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How high should your lawn be?

Friday - 5/13/2011, 9:25am  ET

Tackling your lawn chores

Mike McGrath, WTOP's garden guru


Lawn Cutting Height Doesn't Change With the Seasons

Michele in Bethesda writes, "I remember that you provided height guidelines some time ago for cutting grass over the summer: One height for now through May and another for the really hot months of July and August to ensure you don't burn the grass. Can you provide me with those tips?"

Sorry, Michelle, I cannot because I never said them. Although varying the height throughout the season is a popular mythology, the reality is much more one size fits all. Cool-season grasses (bluegrass, fescues, rye) growing in full sun should always be 3 inches high after they're cut. Grasses in shade need to be 3 1/2 inches -- never lower or you provide an engraved invitation for weeds to move in.

Zoysia grass, the one that turns tan in the winter, is the only exception. It can take a shorter cut, because it's a warm-season grass (the only one that can survive the region's winters).

Organic Isn't Expensive -- Poor Lawn Care Is

Jennifer in Falls Church writes, "My homeowners' association recently looked at switching to an organic weed control, but felt that organic methods were too cost prohibitive. Any ideas?"

Yes. The big idea being that weeds are always a sign of poor lawn care. The most inexpensive, cost-effective way to defeat them is to NOT invite them in to begin with.

If your caretakers scalp the lawn, feed it in the summer and water frequently for short periods of time, they can spray all the toxins they want. The weeds will still thrive. But if they never cut it lower than 3 inches, feed it only in spring and fall, and water deeply but infrequently, the lawn will soon overpower any weeds.

Get Rid of Lawn Grubs in Late Summer, Not Now

Eric in Chevy Chase writes, "How do I confirm I've got lawn grubs? And how do I treat for them?"

You typically check for lawn grubs in the late summer, Eric, by tugging at patches that look damaged. If the grass comes up like a carpet with all of its roots gone, you've got grubs. These immature stages of Japanese and other scarab beetles eat a lot of grass roots in the fall in preparation for the long winter ahead. The sure cure is to apply milky spore powder to your lawn in late summer/early fall (ideally mid-August to mid-September). The grubs ingest the spores, die and then their bodies breed more of this totally non-toxic grub control. That's right-non-toxic; it's a natural soil organism, the same one that prevents Japanese beetles from becoming pests in Japan.

Time it right and those dead grubs will become little milky spore factories that will protect your lawn from grub damage for decades to come. But timing is everything. Milky spore doesn't work if it's applied in the spring. (The soil is too cold for activation and the grubs aren't feeding, so they can't ingest any spores.)

And there's no need to do ANYTHING now; the grubs ONLY feed in the fall and don't harm lawns in spring.

Get the Facts on the Dangers of Toxic Lawn Care

Are you tired of your lawn care provider or spouse polluting the Chesapeake Bay and endangering your family with toxic and unnecessary lawn chemicals, but don't know enough facts about the dangers and options to get them to stop? Safe Lawn expert Paul Tukey, author of "The Organic Lawn Care Manual", will arm you with all the information you need to achieve a safe sea of green in two free talks next week.

He'll screen the film "A Chemical Reaction" and explain non-toxic lawn care options at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 5 at the Kentlands Stadium 10 in Gaithersburg.

On Friday May 6, he'll deliver a lecture and answer your questions on safe lawn care from 10 a.m. to noon at the Bullis School on Falls Road in Potomac. It's free and open to the public, but registration is encouraged. To register, please call 301-424-4141. Bonus: The first 50 registrants will receive a copy of Paul's "Organic Lawn Care Manual."

Flower Mart at the National Cathedral May 6-7

Mother's Day is next Sunday, and that means it must almost be time for the fabulous Flower Mart celebration at the National Cathedral. Sponsored by the All Hallows Guild, with proceeds going toward upkeep of the Cathedral's legendary horticulture. This year's celebration will spotlight the Republic of Austria and run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, May 6 and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 7.

As always, Flower Mart features great food, music, the annual two-day-only appearance of the legendary century-old carousel, and of course, lots of greenery and garden inspired gifts for mom-or heck, for anybody.! You'll find all the information here.

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