HOME & GARDEN: Preparing your lawn for spring and summer

Getting the perfectly manicured lawn and garden for the spring and summer takes more than just a little mowing and edging, and experts say preparation starts as early as January.

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<<< By Erika Neldner
Photography by Kathryn Ingall and courtesy of Masterscapes >>>

When it comes to lawns, there are three popular types of grass grown in Georgia: fescue, Bermuda and what landscape architect Jeff Miller calls the “Cadillac of grasses,” Zoysia.

Both Bermuda and Zoysia are warm season grasses, while fescue is a cool season grass, meaning it stays green year-round. Bermuda and Zoysia do not stay green year-round as they go dormant in the cooler seasons.

“All of the grasses in our area need to have pre-emergent weed control applied during the fall and winter leading into spring,” said Miller, who owns Woodstock-based Masterscapes Inc.

Pre-emergent is a weed control that will kill weeds prior to germination.

“It basically sterilizes the weed seed prior to growing,” he said.

Chris Williams, of Eden’s Keepers, said he recommends that pre-emergent be done in January or February, however, March is not too late.

“You can still put pre-emergent out to keep more weeds from coming, say the first couple of weeks of March,” he said.

Four to six weeks after the pre-emergent, you want to administer a post-emergent, which is a regular weed-killer, Williams said.

Pre-emergent needs to be done about four weeks before any seeding is done, Miller said.
Those with Bermuda grass will want to “scalp” their yard in mid-March to ensure dead leaves are removed to make room for new growth.

“Put the lawn mower on the lowest setting,” Williams said. “You want to do everything but cut dirt.”

Miller said the warm season grasses, including Bermuda and Zoysia, need to be cut low the first cut of the season, and Williams said he recommends a good, short cut for Zoysia and fescue but not as low as Bermuda.

With April comes the time for aeration, which can be done by the do-it-yourselfer or by a professional.

“You need some moisture in the ground so you get good results, but if the ground is too hard, your aerator is just going to bounce around,” Williams said. “A core aerator is always better, but any aeration is always good. It will rejuvenate the root system and give it space to grow. You can do that and fertilize at the same time which gives all of it better air, better moisture retention and make all of it pop a little better.”

As for seeding, Miller said homeowners have until mid-April to get that taken care of.

“Just use the April 15 cut off time for seeding cool season grasses. The germination rate starts to fall off and the grass needs healthy deep roots prior to summer heat and drier times ahead,” Miller said. “Some homeowners choose to do fall seeding. Either is OK.”

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Much like lawns, flower beds, gardens, trees and shrubs need a little extra TLC to get them ready for the peak season.

“Flower beds and gardens need to be tended this time of year,” Miller said. “Add fertilizers and till in old leaves that may have been added to vegetable gardens.”

Williams said cultivating is important to allow for root growth and watering.

“You want your bulbs to come through the ground really easy,” Williams said. “You want to make sure if you have plastic or heavy mulch you’ve used to protect your plants that you get that out of the way so new growth can come in as easy as possible. In mid- to late April you’ll start fertilizing those beds and preparing for that May flower. Hopefully in the winter they’ve been keeping the weeds out.”

Trees and shrubs usually need to be pruned early on in the year – the South’s beloved crepe myrtles are pruned in late January to early February. But, as long as you’re not cutting into larger branches, a little grooming in the early spring should not pose a problem.

“Most of them, you want to typically wait until the sap goes down,” Williams said about pruning trees. “Most flowering trees are done in January, first week of February. As long as you’re not cutting into big branches, you can do that pretty much anytime.”

Williams said to be warned that cutting a tree or shrub too deep can send it into shock or even kill it.

“You do not want to wait too long and cut the flower buds off for the next season,” Miller added.

When it comes to color, ground covering and design, both landscapers agree it’s a personal preference. Both said homeowners typically choose perennial flowers – ones that come back year after year. Annuals, though, add more pops of colors to a yard.

“Annual flowers are always the biggest and brightest in the Atlanta/North Georgia area,” Miller said. “They give the biggest splash of color and people love color. I personally believe annuals give better color for a longer period but perennials are very beautiful if carefully selected for particular areas of the garden.”

No matter what you choose to brighten up your yard, make sure the flowers, grass, trees and shrubs chosen will work well with your land. Experts say it’s important to know if you need plants that thrive in shade or sun and whether it will be able to weather North Georgia’s sizzling summer heat.

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There is plenty to choose from when it comes to ground covering including multi-colored mulch, pine straw and rocks. Williams said there even is a rubber mulch product, and while it is more expensive up front, it only needs to be repainted every five years.

