Springtime 2008 at the Family TreeHouse

Spring has sprung at the Family TreeHouse.  We’ve had spectacular weather during the week and wet weather on weekends for 2-3 weeks now, so by taking days off during the sunny weeks, I was able to get the entire lawn de-thatched and most of the gardens cleaned out.  My method of de-thatching is a bit more extreme than most.  I only do this once a year, just as the lawn starts to come back to life, but well before it needs its first cut. I attach a power-rake blade to the lawn mower (needs to be a fairly powerful one – I use a 6.75 HP Sears mower) and then lower the blade down so the springs are scraping the driveway. Then I tip the lawnmower back on its rear wheels to pull-start it, and then I “mow” the lawn with the power rake blade.  This technique won’t work for all lawns.  If your lawn is uneven or bumpy, the rake springs will chew holes in your lawn in an instant.  If the grass has weak or shallow roots (like you get with an infestation of grubs), it will rip everything up.

If the lawn is healthy and strong, this will stir up and loosen more dead grass than you could ever believe could be in a lawn.  I have about 15,000 square feet of lawn, and I will take 25-30 garden carts (wooden cart with bicycle wheels, holds about 4 times as much as a wheelbarrow) stuffed full of dead grass out of my lawn.

Once the lawn is power raked, then I take a standard rake and rake up all the dead grass that’s been loosened up.  This is what fills up most of the 25-30 carts-full.  This raking is stiff and vigorous and takes a long time, and after a winter of no yard work, my arms and chest muscles get a merciless workout.

After that, I put a standard mulching blade on the mower, and with it set on the lowest level, I  “mow” the lawn again, using the mower with the catch-bag attached as a vacuum to pick up all the dead grass that the hand raking missed.  You’ll be amazed at how much MORE dead grass comes up – bags and bags, filling another 4-5 carts-full.

Finally I go over the lawn a fourth time, spreading spring fertilizer and crabgrass blocker (I use either Scotts® Step-1® or Scotts® Turf-Builder® with HALTS).

After that lawn abuse, the lawn will look like total crap for 4-5 days (shorter if you get a little rain soon after), but the de-thatching also aerates the lawn, and the fertilizer kicks in, and it will be lush and green in no time.   It took me three whole days to get the gardens cleaned out and the lawn de-thatched, but it’s already looking fresh and alive.

I did myself a disservice last year by trying an experiment.  I had used the Scotts® 4-Step® treatment process for years, and the lawn always looked great, except for the years we had droughts (we don’t have built-in sprinklers), but I always wondered if I was wasting money with the lawn treatment chemicals, whether the lawn would look as good without it.  So last year, I skipped the de-thatching (business travel in the spring made it virtually impossible to get it done on schedule) and didn’t use any fertilizer for the entire year.  BIG mistake! We had a horrible infestation of crabgrass, which we hardly ever got before, lots of weeds all throughout the grass, AND we had three patches of grub infestation in the latter half of the season, which destroyed the root system and the grass in those spots died during the winter, resulting in bare dirt patches this spring.  I’m still not convinced I won’t have to reseed those patches.  I’ll know by mid-June.

One down-side of my de-thatching technique is that the power rake set down low like that causes a LOT of extraneous vibration on the lawnmower, so fragile machines may get overly abused by the process.  In fact, my 12-year-old Sears machine quit on me this year, halfway through the de-thatching process.  Luckily it happened during Sears’ whopper lawn tool sale, so I was able to replace it with an almost identical machine for 25% off the list price.  Sometime during the summer I’ll do an overhaul on the old machine to see if it’s salvageable, and if it is I’ll either sell it or keep it as the once-a-year de-thatching abuse machine.

We’re also doing some interior renovations too; we’re re-doing the master bedroom.  Lynn wanted to completely redo the bedroom (install a ceiling fan, paint all the dark woodwork, re-wallpaper over the dark rose wallpaper, and replace the wall-to-wall carpet) but she was concerned that my work and travel schedule would drag out the work schedule inordinately, so she wanted to hire people to do the work.  Except for the carpeting (which I’ve never done) I can do and have done all the rest of the jobs (this is the third of three upstairs bedrooms to be redone, and I did all the work on the other two, including the ceiling fans), so it was difficult for me to let go and let her hire people to do things I can do just as well or better.  But I acquiesced.  The fan has been installed and the trim has been painted (along with the master bathroom trim, ceiling and walls – requirement creep).  After getting estimates for the wall-papering, we decided to do that ourselves (we both know how and have done a lot).  That’s next on the agenda, awaiting the selection of the wallpaper. After that, we’ll have the carpet replaced in that bedroom and the guest room (carpet wasn’t replaced when I redid it because I don’t know how and my knees couldn’t survive my learning), and we’ll have the linoleum in the kitchen replaced because it’s way past time.

So it’s been a busy spring so far, with no end in sight!

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