Weed and feed this spring with corn gluten

Daffodils emerge ahead of the official start of spring. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images News/Getty Images)
Technological breakthrough: Liquified, organic corn gluten meal

wtopstaff | November 14, 2014 6:05 pm

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Mike McGrath, wtop.com

Editor’s Note: Mike will appear on Saturday and Sunday April 6 and 7 at the Delaware Home and Garden Show at the Sheraton Dover Hotel. Visit delawarehomeshow.com for more information.

Weed-preventing corn gluten now in liquid form

Sekar in Herndon writes: “I am a great fan of the organic weed preventer Corn Gluten Meal, and have been using it on our lawn for the past five years. As I was about to purchase this year’s supply, I came across a

If anything, the liquid form should be even better at preventing the germination of crabgrass and other weed seeds as it goes down wet, which should really jump- start the process of killing crabgrass and other dormant weed seeds.

Lawns do better with the two-step dance

Charles in Fredericksburg writes: “I’ve always used typical lawn care products from Scott’s and want to change to organic. Do you have a schedule as to when various products should be applied?”

Good for you, Charles! And yes.

Step One: You should be prepared to spread corn gluten meal – the all-natural pre- emergent weed and feed – on your lawn soon. It’ll prevent crabgrass and other dormant weed seeds from germinating and provide a gentle spring feeding.

Then start the season with a new or newly-sharpened blade, cut your lawn at three inches high and never bag the clippings. Those clippings are 10 percent nitrogen (the primary lawn food), and returning them to the turf provides your lawn with a gentle natural feeding every time you mow. Do not apply any other form of food to your lawn during the summer.

Step Two: Feed your lawn again in the fall. That’s late August if you use more corn gluten (to prevent late-season weeds like dandelion and clover); or in September with a bagged organic lawn fertilizer. Or rake an inch of compost into the turf. Our grasses crave the organic matter that compost provides.

And that’s it! Lawns don’t need four steps. They look their best when they do the two-step.

Where can we find this magical meal of the gluten of corn?

Yvonne in Havertown, Gene in Fredericksburg and a legion of other listeners all ask: Where can we find the corn gluten meal you say we should use on our lawns this spring?

It’s a question as reliably perennial as the daffodils brightening up landscapes this time of year.

You’ll generally find the biggest selection of corn gluten products at large independent garden centers. The brand names most frequently found at retailers include Espoma (the makers of Holly-Tone), Concern and Bradfield. (All have store finders at their websites, helping identify the sources closest to you).

But don’t delay. To prevent crabgrass and other weed seeds, you need to apply corn gluten right before the soil temperature reaches 55 degrees. And the soil is already up to 45 degrees in Prince George’s County, so I’m guesstimating that the first week of April is going to be ideal.

Corn gluten timing; a new resource

“I can go your Chesapeake Bay water temperature link one better,” brags Burt in Rockville. “Here’s a “>here to convert it to Fahrenheit. (Or do the math. Multiply the Celsius number by 1.8 and then add 32.)

  • Start spreading your corn gluten when the soil temperature number hits 50 degrees, so the material will be down and active by the time the soil reaches the crabgrass germination temperature of 55 degrees (or 12.7 degrees Celsius, for all you metric fans out there)
  • No mulch the best mulch for boxwood

    Steven in D.C. writes: “I have a row of dwarf boxwoods that face south but get lots of shade. Their roots were at one time buried in mulch but are now exposed since I stopped mulching. They almost appear as if they’re raised out of the ground. Should I recover them with mulch again? If not, what other steps should I take, if any?”

    Your current lack of mulch may have saved the lives of your plants, Steve. Lynn Batdorf, Curator of the Boxwood Collection at the National Arboretum, explains that boxwood has shallow roots that need to be exposed, and many a boxwood has been killed by this terrible trend of manic mulching.

    As to care, boxwood is unlike most other evergreens in that it prefers an alkaline soil. So don’t use Holly-Tone, peat moss, sulfur or other soil acidifiers anywhere near these plants. Instead treat them to a little dusting of lime or wood ash to move the soil pH upwards.

    And finally, they react badly to chemical fertilizers, so perk them up with a very light mulch of compost, no more than an inch, and keep it away from those exposed roots.

    Oh, and there is no such things as ‘boxwoods.’ The plant’s name is always the singular boxwood — no matter how many of them there are.

    Spring bulbs laugh at freezing cold nights

    Mary, who lives near Sligo Creek Park writes: “I have some daffodils that are up and ready to bloom, and some that are already in bloom. There are still going to be some really cold nights ahead. Should I do something to protect my daffodils?”

    Yes, Mary. Stay away from them.

    All spring bulbs, from the earliest snowdrops through the tallest tulips, contain a natural antifreeze that makes them invulnerable to cold weather. In fact, the blooms last the longest and look the nicest when temps stay nice and low. The flowers can suffer greatly in hot weather.

    So if your bulbs’ flowers open up during a heat wave, cut the flower stalks and bring them inside to display in a vase. You’ll get a much longer show.

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