Lawn care for life

  • Published
  • By Col. Matthew Cantore
  • 21st Operations Group

As the 21st Operations Group commander, there are many things I am passionate about.  With a group encompassing 10 distinct squadrons operating at 21 different locations, we have Airmen partnering to perform our global missions 24/7, 365 days a year. Our missile warning, space surveillance, and space control missions are real-time critical for national security. Our nation and our allies count on us to succeed. These missions require readiness and a precision of duty that demands perfection.

Naturally, there is much that could keep me up at night, but there is only one thing that makes me worry: my lawn.

I am many things, but a landscape professional isn’t among them. I’m not some fescue nut searching for the perfect green. I am a realist, a lawn care hobbyist with a vision for a successfully executed yard.

Over the years I have honed an annual lawn care regimen that yields solid results. From flora growing regions in the Alaskan interior to the subtropical Carolinas and the California central coast to idyllic New England, my regimen is tested and true. My secret regimen is yours to enjoy your best lawn ever!

It all starts with an assessment. After waking from my post New Year’s slumber, I peer out of my frost-covered windows and dream. I ponder the possibilities and set a vision with focus on each section of yard. I put pencil to paper and draw a map to focus my plan. I record the adjustments required: trees to plant, shrubbery to prune, materials to procure. I take time to budget for tools, repair my sprinkler system, and effective mowing equipment.  After the waning snows -- or a day between springtime Colorado blizzards -- I walk the yard searching for damage from winter storms, a band of roving winter hares, or the neighbor’s trampoline that tumbled in from an errant mountain gale. With my vision set, plan refined and assessment complete, I am ready to go.

The most important phase is what I call “care.” As winter memories fade and frost wanes, I prepare my sprinklers for the season. Considering the weather I’m set water twice weekly while spring showers continue to soak the turf. Of peerless importance is fertilizing. I feed early in the season twice, four weeks apart, using a lawn food mixture that includes a proven weed killer effective for the local nuisance varietals. I wait to conduct the first mow when the grass reaches five inches, and henceforth I mow weekly through the season with the cutting deck at mid-height. Yards never like buzz cuts, as they dry out too quickly and most species flourish above three inches.  If the mower deck height is too high, then it looks unkempt within days.

My yards have always had a sorted array of problems. My care transitions into maintenance -- a labor of love. Maintenance continues throughout the summer and weeds arrive despite my best effort. I eradicate the weeds in my landscape’s mulch and rocks and inevitably find new surprises in the cracks of my driveway or emanating beyond the edging.  I’ve found that solid yard maintenance involves periodic spot treatments, but it doesn’t eliminate weeds from growing. If I miss a few weeks of weed duty, I find myself confused whether that three foot invader is a weed or an unintentional part of my landscape plan.

Sufficient water is a concern during the summer months. My twice-weekly seasonal watering extends to three or possibly four when the mercury tops 90 degrees Fahrenheit. I do monitor consumption and am quick to reduce once the local utility company congratulates me as one of their best customers.

Finally, I have to fight off pests ranging from ants to pillaging deer herds. Regardless of my vigor, there are some challenges that are beyond my skills, reminding me that I really am only an amateur. Whether it is a gopher emulating Caddyshack, or the nest of attacking black birds, I call in professional help. The earlier I call, the quicker I have my lawn back, is a lighter load on my wallet, my time and my patience.

In the end, it’s a labor of love that combines the time and resources to assess, care and maintain a proper yard.

There you have it! The Colonel Cantore Lawn Care Experience.

Or so you may think.

I am actually not terribly passionate about lawn care. My dreams are not about the perfectly refined fescue, the impeccable edging, or the deepest green. I rarely have pondered explosive solutions in response to underground vermin who excavate tunnel systems that rival Cheyenne Mountain.

My passion is our Airmen and ensuring they are always ready to execute the critical mission our nation requires of us in the 21st Space Wing, and these missions cannot be accomplished without amazing, resilient Airmen on our team.

My yard care regime is sound advice, but is really a proper analogy that speaks to the resiliency of our Airmen in terms of an assessment, caring and maintenance for them -- as a labor of love.

Airmen resiliency starts with an assessment, long before the drought or the weeds arrive in our lives. It starts with a solid team, good balanced practices and support pillars, and a healthy vision for the future. Supervisors and subordinates can and must care for our team members facing challenges. And when maintaining our lives get tough, then it is ok to show a little love as we help our teammate out of a dark place.

When our personal weeds emerge, we need to tend them. When pests invade, it is important to confront them early and consult professionals.  We want each of our Airmen to know it is okay to not be okay, then seek professional help. 

You may have seen the wing helping services matrix graphic floating around the installation. This is for all of our Airmen to use. When you realize the challenge you are facing is beyond your own strength, seek help. Numerous services are there to help lift your burden, resolve your struggles and make you resilient for the next challenge that arrives.

Resiliency in life is like lawn care and is not a one-step process. It requires a labor of love to assess, care and maintain it. So think about the process of resiliency of our Airmen the next time you give your fescue that perfect trim.