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The Winter Garden

During the Winter lawn mowing frequency slows, as do most tasks in the garden. But it is not a time for complacency as there is still a lot of work to do.

With cold temperatures and short days, growth in the garden is particularly slow during the middle of Winter, and there isn't a lot to do as far as seed sowing and pruning is concerned. While there is plenty of cold weather ahead, the winter solstice means that by the end of the month, days are already starting to get longer. This is a reminder that Spring isn't really that far away, so now is the time to get cracking on repair jobs, maintenance and landscaping projects around the garden. Some examples being preparation of new garden beds or soil improvement; re-potting patio plants, if necessary; transplant established shrubs (also a good time because the plants are relatively dormant at this time;, maintenance of lawnmower and other tools; installation, repair or cleaning of paving, retaining walls, gazebos etc.

Physical labour is also a lot more pleasant in this weather than the summer months.

One group of plants that are quite active are the cool season weeds. As with all weeds, prompt removal (whether by hand weeding or spraying) will prevent multiplication and bigger problems in subsequent years. Don't forget that weeds are also discouraged by good gardening practices - minimise exposed soil with mulches or cover crops and encourage strong growth of garden plants or lawn grass to outcompete weeds. Pay attention to drainage and soil pH. Selective cutting back or thinning out of trees and shrubs to encourage stronger growth of sun-starved lawn or groundcovers could be part of your strategy. Untidy flowering perennials that have finished can be cut back, but hold off pruning summer-flowering shrubs and tropical foliage plants until closer to spring, especially if in a frosty area. Just trim off any dead flowers and stray branches to keep them looking tidy. Spring-flowering shrubs should definitely not be pruned now - you'll be cutting off those developing flower buds. It's also the season for planting bare-rooted rose bushes.

Why not bring some cheerfulness into the garden with flowers? In Australia we are lucky to be able to grow many spectacular tropical flowering trees, shrubs and vines as well as the more traditional English-style perennials and bedding plants. The cultivation of annual flowers, or even herbaceous perennials, is not as popular as it once was, but with our water problems eased at the moment, why not give it a go? If you don't have much space in the garden, you can still create eye-catching displays in pots and planters and brighten up balconies, patios, and paved areas.

While it's too late to plant most spring annuals from seed, in frost-free areas you can still sow some for later flowering. A few varieties that are readily available in seed packets to try now include alyssum, nasturtium, pansy, viola, johnny-jump-up (heartease), amaranthus, celosia, lobelia, cleome, salvia, coleus, verbena, petunia, dianthus, Californian poppy (eschscholtzia), snapdragon. Seed of perennials can be started just about any time if you can care for them, especially keeping them away from frost at this time of year, but germination will be slow in cold weather.

If you sow into smaller pots or seed trays you can get them started in a warmer place indoors, as long as you check them regularly and bring them out into the light at the very first sign of emergence (or before) and harden them off to the sun gradually. An alternative is to buy seedlings from the garden centre, which will save you effort plus several weeks growing time. More advanced plants already in flower are more expensive but the way to go for colour immediately prior to a special occasion like a party or garden wedding.

So there are a few ideas and tasks to keep you active and your garden well looked after during the colder months. Enjoy!

The Garden as Spring Begins

As the warm weather sets in for the beginning of Spring, as well as lawn mowing, there are many jobs to get done in the garden and vegetable patch.

Prune shrubs that flowered in Winter/Sring as they finish. This includes pruning natives such as callistemons, grevilleas, and even wattles. This not only encourages an attractively shaped dense bush with more flowers next time (and low, where you can see them), but prevents the plant wasting energy on the production on fruit and seeds.

Poinsettias may still be showing some colour, so leave those until October if you prefer. Also cut back shrubs like acalypha, plumbago and hibiscus, before new growth starts with the onset of hot weather. Fertilise and mulch after pruning to set them up for the summer. Be sure to use a low-phosphorus formulation for sensitive natives such as grevilleas and banksias. If you have spring-flowering annuals in, keep up the water and give them a quick boost with a soluble fertiliser to keep them going as long as possible. Remove spent flowers to encourage the formation of new ones.

In the vegetable garden September is a peak planting month in South East Queensland, if you want to capitalise on the relatively mild conditions of Spring and early Summer to produce a wide variety of vegetable crops. Things will be more difficult when the punishing Summer weather really arrives. Solanaceous crops, such as tomatoes, eggplant, capsicums, tamarillo. Cucurbits, like, cucumbers, pumpkins, watermelons, rockmelons. The choko is an unusual member of this family, but can be planted at this time, too. Also, try carrots, lettuce, radishes, beetroot, silverbeet, beans, and cucurbits. If you still have space, you can also begin sowings of heat lovers like rosella, okra, snakebeans and sweetcorn.

