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. 


Sunday, September 4, 2011

When Mother Nature conspires against your lawn and garden

What a summer Cleveland has experienced. With cooler temperatures signaling that fall is around the corner, our yards and gardens have an opportunity to recover from the stresses of this past season.

April was the wettest April on record with more than twice the normal rain fall. May turned out to be the second wettest May on record. Cleveland normally receives approximately 6.87” of rain in April and May – but instead we had 14.63” – 212% over normal. With such wet weather the root systems in our lawns and garden plants could not become sturdy before summer heat. In April and May there were 37 days with rain, homeowners and landscape and lawn care companies alike struggled to keep up with normal yard and garden maintenance activities.

June didn’t really do us any favors. The wet spring resulted in weaker lawns – and then the soil dried up rapidly as we received less than normal rain fall for June. The soil in our gardens and lawns cannot store up the extra moisture, so the weaker root systems in our lawns struggled to provide enough water to suffering turf grass plants that began to wilt with the lack of moisture. Most homeowners were not watering their lawns because they were remembering how wet it was just weeks prior – and logically it would seem that watering was not necessary. Lawns became more stressed.

July was the last nail in the coffin for many lawns that were already weak and under performing. July was both the second warmest July on record, but it was also the fourth wettest on record with more than twice the normal rain fall (7.47” of rainfall versus normal of 3.52”). While common sense would tell us that moisture is good when it is abnormally hot – July actually suffered from ineffective rain falls. There were a total of nine days of precipitation – including a record setting 3.65” of rain on July 18th. When rain falls so rapidly it runs off the lawn and garden and does not get absorbed into the soil. Soil remained fairly dry below the surface despite the record rain falls. Top it off with nine days with temperatures above 90 degrees and lawns began to show real signs of stress. Crabgrass and broad leaf weeds filled in the voids where weaker lawns thinned out and lawn care companies struggled to keep up with weeds that were so prevalent. If it wasn’t raining it was too hot to spray weeds.

Lawns with poor root systems became stressed this summer
and will require renovation work to recover this fall.
 August was only slightly more moderate –but still remained relatively warm. Another record setting 3.51” of rain fell on August 14th, which is the normal rain fall for the month of August. When an entire month’s rain fall arrives in one day – there is little benefit for plants. Fortunately by the end of August temperatures cooled and moisture returned allowing for desirable lawn growing conditions.

What lessons can be learned from a year with such extreme weather? Focus lawn care efforts on building the root system of your lawn which requires focusing on soil health. Healthy lawns with strong root systems rebounded in late August. Lawns that became thin or weak experienced more weeds, have brown and dead patches and require seeding and renovation work this fall.

Click here to find out more about lawn renovations.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Imprelis and the continuing fall out

The Imprelis herbicide has been national news this year.  A new weed control product released by DuPont this past spring showed great promise in managing difficult to control weeds with lower amounts of herbicide.  However, after trees began showing signs of damage and dying off this spring it appeared that Imprelis was the culprit. 

It is important to know that Lawn Lad never purchased or used Imprelis in our operations. While we are always looking for and testing new processes and products to use in our operations to provide the best possible results - we are reluctant to be the first to test new products for this very reason.  You can rest assured that we did not spray this product on your property. 

For more information about Imprelis here is an article from the Ohio State University Extension newsletter - The Buckeye Yard & Garden Line from September 1, 2011. 

IMPRELIS UPDATE. An ongoing saga this year is a self-inflicted wound, an iatrogenic agent, so to speak, that has affected every corner of the green industry and their customers. An "iatrogenic agent", borrowed from medical terminology, is something which intended for positive use, ends up with a negative effect. The cure that creates another crime - a side effect. The case study we are all living this year is of Imprelis, a weed - killer, an herbicide developed by DuPont. This herbicide was used commercially for the first time this spring for a variety of turfgrass applications. It was widely touted as a low volume herbicide for broadleaved weeds, including many tough to control weeds such as violets. It was touted as being very effective for these weeds, AND it was! It was touted as having low environmental danger because it did not have the tendency to volatilize (turn into a gas during hot weather) and move off-site to unintended plants; the US EPA touted this as a plus. Many of the better-informed green industry companies, in good faith, with a labeled product, added Imprelis to their programs for this year.

