Tuesday | July 25, 2017
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Tropical Gardening: Does Dad need a new lawn mower?

Happy Father’s Day to all the future dads, dads, granddads and great-granddads today.

It always seems more difficult to get just the right gifts for a man when compared with the ease of finding something for mom. Used to be a tie or some tools were acceptable gifts. Another approach is based on the old adage “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” so taking Dad to dinner can work. However, remember you must follow with some exercise, so consider a tour involving some walking or even zip-lining. If Dad has been eating a little too much lately, perhaps a membership to one of our local gyms might be appreciated.

If Dad enjoys gardening, the sky is the limit. You can choose a special plant or garden book he doesn’t have or go big and get him a new piece of equipment to make his gardening more fun and easy.

Whether you have a home with a large yard or an apartment with a small lanai, plants create a more luxurious mood. Attractive trees, shrubs and lawns actually increase the value of a home. In fact, if you cut down that big shade tree in the front yard, you might actually be reducing the value of your property by thousands of dollars. Just think how much it would cost to have a landscape company replace it. When trees are destroyed, it affects the whole community.

The key to success is to put the right plants in the right places. Hot sunny areas of the islands require shady gardens to create a comfortable environment. Windbreaks are important to reduce excessive winds. Many tropical landscapes do not include grass. Examples can be found in books such as “Tropical Asia Style,” “Thai Garden Style” and several books featuring the Hawaiian landscape. The use of palms adds even more luxuriance to the design.

Besides trees, shrubs and bedding plants, one of the main elements of many landscapes is ground covers including grass. It might be Bermuda, buffalo, centipede, zoysia, seashore paspalum or a mix. Whatever type of lawn it is, green and healthy is the key. It is important to remember lawns generally require more maintenance, fertilizer and water than more deeply rooted ground covers, shrubs and trees. Thus, many communities are minimizing turf except in parks and recreational areas such as golf courses.

However, it is pleasing to see a healthy, well-maintained lawn. An expanse of green lawn can serve as the right setting for the homes they surround.

Artistically, lawns serve as the plain element in a garden picture, offering contrast of simple greenness to surrounding mixtures of color, texture and form in flower and foliage. This simplicity should be maintained by keeping the smooth sweep of lawn undisturbed by intrusions of shrubs and trees.

This does not mean shrubs and trees cannot be placed in strategic spots of the lawn. If carefully done, these can be used without disturbing the unity of the picture. But in general, it is best to keep the lawn uncluttered and unobstructed.

From a practical standpoint in the tropics, a lawn serves a number of ends.

First, it reduces heat and glare as the sun beats down on the earth. Green is a soothing color. No doubt that’s why there is so much of it in nature. Second, it controls mud and erosion. It definitely beats concrete and asphalt or gravel.

The chief value of a lawn instead of other kinds of ground covers is that it offers a pleasing place to walk and play, as well as being artistic. In a dry area, a grass such as Bermuda makes a successful path or can be used for auto parking.

A well-maintained grass cover also offers one of the easiest ways to control weeds. Just mow frequently and fertilize occasionally, making sure the grass cover has sufficient water to keep its green color.

Of course, if you want a perfect lawn that’s a different proposition. Your idea might be just a green expanse to set off the surrounding landscape. Then it really does not matter of what the expanse consists. It can be a combination of grasses kept in check by frequent mowing.

Ordinarily, grass is not a good cover for steep sloping areas where it is difficult to handle the mower. In spots such as these, it is wiser to use other ground covers and shrubs.

Lawns are a garden heritage from Europe. They are not typical in the Orient except through Western introduction. Oriental design uses moss, pebbles or sand for its plain element in landscaping. But in England, turf is key to the landscape and has become an essential part of the garden tradition.

Mainland Americans inherited this tradition. They generally consider a lawn a necessary part of the landscape. However, in the wet tropics, turf is generally not a part of the native picture since meadows are infrequent. Here, it is a good idea to stop and consider whether or not a lawn is an essential part of your garden. In many parts of the mainland, where water can be scarce and expensive, grass is fast disappearing as an aesthetic element.

Jungle effects with paths and patios tend to relate to the tropics more than extensive lawns. And yet even here, there is much use of the lawn in open expanses around a dwelling.

A perfect lawn in the tropics is an expensive proposition. To keep it perfect requires constant attention to weeding, rolling, fertilizing, mowing, watering and controlling diseases. Just about the time you think you have everything under control, some new condition arises and the lawn goes up in smoke.

Today there is a strong inclination to let the lawn be more informal along with the rest of the garden. Such a mixed green cover has its appeal, being more like a meadow than the monoculture lawn. A semi-natural lawn like this also has its practical aspect. It reduces maintenance by eliminating most of the weeding and also the struggle to make one kind of grass grow under the varying conditions of sun and shade, which make up the average lawn area.

There is, no doubt, a legitimate reason for cultivating a green expanse around a dwelling even in the tropics. But let’s not make such a burden out of it. When a weed pops up here and there, let it be. The secret is not in exterminating the weeds, but in keeping the area mowed so the weeds cannot dominate and go to seed, keeping them from spreading too much.

Whatever type of lawn you have, chances are it will require watering, except in the extremely rainy locations. Deep watering is preferred. Frequent shallow watering will encourage shallow rooting. It is best to water in the early morning. There is less waste of water through evaporation at that time.

Along with water, green growing things need fertilizer. This is especially true with the lawns. A fast-growing grass such as Bermuda might need fertilizer every month. On the other hand, zoysia can be fertilized three to four times each year or less. A slow-release fertilizer high in nitrogen is usually the best.

For insect and disease control, your local garden supply dealer has several good products. Be sure to use the most environmentally friendly ones available and follow directions on the label.

The important thing is to think green. We humans created too much desert in the past. The old saying “Rain follows the forest, desert follows man” does not need to apply to wise gardeners in Hawaii.

One last thought about grass: If your loved one doesn’t want to deal with a home lawn, then get him some golf clubs and send him on his way.

 

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