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

 

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!

 

NOW (SEPTEMBER) IS THE TIME FOR TURF REPAIR!

In the world of turf, September is for winners!

It’s really annoying how we’ve been trained by the big manufacturers and retailers that our first springtime application of crabgrass preemergent is STEP 1.

STEP 1 should be in sync with the growth cycle of our cool season turf, which would be our first fall application of nitrogen.

NOW is the time to prepare for turfgrass renovation. Print this document off. Read it twice.

If you’re going to RENOVATE, which is starting from scratch, late August and September is the time to do it, because you need to kill off your existing lawn and weeds with Roundup®.  It’s best if you start early enough to make two applications of Roundup, 3 to 4 weeks apart. If you’re going to OVERSEED, you want to be done by mid-October.  Basically, you overseed decent turf, and you renovate crappy turf.

Typically, we start re-seeding in early to mid-September, because grass seed will germinate rapidly with warm soils. Cool nights help keep the soil uniformly moist. The fall weather will have a profound influence on success. You want to take advantage cool weather (85F day / <60F night) and moisture. But if it gets hot and humid after the turf germinates, apply propiconazole fungicide to protect those tender seedlings. You will need to irrigate lightly and often for the first 3 weeks, so don’t plan a vacation after you do this.

Why RENOVATE?  If your lawn “sucks”, then it’s better to kill it off and start over. If you can see the soil on over 40% of the surface, your lawn sucks. Time to do something drastic. If your yard is mostly weeds…your lawn sucks. Kill it and start over. Or, at least spray Roundup on the weedy patches. Solid patches of turf that have survived need not be destroyed! That’s tough turf!

Why OVERSEED?  Adding new and improved varieties into an existing turf sward will allow you to improve your turf, more slowly than renovation, but it’s less destructive. Coupled with core aeration, renovation can enhance quality tremendously. Core aeration literally pokes hundreds of thousands of holes in your soil. Those holes increase the oxygen supply to the roots, which is critical because of our heavy clay soils. In addition, the cores that are left on the soil surface actually dissolve down on top of “thatch.” That soil is loaded with a microbial population that is hungry for thatch. AND, the soil cores will actually crumble/smash down atop the seed that you’re spreading, helping that seed emerge faster. Covered seed comes up much faster than exposed seed.

Can you use a “dethatching machine”?  You can use a “dethatcher” to work your lawn over. This is an old-fashioned machine that basically just beats the hell out of the turf. You need to set the spinning metal tines so that the only cut 1/8” deep groves in the soil. It works best if you scalp the grass first. CAUTION! Don’t scalp your turf in one pass—mow it successively shorter 2 to 3 days in a row. If you can set your mower at 1.5 inches, that’s scalping!  Especially if you’ve been cutting at 3.0 to 3.5 inches all summer. Clean up the mess before you spread grass seed. Rake it and get rid of all that organic trash.

WARNING:  this method is labor intensive (but usually worth it). Zoysiagrass swards benefit from this every 3 to 4 years or so but DO NOT AERATE OR DETHATCH ZOYSIA AFTER AUGUST! That’s best done in June or July. I recommend that you core aerate, versus using the dethatcher.  Read on.

 

COMPLETE RENOVATION TIPS (For crappy lawns!):

1)Kill the lawn section with Roundup ASAP. Don’t mow before spraying! Roundup will work better with all the fresh, succulent tissues to absorb and translocate more herbicide to the roots. Don’t be a tight wad with the Roundup. Buy the concentrate and use 5 oz/gallon. Be sure you buy “plain” Roundup.  Don’t use the “extended” control, “fast-acting” or poison ivy variants! Use a hose-end sprayer and be careful that you don’t create a lot of mist, which will float to your favorite ornamentals. Or your neighbor’s lawn—they’ll be pissed.

2)After four to seven days scalp the lawn with a mower. Call 811. It’s free and they want 3 days advance notice. You really want to cut the cable lines, especially your neighbors’ cable. Mark your own hazards, too, like irrigation heads and underground doggie-shock lines. Dog lines are usually deep enough to avoid damage, but that damn cable company usually only buries their cable one inch deep. If by chance your machinery cuts a cable line, don’t let them bully you into paying for repairs. They are supposed to put their cables ~6 inches deep…RIGHT!

