When to seed, fertilize and weed your lawn

Meet Mike Sunday, March 25 at the Fredericksburg Expo Center for the Fredericksburg Spring Home and Garden Show. Mike will present “Get Your Lawn off Drugs” at Noon and “Grow your Best Tasting Tomatoes Ever!” at 2 p.m.

Mike McGrath, wtop.com

D.C. lawns: Is the issue timing? Or moss?

Mike in northwest D.C. writes: “I need to seed, fertilize and weed my lawn. Which order and when do I start? Also, I have lots of shade in my front yard and I’m starting to get what looks like moss. Is that good or bad?”

Right now is the time to spread corn gluten meal on your lawn to prevent dormant weed seeds like crabgrass from sprouting as you give the turf a nice gentle spring feeding, Mike. But don’t delay. The warm weather has those dormant seeds primed to pop early, and no pre-emergent will work after weed seeds have already germinated. Don’t spread any new seed now. The time to sow grass seed is late August in our area.

And moss is a plant that thrives in damp, shady, acidic spots like under trees, where grass will always struggle. The smart money says to encourage moss in those kinds of areas. After all, the moss will be green all year, and never need feeding or cutting.

Where a lawn is free to grow, just care for the grass correctly. But where big trees are always giving the lawn a horticultural wedgie, give up on grass and embrace the moss.

What can I use instead of mulch?

Jackie in D.C. writes: “You say not to mulch. What do you recommend on flower beds instead to get them ready for spring?”

Anne in Arlington adds: “I know you say not to use mulch, but what about pine mulch, which I’ve been told minimize termites?”

I never say not to mulch, ladies. I only warn our beloved listeners not to use the trashy wood (and bark and root) mulches that stain homes and cars and injure plants. Those mulches are a waste disposal problem, not a good garden idea.

Two inches of yard waste compost, like Maryland’s wonderful Leaf Gro product, looks great. The rich black color really sets off your plantings. And it prevents weeds just as well as two inches of wood.

Pine mulch? Depends on what you mean. Pine nuggets are just wood mulch. But pine straw makes an excellent mulch. In fact, it’s the mulch of choice in many area down south.

But no mulch will repel termites. To keep your framing from becoming infested, you must keep at least one foot of ground wide open-that means no mulch around the foundation in all directions. Because, although they are especially attracted to wood mulches, all termites require is that the ground next to a home be kept covered and constantly moist. Keeping that area uncovered and dry is your best protection against termites.

Somewhat fond of LeafGro

John in scenic Ocean View, Delaware writes: “You must tell your listeners about the wonders of Leafgro (Maryland’s brand of yard waste compost). It’s a miracle cure for every garden need: Perfect for creating new beds and even better for revitalizing lawns. Just layering an inch of LeafGro over the heavily compacted and sun scorched lawns in our development is sufficient to revive the burned turf. And it virtually guarantees success when overseeding compacted or deficient soils. Spread the gospel Mike!”

Eh, you’re a little late for church, John. I’ve been preaching the merits of yard waste composts like Maryland’s excellent LeafGro product for many years now-especially on lawns, which really do respond dramatically to the organic matter that a compost feeding delivers.

But there’s room for more than one in this bully pulpit; so keep spreading the good news — and the compost!

Bugged by grubs

Trish in Friendship Heights writes: “I was working in my yard last weekend, and everywhere I dug there was a grub! Am I wasting time and money if I till and put down sod with this grub problem? Is there anything I can do now about the grubs? I didn’t use milky spore in the fall as you directed. My bad.”

Yes, Trish — your very bad, because milky spore works best on lawns that are infested with lots of grubs. But it only works in the fall, when the soil is toasty warm and those grubs are actively feeding.

But no worries. Tilling up your soil now will kill the grubs. And this is a great time to lay sod.

You could also water beneficial nematodes into the soil over the next month if you decide to try and work with your current turf; these microscopic predators will wipe out your grubs.

Then prevent this year’s beetles from laying a fresh ‘crop’ of grubs in your turf this summer. Female beetles will only lay their eggs in lawns that have been scalped and whose soil is constantly wet.

  • Keep that lawn at least three inches high (measured after its cut)
  • Cut it only with a sharp blade
  • Don’t cut it during a dry heat wave
  • Don’t feed it anything in the summer
  • When you water, do so deeply and infrequently, like a long soaking once a week

Inoculate your peas and beans

Jennifer up in Baltimore writes: “I am very intrigued by your recommendations to inoculate peas and beans before planting! I want to give this a try, but I’ve already put my peas (that I pre-sprouted indoors) in the ground. Is there any way that I can still inoculate them? I plan to inoculate my beans the traditional way later in the season.”

Good for you, Jennifer! The natural bacteria in pea and bean inoculant (sold wherever you buy the seeds) allows these legume-family members to take their own plant-feeding nitrogen right out of the air. And yes, there’s still time to give this all-natural edge to your spring peas.

Move as much of the soil as possible away from the plants without disturbing their roots, shake the inoculant powder down as close to those roots as possible, recover the area with soil, and water well. As soon as the soil warms up enough, the bacteria will go to work, and the air we breathe will then feed your peas.

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