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In the garden with Felder: Which kind of gardener are you?

 

A trend across the country is to get away from full lawns to easier-maintenance

A trend across the country is to get away from full lawns to easier-maintenance "throw rugs" of grass edged with groundcovers, trees, flowers and shrubs. Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

Felder Rushing

 

 

There are two kinds of gardeners: Those who mow, and those who do not.  

 

It isn't nice to fight Mother Nature, yet we do it all the time as we try nearly in vain to preserve that slice of artificial meadow we call the lawn.  

 

Face it: Whether you mow your grass yourself or outsource it to a neighbor's kid or professionals, let's acknowledge what we're actually doing. Some folks are driven out of a need to maintain order, much like making the bed every morning; others do it out of social habit, to show neighbors they care. Even if they don't. 

 

Full disclosure: On the sidelines there are the cottage gardeners like me who don't have any grass at all.  

 

The university-trained turf management expert side of me maintains that if you want a picture-perfect carpet of turfgrass, you have to look at it from its point of view. It needs, in this order of importance, regular cutting at the right height (high for St. Augustine, medium for centipede and zoysia, low for Bermuda grass), an occasional feeding with a slow-acting, long-lasting lawn fertilizer, and a good deep soaking at least every three to four weeks, better every week or two, never more than that. Maybe an occasional shot of weed killer.  

 

Ignore these at your lawn ego's peril.  

 

But everyone knows down deep that all you really have to do is mow every couple of weeks or so. Won't be perfect, but take off your glasses and it'll look just fine.  

 

Mowing the lawn interrupts a natural process in which meadow plants colonize bare areas and are in turn gradually replaced with a thicket of dense vegetation, which eventually gets shaded out by trees. It's called plant succession, and let's face it, we live in a natural forest that's continually trying to reassert itself as top 'o the heap.  

 

Still, even a very ordinary "mow-what-grows" approach to lawn care thwarts this inexorable progression, at least for a couple of weeks. Without regular mowing, a lawn quickly becomes a sea of green half-a-foot-or-more tall, covering edges of walks, drives and curbs. Within weeks the lower blades turn yellow for lack of sunlight, and neighbors start chattering.  

 

Soon other "pioneer species" native grasses and wildflowers start to flower and go to seed, and notices from the homeowners association or city inspector quickly follow, charging you with neighborhood or city code violations. 

 

A neighbor of mine didn't mow his grass for so long, it had zinnia seedlings blooming in the middle of his lawn. I kinda liked the butterflies his yard suddenly hosted. But it got me musing about whether a naturalistic approach to gardening is good or bad. 

 

Doesn't matter. Depending on your world view there are two ways of looking at this approach to lawn care: You can see it as a proudly managed turf that is constantly falling to pieces and in need of constant fiddling and control, or a more relaxed meadow lawn that is teetering closer to a more sustainable natural system. 

 

The big trend all over the country is in getting away from the wall-to-wall carpet and enjoying an easier-to-maintain throw rug of grass edged with mulch and groundcovers, with groups of trees, shrubs, and flowers. Takes a little more skill but looks great with less regular maintenance.  

 

Nowadays, a good garden has some of it all, starting with a smaller, well-defined and regularly mown lawn that doesn't have random zinnias in it. Your neighbors will look kindly on you, no matter what kind of gardener you are -- or are not. 

 

Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the "Gestalt Gardener" on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to [email protected]

 

 

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