Trees vs Lawns?

How To Have Nice Trees
And A Great Looking Lawn.
At The Same Time.

Having both strong, healthy trees and a lush, green lawn is almost a horticultural contradiction. Almost, but still eminently possible if the balancing act is done correctly.

Trees like acid soils. Lawns like alkaline soils. The two just don't mix. Having both on your property requires some very deliberate decisions regarding cultural care, if both trees and grass are to flourish in the same general area.

By using lime or phosphorous on grass as a root fertilizer in the Spring or Fall, tree roots can be damaged by too much alkalinity, since they require and flourish in a more acid soil. Shock will set into the tree, limbs will begin to die-off and the general health of the tree will noticeably decline until disease or insect infestation claim the tree.

Using an acid fertilizer to feed a tree will, if not carefully done, damage nearby grass. Then, the knee-jerk tendency is to add huge amounts of lawn fertilizer to revive the lawn area, again damaging the tree's delicate system. This back-and-forth acid-alkaline cycle actually does more damage than some buffoon calling himself a "landscape expert", riding around in a pick-up truck with two shovels and a broom.

But there is a way to accomplish both ends of the spectrum, get solid results and amaze your neighbors.

If you've been to a botanic garden, such as Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, or Winterthur in Delaware, you've undoubtedly noticed huge mulch circles around the bases of the trees, effectively keeping acid soils close to the trees' root systems and also keeping the alkaline-loving grass and soil in its own area, away from the trees' root systems.

Underplanting the trees with perennials or annuals is a thoughtful way to use those areas to maximum advantage. Yet great care must be taken not to backfill soil, mulch or plants against any tree's bark; it's a sure way of slowly killing that plant by holding extra moisture against the bark and allowing disease and insect infestation to set in over time. Keep 12-18" away form the tree trunk with all materials. Despite what some apparently unknowledgeable tree service companies tell you about it being good at retaining moisture for the tree's root system, it's very bad for any tree or shrub. There's more at, for those online.

What to do? In either Spring or Fall, use powdered lime at the application rate of 50lbs per 1,000 SqFt, using a drop spreader. Then, about six weeks later use "Weed & Feed" to kill most broadleaf weeds and fertilize the grass with nitrogen, at the same time. This simple regimen can replace any so-called lawn service, save money and provide a better end result. Make sure the lime is kept 12-15ft away from the trees. And use Holly-Tone Fertilizer to acidify the soil around each tree.

Just simple common sense.

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