Gardening’s second season: Time for some fall fun
But don’t prune anything now
Mario in Ashburn, Va. has a very important question for this time of year. He writes: “I have many different kinds of trees in my yard: Crepe myrtle, blue spruce, cleveland pear, sycamore, river birch and so on. Can you provide some guidance on when to prune these trees?”
Absolutely, Mario. Now before we get to timing, I must first provide the most important guidance of all, namely:
Now, the rules of timing:
It is especially important to never remove the top of an evergreen. It results in a really ugly tree with a newly shortened life. If you want to try and keep the width down and/or make it look more “Christmas tree perfect,” make VERY small cutbacks (like 3 inches or less) with a pair of hand pruners continuously from spring through mid-summer. And always remember that less is more. It’s easy to go out the following week and trim a little more off. It is not easy to try to Super Glue a ruined tree back together again.
Fall lawn care in a nutshell
Paul in Alexandria writes: “Is there anything you recommend we do to the lawn in the fall to promote grass and decrease weeds? My wife recently had breast cancer and we will not use pesticides or herbicides.”
Well first, we have to relay our strongest wishes for her complete recovery, Paul.
Then it’s nothing but good news. Lawn chemicals aren’t only totally unnecessary, they’re often the cause of weed and pest problems. And fall is the time to help a cool-season lawn look great the best and safest way, which is through proper care.
If the soil is compacted and the lawn drains poorly, have it “core aerated” with a machine that pulls out little plugs. Then sow matching seed in any bare areas and give it a good natural feeding with an inch of compost raked into the turf or a bagged organic lawn fertilizer
Long-term, make sure you never cut the lawn lower than 3 inches, water deeply, but infrequently. Always use a sharp blade and always return the pulverized clippings to the lawn. They’re the perfect “slow food” for your turf.
It’s much more important to match the grass you have than to try and search for the perfect seed
Dave in Dumfries, Va. writes: “What is the best grass seed to use for my lawn? It gets sun most of the day, has a few shady areas, is on a slope and has some bare spots and thin areas that need overseeding. I use corn gluten in the spring to feed and prevent crabgrass and mow to three and a half inches, but still have a few weed issues — due to neighbors that don’t listen to your advice!”
Ha! Thanks very much, Dave!
Now, if you were starting fresh, the aim would be to try to pick the perfect seed for you. But you’re not. You are instead filling in patches of an existing lawn, and so the most important thing is to get seed that matches your existing grass in blade shape and color. If you know the name of the original seed that was used to establish the lawn, buy it again. Otherwise, remove a patch about six inches square and 6 inches deep and take it to a few local nurseries so their turf- grass experts can suggest the best match.
‘Old mulch? New mulch? Let’s call the whole thing off