Landscape Fabric Sucks

Hey y’all! Today’s blog is an educational RANT! I HATE LANDSCAPE FABRIC UNDER MULCH! Hate, hate, hate it! It’s OK under stone, though.

Look at these epic fails…

Research shows that 90% of people who purchase landscape fabric are dullards! These nimrods believe it will prevent weeds! Sure, it will probably prevent weeds for the first year, but not the following year. Weed seeds will happily germinate atop the decaying mulch. Check out that photo on the right…weeds galore!

Another reason to avoid fabric is that it actually prevents the underlying soil from improving via the incorporation of decayed organic matter. After years of mulching, your clay soil will actually improve dramatically because that organic matter gets blended into the top few inches of soil. Moles and earthworms assist in the process. If you’re not a lousy gardener, the planting activity blends the organic matter into the clay. The topsoil in my garden is outstanding, with 8% organic matter. It’s BLACK, not brown.

Fabric will also prevent rhizomatous perennials from spreading. Daylily clumps won’t enlarge beyond the hole that was cut in the fabric. Groundcovers like pachysandra will languish.

Nothing says, “I’m stupid!” better than the photo below…

Weed Fabric 1

I sure hope you ain’t stupid!

Trav

 

 

Optimum Control of Crabgrass

Hello Turf-Tenders!

This cloudy weather is really annoying. I need sunshine! I saw some stats on February–only 4 days of sunshine! March isn’t much better, damnit.

OMG, the forsythia are blooming! The forsythia are blooming!

Forsythia Bloom

Don’t panic! You’ve got LOTS of time, folks! There is a lot of misinformation regarding the best time to apply your crabgrass prevention product. It’s understandable because all the LCO’s (lawn care operators) are making their first applications and posting signs. The hardware stores have huge piles of their crappy retail products.

I’ve been monitoring the soil temperatures on the southwest exposure of my lawn, in an area of decent turf. Last week when it hit 73 degrees, the soil temp at 2 inches was only 46 degrees. Today it’s back down to 39 degrees. Crabgrass is considered to be a warm season annual. It germinates at 55 degrees. The forsythia bloom has turned out to be a reasonably accurate phenological indicator for crabgrass emergence, but it’s the END of the bloom, not the beginning. So relax!

When you see farmers in the fields planting corn, that’s a better indicator!

So why are the LCO’s applying their product so early? It’s simple. First, it’s a money-maker. Second, most good companies have a lot of properties to cover, so they go out early and make a Round 1 treatment, but it’s soooo early that they really need to return around May 1st and make a second application, in order to provide you with season long crabgrass control. A lot of companies won’t make a second application though. Many wait and see if they avoid it, based upon rainfall and temperatures. Warm and rainy weather conditions enhance the breakdown of the product via microbial activity. Cool and dry conditions extend the life of the herbicide.

Try to avoid the Scotts product line because those contain way to much nitrogen for cool season turf in the transition zones, like STL. Try to avoid products using pendimethalin as the active ingredient. It’s an older generation product and doesn’t have the longevity on the soil surface like prodiamine (Barricade) and dithiopyr (Dimension).

If you have a great lawn you don’t have much crabgrass pressure. April 15th is usually a great time to apply a product with Dimension. For those of you with thin or weak turf, make two applications of crabgrass herbicide. You can use Barricade or Dimension early, up to April 1st, and then make a second application of Dimension by mid-May at the latest. The second application should be Dimension, because it will actually kill young crabgrass seedlings that may have escaped your first application. It will kill small seedlings up to 3/4 inches tall! Most LCO’s don’t even know this.

It is imperative that your product contain 12% or less nitrogen! Too much nitrogen in the spring causes excessive leaf growth, at the expense of the root system. That means a lot of crappy turf in August.

There are other posts on my website that discuss crabgrass control. Go get urself edecated…type “crabgrass control” in the search bar!

Best to you,

Trav

 

 

 

 

 

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Beware the Woody Vines

I can’t help but notice…

As I drive around the city my attention is often too focused on horticultural things. In particular, I tend to dwell on things done wrong, like mulch volcanoes, or hostas planted in rock beds along a southern exposure. I can’t help it because I’m a “glass-half-full” kinda guy.

Something that’s escaped commentary by everyone, including the radio shows, is how woody vines are destroying our landscapes and woodland edges. The pictures below show a few examples.

The photo on the left is a large hedge of bayberry, planted as an effective screen. The fall coloration of the vines illustrates how significant the vines have become. The picture on the right is a Norway Spruce, with a distorted and flattened top caused by excessive shading on the apex of the tree. Adding insult to injury, there are honeysuckle shrubs growing on the bottom half of this evergreen. The honeysuckle shrubs aren’t vines, but it’s impossible to ignore them in this discussion, because they are a dominant and aggressive weedy shrub. Evergreens, especially the pines and spruces, have a hard enough time thriving here in St. Louis, and the competition from vines and honeysuckles can accelerate their decline.

No Shortage of Invaders

I can’t guarantee that I’m 100% accurate in my species identification in this blog, but I can guarantee the genus is accurate! It’s been a long time since I’ve studied botany and attempted to identify closely-related plants. I was shocked to learn how many different species of the wild grape vines there are in Missouri…six! I’m just call them Vitis species. I was surprised to learn that there Virginia creeper has a kissin’ cousin, but it’s not all that common. Did you ever kiss a cousin?

Let’s have a closer look at the spruce tree in the photo above (right panel).