With the weather warming up, cabbages will be very susceptible to caterpillar attack. If you still want to plant them, be prepared to take precautions. Pests and diseases in general will be proliferating. Keeping on the front foot both with respect to prevention and control measures, as well as attending to the health and vigour of the plants themselves so that they can resist and outgrow attacks, will help protect the investment of time and energy you've already made in establishing crops.

It's tempting to get carried away when confronted with the variety of seeds and seedlings available in the garden centres, much less the many unusual varieties in the catalogues of specialist suppliers. Most vegetables need a constant supply of moisture to do well so do bear in mind your ability to keep the water up to plantings over the coming months.

Pest control is also a major problem during the warm months. Try to minimise population build-ups by being vigilant now newly hatched pests or isolated attacks may be difficult to spot, but if you control infestations early you can help reduce more serious damage later on. For example, protect young tomatoes and other susceptible fruit from fruit fly with appropriate bags or nets and set up fruit fly traps.

The Spring Lawn Calendar.

Now that you have had a rest from gardening and mowing during the Winter months, it is time to prepare your lawn for the rush of Spring and Summer. There is not a great deal to do, but most of it is essential to keep your lawn looking beautiful throughout the warmer months.

The lawn work programme gets into full swing at the beginning of Spring. As soon as the grass begins to grow and the weather and ground conditions have improved, give the surface of the lawn a good rake in order to remove any debris such as leaves and other garden rubbish. Donít rake too vigorously though as you will damage your grass. If there have been heavy frosts in the Winter it is a good idea to settle the turf by giving it a light roll. It is not essential but is good for the lawn.

The first mow should be to just remove the top of the grass. If you cut too short at this time, or any time for that matter, you will scalp the lawn and it will turn brown. Choose a day when the surface is dry. In the first month of Spring, two fortnightly mows will be sufficient.

This is also the time to look for early signs of disease and apply a moss killer if required. Also neaten up or replace broken lawn edges.

The second month of Spring is the time to feed and weed, providing the grass and weeds are actively growing. Seek advice from your local garden centre on what treatments to use. If you use lawn sand you must ensure it is spread evenly and that the dead moss is raked up two weeks later. If any rogue grasses have arrived on your lawn, now is the time to dig them out and fill in the holes with sifted soil. Following this you can reseed the area or add a patch of turf. Your mowing regime should be at least fortnightly and on a level 5 or 6 cutting height on your lawn mower. This allows the grass to thrive without getting away from you.

In the last month of Spring ideally you should mow on a weekly basis on a level 4 cutting height. Again, if time is not available a minimum of fortnightly mowing is fine. This is also the best time for weed killing with either a selective weed killer or lawn sand. Remember the grass must be dry, the soil moist and the day fine and still when using weed sprays. This prevents innocent plants being killed, especially if a breeze blows the vapours on to them.

The soil is usually moist at the end of Spring but should a dry spell occur, ensure you water your lawn regularly.

Now that the necessary tasks are done, bring on the Summer gardening jobs!

Essential Tools for Good Lawn Care.

Wherever you are in the World and whatever the climate or type of garden you may have, you cannot mow or generally look after your lawn without a few essential tools. These tools are mainly inexpensive and are available at all garden centres. So letís examine a few of those shall we?

I live in the tropical climate of the lovely Sunshine Coast of Queensland, where the weather can have a great effect on the tools you may require to look after your lawn. But, wherever you live, gardening implements are a necessary part of lawn care.

The most essential tool is your trusty lawn mower. There are many types around these days, but not all lawn mowers are ideal for all lawn types. In a nutshell the type of lawn mower you choose will depend on the size of your lawn and your personal financial position. But donít go out and buy an all singing all dancing machine just because you can, as you will be surprised what value you will get for your money.

To trim the edges of your lawn you may wish to consider purchasing some long handled edging shears. These are basically a large pair of scissors with a long handle in order to save you from damaging your back. There are also various mechanical edging devices out there, but again it is down to budget and how keen a gardener you really are. I find that turning my whipper snipper (thatís strimmer, weed eater or line trimmer to some of you) on its side to do the edges works a treat and is done in no time. It is actually my favourite job in the garden!

A Spring-tine Rake is essential for removing debris from the surface of the lawn, thus preventing the build up of thatch.

The humble garden fork is the simplest way to aerate the lawn, as described in my previous article.

A hose and sprinkler are essential in areas which are susceptible to drought as weakened grass is easily invaded by weeds and moss once the moisture returns. Watering is essential in a dry Summer.

