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By Don White

Spring is alive – smell the freshness in the air, the sweet scent of blossoms, and the aroma of new-cut grass. Don’t dread spring and summer. “Green up!” Even the worst gardeners can create lush, green yards when they go “green.”
We live next to the most wonderful people alive and we love them. They made a decision we respect: they aren’t putting money into their lawn, trees, and shrubs this spring so that they can afford to send their kids to private schools.
Today’s economy requires stretching to make ends meet. Where we live in Central Florida, unless you have a well it can cost you upwards of $400 to $600 a month just to water the lawn. Add to that the expense of fertilizing, mowing, trimming, and spraying for weeds and bugs.
There’s no question that a well-cared-for lawn increases property value, but that’s only one reason to keep it green. “Green” enhances home curb appeal and boosts property value without increasing taxes.
You can keep the lawn green this summer without “breaking the bank.”
The fabulous four of lawn care:
  • Feeding
  • Mowing
  • Watering
  • Aerating (dethatching)
We discuss “bugs” in a later article.
Feeding choices seem endless. There’s the quick-release method that’s inexpensive and works fast, but these “spray jobs” don’t last very long. Then there are the slow-release chemicals, the slow-but-steady kinds that cost more but last longer. The time of year you are fertilizing will also affect the kind of product you should use. They vary from well-advertised Scotts Turf Builder to Lesco, a commercial application that many homeowners prefer.
But here’s the other side of the coin. Have you ever mixed your own fertilizer? Common household products like Epsom salts, beer, soda, ammonia, and liquid dish soap? With the right mixture, you can treat your lawn to quite a feast.
There is one other way: organic stuff like that made of 100% manure, fish emulsion, and other high quality natural ingredients (and no chemicals). They provide plenty of nitrogen, the all-important nutrient to green grass, and they won’t burn plants. They also offer long-lasting nutrients to grow your lawn.
Mowers
If you have a small lawn I’d recommend an environmentally clean-air electric model. I’ve owned one and they work beautifully. The hazards include moisture and the electric cord – you need to remind yourself to move the cord each time you turn directions. For larger lawns, it’s a must to mow with a gas-driven machine. If you own a gas-driven mower, the best thing you can do is to clean it thoroughly twice yearly to make sure it fires efficiently.
Well-maintained gas mowers are easy on the environment. These dependable workhorses of the lawn-care are easy on the pocketbook, simple to maintain, and can handle nearly all terrains.
Each fall and spring you should clean your mower extensively to ensure there won’t be excessive carbon emissions. I recommend using kerosene, allowing plenty of time to expel sludge, and thoroughly dry the one- or two-stage mower engine before introducing gas into the firing chamber. Protect yourself against false starts and keep your hands away from blades. If you’re going to clean or sharpen the blade, be sure you’ve pulled the sparkplug wire so that the unit will not turn on and injure someone. If possible, have a mower shop clean the unit and sharpen the blade. Sharp mower blades ensure grass will not tear, causing yellowing and damage to the lawn.

