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

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

 

 

 

Stupid Effing Neighbors

They’re everywhere!

Isn’t it disgusting how many folks whine about wanting a good lawn, yet they go out and scalp it week after week after week? EVERYBODY says mow high–EVERYBODY! Local newspapers, suburban mailings, all the idiots on the airwaves, and yes, even national magazines!

I think these dumb butts don’t realize that their lawn mowers actually have adjustable wheels! I’m serious. I have to drive by this dolt once or twice a day. I try not to look, but I just can’t help it. It’s like a doctor tellin’ you not to pop your pimples.

I know these folks want a good lawn–they apply fertilizers a few times a year. They clean the leaves up in the fall. They water in droughts. In addition to scalping their lawn the other huge mistake they make is using a very popular, heavily advertised, nationally well known retail product–that contains the weakest of all crabgrass herbicides–pendimethalin. I saw the bag sitting on the driveway this past spring when Mr. Idiot was applying it. “Pendy,” as it’s affectionately known in the industry, must be used twice in the spring to get a half-way decent level of crabgrass control. For more information on crabgrass herbicides, go read my older blog You Shouldn’t Have Crabgrass!

It was a WET and WARM spring and summer, which put extra pressure on the crappy herbicides. Scalping the lawn exacerbates the problem, because is supports constant weed germination. There’s a HUGE difference in shade between even a 2 inch mowing height and a 3 inch mowing height. Shaded soil will suppress weed growth much better than sunny soil. Cooler soils (high mowing) will suppress weed seed germination much better than hot soils (scalped lawns).

Here’s another nit-wit. It’s hilarious that these folks are actually WATERING THEIR WEEDS! I’ve labeled the crabgrass seed heads and yellow nutsedge seed heads as a teaching tool.

Scalped lawn weeds.jpg

And finally, I can’t resist taking another swipe at a crappy lawn care company. This lawn has a south facing blend of cool season grass–mostly bluegrass with some turf-type fescue. It’s not mowed as low as the first dolt, but this guy hires a guy with a professional walk behind mower. Because it’s a south facing slope this lawn should be mowed at 4 inches, not the 2.5 inches. This poor guy has a crappy lawncare company and a moron for a mower.

Trugreen

It’s not hard to have a great lawn, folks! Hire a local chain, not the big national ones. Better yet, just do it yourself! Sure, hire someone to mow your lawn it but make sure you read my blog, so that they mow right and edge right!

 

How Large is Your Sward?

Hey folks, when it comes to taking care of the yard, aka “the sward”, the absolute very first thing a do-it-yourself (DIY) lawn tender MUST know is how many thousand square feet of actual TURF one has. Back to the sward comment…a crappy yard is not a sward! Only a beautiful yard, one that creates envy, can be called a sward!

This is a serious matter, because success or failure in your lawn care practice is based upon the PROPER DOSE. It’s important for fungicides, herbicides, insecticides and especially fertilizers. Think about it for a second. If you apply a bag of insecticide designed for 5,000 sq ft over your 12,000 sq ft lawn, do you think it’ll work properly? Hell no! And when you apply a 50 lb bag of fertilizer with a 24-8-12 formulation over a 5,000 sq ft lawn, would you expect success? The aforementioned bag of fertilizer has 12 lbs of actual nitrogen in it (50 lbs x 0.24 = 12), and thus would cover 12,000 sq ft of turf in the fall. Put that much nitrogen on a tiny yard and you’ll have a dead lawn after about a month of summer heat.

Back in 2012 when  I was with THE Turf Plan, I penned a nice blog about this. Rather than regurgitate it, I’ll recycle it! Go to this link on THE Turf Plan website and read up:  How Large is Your Sward.

You needed get carried away but get within 10% accuracy. Don’t be a dumb ass! Figure it out.

Success will follow!

Trav

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Shouldn’t Have Crabgrass!