A watering can is too small for a large lawn but is always useful when watering pot plants or flower beds.

A hand fork or small trowel are great when digging out isolated weeds from your lawn. If you try to pull them out by the leaves the roots are left behind and soon the weed is back. If you havenít got a fork or trowel, an old blunt dinner knife is good, or even a screw driver. Just be careful not to injure yourself though.

On the subject of injuries please remember to protect yourself when looking after your lawn. Wear ear plugs when using machinery, protective glasses or goggles and shin pads with machines which throw debris about, and respirator and gloves when using poisons. All of these items are available at work wear and gardening stores.


Additional Tasks for a Lovely Lawn

As well as mowing, watering, feeding and weeding of your lawn, there are a few additional lawn care tasks which can be done to ensure that showpiece lawn.

There is no point mowing a lawn correctly if you fail to maintain it properly and carry out all lawn care tasks, especially in tropical climates like on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, where the weather can be varied and unpredictable.

If you have a lawn which is on badly drained ground, puddles can appear after heavy rain and eventually result in moss forming on your garden. In order to help prevent this you can carry out the simple task of aerating the lawn. I say simple because all you need is a garden fork. To do this you just need to walk up and down your lawn, or just concentrate on the affected areas, and every 10 inches or so drive the fork into the ground approximately 6 inches down. This relieves compaction in the soil, drainage is improved and new growth is stimulated. It is up to you how often you do this, but I would recommend a minimum of once per year. Myself, I also do it if any new puddles form, as I may have missed a spot previously or perhaps not spiked the ground deep enough. It may take half an hour or so to do, but if you love your garden then it is well worth it.

Top dressing, or re-thatching, of the lawn is an essential task if you want a top class lawn. There are a number of good reasons for doing this, but essentially the strength and vigour of the grass is improved. Top dressing is basically the application of a mixture usually made up of peat, loam and sand, and should be applied every Autumn. I would advise that you seek advice from your local garden centre about tools and the mixture required for this job.

As well as our fine feathered friends, our lawn mowers can be an enemy to our lawn as weeds can be spread by mowing our lawns simply by cutting a not so good area then immediately mowing a nice area of grass without first cleaning off your mower. Once these problems become established they are difficult to control, so a preventative programme of using lawn sand for moss control and a selective weed killer in late Spring, as well as a disease preventative in the Autumn are essential. Again seek advice from an expert before going ahead with chemical treatments.

Applying a suitable lawn feeder during Autumn is a great way to increase disease resistance and build up the root system. Please choose your product with care as products you may use in the Spring or Summer are unsuitable at other times of the year and can stimulate soft growth and increase the risk of disease. Ensure you select a product which clearly states it is for Autumn use.

The final task is to tackle brown patches as soon as they appear, but you must not delay and wait for it to become an eyesore, you must deal with it immediately. The treatments and causes are many and are the subject of a future article.

Essential Tasks for Maintaining Your Lawn.

Gardening and mowing are essential tasks on the Sunshine Coast, and anywhere in the World for that matter, if you want to keep your lawn looking attractive. But mowing, watering, feeding and weeding also ensure that the strength of your grass is maintained in order to prevent weeds, mosses and other invaders gaining a foothold.

The most essential task to maintain your lawn is correct mowing. Translated, this means setting up a regular mowing pattern throughout the year. The blades of your mower need to be sharp and set at the correct height for the type of lawn and the time of year.

You must beat the drought, and water your grass before it turns brown. The first signs of drought in lawns is the yellowy-brown colour of the grass and loss of bounce when you walk on it. In dry periods these signs become obvious after about seven days during the Summer, or ten days in the Spring. Water your lawn as per my previous article, and remember that a daily light sprinkling of water can be more harmful than good.

Overgrown grass at the edges of the lawn is unsightly, and defeats the whole object of having a lovely manicured garden. Ensure the mower can get as close to the edge as possible without causing any damage, then trim around the edges and around plants with the tool of your choice. For this I use a whipper snipper. It has many other names, depending on where you live, such as line trimmer, strimmer and weed eater. I love this tool and am somewhat of an expert with it. There is nothing more satisfying than looking back at your work and seeing a mowed lawn which stands out because of great edge work.

Regular mowing, although essential, drains the nutrients in the soil, thus encouraging weeds, so a routine feed is necessary at the start of the growing season. Donít be lazy because you think the continued grass growth will mean more work for you. It wonít. What it will do is result in a healthy looking lawn all year round. There are many lawn feeds on the market, so visit your local garden centre to get what is right for your lawn.

