Environmental Notes

Make late-summer yard work easier -- now and for next year

And please tend to your boulevard trees!

For many of us, working in the garden and tending to the lawn are some of the joys of late summer. There are still some hot and humid days to come, though, so here are a few easy and environment-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.

Mulch is basically a protective covering -- sawdust, compost, clippings or paper -- spread or left on the ground around garden plants. 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 1-2 inches.

Wood chips and bark products are more permanent 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 2-3 inches, whereas coarse textured chips can be applied up to a depth of 6 inches. Wood chip mulch should not be placed right up to the tree's trunk, as this can become a good 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 Web site www.minneapolisparks. org under the "Caring for your Parks" section, or call the Forestry Office at 370-4900.

Water wisely If you chose to water your lawn and garden, remember that it's better to water less frequently and give plants a deep, thorough soak. Plants that are lightly watered frequently produce shallow roots that cannot survive heat and dry conditions. Watering deeply and infrequently causes plant roots to grow deeply into the soil in search of the water. Plants that are more deeply rooted are those that are more drought-resistant plants.

Take care of your boulevard trees! This year -- with several warm, dry weeks -- newly planted boulevard trees really need some extra help. Trees less than five years old need an inch of rainfall weekly. Water newly planted trees thoroughly once every seven to 10 days during dry periods in the spring, summer and fall. Young trees need at least eight, five-gallon buckets of water slowly poured above their roots once every seven to 10 days.

An easy way to water your tree is to put a hose under the crown of the tree and run water gently for about an hour. It is not necessary to water as often when rainfall has been adequate for your tree.

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 allow grass to 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.

Now, relax. Bring out your lawn chair, a cool drink and some good gardening books. Plan ahead. Some of the most beneficial things you can do for your landscape and lawn are best done in late summer and fall. Now is a good time to do planning for later in the season.

Lawn aeration, seeding and fertilizing are best done in late summer or 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: University of Minnesota Extension, www.extension.umn.edu.

Marcia Holmberg is the environmental projects coordinator of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, www.minneapolisparks. org.