The photo on the left shows numerous bush honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) sprouts at the base of the evergreen. We all know how invasive bush honeysuckle is, and it will only take 2 to 3 seasons before the foliage from the honeysuckle shades out and kills the lower branches on the spruce. The right panel shows how the woody vines have grown as high as the apex of the spruce, topping it and possibly even killing it. Death doesn’t come by parasitism, rather just flat out competition for sunlight, water and nutrients.

Blame them birds!

So how’d these vines get there to start with? Simple answer–birds! More accurately, bird poop. The problem vines all produce fleshy berries, which are savored by birds. The seeds that get crapped germinate and it’s off to the races! While some vines can tolerate heavy shade at the base of the tree (e.g., wintercreeper, Virginia creeper, bush honeysuckle), most of the vigorous smothering vines are sun-loving. They have a very fast growth rate and can quickly extend 5 to 6 feet to reach full sun. Once the vine breaks into full sun, it spreads like wildfire.

We all know that birds love to eat berries. Below left are some poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) berries. Below right, some wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei) berries.

Bird species that overwinter here in St. Louis love to roost in evergreens because of the protection from the elements. Birds always poop where they perch, and in doing so, disseminate seeds. Most, but not all, of the most troublesome woody vines have edible berries.

Look Out! It’s Gonna Fall!

When the vines become extremely well established, they add considerable mass and surface area victim tree, which can easily overwhelm the root system. That’s a problem when thunderstorms roll through with strong winds, or when freezing rain accumulates on the leaves and branches. Because wintercreeper is an evergreen, even a light coating of freezing rain can increase the weight on the tree by thousands of pounds because of the tremendous increase in surface area created by the leaves. Check out the tree on the left, suffering from wintercreeper. Is it my imagination that the black locust with wintercreeper is already leaning? The photo on the right shows a hefty poison ivy vine.

More on Bush Honeysuckle

Let’s face it, the bell curve for horticultural proficiency is skewed way to the left–meaning most homeowners are oblivious to the issues discussed herein. I’m not calling them stupid, but they are technically ignorant. For example, what’s the species of interest or value in the photo below?

Honey vs Tree

It’s hard to discern but most of the trunks and branches are honeysuckle. The tree is some sort of flowering peach or cherry. It’s ugly as sheet.

Here’s yet another example of why bush honeysuckle is so invasive. There are literally hundreds of seedlings in just a few square feet under this white pine.

Thick Bush Honeysuckle

Other Common Vines and More Closeups

In addition to the vines already discussed, the following vines are troublesome here in St. Louis. I failed to get photos of any of the wild grape leaves, but they’re very recognizable.

Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)

Five different honeysuckle vines have been identified in Missouri, according to Don Kurz (Shrubs and Woody Vines of Missouri, 1997. Missouri Department of Conservation).

Honeysuckle

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quiquefolia)

This woody vine is probably the most shade tolerant of all, even more so than wintercreeper. It’s a slow grower, though. A near relative is woodbine (P. vitacea), but Kurz reports that it’s not all that geographically common.

Virg Creep

Bristly Greenbrier (Smilax hispida)

I HATE this weed! You’ve to to have the hands of Iron Man to pull this sucker out because those spines penetrate every glove made for mortals. Check out those spines! It’s got three near relatives, which tend to be located to the south of St. Louis. Thank goodness it’s slow growing!

smilax

Wintercreeper (Euonymous fortunei)

Wintercreep

Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)

Rhus-2

Wild Grape (Vitis spp.)

Here in St. Louis I consider the wild grape family to be the most destructive of the woody vines. They can achieve massive size and the vines themselves can easily reach 4 to 6 inches in diameter. The photo below left is typical of a wild grape takeover. The photo on the right shows the characteristic woody vines.

Honeyvine Milkweed (Cynanchum laeve)

Not all problem vines are woody, with one of the worst being honeyvine milkweed, a herbaceous vine (meaning the top dies over the winter). The photo below shows a juniper tree completed overrun by honeyvine milkweed. Click on this link to see what the leaves and seed pods look like (honeyvine).

Milkweed Smother

This vine is rather unique because it doesn’t really attach itself in any manner to the foliage of the tree that it smothers, thus it can literally be pulled off the victim! The other vines have tendrils and aerial roots that anchor the vines securely.

The King Kong of all vines would be Kudzu and I’m glad I don’t have to write about this one, because it’s too rare in St. Louis.

Wisteria species escaped cultivation. There’s the Sweet Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) and the Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda). There’s a native Wisteria in the boot heel (Wisteria frutescens). Wisteria is by far the most beautiful of the vines because of the fragrant, foot long purple flowers. Most wisteria was planted by gardeners and the vines just kept growing!

Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) can be a problem, but it’s a slow grower. It has beautiful red orange and yellow flowers. Hummingbirds love this plant, which is frequently planted on a trellis. I’ve never seen these growing on trees, but have seen them on fences.

American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) is the last vine I’ll mention. It’s not as common as the vines I’ve featured in photos, and it has some decent ornamental value. Nice yellow flowers in spring are followed by hanging clusters of fruit pods that open to reveal bright red berries. The fruits can persist all winter long.

So What Should I Do About Vines?

I don’t have to deal with these bastard weeds in my garden, which is damn near perfect (yah, I’m braggin’). But my daughter and son-in-law have a Norway spruce that had three of the aforementioned vines plus bush honeysuckle growing within it’s canopy. My first order of business was to prepare a solution of 5% glyphosate and spray the foliage that I could without getting the spray on the green needles and stems. SIDEBAR [I’m not gonna debate with you over the safety of glyphosate. I worked with it for over 40 years, and I don’t plan to stop!] Four weeks later I used my hand shears, loppers and sawzall, carefully crawled into canopy, and cut the offenders off at their base.

