Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bishops Weed - Control Options

What is Bishops weed?  
Aegopodium has several common names including Bishops weed, Goutweed and Snow on the Mountain.  Bishops weed can be found in the variegated form or a solid lighter color green plant. It prefers moisture and can tolerate sun or shade conditions.

Common Bishops weed grows to 10-12" in
height, shading out other plants in the garden.
It is aggressive and considered invasive, spreading from underground rhizomes and from seed, creating dense patches of ground cover that will crowd out other more desirable plants in the landscape.

Bishops weed can be used as a ground cover where it is contained by defined landscape elements like pavement boundaries or well defined and maintained beds. Incorporating Bishops weed into a mixed use garden or bed will invite a constant challenge of keeping the bishops weed from invading and taking over other plants.

Control Options: 
Control options are varied and you may need to use several strategies to successfully eradicate Bishops weed. An open bed area can be managed differently than a ground cover bed or even perennial bed.  The more attached you are to saving existing plants in an infested bed will limit your options. Even with aggressive control it can take a year or more for you to overcome bishops weed.

Simply weeding a garden bed may not be enough. The Bishop weed plant stem will snap off readily from the root or rhizome leaving the remaining plant part in the soil allowing new tissue to emerge. Keep in mind that plants create food or energy through photosynthesis which requires sunlight. Bishops weed is tenacious and will keeping coming back even with aggressive weeding. The plat spends energy producing new growth in an effort to collect sunlight - but if you can starve the plant of sunlight with timely weeding you can rob the plant of its energy and new growth will slow and ultimately stop.  Allowing a plant to grow back in and capture sunlight is giving the weed a second lease on life.

Bishops weed in two forms: the light green
small plant are newly emerged plants while
the dark green taller plants in flower have been
allowed to mature and will soon produce seed. 
Forking: Using a digging fork, you can lift and separate the soil just enough to pick the roots and rhizome plant parts from the soil. You are effectively hand weeding the garden, but you're not just taking out the top growth, but also the part of the plant that stores energy producing new growth.  This can be tedious and challenging in a dense planting, but can be effective at thinning the crop and getting areas of the bed under control.

Mechanical removal: This is a fancy way of saying weeding, removing the top growth from the bed by hand weeding, hoeing or even using a line trimmer in larger open bed areas. The goal is to remove the leaves that can photosynthesize to create energy for the plant. Regular and consistent weeding is an option, particularly in beds that are dense with desirable plants.

Block Sunlight: Open bed areas can be covered with black plastic to prevent sunlight from reaching the plants. Black plastic will absorb the sun's heat, deflect water and essentially bake the underlying plants. It may take a full season before the plant is successfully killed in this manner. Pin or weight the plastic sheeting down, but do not mulch over it.  You'll want the sunlight to reach the plastic and if you do mulch over the plastic it will hamper your ability to remove the black plastic when the time is right.

Chemical control: Spraying a non-selective herbicide like glyphosate (i.e. Round-Up) is an option in open bed areas and where collateral damage to surrounding desirable plants is not an issue. Glyphosate is designed to be absorbed through the leaf tissue and will systemically kill the plant. You could alternatively use an organic product like Burn Out, but this essentially only scorches the leaves - which helps to prevent the plant from photosynthesizing, but it won't kill the plant right away requiring repeated applications.

In our experience spraying small, less mature plants is more successful in knocking back Bishops weed than spraying larger mature plants. If possible, we may line trim taller and mature plants first and then return to spray when the new plants are relatively small and likely to simply disappear after dying off. Large dead plants don't just disappear and are unsightly in the meantime.  Repeat applications will be necessary as new plants reappear.

The slow, methodical and tedious process of removing the plant by hand can be enough to get even the most persistent gardener to call it quits. Alternatively, while it may cause heartache in the short term, a heavy handed approach of removing everything from the bed may be more efficient and prudent in certain circumstances. Heavily infested beds can be cleaned up, managed and allowed to remain fallow until you are certain the bed is clear. You can then plant with confidence and know that your investment will not be overrun by Bishops weed.

If you do decide to clear out a bed, a word of caution. Saving certain plants from the bed which are transplanted to new locations or temporary holding areas can carry Bishops weed into other areas of the yard, compounding your problem. Sometimes it is better to simply start over and not try to save any of the plants so you can be certain of your success.

Regardless of the method used, it will take patience, time and the will to win this battle. Persistence is the key.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Controlling and "eliminating" creeping bentgrass in the home lawn

One challenge for many Heights-area homeowners is the gradual infestation of creeping bentgrass in their lawn. Bentgrass is a low spreading turf type that does not blend well with turf that grows upright like blue, rye and fescue and when left unchecked has the potential to take over large lawn areas due to it's spreading growth habit.  The challenge has been how to deal with this tenacious 'weed'...

