Garden Plot: Torch those dandelions goodbye

Some may see dandelions as pesky weeds, but they might actually help ensure peaceful sleep. (Courtesy of the Universtiy of Illinois)
Tick tubes will help control ticks

wtopstaff | November 14, 2014 6:30 pm

Meet Mike in person Saturday, April 27, at the Ocean Pines House and Home Expo in Ocean Pines, Md. Mike will appear at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

On Saturday May 4, Mike will be at the Prince William County Compost Awareness Day at the Balls Ford Road Yard Waste Compost Facility in Manassas, Va. Mike will present two free workshops on using compost to achieve a perfect lawn and landscape and answer all your garden questions at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Mike McGrath, wtop.com

Those darn dandelions

Mary in Frederick writes: “I have spread corn gluten meal this spring to prevent new weeds, but how do I kill the weeds that are already growing? I have a lot of dandelions in my lawn and would like to use natural things to control them, as you always suggest.”

Try a flame weeder, Mary. These inexpensive, propane-powered devices torch dandelions. Here’s the one I use. Use it to wilt the yellow flowers now and to explode any puffball seed heads that form later.

More importantly, make sure your grass:

  • is never cut lower than 3 inches.
  • is never fed in the summer.
  • gets a nice big feeding of corn gluten meal again in late August to feed the turf and make sure any puffball seeds blowing around don’t germinate in your lawn.

Follow that plan and you’ll reduce the dandelion population so much you may not need your flamer next year!

Wiping out walkway weeds

Mary in Frederick had a second question. She writes: “What natural products can I use to get rid of dandelions and other weeds growing in a brick walkway?”

You could toast them with a small flame weeder (see above), blast them out with the water-powered weeder from Lee Valley Tools or spray them with herbicidal soap (many brands are available at retail locations) or one of the new organic iron-based herbicides, like this one from Gardens Alive.

But nature abhors a vacuum and walkway weeds will always come back. So I recommend instead that you remove them and then immediately plant something you like in their place. Creeping thyme is a popular choice. And there’s a whole line of small plants called ‘Stepables’ designed to be wanted plants in walkways.

Dave in South Riding writes: “We have heeded your advice, switching from chemical fertilizers to corn gluten in the spring and a compost feeding every other fall. And our grass is much greener and thicker as a result. We’ve been using Weed B Gone the past few years to spot kill weeds, but this year we got a new puppy and decided that we need to completely stop the chemicals. So what natural product can we use to spot treat the few weeds that still pop up?”

The list includes the aforementioned herbicidal soap, high-strength vinegars (available by mail order and at some garden centers. Be sure to wear eye protection when spraying), flame weeders and new, natural herbicides that use iron to kill weeds.

But you need to feed that lawn every fall to keep those weeds away. And always return those nitrogen-rich clippings to the turf. Collecting your clippings starves the lawn and helps the weeds.

Just say no to rubber mulch

Mary Anne in Herndon writes: “We have treated our lawn with corn gluten meal and bought LeafGro compost to use around our roses, both based on your advice. Thank you! Now, what is your opinion on the use of rubber mulch?”

It is a poor opinion, Mary Anne. Rubber mulch is a waste disposal “solution” that does not belong in our landscapes. Made from chipped-up old car tires, rubber mulch contains high levels of zinc and other heavy metals, stinks like mad in the heat of the summer and has a tendency to catch on fire.

Instead, use large amounts of LeafGro or a similar compost as your mulch. Compost mulch prevents weeds just as well as shredded bark mulch, feeds your plants, prevents disease, is naturally black in color and doesn’t stink or burst into flame.

Tick tubes are tough on ticks, not doggies

Karen in Fairfax Station writes: “Ticks are a big concern where we live. But we have three dogs, and I’m afraid they might be harmed by the Tick Tubes you recommended last week.”

Tick Tubes are little cardboard tubes containing cotton balls soaked with permethrin, a pesticide that’s deadly to ticks but that is routinely used (in much higher doses) to protect dogs from ticks and fleas. It doesn’t even harm the mice who take the cotton balls back to their nests to use as bedding, where it then kills virtually all the ticks on your property. Most disease-carrying “deer ticks” never encounter a deer, but they all spend part of their life cycle feeding on field mice.

Of course, run it by your vet first. And then, for even more piece of mind, place the tubes in the recommended brushy areas around your property when the dogs are inside, so you don’t arouse their curiosity.

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