Many of the smaller seedlings that you cut off at ground level will die, if there is still ample shade cast by the desired tree. If there’s sufficient sunlight, they’ll grow back. Thick vines have a huge root system and thus will re-sprout. This necessitates the use of glyphosate as a “cut stump” treatment. After cutting vines and bush honeysuckle off at their base, use a paintbrush to apply a 25% strong solution of glyphosate (1 part glyphosate to 3 parts water). Paint the base of the vine within 15 minutes of cutting for best results.

There aren’t any decent chemical substitutes for glyphosate for cut stump treatments underneath desirable specimen trees, for several reasons. First, glyphosate is rapidly adsorbed by the soil and rendered unavailable. This means roots from the good tree won’t be harmed. Second, glyphosate is not “exuded” by the root system of the vines you’re trying to kill. ALL of the alternative herbicides that can be used for cut stump, such as dicamba, 2,4-D, Tordon, Garlon and Arsenal, are exuded out of the root tips of the treated plant. This increases the chance of causing harm to desired trees because their roots will absorb the herbicide and translocate it.

If you choose not to use any herbicides, that’s fine, too.  Just make sure you cut all all the sprouts every 3 to 4 weeks. As long as you’re vigilant you can deplete the root reserves. It may take 2 years, though.

Send your comments and questions!

Trav

 

 

Please accept my apologies!

Dear readers, followers and anyone else silly enough to read my blogs,

I’ve been very negligent in writing, and I could list a ton of excuses, but I shant bore you with them. When my daughters were growing up, complaining about this-and-that, I’d always say, “Excuses are for losers!” But they’d ignore me and continue on with their whining! I will share that I tend to write when when my consulting efforts diminish, and I have time to be bored.

My youngest daughter is in the business of marketing, research and promotion. She tells me that a real blogger posts no fewer than 24 times a year, and 100 times a year should be my goal. Huh? I think that high number is goofy and unwanted by the five or six folks that follow me!

I’ll be reorganizing my blogs in a way that organizes the subjects on a calendar basis, so that new followers can jump in and get educated, no matter when they come across this website. After all, how many times must I write about crabgrass herbicides? How many times to do want to read recycled blogs?

There are soooo many new topics I’d like to write about. My first new blog is gonna be a monster.  Beware those woody vines! They’ll destroy your evergreens and hedges. They’ll consume your woodland edge! They’ll bring huge trees down in ice storms and thunderstorms. Everywhere I look I see destructive vines. And you’ll be shocked to learn that the dang birds are responsible for this devastation!

Another topic of interest is why y’all shouldn’t use “weed fabric” or “landscape fabric” in your mulch beds. Such a stupid practice!

If you like my site, please follow me. And please tell others about me. If you don’t like my site, send me a comment and start a discussion (probably more like an argument!).

Let’s get greening!

Trav

 

 

If You’re a Gardener, Deer SUCK!

I’LL RANT FIRST

As an avid gardener who has lived my entire life in the suburbs of St. Louis, I’ve watched the white-tailed deer population has explode. While deer populations in true rural counties are stable to declining (from diseases) the suburban population continues to grow, for several reasons. First, there are fewer apex predators (such as coyotes, foxes and black bears) in the suburbs compared to rural counties. Second, suburban deer enjoy munching on ornamental plants (especially hostas and daylilies), so food supply is abundant. Deer will destroy both irrigated and non-irrigated landscapes. Third, quite a few folks feed the damn deer! Many municipalities have laws in place designed to prevent feeding of nuisance animals, including deer and geese. But folks still be stupid.

Generally speaking, conservation biologists around the country consider 20 deer per square mile to be a sustainable population. Recent data collected by the Missouri Department of Conservation show numbers of 82 deer/sq mile in Wildwood, 69 in Sunset Hills, 52 in Ellisville, 46 in Des Peres, 32 in Kirkwood and 25 in Chesterfield. Being a resident of Chesterfield I think that’s way too low! The automobile is the number one killer of deer in the county. I haven’t heard of a human fatality this year from a deer collision, but some quick research showed 6 human fatalities in 2016 and 3 in 2015. You have a 1 in 110 chance of colliding with a deer if you’re a driver in the state of MO. Most deaths occur when drivers TRY TO AVOID the deer! JUST HIT THE DAMN DEER! Tell your kids to HIT THE DAMN DEER, too. My youngest daughter once slammed on her brakes in our subdivision in an attempt to avoid hitting a squirrel. She didn’t hit it, but I took her keys away for a week because of her reckless breaking! Ironically, I have never even hit a squirrel in my neighborhood in the past 30 years, despite my best efforts!

White-tailed deer were nearly extinct in Missouri back in the early 1900’s. The Missouri Department of Conservation was started in 1936. They estimated a tiny population of only 1800 deer across the entire state of MO in 1937. Our Conservation department saved the deer and the wild turkey from extinction, which is outstanding. Seriously, kudos to our conservation department!

