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By John Fulton

[APRIL 11, 2005]  For those who haven't cranked up the lawn mowers, the time has arrived. Spring has flung itself our way. Must be something about the daylight-saving time. Anyway the grass has really taken off with the combination of moisture and heat. That means it is time to mow, and doing it correctly makes everything work better.

There are a few very simple rules for mowing grass. The first is to use equipment that is ready for the job. Make sure the mower has sharp blades. Dull blades will show up as injury on the grass blades, like brown tips and jagged edges. Blades can be sharpened in several ways. Using a file or grinder are the more common methods.

Next is the rule of one-third. Never remove more than one-third of the leaf blade at any one time. This rule must be followed if you don't want to catch or rake the grass. A good general mowing height for combination bluegrass and fine fescue is about 2 inches. This would mean that you would need to mow every time the grass reached 3 inches in height.

Bagging grass clippings may actually add to the buildup of thatch -- that dead, matted layer on the soil surface. Thatch is broken down by microbes at the soil surface. Without a food source, the microbe numbers crash, and any clippings remain without breaking down.

Mulching is OK. It isn't a cure-all, and it does take quite a bit of extra power to accomplish. The final word is that grass mowed on the one-third rule doesn't need to be caught or mulched. Bagging takes time, and the clippings must then be disposed of. Mulching takes extra power and fuel.

Mowing intervals depend upon grass growth rather than a calendar schedule. The spring and fall periods will require more frequent mowing than during the summer. That is in a "normal" year. Mowing frequently really reduces the labor needed for overall operations.

Holes, tunnels and runs

Holes, tunnels and runs are common themes of questions I am getting this time of year. The No. 1 theme is holes in the yard, but tunnels and runs are running close in the vote tally. Holes in the yard can be caused by several things. Most of the time, the holes are caused by skunks looking for supper. It just so happens that the remaining grubs are a favored food for skunks. Grubs are usually a reason for mole problems in the spring.

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Spring is not a good time to control grubs. They are large and hard to kill. Grubs are going into a pupal stage in less than a month, and pupae can't be controlled by insecticides. These pupae will then produce the adult beetles we call May beetles, June bugs or Japanese beetles. Early August is a great time to apply grub control products.

There are also new holes being put in trees, particularly in high-sap-flow trees, such as evergreens and maples. Whenever these holes are in a pattern, sapsuckers are the answer. Sapsuckers are migratory birds that are here for about two months in the spring and two months in the fall. They literally suck sap from the trees. The injury is mostly cosmetic, but severe feeding -- where all the holes are connected and go around the tree -- may girdle trees. There is no great control method for sapsuckers, but try something flashy to scare birds away from severely affected trees. Examples would be strips of aluminum foil, aluminum pie plates, windsocks and pinwheels.

Runs are usually caused by voles. No, that isn't a typo. Voles are the short-tailed meadow mice. Many were displaced by high water this winter. Their runs are right at the soil surface. It looks like a snake covered with Roundup crawled through your grass. Standard mouse control programs, such as traps and poison baits, should be used for voles.

[John Fulton, unit leader, University of Illinois Extension, Logan County Unit]

Previous columns by John Fulton

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