Creating a vibrant, healthy landscape is easier than ever with year-round care tips from Martha.
Water and fertilizer may seem to be the best way to rescue an ailing lawn, but the problem is likely more complex. Most people don't know that thatch, a layer of dead grass stems and roots at the soil's surface, is often the underlying reason for unhealthy grass. The solution is aeration, which involves making evenly spaced holes over the entire lawn. These holes break through the thatch layer, allowing water and air to penetrate. If your lawn looks particularly unhealthy, you can aerate it during the summer. When it looks good again, aerate it once a year in the spring. Lawn professionals offer this service, or you can rent a machine and do it yourself: If the lawn has never been aerated, opt for a plug aerator. To maintain a previously aerated lawn, a spike aerator is a better choice.
You can rent a sod cutter, a machine that goes under the roots of the grass and lifts it up like sod. Then you can replant it or give it away. Or turn it upside down and add it to your compost pile. If you don't want to rent a machine, the other option is to dig underneath the grass with a flat spade. Just keep in mind that this could take a long time.
Banishing poison ivy is possible, but it may take several attempts over a few seasons. Try targeting the plant without the use of chemicals. (Some herbicides are marketed as effective against poison ivy, but they are not completely reliable.) When dealing with the ivy, always wear long sleeves, goggles, and fabric gloves with plastic gloves or bags on top. After a good rain, rip out smaller vines, removing every leaf, stem, and root to prevent resprouting. If the ivy is large and well-established, cut the stem near the ground, and let the rest wither. Once the plant is fully dry, dig out the roots before it can grow back. Then check regularly for new growth. Seal the ivy in garbage bags, and contact your sanitation department for disposal details.
Birds are the best insect control nature has to offer. They're much preferable to chemical sprays and bug zappers. Swallows, in particular, subsist mainly on winged insects. In fact, a pair of swallows can eat thousands of mosquitoes in a day! And, they are common all over the United States. They like open spaces, so hang your birdhouses -- ideally bluebird boxes with an entrance hole of one and a half inches -- near fields or lawns, rather than in heavily wooded areas.
Just because turf is frozen or dormant for several months doesn't mean it is immune to harm. Snowplows, melting ice, frequent foot traffic, and late-season cold temperatures can all take a toll. Nothing needs to be done for yellowing and snow mold; turf should recover as growth begins. Bare patches, however, need repair to keep weeds at bay. Wait until the ground is no longer wet and muddy. Then, use a steel rake to remove dead grass and rough up the surface of the soil. Level any uneven spots with topsoil. Densely sow grass seed over the exposed areas and rake it in lightly. Water regularly until the grass is well established. Don't mow until several weeks of growth have occurred. Next autumn, take some preventative steps: Rake the lawn regularly. Before the grass goes dormant, mow it and water it thoroughly one last time. Ahead of the first snowfall, mark the boundaries of your driveway and walkways to keep snow shovels off the turf.