My hosta garden used to comprise over 12,000 sq ft of lightly shaded woods and I once had close to 550 different kinds of hostas. I am particularly fond of the “giant” hostas, the ones that will grow wider than 6 to 8 feet across. They’re gorgeous. They’re eye-popping! My garden was featured in the Chesterfield Garden Tours twice in the past 20 years–maybe you’ve been here? Long ago, I had a regular momma doe and she and her fawn would browse hostas on occasion, but they tended to eat a patch of plain-jane hostas, near a protected gulch. As the population grew the damage became more extensive. I sprayed repellents more frequently, every 7 to 14 days, but I lost the battle with the herd back in 2014. I moved my favorite 200 plants closer to the house on an easterly slope; I potted up and sold what I could salvage. Remember those giant plants I talked about earlier? After one season of heavy browsing, they’d shrink to ~3 ft across the next spring. If they browsed that same hosta the next season, it would only be ~1 ft wide, if not dead.  Dead after three seasons of deer browsing for sure.

My reduced hosta collection is still pleasing to me, and still spectacular in many ways, but I want to grow some of the newer, more colorful, unusual and exciting varieties. Hosta breeders are going nuts! I need to expand my garden but I’m not sure I can fend off the damned deer. Last year I sprayed repellents 10 times, starting at emergence all the way through September. I also have a solar-powered electric fence that does a good job keeping the deer out of my hostas. A few years back, after having sprayed a stinky repellent product on a Friday evening, a neighbor across the way called me up and screamed at me for ruining their garden party! Had I known about their party, I wouldn’t have sprayed…but tough nuts.

Critics often say, “Why don’t you grow something else? Something deer resistant?” My response is, “Screw you! I love hostas.” The ill-informed will say, “But the deer were here first!” My response to them is, “Bullshit!” I was here first. Let’s review those suburban population numbers, ok? 20 deer per square mile is sustainable but we’re looking at numbers as high as 4X that. My hunting buddies confirm fewer deer in the rural counties. Several of them have taken advantage of the suburban bow-hunting ordinance here in Chesterfield. They LOVE harvesting suburban deer because they are truly better tasting–more tender and less gamey! This goes back to the abundant food sources, like our gardens and landscaping.

So in addition to the destruction of my garden in the spring and summer, there’s another reason I hate deer–the damn bucks rub their antlers on smaller trees, causing a lot of harm. Once a tree attains a certain diameter (my guess is >4 inches, based on observations) they don’t rub on the trunk. But bucks will rub on smaller branches on a multi-stemmed tree.

Bucks Damage Trees

Here’s some typical damage. About 1/3 to 1/2 of the trunk is damaged. Look closely and you’ll see last year’s damage below this fresh damage. Lower branches are destroyed. If you didn’t know, the flowering magnolias are a deer lure! Bucks love them–must be deernip or something.

Deer 2

Protecting Your Trees

The simple way to protect tree trunks is to use 4 inch corrugated drain pipe. Use a jig saw or a power saw and cut a slice from top to bottom. The tubes are easier to put in place if you make a second cut 1/2 to 3/4 inches parallel to the first–so that you remove a strip. For thin-barked trees you have to be careful removing the tube in the spring because you’ll scratch the crap out of the bark!

Take a look below.

 

Obviously you have to cut the tubing at the proper height for the lowest branch. Don’t leave this tubes up all season. Put them up in mid-October and remove them when daytime temps hit the mid-60s in March.

A good landscape is a lot of work! I’d love to hear from you regarding this post.  I enjoy compliments and I love to argue.

Now let’s hope we have a few nice months of SPRING weather.

Trav

 

Landscape Faux Pas (foh pahz, for plural)

STUPID MYTHS

Pruning sealer (aka pruning paint) is bad news, but some folks still use it. Worse yet, some places still sell it! Arborists starting warning against this practice at LEAST 25 years ago. The black tar is especially problematic when it’s used on the sunny side of the tree trunk, which would be the south to west exposures. That’s because on cold winter days with puffy cumulus clouds, the tar overheats the wounded area when then sun is out, but the clouds cause a constant “heat/freeze” cycle. This cycle KILLS the phloem in the area, exacerbating the wound and often causing the bark to blast off the tree trunk.

Trees heal themselves from the “inside out”. They only need you to make a proper pruing cut. They literally plug their own vascular system after the wound event occurs. If the pruning cut is made properly, the tree “seals over” that wound. The sooner the tree seals the wound, the better!

So when you see pruning sealer on the shelf on any lawn and garden outlet, tell management to shoot me a note and I’ll set them straight!

 

COME ON, MAN! HAVE SOME PRIDE!

The photo on the left shows are really hideous sidewalk where the turf has encroached upon the sidewalk. The blue line shows the neighbor doing the right thing and keeping a nice crisp edge. The red line shows up 4 to 6 inches of crappy grass and weeds over-running the sidewalk. This really looks trashy.

Now check out that photo on the right–showing a gorgeous edge on a fabulous sward of turf-type fescue. It’s a literal horticultural erection! That’s how you do it, folks!

Lest you judge me as harsh for my criticism of the crappy sidewalk, it’s possible that the homeowners are old and of poor health. If this is the case, I apologize to them. Not you, them.

 

CRAPPY SHRUBS

Nurserymen are always looking for new and improved plants. But the old, crappy ones still exist in our landscapes, and even the retail nurseries. Below we have a photo of an “old-fashioned” pyramidal arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Pyramidalis’). Because it has multiple leaders, a negative growth feature, the plant is prone to literally falling apart here in the Lou, where we suffer from heavy wet snows or freezing rain. Note how the plant has split into 3 parts, because it has three leaders, not just one. The plant has splayed apart.

This shrub is probably at least 15 years old and it’s too late to “fix it”. It should be removed and replaced. There a tons of new evergreens available now with a strong, central leader. There are at least 5 different colors that I can think of (blue, gray, light green, dark green, yellow), from the spruces, pines, juniper, false cypress, and even the arborvitae family. Shop at good nurseries and avoid the big box stores when you want good plants.

