The Plant Man column
for publication week of 10/24/04 - 10/30/04
The Plant Man
by Steve Jones
Lush lawns begin with autumn action now!
In a recent column, I discussed some of the autumnal chores that
gardeners and landscapers should be addressing now to ensure an easier
and more productive spring next year. That column included some brief
lawn tips. But that wasn’t enough!
This morning, as I sipped my first cup of coffee, I looked out the
kitchen window and saw in the dawn’s early light that my lawn was
still there, to paraphrase a well-known anthem. As I watched a gust
of wind chase a flurry of leaves around in circles, it struck me that,
for most of us, the major part of our landscape consists of ... grass.
However, it’s quite easy to take the lawn for granted while we
concentrate on our shrubs and trees. We just mow it every so often
and turn our attention to the more interesting flora.
A lush, green lawn can make even a modest home seem a little grander.
On the other hand, a scrubby, thatched lawn seems to convey a much
more negative impression.
So let’s take a look at your lawn and see how we can nudge it from
scrubby to lush.
“Thatch” is just another name for that dead grass that looks like a
smaller version of straw and is tangled in dry masses around the green
(live) grass. It gives your lawn a grey, dead look, and prevents much
of what you might spread on your lawn – such as grass seed or
fertilizer – from reaching the soil.
So you need to “dethatch” your lawn. The most effective way is to
give it a vigorous raking. Most of the live grass will stay put,
anchored in the soil by its roots. But the thatch will pull away in
the tines of the rake. You might be surprised by the high volume of
thatch that you harvest this way!
Here’s a tip I picked up from David Beaulieu at
that will get two jobs done at once. While you’re raking up the fallen
leaves, be sure to rake deeply instead of simply skimming the surface
of your lawn. This way you’re gathering both leaves and thatch. You
can find a direct link to that web site by going to my site
www.landsteward.org and finding this column under the “Plant Man”
Those useful leaves...
Instead of burning your fallen leaves or bagging them up like garbage,
put them to use around your landscape! First decide if you want to
use them as mulch or as compost.
You might be wondering about the difference between mulch and compost,
as the two are frequently confused. Essentially, mulch forms a layer
of protection around plants, keeping moisture in and keeping extreme
heat or cold out. Compost is mixed with soil to provide nutrients to
your plants. Put your leaves, grass clippings and kitchen scraps into
a large covered bin and turn regularly to aid the composting process.
You can find out more by visiting http://www.howtocompost.org/ and
again there’s a link to that information from this column at my web
Mulches can reduce moisture loss by 10 to 25 percent, and this can be
important in winter months when frost-hardened soil can make it hard
for plants to absorb the essential moisture. When mulching trees,
cover as much of the root zone as possible, extending out at least 3
to 6 feet from the base. To prevent bark decay, pull out the mulch
about two inches from the base of the trunk.
As a rule of thumb, to cover a 100 square foot area with mulch to a
depth of three inches, you’ll need one cubic yard of organic material
such as leaves, pine straw and pine bark nuggets.
In the case of both compost and mulch, you’ll aid the effectiveness if
the leaves are shredded, and a lawnmower is the simplest way to
My next column will provide some more tips on elevating your lawn from
scrubby to lush!
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs
and landscaping to email@example.com and for resources and
additional information, including archived columns, visit