Joe Rogers: The rites and blights of spring

Published 5:41 am Monday, April 10, 2017

The days are getting longer, the thermometer is creeping up, green is oozing into the landscape. Which means disaster is probably on the way.

If I sound pessimistic, it’s with good reason. But don’t worry. This particular disaster will be limited to the tiny plot of earth the mortgage company and I own.

My yard.

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Starting at age 9, I assumed the responsibility for lawn maintenance wherever I was living. For decades, the arrangement worked fine. Grass grew. I cut it. It grew back. I cut it again. Repeat, until dormancy. Resume in spring.

Until, that is, I bought this patch of suburban Yankee grass.

At the first sign of a problem I took a sample to the Cooperative Extension Service to get it analyzed; the diagnosis was fusarium blight syndrome. The folks there recommended aeration, applying some organic matter and herbicide, ascertaining the pH of my soil, thatching and seeding and raking and rolling and …

That seemed a bit much.

I did try coddling it with fertilizer, and promptly scorched it in the precise pattern flung out by the spreader, spiral galaxies of death. Not one to pursue an obviously lost cause, I hired a lawn service to repair the damage while I continued to handle mowing chores.

After a couple of years, though, I decided the results did not justify the expense. True, some form of vegetation generally covered the dirt. But it wasn’t lawn-of-the-month quality. It looked, basically, like an eighth-grade science fair experiment in random seed germination. So I sent the lawn service packing.

The very next summer, death returned, this time not in geometric contours, but gaping expanses.

Up with the white flag again. Only this time, I contracted for spring cleanup, fertilizer, seeding, weed killer, mowing, leaf removal, sidewalk edging – the works.

So early every Tuesday morning my wife and I were awakened to the gas-powered whines of a SWAT team of imported lawn professionals earnestly going about their duties.

I timed them once. Start to finish, eight minutes.

In employing mercenaries, I was firmly in step with basically all of my neighbors. On any given summer day there are probably five different crews taming yards in the vicinity. Rare is the homeowner who tackles the job himself.

And the days of local youths earning spending money by mowing – the way I did – are as long gone as the days of listening to the progress of orbital Gemini flights on a transistor radio.

Still, when I hung up full-time newspaper work last fall, I decided that I couldn’t rationalize letting someone else take care of the yard when I was faced with filling 12 hours of so waking daylight, six days a week. (Joe rule: no yard work on Sunday.)

So, I vowed to tackle things myself again.

The grass is just starting to awaken, taking on color but not yet growth. I figure I have a few more weeks before digging out the mower and getting to it again.

And, with luck, maybe a couple of months before it all goes to hell.


Joe Rogers worked for The Clarion-Ledger, The Tennessean and The New York Times. He can be reached at or on Twitter @jrogink.

About Joe Rogers

I'm a retired newspaper journalist and a Mississippi native who found himself living and working in New York.

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