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Garden Plot: 'Labor' now and get a great looking lawn next year

Monday - 9/2/2013, 6:09am  ET

Now is a great time to plant leafy vegetables for harvest through New Year's. (Getty Images)

Get off that hammock! There's no holiday from lawn care

I'm here to remind you that right now is the ideal time to:

  • Sow new grass seed or overseed an existing lawn that has some bare spots. Make sure you get matching seed, and don't wait until spring -- it won't work then.
  • Apply milky spore to your turf if you have a lot of lawn grub damage (lift up a patch of brown grass and you'll see them if they're the cause). Milky spore applied now will kill your existing grubs and inoculate your lawn against future grub invasions -- perhaps for decades. But don't wait until spring -- milky spore doesn't work then.
  • Improve the drainage in a lawn whose soil has become heavily compacted by using a core aerator to pull plugs out of the turf. But don't wait until spring. Aeration would damage the lawn then.
  • Oh, and anytime over the next month is also when you should plant individual cloves of garlic (six inches deep and six inches apart in your loosest, richest soil) so you can harvest big tasty bulbs next summer. But well, you guessed it. Don't wait until spring, because it won't work then.

Plant leafy greens now for harvest through New Year's

Jan in Olney writes: "I caught the tail end of your recent Friday morning 'Yard Warrior' conversation on planting leafy vegetables in the garden for fall harvest. It sounds like a great idea. Can you provide some more details?"

My pleasure, Jan. This is prime time to sow the seeds of lettuce, spinach, arugula and other leafy greens. The seeds sprout fast in the warm soil and the plants love growing in cool -- even cold -- weather. These hardy greens won't be killed by frost. Some may even survive to be enjoyed by you next spring if we don't get crushing ice and snow this winter.

So get rid of some of your underperforming -- or just plain dead -- plants, pull or gently hoe any weeds, lay down a nice level fresh inch of compost or high quality topsoil, and then water thoroughly. Yes, water before planting. Otherwise you'll splash the poor seeds all over the place.

Sow the seeds thickly on top of the wet soil, then cover them with just a dusting (like 1/8 of an inch) of finely screened compost or topsoil. Mist the bed gently every morning until the plants are up, which should only take five or six days. Let them grow until they're at least three or four inches, then begin harvesting, -- just the leaves, not the roots -- with a sharp pair of scissors ("cut and come again" style, just like those expensive "baby greens" in the supermarket). Cut them right into your salad spinner.

Leave the roots in the ground, harvest again as soon as they're tall enough, and you'll be able to make several cuttings between now and the holidays.

But don't prune anything

Sharon in Stafford writes: "My landscaper trimmed the trees around my house today. After looking online, I see that this probably shouldn't have been done until late winter/early spring. What type of issues should I expect and how do I handle them when they arise?"

Well, your biggest issue is with your landscaper's lack of expertise and timing.

As you note, trees should only be pruned when fully dormant in the winter or when breaking dormancy in the spring -- unless they're spring bloomers, and then they should be pruned immediately after flowering. Pruning always forces a plant to produce new growth, whether it's a good time for the plant to do so or not. In summer this can add to heat stress. In fall, it forces new growth just when the trees should be beginning to go into their dormant period, using up energy that would otherwise have helped carry them through winter and making them more attractive to pests and disease.

All you can do now is to try and reduce their stress as much as possible. Don't allow this "landscaper" to feed them anything or try and seal the pruning cuts. Remove any wood or bark mulch near the trees and don't allow any lawn chemicals to be used near them -- especially herbicides, which aren't necessary anyway.

And long term, you might want to look for a landscaper more proficient at the task.

Got mushrooms? Bet you also got wood mulch

Lorraine in D.C. writes: "Help! What can I do about extremely large white mushrooms that seem to grow overnight? They never go away!"

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