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Time for first early spring lawn mowing is here

April 6, 2012

By Dr. David Nagel
MSU Extension Service

Dr. Wayne Wells
MSU Extension Service

Spring appears to have arrived early and many homeowners are bringing out their lawn mowers to cut down flowering winter annual weeds and remove much of the old dead leaf canopy from the previous summer. Every spring I receive calls asking if a lawn can be burned or mown very low (scalped) in early spring and the reply is yes but with reservations and restrictions.

I strongly discourage burning although close mowing or scalping can be of benefit to many lawns depending on turf species if done early when the turf is just breaking dormancy. With burning this practice is usually not very uniform, the liability risk is great, creates an awful amount of smoke and soot to deal with, and many communities have ordinances that forbid burning.

Lawns of bermudagrass or zoysia can be cut very low (scalped) since they have a strong network of rhizomes (below soil runners) and stolons (above ground stems) that will quickly replenish the turf canopy with new rejuvenated growth if soil and air temperatures are warm enough for growth. Centipede and St. Augustine lawns can also be cut slightly lower than their optimum mowing height but should not be “scalped” as they have only stolons to develop a new canopy. Scalping or close mowing should not be a continuous process throughout the season but only once when the lawn begins its initial spring growth.

Since there will be an excess of old clippings being removed this may be a time to collect clippings rather than leaving them on the lawn. These clippings should be utilized as compost and not considered trash to fill our landfills.

Nasturtiums — These cool season annuals are easy to grow and will bloom all spring. Soak seeds in a saucer of water overnight; then plant them directly in the garden approximately a foot apart or in containers outdoors. They will germinate in about a week. Blooms, buds and foliage are edible and add a peppery zing to salads, sandwiches and other fresh foods.

Strawberries — Bundles of bare-root plants are now available at local garden centers. Set plants 12 to 18 inches apart at the proper depth, so the surface of the soil is midway between the crown and the roots.

Daffodils — Don’t be alarmed if the pink-flowered selections you planted last fall open and appear more salmon than pink. Wait a day or two, and they will mature to the true pink you are expecting. According to bulb expert, Brent Heath, to make your cut daffodils last longer, don’t cut them with pruners. He says to reach down between the leaves to where the flower stalk emerges from the ground.

Grasp the stalk firmly between your finger and thumb; pull and snap it. Why? Because what you’re after is a stem with a white, solid end. Strange as it may seem, this absorbs and holds water better than a hollow stem, which is what you invariably wind up with if you use pruners. Place the picked daffodils in tepid water and enjoy.

Many garden centers have heirloom tomato plants available now. Be aware these varieties make very large plants and will require extra room both vertically and horizontally. Use six or seven foot stakes or at least five foot cages to support the plants and set them out at least four feet apart.

Good Friday gardeners should be doing soil preparation now. Killing weeds and working the soil into beds now will make planting much more relaxing and less time consuming. Be sure to chop weeds or cover crops into small pieces by mowing or cutting if you are incorporating them before planting. Small pieces will breakdown much more quickly than large ones.Tilling in compost or limestone ahead of time allows the ameliorative reactions in the soil to begin before the plant roots from seeds or transplants start growing.

There have been a lot of questions this winter about establishing asparagus. The key to a long lived asparagus bed is well drained soil in an area that gets full sun all day. Asparagus dies back to its crown each winter. Wet soils allow fungi to attack the crown and kill the plant.

Many gardeners establish raised beds since crowns are buried at least four inches below the soil surface and many locations in Mississippi do not have soils that are dry four inches below the surface. The best yielding varieties in trials at Verona were Purple Passion and Jersey Knight, but even heirloom Martha Washington will produce good quality spears under the right conditions.
Nagel and Wells are affiliated with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. Article provided by the Oktibbeha County Extension Service; for more information call 662-323-5916.

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