Bentgrass by itself if managed properly creates a very pretty lawn. However, the required maintenance regiment for a bentgrass lawn makes it much less desirable than other cool season turf selections. Bentgrass has different cultural needs (e.g. low mowing height, thinning stolen growth/thatch), has different fertility and irrigation requirements and has an increased susceptibility to disease and possibly insects. This high maintenance turf is not desirable for the family on the go with a limited budget for lawn or yard care.

Creeping bentgrass (light green patches) is easy to identify
in early morning hours when the dew settles on the grass.
Overtime many lawns begin to look like a patchwork quilt due to the mixture of turf types and their relative condition during a particular season. Bentgrass often shows the symptoms of diseases such as snow-mold in the spring and dollar patch in the summer - causing unsightly brown patches. When the weather is right the lawn will look okay or even good, but it can go quickly from normal or healthy looking today to... "oh my gosh, what happened to my lawn?" the next day.  

The reality is that the different maintenance requirements and susceptibility to disease creates a difference in appearance that cannot be readily accommodated with basic lawn care.  The best bet for a consistent looking lawn is to remove the creeping bent grass all together.   

Historical Control: 
Historically there have been few options to selectively remove bentgrass from the home lawn. The challenge has been no effective weed control product that can selectively remove creeping bent grass from the desirable cool season turf types like you would a broad leaf weed.   

Non-selective herbicides, like Round-up, will kill bent grass but will also kill any other grass plants that are sprayed. This is an effective option when replacing an entire lawn and where you want to kill the entire lawn.    

However, selectively killing spots is not full proof because the application will not get every small sprig or individual creeping bentgrass plant in the lawn - meaning it will return as the super small unidentifiable patches grow and spread larger over time.  

We also tried cutting out areas by hand or using a flame or torch to kill off patches of bentgrass.  Similar to non-selective herbicide, this approach killed the patches of grass but did not get all of the bentgrass in the lawn which allowed it grow back in overtime, furthering frustration.  

Today - Effective Herbicide Program for Control:
We have completed testing of a selective herbicide regimen and created an effective program to remove creeping bent grass from the home lawn. The program requires multiple late summer applications spaced at appropriate intervals to effectively control the bentgrass.  Depending on the level of infestation, once the creeping bent grass has been controlled we can spot seed or perform a lawn renovation so the lawn fills in with the desirable turf type.   

Creeping bentgrass patches show signs of stress and begin to
die off after one treatment from our program. 
The program is generally run from late July through early September prior to any necessary seeding or lawn renovation work.  A spring program is an option but becomes more challenging with large renovations that do not have irrigation leading into the summer.

Looking Forward:
Creeping bent grass was used extensively when homes were built in the early to mid 1900's before grass seed as we know it became readily available. Because of the preponderance of its use it will to some extent always be in the area.
Less than two weeks after the first application the tenacious
creeping bent grass plants are recovering - time for the next
applications before a lawn renovation is performed to
restore the lawn.

New lawns may still become infested with creeping bentgrass from neighboring lawns, animals or lawn care equipment that can help facilitate its migration. Before there was no guarantee that the creeping bent grass would not take over a lawn.  Today however, with a control program the creeping bent grass can remain in check. 

Our creeping bent grass control program will also manage other broad leaf weeds in the lawn.  

Call today for a free consultation.  

How much water does my lawn need?

When there isn't sufficient rain your lawn will need supplemental irrigation to keep it healthy and green.  While you do the have the option of letting a lawn go dormant during the driest of months, some water is still necessary to keep the crowns of the turf grass plants alive.

How much water does your cool season lawn need during the growing season?  It depends on your goals, but generally about one-inch of moisture per week is ideal and should keep your lawn green and growing.  How do you know if your lawn is getting enough water?  You can measure your sprinkler output and make a few calculations to get close.

Measure output: 

Rain gauge used to measure either natural
rain fall or irrigation output.
Available at: 
Set up three to five rain gauges (or pie tins or like containers) throughout the lawn area.  This will measure the amount you have applied and help you to determine the coverage.

Turn on the sprinkler or irrigation system for a measured amount of time. You may need to only run for 10 minutes, but depending on your supply (measured in gallons per minute or GPM), your hose, valves and sprinkler, you may need to run the water for 20 or 30 minutes to get a sufficient reading.

Measure the amount of accumulated water from the duration of the watering.