Raking the surface of the lawn in Spring and Autumn has many benefits, such as prevention of thatch build up and removal of surface debris. Natural debris such as worm casts should be removed by hand. Donít just flatten them as they act as a mini garden bed and are great for growing weeds from seeds dropped by birds.

The final task is to kill weeds and mosses as soon as they appear. Ideally weeds can be removed by hand but this can be time consuming depending on the size of your lawn. There are weed killers available which kill the weeds and not your lawn. Again, if in doubt, seek advice from an expert.

Now that these essential tasks have been done you can relaxÖwell, almostÖ. and enjoy the fruits of your labours.

How and When to Water Your Lawn

Your lawn cannot survive without water and the amount of rainfall on the Sunshine Coast is sporadic to say the least, ranging from torrential to drought. The grass roots require a good supply of moisture so the need for extra water will arise.

The first tell tale signs of a lack of water appear as soon as the top 10 centimetres or so have dried out. Without rain the grass will turn a straw colour and in extreme cases may die. Lawn grasses can be killed by drought but this can be avoided by regular watering. Some weeds are much more resistant to dry spells and can spread rapidly throughout your lawn when the grass is at its weakest.

There are a number of options to take, but the simplest is to water your lawn thoroughly. Treating of the weeds can be done later or as part of the process. The purpose of watering is to refill the gardenís reservoir, but this must be done carefully as too much can also be dangerous.

The first sign of moisture loss is when the grass is no longer springy. This is the ideal time to start your watering process. The second stage is when the grass loses its lovely green colour and becomes straw like and unsightly. Do not delay watering at this point as this is when the moss and weeds will begin to take over the weakened lawn. Before you begin it is a good idea to give the turf some air by pricking the surface. This can be time consuming but can easily be done with a garden fork. Simply poke the fork about 12 centimetres into the soil and do this every 15 centimetres or so in the lawn. It is probably a good idea to divide the lawn into lanes and work your way down, bodging holes regularly along the lane as described earlier. Once done it is time to water. The best time to water is either early morning or late afternoon as this is the coolest part of the day. I would recommend late afternoon as there is less chance of the water evaporating and thus defeating the whole object of the exercise.

The frequency of watering is dependent on the soil type and the weather. Sandy or dusty soil will need more watering than lawns on heavy soil. As a simple guide you should water once per week under normal dry conditions, but during a heat wave or on free draining soil you should increase watering to 2 to 3 times per week. The lawn should be left to dry out between watering to enable it to breath and stimulate root growth. You should never sprinkle the grass regularly as it encourages the spread of moss.

How you water is dependent on you, your lawn size and what tools you have available. In your standard garden the ground should be soaked to a depth of about 10 cm. This is the approximate equivalent of using 20 litres of water. I personally use a hose as it is quick and you can easily aim at the areas you desire. Obviously there are other methods such as watering cans and sprinklers but this is up to you, the gardener.

Remember the golden rule. Watering your lawn is not just to dampen the surface, it is to soak the soil and thus feed the roots of the grass. Remember that and your lawn will stay healthy.

How Often Should You Mow Your Lawn?

The frequency of mowing a lawn is often a personal choice but mowing it too much or too little can determine the health and street appeal of your grass and garden in general.

The weather conditions can often determine how often you mow your lawn, but lawns do need some tender loving care when it comes to mowing. Generally with the tropical weather on Queenslandís Sunshine Coast the rule is to mow fortnightly during the warmer months and every three weeks when it is cooler.

During the current Autumn period the intervals between mowing increases slightly to 3 weekly. To keep the lawn healthy the cutting height should also be raised to an average quarter of an inch higher than the Summer level. The purpose of mowing is not just to keep the garden looking good, but to build up a strong and healthy grass. The secret is to keep the grass at a suitably long length to prevent root starvation, but short enough to be attractive. The height must also remain constant during the growing season.

Of all gardening tasks, mowing takes up the most time and studies show that it has a controlling influence on the make-up of the turf. The grass varieties in a good lawn will change dramatically if the cutting height is either raised or lowered for a long period of time. The basic rule is to mow often, but not too closely. This prevents excess leaf growth, fertiliser loss is reduced or prevented, and menaces such as worms, weeds and coarse grasses are reduced. Grass is a living thing and trains itself to assume a shorter growth habit, the production of side shoots is stimulated, and these, in turn, thicken the lawn for the Summer.

Scalping the lawn to save yourself time and lessen the frequency of mowing happens too regularly. Good quality grass is destroyed because it becomes too weak to survive, and the thin, open lawn is soon invaded by moss, clover, daisies and all manner of grass, spread by birds and the wind.