Split Arborvitae

That’s it for this blog. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, please do me a favor and tell your friends and family about my blog. Have them sign up for the updates!

Send me your questions! Send me your comments! Dare to disagree!  Let’s roll around in the dirt and sling some mud!

Best to all of you,

Trav

Spring Re-seeding (usually doesn’t work!)

Hey There, Turf-heads! It’s been a while!

Early in the month, a faithful follower, BigD, wrote:

Trav,
What are your thoughts on a routine for a spring overseeding of a lawn and a pre emergent application? I overseeded (fescue) in the fall and I never see the fall growth like I want and over the winter I get concerned that I won’t see my bare spots fill in like I expect in the spring. I’m always tempted to reseed in the spring but my experience has shown that it is necessary to apply a PE soon after the last frost. I understand that the use of PEs affect grass seeds as well as weeds. What would you think of an application of grass seeds followed by an application of a PE? I assume there needs to be a certain amount of time to allow the new seedlings to sprout and become strong enough to withstand whatever the PE would do to hinder their growth. How much would a spring reseeding allow the new grass to outcompete potential weeds for nutrients in my lawn? I guess my questions are how long are PE effective (I use them regularly every spring and still have some weeds appear in summer & I know you advocate for a 2nd application) and when is it ok to apply a PE to a reseeded lawn?
BigD
PS. I’d love to see a post about moss, its effect on a lawn and causes/treatment
BigD asks a LOT of questions here, and brings up quite a few valid issues for spring reseeding. Here’s the short answer…grass seed sown in the spring seldom makes it past August. But if you’re looking at ugly bare spots, then spring seeding is worth it. And spring seeding makes weed control very challenging.

Moss control…

I’ll dispense with the moss question right away. If you’ve got moss, it’s a symptom of acidic, shady and wet soils, and usually, thin turf. A thick turf won’t let the moss grow. Test the soil for pH and apply lime accordingly. Are you overwatering? Can you limb up the trees causing the shade? Can you remove crappy trees to open up the area? Have you deadwooded the trees and thinned the crown recently? Have you tried to overseed grass species that are better adapted for shade, such as creeping red fescue, sheep’s fescue and meadow fescue? Turf in shady areas can be mowed lower than turf in full sun, so try mowing those areas at 2 inches instead of 3.5 to 4 inches. If it’s shady, that means there are trees, which means there are tree roots competing for nutrients and moisture. In addition to your regular fertilization program I’d recommend that you apply Milorganite lightly at least twice in the summer, say June 1 and July 15th, at a low rate of only 0.3 lbs of nitrogen per 1,000 sq ft. A 40 lb retail bag would treat 7,000 sq ft of turf. A 50 lb commercial bag of Milorganite would treat 9,000 sq ft. There’s no need to overdo it.

Now for the the long answer of the RESEEDING aspects…

By far, the best time to reestablish a new lawn here in St. Louis and the rest of the transition zone, is September to October. When I was with THE Turf Plan in Ellisville MO, we’d stop our overseeding efforts by October 15th to third week in October, because we couldn’t guarantee success after that. Success in this case means having a fabulous new lawn the following May.
If you have as few as 4 tiny seedling sprigs of grass per square inch in early November, I’d bet you’ll have a thick and lush new lawn in May. Grass seedlings thicken up by tillering–meaning new shoots. One tiny seedling in the fall can have hundreds of leaves by the following spring.
This past fall, I got bit in the ass when I attempted to reseed my front lawn, a mere 1,500 patch of grass, because I was forced to start late in October. I lost a massive pin oak and the stump wasn’t ground out until mid-October.  It took me a 3 days to cart off a yard and a half of sawdust and soil, another few days to add new topsoil and lay the new sod. I reseeded immediately upon completion of my sod job, but recall that last October was a cold, cloudy and wet–dreadful conditions for starting new seedlings. Without exageration, I didn’t see ANY new seedlings last fall.
So what should BigD and I do now? Duh! We’ll reseed! But my advice differs quite a bit from the guys you’ll hear on the weekend radio shows. Some will tell you that you’ll be just fine by starting in May. I call bull sheet to this! I’m going to start ASAP, as soon as we get a week or so of 55+ degree weather. The soil surface needs to be slightly moist to dry. I’ll reseed my turf-type fescue blend on the heavy side–at least 5 lbs/1,000 sq ft in thin turf, and 10 lbs/1,000 sq ft in the bare spots. I intend to use a garden rake to scratch groves into the soil first, and I’ll topdress with 1/4 inch of bagged compost or cow manure. I recommend dark colored soil because it’ll warm up fast and stimulate rapid germination. By starting in February or March those new seedlings have a better chance to get a decent root system developed before the hot summer.
I wish I could find a classic research study conducted back in the late 1990’s by a good turf program–Iowa State University, me thinks. They reseeded on the first of every month (as best as they could) and then evaluated the resultant turf stand in June for quality, disease and thickness. Far and away, the best establishment dates were September and October! Turf that was reseeded in April and May was thin to dead in August, necessitating another round of reseeding (Sept and Oct). Turf seeded in March does better but tender turf seedlings won’t survive the summer if not irrigated. Fungicides greatly aid in new turf survival, too.
Thus, I’ll reseed very soon, and I’ll plan on aerating and overseeding the same turf again in September!