Miller recommends shredded mulch and pine straw in the North Georgia area, adding that mulch typically lasts longer than straw.

“Straw and shredded mulches do better on slopes,” he said. “They do not float very much in rains. Do not use nuggets on slopes. They float in heavy rains and will end up at the bottom of the hill.”

He warned that rocks, in Georgia’s summer heat, can be detrimental.

“The can heat up and damage the plant when summertime gets here,” Miller said.

Once grass and plants are installed, it’s time to get a watering schedule in line. Williams said a lawn is like a puppy, if you train it to eat at a certain time every day, it will expect it.

Don’t water it daily because it will expect its daily dose in the dead of summer.

“The grass will literally be waiting on the water and it will go brown if you don’t water it every day,” he said, adding he recommends 30 to 45 minutes of watering three times a week. “When the water pools, the ground is saturated and you’re done.”

Miller said lawns and flower beds should be watered 1 to 1.5 inches per week from either irrigation or rainfall.

“Try not to water at night. This promotes disease in the plant,” he said. You also want the plant leaf dry before the hot sun of the day. This is the same for shrubs and tender flowers.

Keep soil moist. We want to promote deep root growth. This helps in drought resistance later in the season.”

When it comes to maintaining a nice-looking yard, Williams said it all is in the details, some of which are simple and low or no cost.

“I always tell people details, details, details because keeping the edges of your flower beds nice and neat and clean creates a very manicured, pristine look without spending any money,” he said.

Anyone can do it themselves but arming yourself with knowledge is key, Miller said.

“Don’t bite off more than you can chew,” he said. “There is a lot of information available printed and through the staff at local do-it-yourself stores. Take sections at a time and one project at a time. Add in layers to the garden, and go to local nurseries and talk to the staff. They can help with all types of issues and plant selections.”



For those who are not interested in maintaining their yards themselves, both Jeff Miller of Masterscapes and Chris Williams of Eden’s Keepers recommend finding someone who has a long-standing business with good references. Education of the landscaper also is important, they said.

“Look into their customer base, check references,” said Miller, who has been in business for 23 years. “Are they licensed and insured? Don’t allow uninsured contractors on your property. Don’t just take their word, request proof of insurance. Call their current customers and check their reliability. Don’t create a headache for yourself.”

Williams said it’s customary for the season to start off with several hundred landscapers in the area, only to have the mass cut down by more than half mid-season.

“There are so many fly-by-night companies. Look for reputable people with good looking trucks and trailers, etc. Don’t be afraid to check references. Ask to look at some of the work they have done,” said Williams, who has been in business for 22 years.

Bigger does not always mean better, and Williams said he recommends looking for a landscaper who will take the time to sit and listen to your needs.

Prices for landscaping can vary greatly and it all depends on what is on the homeowner’s wish list, both landscapers said.

“It ranges based on the size of the property and the amount of work that a homeowner wishes the landscaper to handle,” Miller said. “Our average residential property averages $225 to $275 per month, excluding fertilization and weed control. This is all on a weekly basis for a yearly contract and includes pruning, mowing, edging, weed-eating, trash-removal, blowing and leaf removal in the winter.”

The price quote is usually dictated by what is on the homeowner’s wish list, he said.

“A company like mine, we will do as much or as little as you want in order to fit it into your price range. If your average neighborhood lot is one-third of an acre, if it’s a straight mow and blow, that may be as little as $45. You can go from $45-$85 on one lot depending on the amount of detailed work. They have to be very specific in interviewing a landscaper. If you’re wanting more than he’s offering, tell him that so he can price accordingly.”

Landscapers can bring different levels of education to the table, including bachelor’s degrees and certificates.

Miller holds a degree in landscape architecture from the University of Georgia, and Williams holds a certificate in horticulture from Kennesaw State University. Both agree that it’s imperative that you look beyond just the photos and find out a landscaper’s background. Interview them and ask to see of their work in person.

Both Miller and Williams have an array of customers in Cherokee and other areas.

Williams handles the work for several homeowners’ associations, the Rock Barn on Marietta Highway and more than 20 locations in the Buckhead area. Millers’ resume also includes several HOA neighborhoods in Cherokee, homes on West Paces Ferry Road and properties as far as Charleston, S.C.

Masterscapes can be reached at (678) 445-6865, (404) 316-8252 or jeffmiller@masterscapesinc.com.
Eden’s Keepers can be reached at (404) 790-6363 or www.edenskeepers.com.


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