Master Gardener tips for the Panhandle – Week of June 29, 2020

By Jeanne Yeoman, Nebraska Extension Master Gardener Volunteer

Summer lawn care: You can have a healthier lawn this summer by following these tips:

  • Mow high. Set your mower on the highest setting. This will help shade out weeds and retain soil moisture.
  • Remove no more than one-third of the grass blade when you mow. The grass blades provide nutrients for the roots.
  • Keep your mower blades sharp to cut cleanly and prevent tearing.
  • Don’t bag your clippings. Use a mulching mower to recycle them back to your lawn.
  • Water less frequently, but deeply. Be sure the water soaks down to the grass roots.
  • Don’t apply fertilizer during the summer; wait until fall. 

Convert some lawn to other landscape: Benefits to reducing the size of your lawn include saving time and energy on lawn maintenance, reducing your overall water usage, and enhancing biodiversity by providing food and shelter for pollinating insects and wildlife. If you want to explore a smaller lawn, here are some suggestions: First, make a plan- changes can be made gradually over several seasons. Lawn replacements can include ground covers, xeriscape plantings, perennial flower beds, tiered tree and shrub plantings and vegetable gardens. Finally, consider planting native trees, shrubs, ground covers, native grasses and wildflowers. They will require less fertilizer, less watering and less maintenance. Pollinators, birds and other wildlife will benefit too.

What is xeriscaping? Xeriscaping is a word originally coined by the Denver Water Department in the 1980’s to describe landscaping that conserves water. It does not mean replacing lawns and trees with plastic and gravel. It means using principles that save water, time and resources. Here are some xeriscaping principles:

  • Make a plan
  • Create practical turf areas
  • Select low-water plants, and group them according to their water needs.
  • Use soil amendments – compost is best.
  • Use mulches.
  • Irrigate efficiently.
  • Maintain the landscape.

You don’t need to rip out your existing lawn and garden and start all over. Xeriscape can be a gradual process.

Rain gardens help protect water quality: When it rains the water that comes off rooftops, lawns, and driveways drains into the storm water system and eventually end up in rivers, lakes and streams. Along the way, this runoff can pick up pesticides, fertilizers, pet waste and other pollutants. You can help prevent this pollution by planting a rain garden, an area designed to capture runoff and reduce pollution using the natural filtration action of amended soil and plant roots. Using a variety of native and perennial plants, grasses and flowers; rain gardens can add beauty and also provide food and habitat for pollinators and other wildlife.

Tomato problems? Tomatoes are the most popular crop for backyard gardens, but unfortunately there are many infectious diseases and other disorders that can reduce the yield and quality of garden tomatoes. Here are some tips to help avoid tomato problems:

  • Plant cultivars resistant to common diseases.
  • Rotate crops; try a three-year rotation if possible.
  • Allow enough space between the plants – at least 18-24 inches, depending upon the variety.
  • Maintain good air circulation around plants, and remove weeds as they appear.
  • Mulch plants and fertilize appropriately.
  • Water consistently and properly – avoid wetting the leaves.
  • Remove infected leaves immediately – it may save the plant.