It’s mid-March so the lawn care operators (LCOs) are applying their Round 1 product, consisting of fertilizer plus crabgrass preemergent herbicide. LCOs start early because it’s better to be early than late! However, any company applying a crabgrass product now MUST also apply a SECOND SHOT of crabgrass preemergent (late April to mid-May). The exception to this rule is for superb lawns, where the healthy sward is so thick and lush that crabgrass seeds have no chance to contact the soil surface. BTW, for the do-it-yourselfer it’s too early. You can wait until at least April 1st.

Nothing chaps my ass like seeing these application notifications where the company made an application over a crap ton of leaves and debris! This is usually where the damn crabgrass is going to be bad! Your lawn care company should have given you a heads up a few weeks in advance, saying something to the tune of, “Dear Customer, we’ll be applying your first round of fertilizer and crabgrass product in mid-March. Please do your best to get the leaves and organic litter cleaned up, so that our product can do its job!” This is why THE Turf Plan is so successful, because they send you timely emails–educational and informative (check out www.theturfplan.com). Your local LCOs will do a far superior job than the national chains.
If you have crabgrass in your lawn, FIRE your LCO! Right now! Crabgrass preemergent herbicides are extremely effective, so there is zero excuse for crabgrass in your lawn! This is especially true if you’ve given your LCO more than one season of business. To further reinforce this point there are new products that can be used postemergent (after the weed comes up), meaning your LCO can clean up any mistakes in mid-May.

There 3 common preemergent crabgrass herbicides that are combined with fertilizer products. The absolute best is dithiopyr (Dimension®), the second best is prodiamine (Barricade®), and the really sucky one is pendimethalin (Pendulum®, favored by that national brand!). I rank Dimension as #1 because it will actually kill small (1/2 inch or less) emerged crabgrass. If you’re a week or so late with your first shot, Dimension can kill those early emerging crabgrass plants. Look the bag over carefully and avoid pendimethalin–unless you’re sure you’ll apply that second shot. But be warned, products with pendimethalin usually have WAY TOO MUCH nitrogen (anything over 18%). You don’t want to apply a lot of nitrogen in the spring.

Crabgrass will emerge when soil surface temps reach 55F for about 3 nights in a row. If you live near agricultural areas, when the farmers start planting corn, you need to apply your first shot of crabgrass preventer. Suburbanites can use a phenological indicator, the forsythia bloom, as a guide. However, it’s not the BEGINNING of the forsythia bloom, it’s towards the END of the forsythia bloom that is more accurate (wait for that third week of yellow).

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No Way You’re Gonna Straighten That!

IMG_3240.JPGIt is hysterical that folks think they can straighten trees this way–simply not possible! Those t-posts are too weak and that tree would need massive 4 x 4 posts planted at least 2 ft into the ground. Heavy gauge wires would be required, too. Save yourself the trouble. Save yourself from looking like an idiot!

It drives me nuts at how many new landscape plantings have leaning or crooked trees, but I know why it’s happening, for two reasons.  First, in commercial plantings, where big landscape installers do the planting, they use heavy equipment with huge augers, and the root ball has “way too much room” in that hole. Then their workers backfill the holes without tamping/firming the soil around the root ball. Thus, the tree is free to flop around in the wind. It is especially bad with evergreens because they present considerably greater wind resistance than deciduous trees.

Now you’re thinking, “OK, Jeff, what should I do if my tree is leaning?” Well, first of all, when you plant a new deciduous tree or evergreen, DO NOT use “great soil” to backfill the hole. Use your native soil, or amend it just slightly to improve it; avoid using that fabulous “bagged dirt” with peat, compost, vermiculite, etc. That stuff won’t compact and your tree will flop in the wind. If you have nothing but rocky soil, just use plain ‘ole bagged topsoil as backfill but use as many of the clay crumbs as you can.