Tell me about crabgrass control…

Another reason we professionals reseed in the fall is because reseeding in the spring complicates the crap out of our crabgrass management programs! Remember, your best defense against crabgrass is a thick, healthy sward, but that’s obviously not the case if you’re asking about spring seeding. The best crabgrass prevention strategies utilize preemergent herbicides (aka PRE or PE) that are impregnated onto fertilizer granules. These are also the most economical products. You cannot apply a PRE crabgrass fertilizer in the spring and then try to sow grass seed after that. Rather than throw your money away, send it to me, so that I can keep writing these outstanding garden columns!
If you reseed as recommended above you CAN apply PRE herbicides in mid April, provided your new turf is at least 3 inches tall. After you’ve mowed your new 3 times you can use the same products, even if it’s earlier than mid-April.
There are several NEW herbicides that can be safely applied postemergence (POST) to kill crabgrass in seedling turf, which makes weed control a lot easier. One is Drive(R) (quinclorac) and the other is Tenacity(R) (mesotrione). Tenacity provides better weed control than Drive, so that’s the one I’d recommend. It’s safe for use on baby turf but only for Kentucky bluegrass, turf-type fescue and perennial ryegrass. It will cause thinning of the fine shade fescues like creeping red fescue but won’t kill it. It’s not safe on zoysiagrass and bermudagrass, thus it’s useful to keep these two species weakened with repeated use!
Both are relatively expensive, and they come in concentrated form. Both require a quality nonionic surfactant for best weed control, so don’t skimp on that! Be sure the surfactant bottle literally says these words–nonionic surfactant. Don’t use Dawn detergent no matter what those other dumb shits tell you! The use rate for Tenacity is ONLY 1 teaspoon per 1,000 sq ft! Store this product in a cool basement rather than your hot garage. The consumer-sized bottle is 8 oz, so you may want to supply the entire neighborhood! Learn more about Tenacity here: label
My fingers are tired, so I think I’ll stop here. I hope you enjoyed the detail and minutia! If you didn’t, to bad. Don’t ask for a refund!
Let’s hope for a NORMAL spring, not an abnormally warm one! I can’t handle frost damage…
Best to you all,
Trav

Miscellaneous Matters & Important Advice About Trees

State of STL Cool Season Turf

Today, 18-November-2018 we find ourselves thawing from a great snowfall. This, along with the October rains has provided our area with very good soil moisture status. Going into late fall and winter with adequate moisture is great for our landscapes. But those damned leaves are complicating clean up efforts! The maples, ashes and hickories have shed their leaves but the pears and oaks are still hanging on. I have the misfortune of living on a side street with dozens of huge 40-year-old pin oaks. The dang things meter out their spent leaves, requiring weekly cleanups all the way through January. I hate pin oaks (more about that later). I spent several hours yesterday literally raking sloppy wet leaves off the street. I shoveled piles onto a tarp with a snow shovel! Plus I used my commercial leaf blower to clean up the leaves underneath a light crust of snow. Turf pros know that you can’t let your winter leaves pile up on cool season grass, lest you kill it 100% next spring! It’s going to be a nice, sunny week with normal temperatures. So get off your ass and get those leaves cleaned up. Mow your yard a few more times, too.

Trees in the Wrong Spot

It annoys the hell out of me when I see redbuds (Cercis canadensis) and dogwoods (Cornus florida) used in hot parking lots. The redbud is certainly more heat tolerant than our native white flowering dogwood, but neither are suited for the desert like conditions in an asphalt parking lot. Its tree abuse! Call the authorities! Redbuds and dogwoods are shade tolerant trees and as such, they are adapted to the understory of our forests, or along the edges of our woods. A good nursery will tell you to avoid planting these small flowering trees on the SW and W sides of your home, where hot afternoon sun causes tremendous stress. Planting on the S side of the house may be OK as long as the site is shaded after 2 PM.

Check out this photo from a local grocery store. These redbuds will be short-lived because of the heat load and the lack of supplemental irrigation. While I enjoy multi-stemmed versions of the redbud, it’s not really appropriate for a parking lot because low hanging branches present an eye-injury hazard to customers. This is dumb all around. The landscape architect that planned this job should be tarred and feathered. Dumb ass!

Redbud in hot parking lot.jpg

You might wonder what a better alternative would be in this hell hole. Believe it or not, the ginkgo (Gingko biloba) would be an excellent choice because they’re great street trees. An upright or pyramidal selection would be outstanding. Because of limited soil volume a slow-growing tree would fair better than a rapidly growing tree. The European beech (Carpinus betulus) would also be great here.

No Planting Under Red Maples

Lots of folks like to plant directly underneath their shade trees. It certainly won’t hurt the tree, but there are factors to consider. The first factor contributing to success or failure is the tree species. Shallow rooted trees like the river birch, silver maple or red maple will limit your long-term success. Take a look at the roots under this red maple.

Maple Roots Desert.jpg

Even if you chopped holes with a mattock or ax, whatever you plant beneath this won’t be able to compete with those roots for water and nutrients. You’re best just to apply a light coat of mulch. 2 inches of mulch is MORE than enough.

Here’s a shot of some sickly daffodil bulbs that were planted several years ago. They’re alive but they can’t produce enough energy to make a flower.

Bad Idea

They were probably OK the very first spring, but started to decline right after that. The moral of the story is to avoid planting underneath shallow rooted trees, including but not limited to red maples, silver maples, Japanese maples, sweetgums and river birches.

Please shoot your questions or comments to me about these issues. Feel free to disagree!

Trav

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s the big deal about core aeration?