Calculate your output. If you measure 1/4" of water accumulation over 30 minutes, you will need to water for two hours to get one inch of water (1/4" divided by 1" = 4 x 30 minutes = 120 minutes or two hours).

Create your schedule: 
Now that you know your watering equipment's output you can set up a schedule that fits your lifestyle. According to the sample calculation, you'll need to water for 2 hours per week.  If you can fit in three waterings for the week at approximately 40 minutes, or four waterings for 30 minutes that would be best.

You may find that if you water for too long at one time you create puddles and water will run off the lawn. Avoid puddling, as the soil can't absorb any more water given the rate you are applying it and you're being inefficient and wasting water. It may be that you need to water for 20 minutes, change areas and then water again for another 20 minutes.

If you decide that you don't want to water a full inch per week, follow the math and reduce your watering for 1/2" to 3/4" of water per week. Depending on the weather, falling below 1/2" of water per week could result in the lawn going dormant.  Keep in mind, it is easier to keep a lawn green than to make it green. A lawn that has gone dormant will need four times as much water to bring it out of dormancy.

Watering Equipment: 
Nelson Oscillating Sprinkler
Available at: 
If you don't have an in-ground irrigation system, an oscillating style sprinkler is ideal as it mimics natural rain fall. We prefer models with a heavy metal base which minimizes the potential for movement. These sprinklers are not only ideal when watering new grass seed but also for established turf.  They cover a large area and sprinkling over a longer period of time allows the water to soak in, avoiding puddling.

Impulse style sprinklers generally come with a flat metal base or a spike that is inserted in the ground. The rotary sprinklers tend to not distribute water evenly across the area, causing dry and/or saturated areas.

Connecting multiple sprinklers together may not be feasible depending on your water pressure and volume. Each additional sprinkler uses available volume, decreasing the overall output of each sprinkler. If you plan to connect multiple sprinklers, measure your output to ensure you're getting enough water for each configuration you try.

Timers are very helpful to make sure you apply enough water and avoid over watering, particularly if you're not going to be right near the sprinkler to monitor. Use a battery powered digital timer (available at AM Leonard or home stores) to set your sprinkler to run for the desired amount of time based on your output measurements.  If you use the manual style timer that does not require a battery, measure your output to ensure the timing is accurate - these manual timers "estimate" time based on assumed rate of water flow and not actually on time.

Additional watering tips and advice: 

  • Water in the early morning hours (4 to 9 am) to allow the moisture to soak in without evaporating.  Excess moisture will evaporate as the morning sun heats up.  
  • Avoid late evening or overnight watering, as extended periods of moisture in the lawn may contribute to disease when the proper environmental conditions exist.  
  • It is preferable to water less frequently and for longer periods of time to get the moisture further into the soil.  Watering daily for 5 minutes is not as desirable as watering two or three times per week for 15 or 20 minutes (based on your output measurement and schedule).  
  • Shaded areas or lawn areas nearer to or under trees may require more water to compensate for the moisture the tree will absorb. In dry/shade areas you'll never practically be able to water enough to make both the tree and lawn happy - the tree wins nearly every time.  
  • Irrigation systems are a great tool to help manage the turf. Be aware of the output of the nozzles or rotors in your system and measure the output to dial in your timing.  Pop up nozzles put out more water in the area requiring less time per zone than do rotary style heads.  

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How to plant spring flowering bulbs

There is nothing quite like a flush of color in the spring to wash away the winter blues.  Installing bulbs this fall is a great way to usher in spring next season. 

You can either hire a profession to install your bulbs or you can do it yourself. In either case, installing bulbs is a fairly inexpensive way to create great color and interest in the garden. Plan the areas where you would like color. Daffodils work well in naturalized areas such as in ground cover and ornamental beds. Daffodils will come back each year and have pretty good staying power in the garden compared with some other types of bulbs. Flowering early on in spring (late March to mid April) daffodils can fill in empty areas of the garden with bursts of yellow color.  Plant groupings or masses of daffodils to create a more naturalized appearance. 

After years of planting bulbs we have found that easier is better.  The text book methods of digging larger holes and planting groupings of bulbs will produce adequate results, but for the additional time to dig out the holes and add fertilizer, bone meal and soil amendments, we find that simply using an auger to drill holes and pop in the bulbs is just about if not more effective. 

