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'I Got Your "4-Step program" Right Here, Pal!'

Friday - 3/18/2011, 8:04am  ET

Donna in Woodbridge just lobbed me the ultimate softball. She writes: "I want to do my own lawn care this year. What do you think about the 4-Step Annual Feeding Program sold by Scotts? Or should I just stick with corn gluten and no chemicals?"

People who use the 4-step program need a 12-step program, Donna: It's two feedings too many for the cool season lawns people grow in our region. It delivers at least one of those feedings in summer, when feeding can only stress a cool-season turf, not help it, and, perhaps most important: Many of the components are not healthy for children and other living things.

You want a 4-Step? I'll give you a four-step:

  • Step 1: Spread corn gluten on your turf now.
  • Step 2: Never cut your grass lower than three inches.
  • Step 3: Avoid cutting it during a dry heat wave.
  • Step 4: Feed with compost or an organic lawn food in the fall.

Your grass will flourish, your health will be protected and The Bay will give you a big wet kiss on the lips.

Timing: The Essence of Comedy (and Lawn Care)

Susan in Frederick has her corn gluten meal at the ready and writes: "It's my understanding that to prevent the most crabgrass, you should apply corn gluten when the weather will be rain-free for three or four days after you wet the applied areas. Is this correct? What if it's going to rain for several days afterwards -- like some are predicting for next week? I'm worried about missing the crabgrass prevention window!"

Ah, now we're into the art of lawn care timing, Suze -- you have to pick what you think is your best shot and go with it. If it were me, I'd spread the corn gluten Saturday and wet it down first thing Sunday morning if we don't get a good rain overnight.

If it rains after that -- hey, it rains -- you'll still feed the lawn and prevent a good amount of crabgrass. The most important thing, as you note, is to get it down soon -- before those crabgrass seeds can sprout unmolested.

Feeding Fresh Sod & Dealing with Doggy 'Indiscretions'

Buddy in Fredericksburg writes: "Our yard was freshly sodded last October. The turf company told me to fertilize with a low nitrogen product, which I did in November. The grass is a dark green and growing pretty quickly now. Should I apply anything to the yard this Spring such as your corn gluten meal? And what product can I use to neutralize my pet dog's urine?"

Yes to the corn gluten, buddy -- and don't delay!

As for your dog's, eh…contribution to the lawn, just use plain old water. Flush the area well with lots of water as soon as possible after the "incident," then use treats and praise to train the dog to use an out-of-way-area in the future.

And make sure the dog drinks lots of water and gets to go outside frequently, otherwise the "problem" gets concentrated.

Compost is the Master Mulch!

Kevin in Arlington writes: "Thanks to your fine advice working so well last summer, I canceled my lawn service and just spread corn gluten on my turf by myself.

"Now, I also don't want to repeat last year's mistake when, as you explained, the wood mulch I was using caused the mushroom-like growths I emailed you about to pop up all over. (I hadn't even told you I used wood mulch and you knew it was the cause.) Would you suggest I spread compost to prevent weeds and maintain soil moisture this summer instead of the wood mulch?"

Absolutely, Kev -- in a study conducted over numerous sites at three different cooperating Universities (Ohio State University, Iowa State University and the University of Kentucky), two inches of yard-waste compost retained moisture and prevented weeds just as well as two inches of shredded bark or dyed wood mulch -- without causing the plant stress and nuisance molds that were observed wherever the wood mulches were used.

New Home? New Lawn? Chill Out!

Cheréz in Alexandria writes: "I bought my first house three months ago. It has a small backyard and I'm totally clueless about lawns. The grass looks sad, with some bald patches where the previous owners had lawn furniture. I'd just like a healthy, green lawn this summer--nothing fancy. Can you give me basic advice on seeding, fertilizing, bug killing, watering, and weeds?"

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