The correct cutting frequency depends on a number of factors but generally the height of the grass is the best guide. Roughly, in the Summer when the grass is growing fast the lawn should be mowed twice a week. In Spring and Autumn and dry periods it should be mowed once a week. Doing less than this could result in the sudden loss of leaf and the grass is shocked and reduces its vigour. The lawn then becomes damaged and suffers a similar fate to when it has been scalped. If you have allowed the grass to grow tall you must treat it gently and not merely slash it with a whipper snipper then mow it as usual, but you must just take the tip off the grass at the first cut, reduce the height a few days later, then resume normal cutting after that. This will make the difference between a brown mess due to a lack of knowledge or patience, and a lovely green and healthy lawn.

As we all now, in an ideal world this is all possible, but the time and financial constraints of today mean that the aforementioned methods/advice will not always be used. My basic advice is not to let your grass get out of control or be invaded by weeds and pests. Frequent mowing, as advised, is the key but mowing fortnightly in the warmer months and reducing it to 3 weekly in the cooler periods should be enough to at least keep your grass looking good. Of course, other treatments may be required to keep it up to its full potential.

Why Choose Professional Lawn Mowing Services?

If you enjoy your spare time why mow the lawn yourself when you can get a professional to do it for you? But how do you go about it?

With the lovely weather on the Sunshine Coast and the fun loving attitude of Australians in general, it's not surprising that mowing your lawn, weeding or gardening in general, takes a back seat in the scheme of things. If it's a choice between the beach and green waste removal, most Australians choose the beach. This is why many people on the Sunshine Coast use professional lawn mowing services for all of their gardening needs.

But what are the advantages of using a professional lawn mowing and gardening service? Simple. You relax and let someone else do the hard work, giving you time to enjoy life. Lawn Mowing professionals offer a number of services ranging from lawn mowing, pruning, hedge trimming, gardening, weeding, weed spray, green waste removal, garden clean up, whipper snipping, and brush cutting.

How do I get myself a professional gardener, I hear you shout? Well, there are a few household names, but sometimes it is good to search the internet or the telephone book to find a local operator. Word of mouth or a friend's recommendation is often a good way, and more often than not you would have seen a sample of their work. They must offer all the skills you require and charge competitively. One essential thing is that they have public liability insurance. This protects both you and the tradesman should they accidentally damage something at your property. You must also ensure they give you a free, no obligation, written quote and that if you engage their services, they are reliable. First impressions are always good. If the mower person knocks on your door and they are dressed in any old clothes and have an unmarked trailer or van then take a look at their equipment. Most likely this is your cowboy operator and should be avoided. We hear no end of stories where people tell us their previous gardener just stopped coming, or told them their garden is not worth their while doing. We find this unbelievable. You are the customer and should be valued and respected. A good, professional gardener will arrive in some sort of uniform, with an all singing all dancing array of equipment. They will have a proper business card and, if asked, will happily show their certificate of insurance.

Once you have engaged a mowing professional you must ensure you are happy with the gardening services they provide. If you think the grass should be cut shorter, ask the gardener, and if he explains that grass has an optimum height to keep it healthy and if you cut it too short, you scalp it and it looks brown, then you have someone who knows what they are doing. We see scalped gardens every day and they look terrible. Also, if they leave a nice edge along your lawn, by whipper snipping, then hold on to that lawn mowing man or woman as they have pride in their work and you can be confident that they will always leave your garden looking lovely.

Obviously lawn mowing is the basic task offered by gardening professionals, and if you want other services they will cost extra. Weeding is time consuming so you must expect a reasonably large bill. Weed spray is generally charged in amounts of 5 litres, but the gardener will be able to tell you more. If you are a regular customer you will generally be charged a nominal fee. Pruning is generally done in the late Autumn/early Winter, unless you require a garden clean up, but again your gardener can advise you. Hedge Trimming is usually charged by the metre and removal of the green waste should be included in the price. Be aware that if it is a particularly tall hedge, you may need a tree person to deal with it as there are rules with regard to working at heights. Green waste on the Sunshine Coast is usually Palm fronds. They are everywhere! Again charges vary but gardening professionals generally charge by the trailer load and may charge more if they have to wander round your garden retrieving the green waste. Here, the tip is, pile it up conveniently for them and you will be charged the basic price. Garden clean ups are also quite expensive as they can take several days and many trips to the tip. Again it depends on your needs at the time.

So there you have it. If you hate mowing the lawn or gardening in general, enjoy your life and pay a professional gardener to do the work for you. You'll find them in the telephone book or on the internet.