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Landscaping Tips from Landscape Services Manager Paul Thomas

After a very harsh winter, spring has finally sprung! Here are a few of the gardening tips I’ve amassed over more than 35 years of keeping the university’s grounds beautiful.

Lawn Care

Maintaining a decent lawn in our area can be very difficult because our area is located in the transition zone for grass plants. This area presents many challenges to lawn care, including heat, drought, disease and humidity. Unless you have an irrigation system and use fungicides monthly, you will always have challenges to lawn care and even if you do these things, there’s no guarantee that it will prevent problems. That being said, there are many things that you can do to increase your chances of having a healthy lawn. Here are my tried-and-true tips:

  1. Use a blended turf-type of tall fescue seed for your lawn. This reduces the chance of disease and decreases your chance of having problems associated with drought.
  2. Always mow your lawn to a 2 ½ inch height all season long. This reduces weed problems and protects grass from the drought issues that shorter grass often has.
  3. Fertilize your lawn three times per year—in early June, mid-September, and mid-November.
  4. To prevent crab grass from growing during the summer, use pre-emergence herbicide (such as Scotts with crabgrass control) in early spring. If you do this, however, you should avoid over-seeding your lawn in the spring, as the crab grass control will prevent grass seed from germinating.
  5. Speaking of which, do any over seeding and lawn repair in early to mid-September. Establishing seed at this time is much less of a challenge than it is in spring.
  6. Irrigate your lawn as needed, aiming to soak the lawn about one inch deep each week. It’s best to water thoroughly and infrequently.
  7. Soil acidity, or PH, is very important since it affects the way grass can absorb nutrients. Have a soil test done every two or three years to assure your PH is at an optimal level—between 6.0 and 7.2. You can do this yourself using soil test kits, which are available at most gardening centers.


It always surprises me to learn that many people are afraid of pruning, or think that pruning trees and shrubs is not healthy for the plants. Quite the contrary, pruning is very beneficial and can actually enhance the life and promote flowering of your trees and shrubs. Since requirements for specific shrubs and trees can vary widely, I recommend that gardeners reference a book or online resource such as http://www.garden.org/ when it comes to pruning. However, here are a few good rules of thumb:

  • Prune your plants to remove deadwood, maintain shape and elevate lower branches. As a rule of thumb, you should prune flowering shrubs only once, right after they flower. Pruning too late (such as in July) can remove flower buds, thereby hindering flowering the following spring.
  • Prune deciduous trees in the winter (during their dormant season) to thin and shape the tree; prune year-round to remove deadwood and repair damage.
  • Prune evergreens in early summer or winter time; use the clippings for holiday decorations!
  • Perennials usually require very little pruning—simply cut them down after they begin to die in late fall.
  • Annuals benefit tremendously from pruning (pinching) and fertilizing weekly to keep the blossoms full and promote flowers.


Fertilizing is another beneficial practice to keep your trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals healthy.

  • In general, I fertilize shrubs about every two years or as needed depending on their growth. The same goes for perennials.
  • Annuals should be fed every time you water using your choice of liquid fertilizer at ½ the recommended rate on package (I find that most companies recommend using too much).
  • Trees generally do well on their own but if they need a boost, have them fed by a commercial lawn or tree company. This way you get the best results for your money. Each feeding is good for between two and three years.

If you have any questions about the above recommendations or just have a question in general about gardening, please feel free to send me an e-mail at pthomas@towson.edu. Happy gardening!

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