Garden Plot: Baby, it’s wet out there!

Meet Mike Sunday, Oct. 18! Mike will appear at noon and 2 p.m. at the Fredericksburg Fall Home & Craft Show at the Expo & Conference Center in Fredericksburg, Virginia.


Beware the wet weekend!

Well, we needed the rain, but hopefully it didn’t wash your newly seeded lawn down to the Carolinas.

Now, the weekend will also be wet, and there’s nothing worse for your landscape than working in wet soil, so no planting until things dry out. You’ll still have time to sow fresh grass seed, plant cloves of garlic for harvest next summer and plant pansies for fall and winter color — and to enjoy their edible flowers in fall salads. But no pruning of anything, wet or dry!

The answer to “but can I still prune [name of plant]?” is ‘no’!

The second opinion is also ‘no’!

And wait another month to plant spring bulbs.

But this is a good time to bring begonias and impatiens indoors; they’ll flower all winter long in a sunny window and be able to go outside as big happy plants next spring!


Secrets of superior sod

Chris in Forestville writes, “Last fall I re-sodded my front yard. I put a layer of top soil and some lime down before laying the sod. It did well up into early summer this year. I maybe didn’t water or fertilize enough and it died. I dug it all up this past weekend to try again. Someone recommended spreading compost under the sod. Is this a good idea?”

Yes, with an asterisk, Chris. Sod is easier than seed, but you have to follow some basic (and little-known) rules:

  • When you lay sod, it must be fresh, preferably laid the day it is delivered.
  • Soil must be removed so that the height of the sod matches the surrounding areas. (‘Sod’ is several inches high on its own.)
  • Yes, removing even more of your probably (OK — definitely) terrible soil and replacing it with compost would be an excellent idea
  • But don’t add more lime.
  • Don’t feed the turf for awhile; the sod farm took care of that.
  • Sod should be watered heavily after application and then be left alone for awhile.

Here’s an article I prepared for my public radio show that provides all the dirty details about laying sod successfully. I knew none of this before I researched it!

Or sow seed instead

I would have suggested Chris wait until spring, when most sod is freshly harvested, but that option is now off the table.

My second suggestion is to sow seed instead of laying sod. It’s much less expensive, and seed succeeds best when sown in the fall. It is getting late in the season, but there will still be a little time left to sow a new lawn after we dry out enough to plant.

Why did that sod die in summer?

So, why the previous lawn failure?

Any grass that dies in summer after growing nicely the previous fall and spring generally failed due to one or more of the following common lawn care mistakes:

  • Summer feeding, which is death to cool-season grasses;
  • Improper use of herbicides;
  • Too short a cut.

(In extreme cases, it could be due to lack of water, but we had good rain through most of August.)

In addition to laying the sod correctly, don’t ever cut it lower than three inches, feed only in spring and fall and don’t use any herbicides.

Oh — and don’t use any herbicides!


Oh, sure — blame the beagles!

Chris in Forestville continues, “I have two beagle puppies. As beagles are prone to do, they dig in the sod. Is there anything I can put down to make it less appealing for them to want to ‘forage for junk’ in the soil? Maybe something citrusy? And can you recommend fertilizer or other products for sod that are safe for pets?”

Beagles are very sensitive dogs, and easily develop allergies and intolerances to many foreign substances. They also have to dig — it’s in their doggy DNA. So create a dedicated area of bare soil for them to dig in and train them to use it.

Repeatedly take them to this out-of-the-way-but-accessible area, dig in it with them and then reward them with a treat. Beagles are smart and will get the idea quickly.

And forget ‘products’; just get a mulching mower and feed the lawn with your pulverized clippings. If you wait to cut until the lawn is four inches high and remove one inch with a sharp mulching blade, you’ll provide all the food the lawn needs.

This time of year, you can feed it with your mowed-over fall leaves as well.


Mosquito sprays = messed-up myrtle

About a month ago, John in Annapolis wrote, “I have a crepe myrtle with a bad case of sooty mold.  What can I do to take care of it?”

Well, after a little back and forth, we determined that the ‘sooty mold’ was actually the ‘honeydew’ (such a nice word for bug poop!) excreted by a huge number of aphids infesting the crepe myrtle.

Josh eliminated them with a spray of lightweight horticultural oil — an excellent solution, although sharp sprays of water would have done the job just as well.

But I was perplexed by the problem. These plants are seriously pest-proof. So I asked whether he had perhaps done something to weaken his myrtle, such as volcano mulching, herbicide application or buying Nats’ postseason tickets in August.

His sheepish reply: “I hired a company to apply what I thought was an organic mosquito repellent to my trees and shrubs, and it turns out that they used a combination of chemical insecticides. My guess is that they killed all of my good insects and the aphid population exploded.”

Good ‘guess,’ John. No more sprays. There are 80 better ways to stop mosquitoes!

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