Malcolm Griffiths

Step-by-step approach to maintenance

  • Ready to go: the garden is not a static entity; when a blade of grass is cut, it immediately continues regrowth

I have often written the words “what you create, you have to maintain”. The statement is true when dealing with landscape design and, by natural progression, garden maintenance.

The garden is not a static entity; when a blade of grass is cut, it immediately continues regrowth. It is the same for a cut branch, which stimulates resources for producing branches, leaves and flowers.

Taking a step-by-step approach to the main tasks will help understand the need for each action.

Weeding

A weed is a plant growing in the wrong location. It has roots, requires moisture and will take nutrients out of the soil. If it is an ephemeral, it will grow, flower and seed in a very short period of time thus distributing seed far and wide. It is therefore important to recognise a weed in a defined location in order to remove it.

There is an adage which states, “if you weed when no weeds are present, you will have no weeds”. The basis of this statement is simply, by pushing a Dutch hoe or similar through the surface of the soil regularly, you will remove germinating weeds including roots. In cases of slightly more established weeds, ensure removal of the total root to avoid regrowth.

Mowing

The main lawn grasses in Bermuda are St Augustine and its variety Floratam, which is more chinch bug resistant, Bermuda grass and Zoysia. Their growth is active when temperature is a constant 65 Fahrenheit.

Ryegrass is used as an overwintering green, but dies off around May or June. An important issue with maintaining a good sward includes verticutting, the removal of old grass or thatch.

Such an exercise literally involves scalping the lawn then verticutting, to invigorate and aerate soil and thus new growth.

Mowing height varies according to grass type, with St Augustine and Bermuda being best mown with a rotary blade. However, St Augustine should be cut at a height of three inches while Bermuda can be mown at anywhere from half an inch to two inches. Zoysia, a tightly knit grass with a fine blade, should be mown with a reel-bladed machine to look its best; verticutting should also be carried out every couple of years to avoid a heavy thatch build up.

Pruning

This is an “overcooked” exercise which is often unnecessary and damaging to the plant’s future growth. Except for Lantana, Pentas, Salvia and similar continuously flowering, low-growing plants that should be pruned back after each flowering, pruning should be carried out — at most — three times per year.

Prune in late March or early April to remove dead or broken branches and encourage good branch system.

If heavy growth forms during the summer months, consider pruning mid to late August to reduce some of the weighty growth and open up the branch system to allow winds to pass through, thus reducing wind damage.

Prune again in late October or early November, contingent on weather conditions — again to reduce excess growth and allow winter winds to filter through branches.

Spraying

Spraying involves the use of poisonous chemicals and should be treated accordingly with protective clothing, goggles and footwear worn.

Insecticides and fungicides can often be applied together, whereas herbicides should be applied in a sprayer designated for use with herbicides only, and should be marked accordingly.

After use, sprayers should be thoroughly cleaned out to ensure no residue remains. Spraying should not be carried out in breezy conditions so beware of possible spray drift and act accordingly.

With insecticides and fungicides do not spray if the ground is too dry or when the temperature is above 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

As maintenance is precisely that, a programme to maintain one’s garden to a desired level, it is not necessarily in tandem with the adage “you pay for what you get”.

If you are not careful and observant and don’t ask questions, you may well be paying for what can be viewed as a depreciating asset which, when realised, may be too late and/or too costly to reverse the process!