Weekend marching orders

Your weekend marching (and non-marching) orders:

  • If you have spring bulbs yet unplanted, get them in
    the ground now. Clean up the bed afterwards (don’t leave
    wrappers or other ‘bulb trash’ on the surface). Spray deer
    repellant on top of the soil or squirrels will eat all of
    your tulips and crocus bulbs.

  • If you haven’t fed your cool-season lawn for fall
    (that’s pretty much anything besides zoysia grass, which
    is fed only in spring and summer), do it now. Spread
    compost or top of your turf or use corn gluten meal or a
    bagged organic lawn fertilizer-no salty chemical food. Get
    your lawn off drugs.

  • Don’t burn your leaves. It’s a nasty bad thing to do
    (and a waste of a precious garden resource). Go over any
    leaves on your lawn with a mulching mower; the pulverized
    remains make great lawn food. Shred and save the rest for
    use as mulch or compost-making material. (And yes, shred
    them you must-and besides, you can store 12 to 20 bags of
    leaves in a single bag after shredding them.)

  • Plant new trees and shrubs now. (See correct planting
    diatribe below.)

  • But do not prune anything. Your outdoor plants are
    going dormant, sending all their energy down to their root
    systems. Pruning now signals them to break dormancy and
    begin growing again, using up the precious energy they
    need to survive winter. I repeat: Pruning now will
    dramatically increase a plant’s chance of being injured or
    killed over winter. If you have big plants that really
    need a trim, do it after the New Year, when they’re fully

Is it too late to do outdoor work?

Myrta in Rockville has big plans and a lot of questions.
She writes, “We scheduled a landscaping company to do a
pesticide application and add topsoil to the lawn; Verti-
seed to get some new grass in the lawn; plant new trees,
shrubs, and perennials; and clean and mulch our garden
beds. But is it too late for this kind of work (especially
the seeding)? I think I know what your response will be,
but want to make sure.”

Pesticide now? More like apocalypse now

Well, my first response is a big “no” to the pesticide
application. Soaking your landscape with toxins is always
a foolish risk to the health of you, your family, pets,
wildlife and the environment. In addition, lawns don’t
have any kind of pests that require spraying (the only
real insect threat they face is lawn grubs, which are
easily controlled by natural methods). Even if lawns were
all buggy, those imaginary pests would have gone dormant
by now and wouldn’t be affected. (Those beetle grubs, for
instance, stopped feeding and dropped down low under the
frost line long ago.)

What about seeding?

One of the questions Myrta in Rockville asked was whether
it was too late to do “Verti-seeding” to fill in bare
spots in the lawn. If it isn’t too late, it’s darn close,
Myrta. The ideal window for seeding or overseeding a cool
season lawn is Aug. 15 through the end of September.
(Ideally, by Sept. 15 or so.)

At this time of year, we’d need a stretch of really warm
weather for your risk to be rewarded. Any continued
chilliness would mean you just flushed the bucks. Plus,
I’m no fan of techniques such as “Verti-seeding,” where
the grass seed is buried in slits cut in the soil. Much
better to spread compost on the lawn, sow the seed into
the compost and then just rake it in gently — especially
now, when if you take the chance of late seeding, you want
that seed to be near the surface, where the soil is

Adding “topsoil” sounds just as dubious as “Verti-
seeding.” The word ‘topsoil’ has no legal meaning, and I
can’t imagine what benefit you’d get from adding your
average quality topsoil to a lawn.

But it would be highly beneficial if your landscaper could
spread an inch of yard-waste compost on the lawn instead
of topsoil. The compost would improve the structure of the
soil under the turf, help get rid of thatch, and give the
grass you have a great fall feeding. Heck, if your lawn is
composed of a spreading grass (like bluegrass or rye), a
compost feeding alone would help it fill in bare spots
better than any seed buried in slits.

Plant trees and shrubs? Yes, yes, yes-but correctly

My final answer to Myrta in Rockville concerns the
planting of new trees, shrubs and perennials. Finally, a
big YES. This is still an excellent time to plant new
trees and shrubs. The soil is still workable and the
plants are already going dormant, which means the planting
shouldn’t stress them one bit. Just be sure they’re
planted correctly. That means:

  • They go into a wide hole, not a deep one, that
    gets refilled with the same soil that was removed. No soil
    amendments of any kind should be placed around the roots
    of the new plants. You need to ‘force’ the plants to send
    their roots out beyond the little islands they’re planted

  • Make sure all the wrappings are removed before
    planting. No burlap, wire or plastic should go in the hole

  • Make sure that the plants aren’t planted too deeply.
    You should see the root flares of trees above ground after
    planting; no bark or trunk below the soil line.

  • Don’t allow any mulch to touch the trunks or stems of
    the plants. Those ‘volcano mounds’ of mulch are plant

This score just in: Mantis: 200; Stinkbugs: 0

Jo in Montgomery County just had a great experience. She
writes, “You know the stink bugs that descended on area
gardens this year? Well, one of my outside doors became
their favorite place to annoy me. Every day, there was a
swarm of them on the door.
Then one day last week the door was clear – not one
stinkbug left. Next to the door was a praying mantis. I’ve
seen no stinkbugs since then. Did she devour the entire
swarm of bugs?.”

I sure like to think she did, Jo. The praying mantis is a
great predator, and another reason not to spray toxic
pesticides around your home. Those poisons don’t work very
well against pests (the nasty bugs quickly become
resistant to our toxins), but they’re deadly to the good
bugs (and other beneficial creatures like toads and birds)
that are our best hope against the bad bugs.

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