Core Aeration is Great for the Lawn

Every fall we see a flurry of activity at the rental stores, with folks loading up core aerators. We see signs all over the place, especially those placed illegally at intersections, promoting, “Core Aeration Special–$40!” And we see the professional LCO’s running their machines on our neighbor’s lawns. So, what’s it all about, Alfie?

The vast majority of soils in St. Louis are considered to be “clay loams”. West and southwest communities have rocky clay loams! These soils are productive, but they are very fine in their texture. Our subsoils are often pure clay. Fine textured soils are considered to be “tight” in the agronomic world—which means limited water penetration/percolation and oxygen exchange. A tight soil restricts root growth, limiting absorption of water and nutrients. Roots need oxygen to grow and thrive. The more large pores, the more oxygen. The more large pores, the better the water percolation. The more large pores, the better the nutrient penetration. The more large pores, the better the root growth. The better the root growth, the healthier the plant. Healthy turf tolerates stress better and has fewer disease issues.

In addition to our tight clay loam soils, our lawn mowers and even regular foot traffic increases compaction! Areas where the kids play, or the dogs run, become heavily compacted. This further exacerbates the situation. As tough as it is to grow plants in our “regular clay loam soils,” grass trying to grow in compacted areas lack vigor, thins out, or flat out dies.

The smart folks in the crowd are wondering when I’m going to talk about how core aeration helps to decrease thatch. Am I right? Pat yourself on the back if you’ve wandered there. Indeed, another huge benefit of core aeration is that the soil plugs deposited upon the soil surface contains millions upon millions of beneficial microbes. Maybe billions, I’m not sure. As that soil core breaks down the microbes help to break down the thatch layer. The issue of thatch management is something deserving its own newsletter. But know that fescue lawns DON’T develop thatch. Grasses that spread laterally do so with rhizomes (below ground shoots) and stolons (above ground shoots), which are more resistant to decomposition than leaf tissue. Zoysiagrass is notorious for developing thick thatch layers. Bluegrass will also develop thatch. Up to 3/8-inch thatch is usually OK! More than ½ inch of thatch is not good. Thatch actually gets to a point that it repels water. If you have more than ½ inch of thatch you should consider renting a “dethatcher”, properly called a vertical rake. Don’t rely on the core aerator for thick thatch situations. Dethatch cool season lawns in September to October. Dethatch zoysiagrass in June or early July.

Jeez, I’m really rambling. The best way to increase water, nutrient and oxygen exchange, reduce compaction, decrease thatch, and increase root growth of turf is to core aerate. Sidebar here, folks:  it’s pronounced “AIR-ate”. Not “AIR-e-ate” (definitely hoosier!) A core aerator removes plugs of soil out of the ground, 3/8th inch to ½ inch in diameter. For the millennials in the crowd, the ones that NEVER helped their parents do chores (except occasionally vacuuming the crumbs off the couch in the basement) the soil plugs look like dog poop. Thousands upon thousands of dog turds! Maybe hundreds of thousands. Not chihuahua-sized, not retriever-sized, but more like Pomeranian-sized. You want those holes to be 1.5 inch to 3 inches deep. The deeper the better, but the deeper the plugs are pulled, the greater the risk of puncturing irrigation lines, piercing electric dog lines and for sure, the damn cable company lines! Call 1-800-DIG-RITE and give them a minimum of 3 days’ notice, but know that they prefer 10 days’ notice. Dig-Rite won’t mark electric dog fences—so call your vendor for that. For the dullards in the crowd, you shouldn’t waste your money aerating bone dry soil! I’ve seen neighbors pay good money to pull ½ inch to ¾ inch cores—what a waste of money!

Cores.jpg

If you’ve conducted a soil test in the past few years, it’s likely the results indicated a need for lime (calcium, to raise pH), magnesium (Mg), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K). The only nutrient in the aforementioned list that will percolate (move deeper) is potassium. But it’s still a helluva lot less mobile than nitrogen (N), which literally moves with the water. Calcium, magnesium and phosphorous are IMMOBILE nutrients, meaning if you apply them on the soil surface, it’ll take a 2-3 years to move ¼ inch deep. We want these nutrients to be available to the roots for uptake. So, here’s the answer to the $64,000 question. Or is it the $69,000 question? Where’s Yogi when you need him?  Core aeration is an essential element for adjusting our soil pH, and to provide the turf with the amount of P and K that it needs for optimum growth!

Are you a “recreational limer?” That’s what the PROS call you goof balls that lime every year, without the benefit of a soil test. The optimum soil pH for turf is 6.2 to 6.8. That’s considered to be slightly acidic. Liming atop the soil surface is moronic.  And most of you don’t know that the FILLER in the 50 lb bag of fertilizer is coarsely ground limestone—big grits. A bag of 18-0-4 fertilizer has 18% nitrogen, 4% potassium and 78% large grit limestone. It’s literally a small rock. It’s essentially useless for adjusting soil pH. Re-read that last paragraph, if you’re confused.

Most lawns benefit from annual core aeration, best done in the fall. After you do this, you MUST water because you’ve opened up tremendous surface area for the roots, making it more susceptible to drought for the first 2 to 3 weeks. WATER! Those teaser adds for the $40 aeration are for single passes, usually with old machines. And the seed those guys use is pure crap—usually called “contractor mix” meaning a lot of annual ryegrass (crap) and weeds. New machines like that used by the Turf Guys at THE Turf Plan® have at least 35% more hollow core tines than the walk behind units. That equates to more plugs per pass. It’s best to at least do a “double pass” on your trouble spots. The more passes, the better in your thin or weak areas.