When planting tulips we prefer a different approach.  We find that tulips don't have the longevity in the garden.  After the first year of flowing many tulips don't come back, either because they are consumed by hungry rodents or rot in the beds.  We therefore have treated tulips like annual flowers.  We plant tulips in high profile bed areas that are typically filled with summer annuals and when they're done flowering we pull the whole plant and bulb.  By the time the tulip is done blooming in mid May, waiting for the nutrients to return the bulb so you can pluck the stem/stalk from the bulb takes up to a month or more, which means you're left looking at stalks until sometimes mid June before you can empty out the bed and plant other flowers.  And then you're not even sure if you'll get results from the bulb the following year.  The relatively low cost of the tulip bulbs makes adding tulips a relatively inexpensive project. 

Step One: Prepare the planting bed by removing summer annuals and weeds. Rake and lightly grade the bed to ensure a consistent grade.  Edge the bed if necessary. 

Step Two: Layout where the tulips will be planted.  Auger/drill the holes to a depth of 5" to 6".  We typically will plant tulips approximately 8" to 10" apart.  The density of the planting will depend on how full you want the bed to look in the spring.  Figure 100 bulbs will cover about 60 to 70 square feet of bed area with 6" to 8" centers. 

Step Three: Install one bulb per hole.  Place at the bottom of the hole.  While the text books say to play the flat part down and the pointy side up, we've experimented and found that Mother Nature prevails and the bulb will still come up regardless of how you insert the bulb in the hole.  So we feel better we follow the text book instructions on this part of the installation.  (I think we can still hear our mother's reminding us to follow directions!). 

Planting daffodils is very similar, drill one hole per bulb, but group in masses of 5 to 10 bulbs per mass approximately 8" to 12" apart.  Plant daffodils in ground cover beds and mulched ornamental beds.  Because you'll leave the daffodils from one year to the next, plant them in beds that are not high profile where you can allow the leaves of the daffodils to dry out before cutting them back to the ground in mid-June.

Step Four: Rake over the bed and back fill the holes.  It is not necessary to press the soil into the holes or do anything special. 

Helpful tip: If the soil in the beds and lawn area are overly moist, lay down strips of  plywood

(1/2" plywood cut to 12" wide strips) to prevent rounding of the bed edges or creating muddy areas from all of the moving around you will be doing. 

You can buy bulbs from local garden centers or catalog companies.  I prefer to buy from wholesale catalog companies because we know the bulbs have been stored properly and are more likely to be successful compared with home center stores and some garden centers.  Bulb suppliers will run out of certain varieties early, so order your bulbs by early October for the best availability.

Preparing your yard for fall

Cooling temperatures and rainy days signal that fall is here and it's that time again where we need to begin winding things down while the weather is still favorable. 

Although the month isn't quite over, this September we have had 7.29" of rain, more than double the 3.44" Cleveland normally receives.  While this has been good weather for rehabilitating lawns that did not fair well from the spring and summer weather, our garden beds are saturated from all the rain.  Be cautious about over watering plants this time of year, but don't put away your hoses just yet.  A dry October may rob plants of needed moisture before winter - so wait another four to six weeks before putting away the hoses because we may still need them yet. 

In the coming few weeks you can take advantage of the good weather days to accomplish the following:

  • Finish final maintenance trimming and pruning of plants by October 15th. 
  • Prune plants now for clearance along driveways, walks and buildings or to remove any damaged or diseased plant parts. Hold off on major trimming/pruning until late winter and early spring.
  • Remove leaves and sticks from garden beds, lawns and other areas of the yard as we go through fall
  • Remove summer annuals when they begin to die back from cooler temperatures
  • Replace summer flowers with new fall annual color - mums, cabbage and kale will last 6 to 8 weeks
  • Plant spring flowering bulbs before the ground freezes
  • Cut down perennials after several killing frosts
  • Determine which perennials need to be divided now, remove unwanted plants from the garden
  • Apply fertilizer to the lawn before the end of October
  • Aerate the lawn to improve root development and to help dry the lawn out
  • Spot seed thin or bare areas
  • Inspect outdoor lighting, replace bulbs as needed. Adjust timer as necessary.
  • Prepare firewood for the winter season
Good sanitation is important to maintaining a healthy landscape. By cleaning up leaves and dead plant parts you will minimize the potential for recurring disease issues. A clean landscape also minimizes places that rodents and other pests can hide.

Here is a printable version of our year long calendar check list for your yard and garden.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Do I have creeping bentgrass in my lawn?

Creeping bent grass is a common cool season turf type that is commonly found in the greater Heights area and beyond.  Its is very common to find creeping bentgrass in lawns unless they have been removed and replaced with a mixture of bluegrass, perennial rye and/or fescues. 