Watering

Water can be a lawn’s best friend. It all depends on the time of year and conditions. We get a lot of rain in Central Florida during the summer and though our community allows watering twice a week, we don’t water during the rainy season. Too little water and your lawn will dehydrate; but too much drowns grass, making it go yellow and moldy.
Most lawns love a long, lingering rainstorm. Thunderstorm rain – as long as it is slow and gradual — is most beneficial because it is always accompanied by lightning, which breaks the bonds of nitrogen molecules in the air. They are made of two tightly bound nitrogen atoms which, when hit with lightning, separate and combine with oxygen in the air forming nitrogen dioxide. This dissolves easily with water forming nitric acid, which in turn, becomes nitrate. It’s the nitrates that are the magic ingredient of green lawns, so pray for mild summer thunderstorms.
You should get a copy of Jerry Baker’s book, Green Grass Magic published by American Master Products, Inc. Jerry advises that no matter which kind of fertilizer you choose, always hose down your lawn with a soap and water solution before and after you fertilize (1 cup of liquid dish soap in a 20 gallon hose-end sprayer). “This simple step does a number of things,” he says. “It removes dust, dirt and pollution from grass blades; It helps the fertilizer adhere better wherever it lands; and it slows down soil compaction, improving penetration, and helping to prevent burning your grass.”
Sweep up any spilled fertilizer and never apply chemicals during hot spells. Spring is the time to apply what he calls his “Spring Wakeup Tonic” but no more than 2 weeks before your first dry feeding. Then follow up with a dose of his turf builder tonic. This will help aerate the lawn and give it something to “munch on” until you begin your regular feeding program.
You should fertilizer at the start of each of two growing seasons — in the spring and in September. Though down here in Florida where it is sunny all the time, many people fertilize each two or three months, summer or winter, ensuring year-round green lawns. Starting each growing season use a dry fertilizer. Jerry suggests adding 3 pounds of Epsom salts to your favorite slow-release dry lawn food (enough for 2,500 square feet, 20-5-10 is fine). It sweetens the ground. Dump the Epsom salts into the bag. Close it and give it a few hefty shakes to mix it up thoroughly. Now apply half the mixture at half the recommended rate, with your spreader on the medium setting, moving north to south in rows across your yard. Apply the other half going in rows east to west. This ensures that every square inch of your lawn gets fed and you won’t have light green spots.
Here’s a secret experts know. To help activate the dry fertilizer, two weeks after application hit the lawn with a wet solution. We have used home made fertilizers:
1 cup beer
1 cup liquid dish soap
Put those ingredients in a 20-gallon hose-end sprayer jar and fill the balance of the jar with ammonia. This should be enough to cover 2,500 square feet.
  • Beer acts as an enzyme activator, stimulating the health and growth of beneficial micro-organisms in the soil.
  • Liquid dish soap cleans the grass blades and softens the soil so plants can absorb nutrients through both their roots and foliage.
  • Ammonia is what Jerry Baker calls “thunderstorm in a bottle.” It is an instant digestible form of nitrogen to feed your grass plants. Check out his website: www.jerrybaker.com
The validity of the dry plus wet applications has been proven. I’ve observed that when the professionals fertilize, to get maximum fast (plus long lasting) results they will first hit the lawn with slow-release granular chemicals. In two weeks or more they fertilize again, this time with a liquid chemical that immediately greens the lawn, but also activates the dry, long-lasting stuff.
Northern lawns require 2 to 3 pounds of actual nitrogen for every 1,000 square feet, that’s usually Kentucky blue grass. Southern lawns, usually St. Augustine or Bermuda, need twice that much. Remember, if a 40-pound bag of fertilizer says 10-6-4, that’s 4 pounds of nitrogen ( 10% of 40) to make a lawn green; 2.4 pounds of phosphorus (6% of 40) for roots; and 1.6 pounds of Potassium (4% of 40) to promote photosynthesis, strengthen plant tissues, and protect against diseases. Too little potassium makes a lawn yellow and diseased and too much interferes with absorption of magnesium and calcium.
Always apply fertilizer in the morning when it’s cool.
Here are Jerry’s “regular light meals” to carry it through the growing season until fall.


Get Up And Grow Tonic

(spring spraying to energize lawns)
1 cup baby shampoo
1 cup ammonia
1 cup regular cola (not diet)
1 tbsp. Instant tea
Combine above in a 20-gallon hose-end sprayer and apply to the point of run-off.

Spring Wake Up Tonic

50 lbs. of lime (pelletized)
50 lbs. of gypsum (pelletized).
5 lbs bone meal
2 lbs. Epsom salts
All-Season Green-Up Tonic
1 can of beer
1 cup of ammonia
½ cup liquid dish soap
½ cup liquid lawn food
½ cup clear corn syrup
Mix the above in a bucket and pour into a 20-gallon hose-end sprayer. Spray lawn, plants, vegetables, flowers, trees, and shrubs. Jerry Baker promises you’ll have the most spectacular yard in town.


You can combine all these ingredients in a wheelbarrow. Use a hand-held whirlybird broadcaster or spreader.


We have used these home-made fertilizers for years and have saved a lot of money. You can augment them with chemicals if you like. Amounts of fertilizer will vary with soil conditions, rainfall, climate and the area of the country where you live.


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