Do’s & Don’ts

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  • Don’t spend money on unnecessary fertilizers and lawn services before getting a soil test from the Extension Service.
  • Do fertilize with a slow release nitrogen fertilizer and only in the fall; this prevents forced growth, hence disease, and limits chemical runoff into our natural water systems.
  • Don’t collect your grass clippings; use a mulching blade and leave them on the lawn to decompose and provide free nitrogen fertilizer. If you do collect the grass, use it in a compost pile.
  • Do water only once a week in summer if rainfall has not been one inch; water in the morning to prevent disease, and water thoroughly to promote deep roots.
  • Don’t mow lower than 2-1/2 to 3 inches for fescue lawns; this lets the grass shade its own roots, crowd out weeds, and reduces Japanese beetle larvae populations.
  • Do consider relatively low-maintenance ground covers for areas such as slopes where it is difficult to mow or shady areas where it is difficult to grow grass. Avoid planting English ivy, which escapes into the tree canopy and is susceptible to disease problems.

trees in a lane


  • Do surround trees with mulch to protect them from mower and trimmer damage.
  • Don’t mulch within 3-6 inches of the trunk to prevent bark rotting and rodent access; spread mulch under canopy as far as possible, and spread the word against “mulch volcanoes” erroneously employed by some landscape services.
  • Do use permeable paving set on stone dust rather than in cement for paths and patios to reduce run-off and increase the water that reaches tree roots.
  • Don’t discard the leaves you collect in the fall; chop them up with your mower and compost them for future use as nutrient-rich mulch or soil conditioner.
  • Don’t top your trees to reduce their height; always consult a certified arborist before having work done on shade trees.
  • Do remove ivy and other invasive climbers that threaten trees’ health (as well as our natural areas) by reseeding in their mature, upright form.

Azaleas understory at the National Arboretum


  • Do select non-invasive varieties that will do well in this area under the specific conditions in which they will grow; e.g., sunny or shady, wet or dry: research your selections! See “Invasive Plants and Better Alternatives” for advice on which species to avoid.
  • Do group together plants with similar environmental requirements and mulch them to conserve moisture and your energy.
  • Do select healthy plants that will thrive in the location you will put them in.
  • Do ask for help in making selections—the more information you have the better. Get the right plant for the right place.

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