Imprelis was indeed effective for these weeds. Unfortunately, unintended consequences did emerge. After initial applications in April, starting in late May and early June, lawn care companies and their customers, golf course professionals, and professionals taking care of turfgrass in commercial sites began noticing problems, not on the turfgrass (and weed control was excellent) but on certain adjacent trees. Most noticeably affected were evergreens such as Norway spruces, white pines, other needled conifers, and in some cases deciduous trees such as honeylocust.

There were comments on the Imprelis label about not applying the chemical on exposed roots of trees and of not using grass clippings from treated areas as mulch. However, for unanticipated reasons, off-site damage of certain trees occurred in a number of cases. Not always, in fact the vast majority of Imprelis applications resulted in no damage to adjacent trees. Trees do have extensive root systems, though, that as the tree grows, roots extend well beyond the dripline, and we did have many major storms with localized flooding, and it turns out that, though volatility of the chemical was low, root uptake appeared to be a major problem for certain trees.

So, for example on Norway spruce, we began to notice browning and curling of new shoots, browning and twisting of needles, sometimes browning of entire trees. Often there was still green tissue in the buds, so there was hope for recovery. The extent of damage varied greatly, sometimes occurring on some trees in a line but not all, even though clearly, as noted by weed control in the turfgrass, the application of the herbicide was uniform. The particular geography of the tree root system into the turf area was clearly a factor. The vascular (water and nutrient conducting) system of spruces and pines was a tip-off to the root uptake aspect of this problem. Unlike many plants, a spruce's vascular system ascends spirally up the tree, and when browning and twisting on a tree was not throughout, you could see the pattern of damage in a tell-tale spiral pattern, indicating root uptake.

As the problem emerged, the green industry, DuPont, regulatory agencies, the media and the general public have become more and more aware of this issue. Ultimately, Imprelis sales were suspended, and incredibly we are now even hearing the "b" word relative to damages, as in over a billion dollars in injury to Norway spruces and other plants nationwide. Litigation looms. We are now all looking at how this happened and the answers to questions that will allow us to learn from this episode. Was it a perfect storm of unanticipated movement of the chemical in runoff water due to the flooding caused by many major storms this spring? Can science better test prior to registration the potential for this happening? What is common about the growth processes and uptake potentials of the most sensitive tree species that resulted in such differential damage? What is the nature of this particular chemistry that made the industry vulnerable to this problem? How can we prove through residue analysis whether Imprelis damage caused problems on a particular tree? What is the prognosis for affected trees?

The tough truth is that it takes time to answer these questions, including one key bottom line of what to do now with affected trees. Clearly there is a range of injury to trees and many will recover. Others were badly affected and will not recover. Others will survive, but with the extent of damage may be "horticulturally dead" in that after pruning out damaged branches will no longer serve the ornamental or windbreak function desired by the customer. Getting rid of the chemical quickly in the soil is problematical. Early on, some companies tried to water extensively to try to leach the chemical out of the root zone. At least in some cases this resulted in greater damage as this presumably resulted in moving chemical to other roots. The chemical is not particularly short-lived. DuPont has advised not replanting into the site of a removed tree until October where Imprelis was applied prior to June of this year, not replanting until November if applications were made in June.

One thing is certain: communicate with affected customers and your connections in the green industry and with DuPont and insurers. Sustain that communication. Take pictures of the damage sequentially. Hone your diagnostic skills. Many cases of white pine weevil insect damage and Diplodia tip blight fungal disease and long-term root health problems on spruce and pine were misdiagnosed as Imprelis damage this season. Monitor plant development this fall and next spring as you consider whether or not trees must be pruned or replaced.

To learn more, here is one good reference for starters:

"A Turf Professional's Guide to Suspected Imprelis Herbicide Injury in Your Landscape"