3)     WHAT TYPE OF GRASS SHOULD YOU USE?  For non-irrigated, sunny swards, turf-type fescue is the best type of seed to use.  About 35% of the swards in the transition zone will do best with this type of seed, especially for new subdivisions, lacking large shade trees. It is by far the best of the cool season species for full sun without irrigation. But, the best turf for deep shade is a blend of three very shade tolerant, fine-bladed fescues:  meadow fescue, sheep’s fescue and creeping red fescue. If you haven’t had much luck growing turf-type fescue in non-irrigated shade, try a 3-way fine fescue mix. Another great blend of seed is a blend of turf-type fescue and a medium-green colored bluegrass. Bluegrass spreads laterally by rhizomes, thus it will help fill in the divots and holes caused by disease and moles. A pure bluegrass sward is a thing of beauty…but bluegrass is pretty tough to grow for most folks. If you don’t have an irrigation system, don’t even try it. Bluegrass doesn’t like FULL sun, and it doesn’t like deep shade, either. If you’ve got a yard that has 20 to 40 year old shade trees that provide up to 6 hours of shade in each “ecosystem,” you can probably grow bluegrass. The newer varieties are a hellofa lot tougher than they were just 15 years ago. If you’re not sure, go with Winning Colors Plus blend…turf-type PLUS bluegrass. The bluegrass will grow where it’s happy, and the turf-type fescue varieties will grow where they’re happiest.  Talk about a win-win!

5) Get a soil test if you’re having problems growing grass in the shade! The proper pH (soil acidity), phosphorous and potassium levels may help you out…and most shady soils have acidic soil and low fertility. Those tree roots are competing for more than sun and water. Tree roots will scavenge all the P and K in the topsoil, causing low fertility.

6) After you scalp the lawn look and see how many new weeds have emerged within a week. More than likely you’re going to see how inept you were on your first pass at nuking the lawn – retreat with Roundup. If you see tiny weeds sprouting and green tissue all around, retreat the entire area. Trust me, it’s worth the extra time, energy and money spent to start with a weed free area.

7)Five days after the second application of Roundup, rent a “verti-slicer” or “slicer-seeder”. This machine cuts a grove into the soil, and then drops seed into the grove. Having good seed-to-soil contact will dramatically enhance germination and establishment. There is no need to set the blades any deeper than 1/8th inch deep!

8)If you can tend to all these tasks, and have the seed in the ground by mid-September, you will be rewarded with a fabulous lawn. It will be green and thin this fall, but lush and full by next May –- a real “award winning” situation. Try to be DONE by October 1st. You’ve get a 95% chance of success if you’re complete by this date.  After October 15ththe odds of success diminish, depending upon the growing conditions in November. If turf can get established to the point that you have to mow weekly in November, you’re in great shape.

9) For OVERSEEDING use 4-5 lbs of turf-type fescue per 1,000 sq ft, 5 lbs of shade fescue blend, and 1.0 to 1.5 lbs/M of bluegrass.

 

OVERSEEDING TIPS (WHAT MOST OF YOU NEED TO DO):

1)New turf varieties are more disease and heat tolerant than older varieties. That’s why you should overseed every couple of years.

2)Cut your lawn successively lower from 3.5 inches down to 2 inches. Don’t do it all it once folks, because the resultant hay will interfere with your seeding.  If you can bag, we recommend that you cut it every day, lowering the deck on the mower over 2 to 3 cuttings.

3)Rent a core aerator, which pulls a plug of soil, approximately ½” wide by 2 to 3” deep.

4)Get your BROADCAST SPREADER out of the garage (if you’re still using that rusted-out, nasty-ass old drop spreader, get rid of it), set the opening around ½ to 5/8th inches for turf type fescue, ¼ inch for bluegrass. Spread 25% of your total seed on the turf BEFORE you make your first pass with the aerator. You read that right—BEFORE your first pass. You want the cores to cover the seed more than you want the seed to drop into the holes. Concentrate on the really barren areas with the first pass of seed.

5)Make 1-2 passes with the aerator.

6)Spread another 25% of your seed.

