What’s up with the watering and mow/blow practices at Bloedel?


IMG_3663 Okay, this will be a test of what happens when someone (me, the guinea pig) criticizes a garden – a beloved public one, at that.  But come ON, all the gardenbloggers visiting the Bloedel Reserve during the recent Fling noticed the sprinklers going off while it was raining, and SURELY in that ultra-green haven with heavy rainfall even in July, the sprinklers weren't really needed!

Just in case I got up the nerve to write about this, I asked Susie McCoy to pose with the offending sprinkler, and trust me, the umbrella wasn't just a prop for effect.


And I'm hoping someone can explain for me why anyone would power-blow a just-mown lawn.  Again, in the rain, mind you. Notice that the worker is NOT blowing the driveway but the turfgrass itself. 


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Susan Harris

Susan’s a garden writer, teacher and activist in the Washington, D.C. area. Co-founder of GardenRant, she also wrote for national gardening magazines and independent garden centers before retiring in 2014. Now she has time for these projects:

  • Founding and now managing the pro-science educational nonprofit GOOD GARDENING VIDEOS that finds and promotes the best videos on YouTube for teaching people to garden.
  • Creating and managing DC GARDENS, the nonprofit campaign to promote the public gardens of the Washington, D.C. area, and gardening by locals.
  • Creating and editing the community website GREENBELT ONLINE to serve her adopted hometown of Greenbelt, Maryland (a “New Deal Utopia” founded in 1937).
  • Also in Greenbelt, MD, writing the e-newsletter and serving on the Board of Directors for the cooperatively-owned music and arts venue and restaurant called the NEW DEAL CAFE.

Contact Susan via email or by leaving a comment here.

Photo by Stephen Brown.


  1. Why would anyone use a powerblower, period? 1 minute of that powerblower creates as much air pollution as driving the average car for 34 minutes. How is THAT supporting our gardens?

    (And don’t get me started on watering… just don’t.)

  2. One possibility about the sprinkler is the systems that shut off automatically if you’ve had enough rain are just a gauge that fills up and triggers the system to turn off. If it were raining, but hadn’t already rained enough to trip the trigger, the sprinklers would still come on in the rain.

  3. 1) Could be the rain stat hasn’t kicked in yet. Or, the original construction bid didn’t include rain stat control in the specs, so somebody on the grounds crew has to manually attend to this kind of thing every time it rains.

    2) Management cut the labor budget for the grounds crew, so there isn’t anyone available to turn sprinklers on and off.

    3) The guy with the blower – sheesh, ever since these obnoxious things were introduced, grounds keepers have really fallen in love with them. There can be no conceivable rational reason for what he’s doing, he just likes running a blower…

  4. I don’t care about the construction of the sprinkler system and whether it was tripped yet. A trained gardener should be in control of the sprinkler system and know whether or not they need to run. Or, they should judge whether they need sprinklers at all … isn’t the Pacific Northwest known for the wet weather?

    About the blower … just plain stupid!

    I do wish more people would critique gardens realistically! I have written a number of book/exhibit reviews and when writing them, I feel that without at least one or two negatives highlighted, the result is nothing but a puff piece. I want somebody to really rip into some of the major public gardens because many of them that I visit deserve it for certain sections of their gardens (or their practices).


  5. I’m a transplant from Texas living in the Seattle area and this is my amatuer assessment of the situation. One of the many differences I noticed is that the grass here is incredibly wimpy. It dies at the drop of a hat or small patch of cut grass blades. Hence the blower man (excessive, but effective)

    And while it does remain wet for 9-10 months of the year, it doesn’t really ‘rain’ the way it does in other parts of the country. There is rarely a downpour of sufficient length to soak all the way to the root zone. It showers, drizzles, sprinkles, mists, moists, dews and fogs. In short, you can’t rely on the rain in the ‘dry’ season to adequately nourish your plants. Hence sprinklers in the rain.

  6. Most people do not realize that the Seattle area gets very little rain for three months in summer. Even though it was raining that day it may not have been enough for the grounds. It takes a lot of rain, for instance, to wet the ground under Douglas firs and other conifers. I suspect the gardener was using a mulching mower. If the grass is wet lots of clumps are left on the surface and some gardeners us a blower to clean up instead of a rake. Sometimes it may be better to rant when you understand the area you are ranting about a bit better.

  7. CJ, you call this a rant? “And I’m hoping someone can explain for me why anyone would power-blow a just-mown lawn.” And the title: “What’s up with….” I call that asking a question.

    Come back another time and you’ll see what a real rant is like.

  8. A little testy there aren’t you for someone who writes for a blog called Garden Rant?

    If you read my comment more carefully you will see that I do explain the use of the blower.

  9. @Thad, Western Washington has more days of rain or drizzle than a lot of the country, but it doesn’t actually get more rain. Seattle gets an annual average of 38.4 inches of precipitation, but Houston (46.9), New York (43.1), Atlanta (49.8), Miami (57.1) and Boston (43.8) all get more (data from Cliff Mass’s The Weather of the Pacific Northwest). As a couple of posters have mentioned, the rain shower may not have been enough to do the job. Just this week, for example, I woke up to rain, but still had to water in the afternoon, because the ground was so dusty (I live on the SW Washington coast).

    I don’t have any defense for the lawn blower, though. Boys just like their toys.

    And yes, I am enough of a bibliophile that I have random reference books like this scattered throughout my home. Fortunately my husband understands/puts up with my need for an at-home library.

