade. Clean the                    ruin equipment, especially
wrecked once the snow falls.          string-trimmer  head and wind fresh line on it. Finally, install a new,         when the equipment sits
Stake the perimeter of your           properly gapped spark plug in your mower, trimmer, and blower.                  around over the winter. Add
driveway and walks to reduce               Generously lubricate cable linkages and pivot points with                  fuel stabilizer to both four-cycle
gouging by snow throwers
                                      spray oil. Pump grease into fittings, and replace drivebelts if                 and two-str~e      fuel mix.
and plows. Reduce the use
of de-icing chemicals to the          they've reached the number of hours of service life recommended                 This prevents the chemical-
minimum amount required to            by the manufacturer. When in doubt,just replace them.                           decomposition        process. PM
do the job. Excess de-icer can
burn grass.

				
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