For many of us, working in the garden and tending to the lawn are some of the joys of summer. As the days get hot and humid, here are a few easy and environmentally friendly things you can do to improve your landscape and reduce the amount of work it takes:
Mulch to reduce weeding and watering
Mulching gardens, trees and shrubs reduces weed growth, conserves soil moisture and moderates soil temperature. Organic mulches such as partially decomposed compost or shredded leaves can also improve your soil structure by adding organic matter to the soil as it decomposes.
The mulch you use depends on what type of plants you are mulching. Finer-textured organic mulches work well for annuals and perennials. These mulch materials include grass clippings, shredded leaves, pine needles and partially decomposed compost. If you use grass clippings on your garden, make sure the grass has not been treated with herbicides. Using clippings of herbicide-treated grass may injure the plants you are mulching. Grass clippings also need to be applied when dry and only to a thickness of 1 to 2 inches.
Wood chips and bark products are more permanent and visible and are best suited for mulching trees and shrubs. Wood chip mulch can protect trees by keeping lawn mowers and weed whips away from tree trunks, reducing bark and stem injury. Finely shredded wood chips can be applied to a depth of 2 to 3 inches, whereas coarse textured chips can be applied up to a depth of 6 inches. Wood chip mulch should be kept away from tree trunks, as this can become an inviting habitat for insects.
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board's Forestry Division has free woodchips available at sites throughout the city. For locations of wood chip sites check the Park Board website www.minneapolisparks.org under the "Caring for Your Parks" section or call the Forestry Office at 370-4900.
Use drip irrigation
Special porous irrigation hoses that are made for watering gardens and landscape plantings are available at nurseries and department stores. These irrigation hoses can be left in place all summer, making the task of watering easier.
There are several benefits to this type of watering. Drip irrigation applies water right to where it is needed, the root zone of the plant. It also decreases the chances for water to accumulate on leaves where it can cause fungus and mold problems. An additional environmental benefit is that it can reduce surface water runoff. Reducing or eliminating water runoff from sidewalks, driveways and city streets helps keep our lakes, rivers and streams clean.
Raise the mowing height on your lawnmower
Towards the end of the summer when the days usually turn warm and dry, it's best to let grass grow taller. A height of 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches will encourage deeper root systems and allow the grass plant to shade the soil surface, keeping roots cool and light-loving weed seeds from germinating.
Some of the most beneficial things you can do for your landscape and lawn are best done from late summer to fall. Now is a good time to do some research and planning for later in the season
Lawn aeration, seeding and fertilizing are best done in late summer - fall. If you want to develop a more sustainable garden, look into using native plants or hardy perennials in the landscape. Fall is a good time for planting and you may even find some end-of-season sales.
For information on gardening, tree and lawncare surf to the University of Minnesota Extension Service, www.extension.umn.edu.