WASHINGTON – Bob in Springfield writes: “I used a lawn service for a number of years that cost a lot of money but seemed ineffective. So, how can I best remove weeds from my fescue lawn? There’s crab grass, chickweed, and some others I can’t identify encroaching from both sides. What can I do?”
Right now, the most important thing you can do is not to feed the lawn or treat it with anything. Summer feedings are death to cool-season lawns like your fescue one. Any direct attack on those weeds with chemical or organic controls in hot weather will probably kill more lawn than weeds. Summer heat is already very stressful to cool-season grasses like fescue and bluegrass, and direct attacks on any invaders will only increase that stress.
For now, just make sure the grass is no lower than 3 inches high after mowing and don’t cut the grass during a dry heat wave. Then be ready to spread an inch of yard-waste compost over the turf in late August and sow matching fescue seed into the compost. Make sure the seed matches. Otherwise, it won’t look the same as your existing grass.
Fescues are clumping grasses that must be overseeded every few years to fill in bare spots and keep weeds at bay. But regular overseeding, especially into a rich layer of compost, is often enough to keep those weeds at bay. Just be sure to do this overseeding in the late summer or early fall, not in springtime or at the height of summer. Once the cooler weather arrives, your overseeded lawn will out-compete weeds naturally.
There are no ‘good bags’ of wood mulch
Irene in Silver Spring writes: “Help! A brown mold/moss-like substance suddenly appeared on my flowerbed mulch. First I used a fungicide. That didn’t work. Next, I tried a terrible thing – salt. That didn’t work, and my flowers turned green. What do I have, and how can I kill it? My husband thinks we got a bad bag of mulch.”
Well, if you’re talking about wood or bark mulch, there are no “good bags.” As I’ve been warning for over a decade, these trashy wood mulches breed all kinds of nuisance molds. The answer when one shows up is simple: just get rid of the mulch.
Unfortunately, marketing has convinced many homeowners that the word “mulch” means wood or bark. It does not. Mulch is anything you spread on bare soil to prevent weeds from growing and retain soil moisture. Wood and bark mulches were never a good horticultural idea. They are just a way to get rid of wood waste and are often comprised of materials such as construction debris that are chipped up and spray painted an awful color to hide their origins.
If you want a good mulch to prevent weeds and retain soil moisture, use a couple of inches of rich black yard waste compost. Compost prevents weeds just as well as wood mulches without the harm that wood mulch can do to homes, cars, plants and occasionally people, and it doesn’t breed any weird fungi.
Time your garlic harvest well
Tom in Potomac Falls has a timely question. He writes: “We have about 15 garlic plants that look like they need to be harvested. The stalks are brown, as are some of the leaves. Should I pull them up or leave them in for another week or two?”
It is the right time of year to harvest garlic, but the exact timing depends on a number of factors. Flat-earth gardeners have been seeing a lot of neck rot on their garlic from the excessive rainfall the area has received this season, so if you are not growing your garlic in raised beds, pull a few plants up and see what is happening down there.
Otherwise, wait until the leaves are brown on the bottom third of your plants and then pull up a test bulb. If it is big and full with a nice paper wrapper, harvest it all and let it cure in a cool, dry, airy spot for a week or two.
If the test bulb seems small, wash it off and use it to flavor some food, since all parts of the garlic plant are edible at all times, and try again in a few days. No matter what, do not wait until the plants are all brown or the wrappers will split open and the garlic will be ruined.
Comedy is easy, but peaches are hard
Chinyere in Bowie writes: “Rotten peaches! I planted two peach trees from Lowe’s in my backyard. Every spring they flower and bear fruits. But the fruits never mature. They just rot on the tree and fall to the ground. What can I do to get these fruits to reach maturity? I am tired of laboring in vain!”
I didn’t catch a lot of “labor” here, so I emailed back and said, “What laboring? Have you been pruning the trees and thinning the fruits every year?” The answer was, “No, but I water them when it doesn’t rain.”
Get ready for some true labor if you want good fruit. Along with the almost- equally difficult apple tree, peaches are probably the most difficult and demanding crop a homeowner can try to grow.
Peach trees must be heavily pruned every winter. Then a good three-quarters of the baby fruits must be removed, or thinned, early in the spring if you want to get full-sized fruits later in the season. The remaining fruits must be protected against any pests, diseases or evil squirrels that may show up.
2,400 slugs on the wall, 2,400 slugs …
Becky in Wheaton writes: “I recently found out what a slug infestation looks like when we picked 2,400 slugs out of a 10-foot flower bed. (Sometimes, all you can do is document your misery!) I’m off to get some of the iron phosphate “Sluggo” bait that you recommended in your column back in May (which I wish I had read two weeks ago). I had a similar slug problem when I tried straw bale gardening. I ended up throwing the straw in the compost heap. Could I have used the straw in my vegetable garden as long as I sprinkle Sluggo around the plants?”
I wouldn’t advise it. Slug problems are always going to be worst in wet weather, which we’ve had a lot of this season.
When the weather is wet, mulches made of materials, such as straw, wood and bark, give slugs a place to hide and breed. You often have to remove mulches for awhile during wet seasons to get the slugs under control.
Then an iron phosphate bait, like Sluggo or Escar-Go!, totally non-toxic to people and pets but deadly to slugs and snails, will take care of the rest of the slimers.