  10. Just cut and copy CJ’s analysis as to why someone would use a blower after a lawn was mowed with a mulch mower during wet weather. The blower breaks up the wet clumps of grass + it can keep potential mold and brown spot from appearing. I do the same thing here during our rainy season with my electric blower.
    Ditto on many observers responses to why one would be watering during a natural light rain; not enough water to percolate down to the root zones.
    Either the gardener made this manual call or the soil probe or the Evapo- T controller was taking the soil moisture reading and automatically kicked in .

  11. While I understand that some myths about the Pacific Northwest may be wrong concerning how wet it is, I still do not understand the need to water while raining, especially when the garden is open to visitors. This is a pet peeve of mine that I run into regularly when visiting gardens … don’t water during the middle of the day while I am visiting! Why don’t they water in the morning before the garden opens?

    About the mowing/blowing while raining, I have always been told to avoid mowing when it is raining and when grass is wet. As Michelle D pointed out, wet mowed grass is more likely to experience disease problems (plus, the additional wear & tear on machinery and safety issues). If that grass was not mowed during the rain, problems would be reduced and (gas) money would be saved not having to blow the grass. While I was not there, from my experience with many landscaping crews (Note: I am talking about professional gardeners, but commercial landscaping crews.) is that they perform their jobs on a schedule … aka, it was the day to mow that lawn and he was going to do it then, no matter what!

    Susan, good post about the Smithsonian Rose Garden. Do you know if they have changed their practices any since then? Also, someone should write an article about the disgrace of a garden that the National Mall is!

  12. Susan – good to meet you in Seattle.

    I asked one of the gardeners on the day – Carol and CJ’s assessment of the situation are correct.

    Thad – we were there on a day Bloedel isn’t open to the public, so what was seen might not be representative of what goes on when they are.

  13. Whatever the excuses are, it’s a trifling waste to have a honkytonk lawn for it’s own sake. I don’t care how you spin it.

  14. How funny! My husband and I were just discussing the sprinkler in the rain issue. We lived in Texas for a number of years and I frequently saw sprinklers at businesses running in the rain. Hopefully that’s not happening much now during the drought.

  15. I live in the area. The tiny amount of rain we get out of a summer drizzle is not enough to not water. We don’t usually get an inch of rain per MONTH in the summer. The advantage of watering in the drizzle is that you don’t lose to evaporation. I’ve worked in a public garden. We watered during the day because no one was there at night to turn sprinklers on and off. Automatic systems are expensive. Why they are bothering to water lawn, I don’t know.

  16. People visit public gardens precisely for the unnatural manicure-y-ness of them, so it is hardly surprising that some ‘overdo.’ I will echo what a number of commenters pointed out–our summer rains are generally not enough to help plants thrive. I have to water much more than I’d like (with good reason,you can read about why on my blog), despite this being the least summery summer since 1992–the last time we canceled all sun in the NW. As far as the blower goes, much of the Bloedel reserve was created in the 1970’s and 80’s…maybe it needs to be blow-dried.

  17. I think the guy is just blowing away grass clumps which accumulate mowing wet grass. I’m confused by comment #2: “1 minute of that powerblower creates as much air pollution as driving the average car for 34 minutes.”

    One minute of a power blower uses less than a teaspoon of fuel. In half an hour, a car at speed uses maybe a gallon. I call bullcrap.

  18. @ cellbioprof. I’m with Mr. Lewis on this one–where’s the citation for the research behind the gas powered blower?

    BTW, I also hate blowers. I can’t stand the noise. But my boss says that it was the single biggest time saver for her small landscape company, so I still have to use one.

  19. The sprinkler is attached to a hose. There is no computer operated irrigation system or rain gauge trigger in this set up. Actual Seattle area climate factors and maintenance schedule rationales may still apply.

    Evil blowers, blah, blah, blah. I’m willing to go out on a limb here and suggest that on average for every gardener with a single blower a minimum of 20 properties are serviced per week. The clientele they service are more than likely to have a least two if not more cars per household/garden. That is 40 automobiles to one blower. Someone else can do the rest of the math.

  20. The claim had to do with how much pollution is caused, not how much gas is used. Blowers can harm air quality through particulate matter as well as through emissions.

    Also, cars have catalytic converters and are subject to emission standards, while gas-powered mowers and blowers do not and are not, so that’s why they have the capability to cause so much damage for such little machines.

    That being, said, I know that there is great variation in the claims about blower/mower air damage, and we need some definitive data.

  21. So, Susan Harris visits Seattle gardens and the Bloedel Reserve and all we get is this uninformed, silly, faux controversy?

    After many patient explanations there is no comment from Ms. Harris?

    I mean “what’s up with that?”

  22. CJ, my favorite thing about writing here is the dialogue that results from the posts we GardenRanters write, which usually raise questions more than present our own answers.

  23. Definitive data from various studies:
    As you can see, the estimates for air pollution from leaf blowers vs. automobiles varies, but it is at least 10X greater than the average automobile.
    And don’t forget the noise pollution.
    So interesting to see for what topics posters demand citations.

  24. As others have said our summer’s are really dry. Even though some people like to compare us to an England kind of climate, we’re not. We have a Mediterranean climate–wet winters, dry summers. Even when it rains in the summer, it’s usually not enough to soak in.

    I don’t know the why of using leaf blowers, so I can’t address the reason. I do agree that lawn mowers and leaf blowers are high polluting machines. I live just across the island (our neighborhood beach has views of the island) and we only average 24 inches of rain a year. I imagine they are in the rain shadow or close enough that they get less than Seattle too.

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