Reason 2 for crooked trees, for the average Joe. What I will say next is sure to piss off the PROS, like the university extension folks, the master gardeners at MoBot, and the published authors–DO NOT make your hole “twice as wide” as the root ball. This will give you a floppy tree for sure. Dig the hole about 1 to 2 inches more shallow than the root ball because you do not want the crown of the plant to be lower than grade (potential rotting issues). Dig the hole only 6 to 8 inches wider than the root ball, just wide enough to use your foot on all sides to tamp the soil back into the bottom third to half of the root ball. As you backfill the hole, continually insure that your tree is straight on ALL views. Make sure the more critical spouse is present during planting, so that the new tree is perfectly straight. I’ve planted hundreds of trees this way and seldom had a crooked tree! If your tree does lean, you’ll need to fix it ASAP. Don’t just push on the tree trunk, though, and for goodness sakes, DON’T STAKE like this photo.  For example, if the tree is leaning 10 degrees due north, you’ll have to dig up some soil on the outside of the root ball on the north and the south sides. For this example, use a spade on the north side to pry the root ball sufficiently so as to level the tree trunk. Then tamp the soil EXTRA firm with your foot. Digging on the opposite side (south in this example) facilitates repositioning the root ball. Tamp the soil back in on the opposite side, too.

SIDEBAR: don’t remove the burlap from the root ball, or the wire basket (if present). Cut the twine off of the tree trunk, to avoid girdling the trunk. Make sure that burlap is not exposed, because it will wick water from the root ball. I recommend cutting the top of the burlap off AFTER the tree is planted.

And oh, by the way…cut that ugly tree down!

 

 

Lawn Scalpers Are Bad for Business

Imagine being an LCO (Lawn Care Operator) and doing your best to give a customer (let’s call him Geoffrey) a great lawn. He pays for a seven-step program, aerates and over seeds every few years. He irrigates, too, but Geoffrey’s lawn is stuck in the mediocre category. How could this be? Because he’s a lawn scalper!

“What’s a lawn scalper?” you ponder. It’s exactly how it sounds.

Geoffrey mows his lawn too dang short. He’s a bozo. He has no idea that mowing too short undoes all the good things he and his LCO are doing. He mistakenly believes mowing short buys him a few extra days in case he can’t mow on a seven-day schedule.

Before going any further with this blog, let’s be clear that we’re only talking about cool season turf species, such as Kentucky bluegrass, turf type fescue and perennial ryegrass. And we’re also talking about turf in full sun all dang day. Shady turf is a whole-nother subject! Warm season turf (zoysiagrass and bermudagrass) should be mowed as short as possible (yet another topic). Many of the little mowers are maxed out with a 3-inch height setting. Newer mowers, especially quality brands like Honda and Toro, can be set higher; professional mowers can be set up to at least 4 inches.

Here’s why cool season turf should be mowed as high as possible in the heat of summer. Cool season turf prefers to go dormant in hot and dry weather, but we push it with fertilizer and water, so we can keep it green and growing to enjoy its beauty. The growing point (crown) of cool season turf species is right at the surface of the soil. As such, mowing at LEAST 3 inches high provides a lot of shade at the soil surface, thus keeping the crown reasonably cool. Scalping is defined as anything below 3 inches, and mowing at 2.5 inches should be a felony! Scalped lawns let too much sunshine hit the soil surface, and the heat adversely affects the crown. When the crown of cool surface gets hot, it simply starts to peter out, preferring to go dormant.

In addition to a weak lawn there are a few weeds that always expose the scalpers, prostrate spurge and crabgrass. The weeds germinate because the turf is too weak. The photos below show this well.

There you have it! Cool season turf in full sun should be mowed at 3.5 inches when it’s above 85F. If your mowing service can’t give you 3.5 inches, fire them. If you mow yourself and your old beater mower can’t be raised to 3.5 inches–time for a new one!

Photos below: classic weeds in scalped turf, crabgrass and prostrate spurge. Note dormant turf, too.