7)Make another two passes with the aerator, perpendicular or diagonally to the first pass. All the plugs that you pull out of the ground are valuable!  They’re covering up seed, in addition to providing more air to the grass roots.

8)Spread the last 50% of your seed.  If you followed directions, you made at least two passes in good turf, and as many as 4 to 5 passes in your problem areas.  All the seed that falls into the bored holes, and all the seed that ends up under a “melted” core, will germinate rapidly.

10)Leave the soil cores where they are – the microbes in the soil help break down the thatch. The bored holes enhance water penetration into your soil.

11) This method is the BEST, but if you’re short on time and labor, just aerate the crap out of the yard (as many times as you can), and follow it up with no less than 4 lbs/M of turf-type fescue seed.  This method is perfectly suitable, and will save you a lot of time.

12) Crucial to your success is seeding at the right rate. For NEW SEEDING or RENOVATION with turf-type fescue and shade fescue use 10 lbs of seed per 1,000 sq ft, and 3 lbs bluegrass.

 

FERTILIZATION:  If you know your ACTUAL SWARD SIZE, and you have a decent spreader, you can safely apply “regular” fertilizer, at a maximum of 1.0 lb of actual nitrogen per 1,000 sq ft. It need NOT be “starter fertilizer.” Starter formulations have lower nitrogen and higher phosphorous. Most of us have HIGH soil phosphorous anyway, thus any nitrogen is OK. If you can’t start till late September I recommend you still apply nitrogen to the lawn in late August to early September.

BAD SPOTS ALONG PAVED SURFACES:  Seed won’t grow well if it’s just scattered atop the soil.  For the really bad spots, we suggest you cover the seed with either PennMulch® or bagged topsoil. Avoid straw except for very large areas. Straw introduces a lot of weeds.

WATERING TIPS:  Use frequent irrigation to get the seed up. The first couple of days after seeding you can water with your normal irrigation cycles. As soon as the seed comes up, though, you’ve got to sprinkle the turf babies with frequent, shallow irrigation. It’s critical that the top ½ inch of soil NOT dry out extensively. If you own an irrigation system, just run it 3X day with about 2 to 3 minutes per station. I can’t tell you exactly what to do for your own yard! You need to be observant. Don’t water so much that you turn the yard into a swamp, either. As the new grass gets taller, you go back to watering more deeply and less frequently. Within 3 weeks after the turf is up, you should be able to water every other day.

MOWING:  Stay off the new grass while it is short and fuzzy. But when it gets to be about 2.5 inches tall, run the mower over it, cutting it around 2.0 to 2.5 inches. The turf can handle the foot traffic, but don’t rip it out of the soil with your mower tires. Slow and steady!

DON’T LET LEAVES PILE UP:  Don’t let falling leaves cover up your newly seeded areas. While established turf can handle a once-per-week mowing, new turf should be leaf free most of the time. This is where a blower works wonders.

FUNGICIDE:  When the new seedlings are one inch tall, apply propiconazole fungicide to provide a “health boost”. It will protect the seedlings from the key diseases that harm turf, especially if it’s hot and humid.

 

 

Gimme More Sunshine!

competitionSpring has been reluctant for us St. Louisans, but I’m not complaining! I’d rather have a slow start than a quick warm up and a disastrous freeze!

That said, many of you are already thinking about creating new beds, renovating beds or just expanding them. The picture above may be a little dark, but it tells a great story. Zoom in to see that little sucker on the far right. About 4 years ago my neighbor planted 4 new hostas (‘Francee’, nothing special), all purchased from a big box store and approximately the same size. She planted them 3 feet apart in a decently ammended clay loam soil.

I took this photo last June, because it really shows how competition for sunlight, water and nutrients affects plants. The hosta on the far right is really about 1/4th the size of the hosta on the far left. There’s a very linear reduction in plant size from left to right. Because this neighbor tended to overwater I don’t need to go out on a limb and say that the size gradation is the result of competition for sunlight.

Keep this in mind when you’re planning and planting. Few plants enjoy being directly underneath a thick canopy. Even the shade tolerant hosta shows a preference for being out from under that canopy of this ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud. If you want to plant underneath an established canopy, be sure to limb up the branches ahead of time, and consider thinning their crowns, to allow more sun to hit the soil beneath.

