Service lawnmower regularly during mowing season

Spring is here and homeowners are active in their landscapes refurbishing flowerbeds and fertilizing lawns.

The one activity that will be repeated over and over from now to late fall will be the weekly ritual of mowing the lawn. However, in our spring preparations we most often neglect to spend a little time and a few dollars prepping this miraculous machine called the lawnmower for the task that it will be called upon to accomplish.

We wouldn’t think of not servicing our automobiles on a regular basis but yet we run these small engines week after week just a foot or so above the ground amidst dust and debris. To get the best performance and extend the life of your mower these suggestions are recommended.

Do an overall safety check making sure all guards, belt shields and cut-off switches are in place and working properly. Inspect the decking for any weak or broken parts including blades, wheels and rollers. Pay particular attention to the blades to be sure they are not worn to an unsafe condition and keep them sharp for a much cleaner cut. A sharp blade puts much less strain on the engine therefore increases efficiency.

The engine should be serviced routinely throughout the mowing season but as you begin the spring landscaping activities consider draining the oil and replacing it with clean fresh oil along with the oil filter if your mower has one. Replacing the spark plug could provide easier starting, increased power and better fuel efficiency.

The air filter is critical to extending the life of these small engines. Depending on the type of air cleaner on your engine servicing should follow manufacture recommendations. Many of the smaller engines have only a foam filter that should be washed with soapy water, dried and lightly oiled before reinstalling.

Spending a few dollars and a little time getting your mower ready for the season will be a wise investment and you, your lawn mower, and the lawn will be the benefactors

Vegetables

It is finally warm enough to plant okra and eggplant and expect quick growth. Remember that eggplant is one of flea beetle’s favorite foods, so scout the young transplants for small holes in the leaves and treat with an insecticide if there are several holes in each leaf.

Fire ants are invading many vegetable gardens in the state. The only vegetable the ants attack is okra, but they are a nuisance to work around and their tunnels can make soil incapable of holding enough water to support growth.

The best control method is to use on of the bait formulations around the garden, not in it. Ants will forage the granules and take them back to the mound where the queen will eat the insecticide and die. Bait formulations get the mounds we do not see as well as the ones we do.

Water alert

Root systems for all plants are shallow because of the excessive rainfall the past few months. Temperatures are rising and the demand for water may exceed the capacity of the diminished root system.

If plants wilt before noon several days in a row, you should consider judicious pruning to lessen the water demand of the plants. Adding water won’t help since it is the lack of root system causing the wilting, not a lack of water.

Clematis

Now is the time to plant clematis. Find a well-drained spot with plenty of sun for foliage and shade for the roots. Enrich poor soil with organic matter, and add several inches of organic mulch after planting to keep the root area cool and moist — some gardeners cover the root area with large, attractive stones or shade the root area by planting the clematis under the edge of shrubs.

To encourage optimum growth you may fertilize every six weeks throughout the first growing season with a soluble fertilizer. Follow label directions for rate of application at this frequency. Clematis will need support to climb. It climbs by twining so a trellis or fence would work nicely. Good selections would include Clematis montana Rubens (rosy red to pale pink), Henyri (white), Nelly Moser (mauve pink with deep-pink centers and Jaqckmanii (purple).

Mulch

Mulching flower and shrub beds now is easy insurance against dry spells and hot weather later. Apply at least 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch to keep soils moist and cool. Do not pile the mulch directly around the base of perennials or against the bark of trees or shrubs.

Summer Bulbs

Bulbs, corms and tubers can be planted now for a flower display that lasts until fall. Try calla lilies, crinum, ginger lilies, tuberose and cannas. The dwarf types of cannas, such as Tropical Rose, grow only 18 to 30 inches high and offer the same large lush flowers as their taller kin.

Aphids

Wilting or discolored new growth are common signs of aphids. Spraying with insecticidal soap and blasting with a jet of water from the garden hose are two safe and easy controls. The key to keeping their numbers down is persistence. Check plants every few days for signs or re-infestation and treat as soon as possible.

For pesticide recommendations to control aphids refer to the MSU Extension publication 2369, “Insect Pests of Ornamental Plants in the Home Landscape.”

By Wayne Wells, David Nagel, Lelia Kelly

Extension Horticulture Specialists

Distributed by Lisa Stewart, Webster County Director