Time is running out for lawn care before winter

Meet McGrath in Fredericksburg Oct. 15 and 16!

Mike will appear at the Fredericksburg Home Show, at the Fredericksburg Expo Center, on Saturday, Oct. 15 and Sunday, Oct. 16. He’ll give talks at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday and at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Get how info here and see Mike’s schedule here.


Get rosy this weekend and orchid-y next

‘Tis the season for big annual pretty plant events!

This weekend, there’s the Colonial District Rose Fest, at the Hyatt Regency in Fairfax. It’s free and open to the public Saturday from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.

More info in last week’s Garden Plot.

Next weekend marks the National Capital Orchid Society’s 69th Annual Show and Sale at Behnke Nursery in Beltsville. It’s free and open to the public Saturday, Oct. 8, through Monday, Oct. 10 (because it’ll be Columbus Day weekend). Visitors will see hundreds of different orchids on display and for sale — from unusual species to mainstream and cutting-edge hybrids, plus workshops and professional advice on avoiding orchid ills.

Details and a complete schedule are available on the National Capital Orchid Society’s website.


Last call for grub control

Andy, “just outside of Fredericksburg,” writes: “I JUST noticed a patch of grubs in the grass underneath my bird feeder. Am I too late to apply milky spore?”

Milky spore powder is a concentrated form of the naturally occurring soil organism that prevents Japanese beetles from being a big problem in Japan. The root-feeding grubs ingest the spores, quickly die and make more spores, which are only harmful to grubs.

But milky spore only works when beetle grubs are actively feeding in warm soil, which makes August the perfect time to apply it to your lawn. That’s when the eggs laid in your turf by female beetles have become big grubs feeding close to the surface.

If you can pull up a damaged patch of lawn and still see grubs feeding, absolutely give it a chance. But don’t delay any longer; the soil is getting cooler every day.


De-thatching and aeration are very different things

Dennis in Bowie writes, “Is it a good idea to de-thatch a lawn when you have it aerated? My lawn got beat up in August and has dry patches of grass that look like they should either be power-raked or professionally de-thatched. I have a quote from my lawn guy for aerating only, and he seemed surprised when I asked him about de-thatching..”

They are two completely different things, Dennis. The core aeration you have planned — in which little plugs are pulled out of the turf — reduces soil compaction and is great for the long-term health of the lawn, including helping to avoid further problems with thatch, which is a loose, intermingled organic layer of dead and living shoots, stems, and roots.

Both procedures are stressful in the short term, though, and require a solid month of growing time afterward for the lawn to properly recover before winter. So this year, stick with the planned core aeration — and get it scheduled soon.


Talking ‘bout thatch

Don’t do both this year, Dennis. Each procedure causes some short-term stress on the way to long-term improvement, and de-thatching is actually the more intense of the two. So especially this late in the season, just stick with the aeration. (And like I said, get it done soon!)

Now, a small amount of “thatch” — a half-inch or less of that layer of browned-out stolons at the base of green grass — is actually good for a lawn. But a thicker layer is a sure sign of overfeeding and/or shallow, frequent watering.

Following the new lawn-care laws in Maryland and Virginia should naturally prevent thatch while doing good things for the Bay at the same time. Lawns do not need more food than the new laws allow, and overfeeding causes many problems, including (and perhaps especially) thatch. Oh, and never feed a cool-season lawn in the summer heat. It (ahem) causes big patches of brown grass (ahem).

And like we’ve been preaching for almost 18 years here on WTOP: When you water, do so deeply — for hours at a time — and infrequently — ideally no more than once a week. (And not at all if we get good rain.)

Finally, leaving the clippings on the lawn after mowing will help get rid of any thatch you have. That’s right: Clippings are not a cause of thatch — they’re the cure!


Give brown lawns a chance to go green

Fully brown areas may be a sign of the lawn utilizing a survival skill. And those patches may soon be turning green again without any help.

This summer was the hottest on record. Our region suffered several extended heat waves and incredibly unreliable rainfall. Cool-season lawns of fescue and/or bluegrass will often go brown and dormant in response to such conditions to redirect their energy down into protecting their root systems. (Much like zoysia grass goes tan and dormant in the fall and winter.)

So let’s see whether our current cool weather and much-needed rain bring out the green again.

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