 

This Summer Illustrates the Need for Two Applications of Preemergent

Let’s face it folks, this has really been a sucky summer. June was like July, July was like August, and August has been as horrible as usual. This tropical weather has placed turf under massive stresses from diseases and weeds. Cool season turf species (fescue, bluegrass, ryegrass) would rather take a prolonged siesta, but we water and fertilize it to keep it actively growing. Stressed turf simply can’t grow aggressively enough to combat these invaders. In contrast, weeds like crabgrass and yellow nutsedge love this crap! Both these weeds are evolutionarily-advanced “C4” species, meaning that they can thrive when temperatures get above 95F.

A quote often attributed to the great Green Bay Packers coach, Vince Lombardi, is appropriate at this point, who said, “The best defense is a good offense.” You’re thinking, what the hell does a legendary football coach know about turf? Well duh! Healthy, thick turf prevents weed seedlings from germinating. On the other hand, weak turf allows sunshine to hit the soil surface, stimulating weed seed germination. Lush turf, especially those swards mowed appropriately high in the summer, casts too much shade upon the soil surface, thus inhibiting weed germination.

These photos illustrate numerous issues, the first of which is dreadful application! Notice the very clean line of demarcation, which proves the effectiveness of the preemergent herbicide. The applicator (supposedly a PRO!) either ran short of product, or simply forgot to apply the herbicide on both sides of the sidewalk. The very uniform lines of control suggest an advanced spreading device. The homeowner needs to fire their asses! Find an LCO (Lawn Care Operator) that uses Dimension™ herbicide! But what if this was DIY? If this is the case, numerous explanations are offered. Probably the best guess is that the homeowner did not heed our advice to make a “double pass” application. He/she set the spreader setting too “heavy”, resulting in him not having enough product for the last 2 or 3 spreader swaths. Boo, hiss! Set your spreader on a “low setting” that allows you to make a double-pass application of every product. But wait! There’s another problem here. START every application along the edges of your concrete and asphalt surfaces, and in the street median. Make those passes first. Then start your double pass application. Pass 1 goes down at a certain direction and Pass 2 goes out at 45 to 90 degrees different. Turf growing along hard paved surfaces suffer from the highest weed pressure. So hitting these areas first ensures at least 2 passes with the spreader, and hopefully even 3 passes. The radiant heat load from paved surfaces increases the soil temperature in the adjacent soil. As a result, crabgrass germinates a full 10 to 14 days ahead of the rest of the lawn. In these areas the crabgrass seedlings grow sufficiently large that even Dimension herbicide can’t control them. These weeds simply germinated ahead of the preemergent application. The double whammy comes from the heat stress this turf suffers from in this area (reread the prior paragraph).

Another best practice is to make TWO applications of a preemergent herbicide, “just-in-case!” This was a “just-in-case” year! Heavy rainfall and high temperatures contributed to high microbial activity. Soil microbes actually “eat” pesticides—and they were quite hungry this year. Most LCO’s only make a single application and hope for the best. Many of them wait for the homeowner to call and bitch about crabgrass escapes. Care to guess what percentage of customers don’t even bother to complain?

Astute turf tenders wonder why the crabgrass in this image is chlorotic (yellowish) compared to the normal green color. It’s obvious that either the LCO or the homeowner has attempted to rectify the problem with a postemergent herbicide. Based upon the degree of chlorotic and bleached tissue, the herbicide applied was probably Tenacity® (mesotrione). This is a very new tool (3rd year of sale) for weed control in turf. It controls key broadleaf weeds and problem grassy weeds in cool season turf. It will damage bermudagrass and zoysiagrass and repeated use can actually control bermudagrass, if tank-mixed with Turflon® (triclopyr) herbicide. The best thing about Tenacity is that it doesn’t interfere with reseeding so it can be used now.

 

 

It’s a Great Time to Divide Hostas and Other Perennials

Mid-August is a great time of year to divide hostas and perennials because proper nighttime temperatures encourage rapid root development. Cut off all brown leaves when you replant new divisions. For hostas, it is actually safe to cut off all leaves, leaving “celery stalks,” especially if the leaves are severely bleached or bedraggled.