Cooler months a hot time for planting and seeding
By Diane Schlindwein
Copley News Service
With cooler weather on the way, folks of all ages will be heading back outdoors to get lawns seeded, leaves raked and spring-blooming bulbs planted.
For many homeowners, caring for their lawn and garden is an enjoyable hobby - a way to forget about the office and spend some time "playing in the dirt." Some projects, like raking leaves and planting tulips and daffodils, are fun and educational activities for children and their parents to do together.
According to the National Gardening Association, 91 million American households participated in some kind of do-it-yourself indoor or outdoor lawn and garden activities in 2005. That's 83 percent. However, the NGA also reports some 30 percent of households nationwide spent nearly $45 billion on professional lawn and landscape services in 2006.
So, how do you decide what to tackle and what to leave to the experts? Landscape professional Mark McWilliams says it often pays to ask for at least a little help before beginning big lawn projects. McWilliams, who co-owns CopperTree Outdoor Lifestyles in Springfield, Ill., offers an innovative service called garden coaching.
McWilliams says the typical coaching relationship is a partnership, offering as little or as much assistance as the customer desires. Coaches troubleshoot gardening challenges, create sketches for gardens, work alongside customers on installation projects and teach clients how to maintain gardens. McWilliams charges about $50 an hour for this service, which is still rather new to Americans.
During fall, many homeowners are not only working in gardens and raking leaves, but planting new grass, says Matt Noonan IV, chief operating officer and part owner of Noonan True Value and Just Ask Rental, also in Springfield.
"People always ask, 'How do I plant seed and when do I do it?'" Noonan says. "Actually, fall is the best time to plant grass seed. You are not fighting the weeds and the weather is with you as well.
"I tell them that anybody can do broadcast seeding with a seeder and anybody can do slit-seeding - where you sow about a quarter inch into the ground. We have a piece of equipment for that. However, when you are hydroseeding, you really need a landscaper to do that. People can put down their own sod, or they can hire a landscaper."
Some homeowners like to aerate and dethatch their own lawns, says Noonan. "We can train people to use an aerator, but dethatching is more difficult. It is really important to do that right."
If a homeowner is seeding his own lawn, it is crucial to take the slope of the land into consideration - and also whether the area is shady or receives a lot of sun. "You need the right seed and the right technique for the area," he says.
When it comes to investing time and money on the lawn, both Noonan and McWilliams agree it just makes sense to do your homework. "Every year we send employees to training, so we can tell customers about putting the right product down at the right time. We also train our employees on all the rental equipment," Noonan says. "There are some Web sites you can Google - for example www.truevalue.com or www.scotts.com - to get advice."
"If you are putting in a little bed around the mail box, then the average person can do that," McWilliams says. "But if you are doing any larger places in the front or back yard, it really is important to get some advice. You want your yard to have continuity. Good architecture is good architecture no matter where you are. The same rules apply.
"I make a living redoing everybody's mistakes," concludes McWilliams, who gives landscape and gardening lectures around the country. "It really is important to do it right the first time. Gardening takes years of experience. People need to get some help from a person they know has expertise in that area."
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