Early spring bulbs, controlling crabgrass & … cohabitation?

Don’t worry about early spring bulb sprouts

Katie in Chantilly (Hey! That’s where I’ll appear at the Capitol Home Show at the Dulles Expo Center on Friday, Feb. 24) is one of many listeners concerned about premature sprouting.

She writes, “Some of my spring bulbs are starting to come up: first the hyacinth, and now my daffodils. Is there anything I can do to stop this? I fear they are in for a rude awakening and I am in for a disappointing spring garden.”

Great news, Katie — although our weird weather does have a lot of bulbs behaving badly, there’s no real danger. Those leaves are full of nature’s finest antifreeze, and the all-important flower stems are still safely underground. And those stems are on a “timer” that keeps them underground until a fairly specific number of weeks of cold weather have occurred.

So do absolutely nothing — the bulb show may occur a little ahead of schedule this spring, but the flowers will be just fine, even if bloom is followed by a freeze.

Note: Especially do NOT mulch the sprouted leaves. The mulch can pack down and freeze, and that will spoil the show!

Get ready to beat crabgrass with corn gluten

Nate in Falls Church writes: “I want to plan ahead and try to finally control my crabgrass this spring. I won’t use chemical herbicides on my yard, but I really want to try cornmeal, as I have — ahem — heard over my favorite radio station that it works wonders on stopping crabgrass seeds if applied at the right time in the spring. However, my local garden centers don’t seem to carry it. Can you help?”

Absolutely, Nate! It’s corn GLUTEN meal you want, not basic cornmeal, so some of the stores you checked may have simply misunderstood what you were looking to buy. And you should find the right stuff for sale at most big independent garden centers as we get closer to the spring lawn care season. Typically, they get all the herbicides and fertilizers out on the floor by the end of February or early March, when stores that have reduced their hours of operation over the winter return to their regular schedules.

When those products do appear, look for packaged corn gluten meal that specifies it’s a pre-emergent herbicide on the label (don’t use cheap animal feed — it might not have pre-emergent ability). Apply 10 to 20 pounds per thousand square feet of your turf just as the local forsythia and/or redbuds begin to bloom. You’ll get the best weed control if you apply it, water it in and then the weather stays dry for the next several days.

Do it right, and the natural sprouting inhibitors in the corn gluten will prevent this year’s crabgrass plants from ever getting started. And the corn gluten will also give your lawn a perfect spring feeding, thanks to its naturally high nitrogen content.

Organic weed and feed: Beat the crabgrass AND save the Bay!

Don’t ‘lime’ your lawn — ‘ash’ it!

Rob in Springfield writes: “Is it a good idea to sprinkle fireplace ashes onto a lawn?”

The short answer is yes, Rob — ashes from a wood stove or fireplace are better than lime when a lawn’s soil needs its pH adjusted. Lime just supplies calcium, while wood ashes contain calcium and a nice assortment of other natural nutrients.

Now, lawns grow best in soil that’s slightly acidic to neutral (6.5 to 7 on the pH scale), and that often requires adjustment to achieve as our area soils tend to be a little too acidic, especially when there’s been a lot of rain. So test the pH of the soil under your grass. If the number is under 6.5, apply about one-third more wood ash than you would lime to bring the pH up to neutral. (Because wood ashes contain a little less calcium per ounce than lime, you use a little more ash to reach “calcium carbonate equivalency.”)

But if the pH is 6.5 or higher, don’t apply lime or wood ash. Lawns don’t like alkaline soils one bit, and many homeowners go way overboard on the lime.

Note: If you send samples off to a soil test lab, the results will include the exact amount of lime recommended to adjust any pH problems. Just multiply that by 1.3 and that’s the amount of ash you should use.

Netting beats acorns!

A couple weeks back we had a listener ask if there was any way to stop his oak tree from dropping acorns on his lawn. We said no and suggested he get a yard vac. Well, shortly after, we got a wonderful email from Perry in Bethesda, who explained that he solved a similar problem with a type of netting that’s sold to keep leaves and fish-eating birds and cats out of koi ponds.

Perry says he mows the grass and then lays the pond netting flat on the ground under his trees in mid-September, holds it down with some U-shaped pins and rolls it up when the acorns have all fallen a month or so later. Perry adds that the netting is virtually invisible, and unlike a tarp, allows sunlight, air and rainwater to reach the grass. Most importantly, it spares the turf the savage raking it previously took to get all the nuts up.

And it saves a lot of time as well. Perry tells me that in a “banner year,” he can fill 20 of those “yard waste” bags with acorns. (But, he adds, he only fills them halfway. Otherwise, they get too heavy to haul.)

Moles? Voles? Let’s call the whole thing off

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