Creeping bentgrass has a different growing habit than the other commonly found cool season turf types - bluegrass, perennial rye and fescues.  The upright growth habit of the blue/rye/fescue types make them easy to distinguish compared to the low, creeping and spreading habit of creeping bentgrass. 

Creeping bentgrass can be readily identified in early
morning hours when dew is still on the grass. 
It is easy to identify creeping bentgrass in the home lawn by looking for a few different indicators.  Creeping bentgrass is typically a lighter shade of green compared with blue/rye/fescue which tends to have a deeper/richer blue-green color. 

Creeping bentgrass lays over, it does not grow upright like the blue/rye/fescue types.  During ht early morning hours when there is still dew on the lawn, there is a more dramatic difference in the appearance of the lawn.  The picture to the left shows dew sitting on top of the more horizontal blades of the creeping bentgrass thus making it more obvious.  As the moisture evaporates the difference between the turf types may not be as obvious to the untrained eye.  Because creeping bentgrass lays over and has above ground tillers/runners (called stolons), it will create a thick spongy mat in the lawn. 

Creeping bentgrass can be a very nice type of grass when used as a singular turf type in a lawn and managed properly.  It is desirable because it will handle some shade and also recuperates well from stress.  The moisture, fertility and maintenance requirements for creeping bentgrass in addition to disease susceptibility make it a less desirable turf type than other cool season turf types.  The cost to properly maintain creeping bentgrass, which is used in golf courses and professionally managed for best results, often makes creeping bentgrass a undesirable turf type.  It is often considered a weed in a blue/rye/fescue lawn like in the picture above. 

Often home owners have to "manage to the middle" when they have creeping bentgrass in their blue/rye/fescue lawn.  Eventually the creeping bentgrass will spread and take over a larger portion of the lawn if not kept in check.  The only effective way to remove creeping bentgrass from the lawn requires spraying it with a non-selective herbicide (i.e. Round-up), then removing it from the lawn and reseeding the area.  If removal is not a desirable option, then the owner must manage the lawn to keep both the creeping bentgrass happy as well as blue/rye/fescue mixtures - hence managing to the middle.  In the final analysis it will be challenging to manage a consistently green, lush and healthy appearing lawn from season to season due to the different needs and maintenance requirements of the turf types.  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Watering new grass seed

Over the years we have installed many lawns and renovated even more, we've seen and experienced both successful and not so successful seeding projects.  What we do know to be true is that effective water management is the key to getting new seed to germinate.  Too much, not enough or too late are all common problems.  Getting the right amount of water when the lawn needs it is essential to the success of the lawn establishment process. 

Grass seed may be installed into an existing or new lawn.  A new lawn is when we remove the old lawn completely, add soil, grade and hydro-seed to create an entirely new lawn.  A lawn renovation is a series of lawn care related services which will improve the health of the existing lawn, and this often includes over seeding the lawn to fill in thin or bare areas.  In either case, new grass seed is introduced into the lawn and now must fill in. 

An irrigation system is a helpful tool to have in getting a new lawn established.  However, be careful not to rely on it as if it's autopilot setting.  We often see over watering issues when an irrigation system is not managed properly and the owner does not make adjustments to account for the effects of weather or site conditions. 

More detailed watering instructions can be found here, which includes information about the first days of care through the first year.

Watering Instructions for a fall seeded new or renovated lawn:

The first few days and weeks are critical to getting your lawn established.  It’s important to water daily (morning is preferable to late day). Water for 10-15 minutes with an oscillating sprinkler, but not to the point where there are puddles. It is imperative to not saturate the soil, so focus on frequent yet light watering. You should be able to gage the soil moisture by walking on the lawn without sinking into it. Check soil moisture to see if shorter or longer time is necessary based on weather and site conditions. 

Newly seeded lawns require careful nurturing to ensure
successful establishment.  Over or under watering can
dimminish the desired results. 
With the new seed you’ll need to water daily for the next few weeks, at which time you will begin to water less frequently but for longer periods of time.  You can skip watering in the morning when we have had rain in the overnight. Do not skip watering even with rain in the forecast – as the weather forecast is not always accurate and forecasted rain fall amounts may not be sufficient. Please minimize the use of the lawn as much as possible during the establishment of the new grass.

Watering for spring seeded or summer seeded lawns will vary slightly.  The principal of keeping the seed moist remains the same, but you may need to water more or less frequently depending on the weather.  Establishing seed during hot periods of weather is risky - going for an extended period of time without moistening the germinated seed may put it at risk of drying out and dying as result.  Remember, too little water is just as bad as too much water.  Find the balance by checking moisture regularly and adjusting the watering accordingly.