Trying to have the best yard in the neighborhood can be a lot of work, but when you manage 235 acres of a 250-yard campus, it’s a full-time, year-round endeavor of a crew of people. Millersville University’s Campus Grounds Supervisor, Seth Taylor, prides himself in keeping the grounds on campus in tip-top shape and keeping his own yard immaculate.
We sat down with Taylor, who has been with the University for 11 years, to get some tips to keep the grass growing and the bugs and weeds at bay.
What about mulching?
Mulching is a must, according to Taylor. He says there are five good reasons to mulch at least once a year; it provides organic material to the ground, helps retain moisture, is good for erosion and weed control, and the aesthetics – it looks good!
Cocoa chips may smell good, but Taylor says they aren’t a good mulch because they don’t degrade, and the whole idea behind mulching is that it will degrade. He also says to avoid dyed mulch. Your best bet? A shredded natural mulch is excellent for plants, trees, and gardens. And the best time to mulch is after Memorial Day when all of the tree seeds and tree reproductive parts are done falling; otherwise, you’ll have brown stringy stuff, tiny helicopters and little worm-shaped things covering your mulch.
A no-no with mulching is creating what Taylor calls a “tree volcano,” piling up mulch high up the trunk. He says the tree’s base should be exposed, and it should be dirt where the trunk meets the soil.
How do I keep weeds away?
A good weed and feed is needed for all lawns. Taylor says whether you get a service or do it yourself, you’ll need to do it periodically from early spring through late fall. He suggests a 4 or 5-step program, such as one offered by Scotts. Taylor says while that’s what he does at home, 235 acres is a different story, and on-campus he leaves out the feed, but he does target specific weeds with a sprayer. He says homeowners can do that, too, especially for things like broad leaf weeds like clover and dandelions.
Sedges, the tall thin grass that grows up in yards, is another story. Taylor warns not to pull them out because, as with most weeds, they’ll multiply and come back with a vengeance unless you get the deep root. He says if you have a lot of sedges, you may need a professional service or use a herbicide often referred to as Sedgehammer.
If you do use a herbicide or other product to kill weeds, Taylor says you must read the label and follow the instructions explicitly. He warns about mixing products and people who get “creative” with them. His advice, “follow the instructions for when, how and where to use the product. Wear gloves and pants. Wash those clothes separate, away from your other clothes.” He says that’s the best way to protect yourself, birds and animals.
What about mowing?
Until the second week of June, you should be cutting your grass twice a week, mowing at the height of 3.5 inches to 4 inches, not lower. Taylor says homeowners tend to mow their lawns too short this time of year, damaging them. By mid to late June, mowing once a week is fine, but don’t cut it any shorter than 3 inches.
Taylor says setting your lawnmower to mulch rather than bagging is preferable because it returns organic material and nutrients into the soil. However, about every third or fourth time you mow, you should bag the grass; otherwise, it will add a layer of dead grass, and the thatch will choke your lawn.
Taylor does a double cutting using a mulching mower to keep his lawn looking pristine. Going over it twice gets rid of any clumps.
Beware of Poison Hemlock
Taylor invites you to take a stroll on campus and enjoy the beautiful grounds. If you wander off-campus, one warning: poison hemlock has appeared adjacent to campus on Creek Drive. Typically growing a few feet tall, the spotted water hemlock has pretty, umbrella-shaped arrays of tiny white flowers. It’s a very noxious weed that can cause skin irritations, rashes and even death. When choosing death over life in exile, Socrates chose poisoning by poison hemlock. Taylor says it’s a new plant in our area; he first saw it in 2021. But he does say – avoid it at all costs.
Part 2 of our interview with Seth Taylor will go over bugs and bug management, when and how often to aerate, fall seeding, and fall clean-up of leaves.