Low mow is a no-go; let your grass grow

On GardeningJuly 2, 2014 

This week’s column takes a look at readers’ questions. I’ve got answers.

Question: How low should we mow? My husband loves a closely cropped lawn because he says it looks like a golf course. I do like that look but our lawn gets brown patches in the summer and I remember reading someplace that lawns should not be mowed so low. Did I read that in your column? D.H., Sumner

Answer: Just say no to the low mow in our climate.

Let the grass grow to three inches tall and remove just the top third once a week. When your grass blades are always two inches or taller, they will shade out many weeds and need less water than a lawn kept at just one inch tall.

A perfectly level lawn will give you the look of golf course perfection, so fill in the low spots, fertilize in spring and fall, and frame your lawn with a nice crisp edge. Closely cropped putting greens are planted with a special grass seed not recommended for homeowners because it requires special soil, constant water and mowing several times a week.

Q: Should I buy the discount plants at the garden center? I am tempted by the still-blooming petunias spilling out of the pots and some of the shrubs that have finished flowering, but I don’t want to risk it if these plants will just die. K. Email

A: Go ahead and take a risk on adopting a less-than-perfect plant if the price is right and you like to gamble. Check out the roots of discount trees and shrubs that look wilted. Healthy roots hold a plant firmly in the pot and are light in color.

Don’t invest in plants with rotting roots that wiggle in the pot. Also avoid plants if you suspect insect or disease problems.

Petunias still in bloom can be a great investment but you may need to cut back any leggy growth by one third to invigorate these plants. Be sure to loosen any roots on a plant overgrowing its container.

Geraniums no longer in flower can have a second chance if you think lack of sunlight is the reason they stopped blooming. Perennials past their flowering prime can be purchased with great expectations for next year. Adopting a plant with special needs can be a challenge with huge returns on your small investment.

Q: Must I take the dead flowers off my huge rhododendrons? Also, when can I prune rhododendrons and azaleas? R.Y., Tacoma

A: Nope, your rhodies will still flower next year if you don’t deadhead.

Removing the old blooms from young rhododendron plants does help them to grow larger. For mature rhododendrons, you can use a light rake to remove faded blooms and break off the new growth candles at the same time.

Removing the new June growth is an easy way to keep rhododendrons more compact. The best time to prune rhododendrons, azaleas and most other flowering shrubs is right after they finish blooming. The good news is if you prune a healthy shrub at the wrong time of year, it will forgive you but throw a little fit by withholding the flower display for a year.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.

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