Any questions?

Now get to work! Get it done by mid-October, for the highest probability of success.

Trav

 

 

Beware the bad advice–there’s lots of it!

Idiots on the Airwaves

This past Saturday morning, while running errands for the family (not just my wife, but my daughter…WTF?), I had occasion to listen to a popular talk show host on the AM airwaves. I concede that this person has a few key strengths (indoor horticulture, annuals, perennials) in the broader field of horticulture, but his understanding of the SCIENCE of pesticides, especially herbicides, is woefully inadequate. Every summer, right on cue, this goofball says, “Summer weeds have hardened off so much, you really can’tkill them with herbicides!” What a load of crap! He proclaims this for both nutsedge and the entire collection of broadleaf herbicides. He’s dead wrong!

Before I skewer him on his abject stupidity in this specialty area, I’ll try to give him the benefit of the doubt. I’m a fair guy…even-tempered…open-minded—for an Irishman (50%). Maybe he’s thinking about those huge mats of crabgrass, two feet in diameter, or a hefty clump of goosegrass (aka “silver crabgrass”)(below left). Or maybe it’s an established area of deep-rooted black medic (below right). [By the way, the photo of black medic also has some white dutch clover in the photo–both are legumes–and both are tough weeds, but black medic is tougher!] These tough weeds become quite noticeable in late summer because they love the heat and they get very large. Herbicides have their limits–they kill small seedlings easy but an established monster weed won’t be controlled. There are no “selective” POST herbicides that will kill these tough weeds with only one application, this time of year. A “selective” herbicide means it will kill weeds but not grass (if used properly). But a non-selective herbicide, glyphosate (Roundup), CAN kill all these weeds, along with the turf!. STOP HERE! It’ll take at least two applications of glyphosate to kill established black medic. It will take at least 3 applications of common retail broadleaf weed killers to kill established black medic.

Herbicides used in turfgrass work by preventing weed seeds from developing (PREEMERGENCE or “PRE”) or killing established weeds after they are emerged (POSTEMERGENCE or “POST”). Every single herbicide used in turf can injure turf if over-applied, and most herbicides can even kill turf if horribly over-applied. There are “easy-to-control” weeds and there are “tough-to-control” weeds for every product used in your lawn and landscape. For example, dandelion is an “easy” weed for the multitude of broadleaf weed herbicides, while wild violet is a tough weed (3 applications required). Crabgrass is an easy weed for PREEN to prevent but nightshade is a tough weed for this product. PRE herbicides cannot control weeds beyond the seedling germination stage and POST herbicides work best on weeds less than 4 inches tall/wide. So our talk show host is only partially right about why herbicides might disappoint when applied in late summer. THE WEEDS ARE TOO FREAKIN’ BIG! They aren’t “tougher!”

Halosulfuron, the best herbicide on the face of the earth for control of nutsedge, is sold under “at least 3 different names, such as PROSEDGE, SEDGEHAMMER, and NUTBUSTER.  It still works GREAT right now! But the host of this show will tell you otherwise. [SIDEBAR: i did 75% of the development research for this herbicide while employed by Monsanto in the mid- to late-80’s, and it was introduced as MANAGE herbicide. I know WTF I’m talking about!] The broadleaf herbicides (no fewer than half a dozen) will still control weeds 4 inches tall if you apply them now, as long as it’s an easy-to-control weed.  

In summation: this guy doesn’t know crap about herbicides and weed control.

The Value of Compost

There are two ddifferent guys on two different stations that over-promote their proprietary compost blends. Not just for turf, but for ALL lawn and landscape woes. Compost is wonderful as a topdressing in turf, or when incorporated into the native soil when you’re establishing new beds. I don’t recommend it as a mulch because it becomes very powdery when it dries out. Heavy rains or heavy irrigation can wash compost downslope quite easily.

My beef with these two hosts is that they OVER PROMOTE the nutrient content of compost, and one says you don’t need to fertilize your lawn all season long! This is just pure crap.

The vast majority of our soils in St. Louis are typically adequate in phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) thus good turf management generally comes down to proper management of nitrogen (N). Fertilizer values for these there macronutrients are provided in the order of N-P-K. Compost typically 1-1-1. Furthermore, the nitrogen in the compost is very slowly released, in YEARS. Not days, not months, but YEARS. It may take 3 years for all the nitrogen in compost to be made available for use by plants. Compost usually has about 1% phosphorous, but it is essentially unavailable for several years. Finally, compost has about 1% potassium and it is readily available.

Let’s get back to the N, because good turf is all about the N! Healthy cool season turf in the transition zone needs between 2.5 and 4 lbs of N per season, per 1,000 sq ft. By simple math there is no way a single application of compost will provide you with a decent looking sward. We always want to limit our nitrogen to only 1 lb of actual N per 1,000 sq ft in a single application. With compost having only 1% nitrogen, that’s 100 lbs of compost per 1,000 sq ft. That’s certainly “doable” but a lot of work.

There’s nothing wrong with adding compost to the lawn, especially if it’s applied as a top-dressing after heavy aeration and seeding. There are billions upon billions of beneficial microbes in compost which serve to break down thatch, improve soil structure, combat pathogenic fungi, and improve aeration.

In summation: these guys should stop over-promoting compost as an adequate source of nitrogen.

Remember folks, the month of September makes or breaks the turf studs from the turf duds. If you aspire for a great lawn, work hard now through mid-October.

Stay cool!

Trav