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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

OK, so you've neglected your yard a little this year. No big deal.

Who really cares whether you have no flowers in your garden and a miniature forest of tree seedlings in the backyard.

There's always next year, right?

Wrong.

By now, the yard-care experts are probably screaming. Don't give up, they say. There's still hope this summer for even the most pathetic of landscapes.

It just takes patience and adherence to a few time-tested rules to make your lawn and flower beds look great. Let's review the basics.

Lawn care 101

There are three steps to growing a beautiful lawn, according to Trey Rogers, a professor of turfgrass science at Michigan State University.

Mow. Water. Fertilize.

Do those things correctly, and you'll experience better weed control and almost be guaranteed a lush lawn by next spring, said Rogers.

"These basic practices are what are going to drive getting a lawn back into shape," he said. "They all work together. If you are doing one or two together, but not the third one, you are not going to get what you're looking for."

With mowing, Rogers advises people to not cut more than one-third off the height of their lawn at any time. Otherwise the grass gets scalped and weeds have room to poke through, he said.

A general guideline would be if you want to keep your lawn around 3.5 inches tall, don't mow it until it grows to about five inches. Then, cut it back to the desired 3.5 inches.

If you recently fertilized, you will likely need to mow every five or six days, according to Rogers. His advice for applying fertilizer is to follow the schedule and instructions on the back of the fertilizer bag, and don't use too much.

"It's like taking medicine," Rogers said. "If your prescription says to take two tablets, why take six?"

As for watering, Rogers said it's more of a personal preference as to how much you run the sprinklers. While water is scarce here in Utah, his advice is to not avoid watering altogether, but to water efficiently.

One of the best ways to avoid moisture loss is to run your sprinklers early in the day when the wind is calm and the sun still down, according to Rogers. Another tip is to consider an audit of your sprinkling system. The Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District offers free checks to help you determine the best ways to water your landscape.

"I might not get you back to beautiful by Labor Day, but if you follow these practices, within the next year, you'll be the envy of the neighborhood," Rogers said.

Intro to gardening

Before you skim through this section, resolving there is no hope if you didn't plant this spring, Darin Engh has this to say: "You can still plant."

Yes, even though spring and fall are the best times for growing, summer plants do thrive, according to Engh, owner of Engh Gardens in Sandy. You just need to follow the five steps of gardening:

Step 1: Soil preparation. Engh mixes organic materials into his gardens and makes sure the dirt is loose enough a person could easily stick their hand into the ground up to their thumb.

Steps 2 and 3: Select healthy-looking plants and make sure they grow in the correct location. If a flower likes the sun, don't plant it in the shade.

Step 4: Water. One of the biggest mistakes Engh sees is people who don't water enough. They just rely on their sprinklers.

With new plants, especially, remember to deep water with a hose, he says.

Step 5: Maintain your garden by weeding and fertilizing.

"Plants are just like humans," Engh says. "You have to feed the plant."

One tip he gives novice gardeners is to buy from a nursery or garden center where employees can help with plant selection and give advice for standard care. Another idea is to arrange gardens around a focal point or theme.

A current trend is to have a monochromatic garden, with plants in various shades of one color. Some people plant flowers that attract butterflies, while others will have gardens that look more tropical, Engh says.

He advises people to plant bright colors in the front yard to make it stand out and darker colors in the backyard to make it seem bigger. If you're not sure how to design things, pick a plant that inspires you, and then build around that, he says. Another tip is to mix annuals and perennials so your garden is continually in bloom.

"You can plant in the spring, summer and fall," Engh says. "For some reason in Utah, everyone thinks the planting season is over after May. If you haven't planted yet, you can still plant."


Enter a contest to have turf expert Trey Rogers fix up your ugly yard, courtesy Briggs & Stratton Corp. The deadline is Monday. For rules and contest information, log on to myuglyyard.com.


E-mail: nwarburton@desnews.com