Caring for your garden or yard on Shemita
Let us go into more detail regarding caring for your garden or yard on shemita.
(1) Fertilizing – Usually fertilization on shemita is unnecessary, as it is possible to use slow-release fertilizer prior to the shemita year, and let it run throughout shemita. Still, there are differences between big and small areas, different kinds of earth, and situations where large quantities of rain came down to situations where that wasn’t so. Therefore, despite the principle that fertilizing is usually unnecessary, if there is reason to believe it might be needed one could fertilize in accordance with the need, after the need was ascertained properly through the relevant tests. If applying the tests is not possible, and there is good reason to believe fertilizing is needed, one may go ahead and fertilize as is necessary.
(2) Hoeing – There is generally no reason to allow hoeing during shemita, as no damage really comes from a lack of hoeing for an entire year. At times one may find cracks in the ground which leave the roots of certain plants exposed, and those can be closed up in order to save the plant from drying up.
(3) Weeding – Weeding is also prohibited on shemita, but there are some weeds which may cause damage, either by strangling the plants around them, by causing a potential fire-hazard, or by creating a hideout for snakes etc. In such situations it is allowed to weed them out. There are many ways to get rid of problematic weeds, and it is preferred to use the methods in the following order: (a) Preventative spraying. (b) Covering the weeds with a sealed black cover to block sunlight, or with organic and inorganic materials. (c) Spraying with plant-killing materials. (d) Mowing.
(4) Pruning – Pruning is considered a problematic Melacha, especially as it is very similar to Torah-prohibited actions, and therefore should be avoided when possible. Certainly one should not prune in order to encourage growth. Pruning for the purpose of thinning out trees or plants is also prohibited. However, the removal of individual branches attacked by disease or pestilence so that it doesn’t spread to the rest of the tree is permissible. With young trees pruning might be essential, and avoiding it might cause long-term damage. Pruning in such a situation should be handled in consultation with a Rav.
(5) Pruning a hedge or branches – A hedge may be pruned when the only intention is to keep its external appearance, but since it may breed growth it should only be done in a case where the hedge has already grown quite fully. Pruning branches that present an obstacle or a danger to the public is permissible, but should be done in a way that the reason for the pruning is clear to the onlooker.
(6) Mowing the lawn – The laws of mowing stem from our discussion of pruning. Generally mowing your lawn is prohibited on shemita, and allowed only to avoid lasting damage. Therefore, only if not mowing will lead to significant monetary loss after the shemita (in restoring the lawn to its former glory) is it permissible to mow during shemita. Mowing one’s lawn for aesthetic purposes – as we discussed regarding a hedge – is allowed, but only if the lawn is already mostly grown, and mowing it doesn’t help it to grow and spread. It is better to mow more often on shemita, as that sort of mowing is definitely for aesthetic purposes alone.
These Shemita posts were written by Rav Yoni Rosensweig and Benjy Singer for the My Shteiblech Project. My Shteiblech is a PORTAL of the most accurate information and details of shiurim, cultural and social programmes going on throughout Israel, with a focus on Jerusalem.
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