By Brent Gray
Spring has arrived and homeowners are active in their landscapes refurbishing flowerbeds, fertilizing lawns, etc. 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 lawn mower 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 the following suggestions are recommended.
Do an overall safety check making sure all guards, belt shields, cut-off switches, etc. 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.
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.
Mulching flower and shrub beds now is easy insurance against dry spells and hot weather. 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.
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.
Root systems for all plants are shallow due 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.
Wilting or discolored new growth are common signs of aphids. Spraying with in-secticidal 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 refer to the MSU Extension publication 2369, Insect Pests of Ornamental Plants in the Home Landscape.