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Ogle some orchids; make deal with creeping Charlie

In this Friday, July 8, 2016 photo, a grass pink orchid is seen in Star Lake, N.Y. The National Capital Orchid Society annual show is next weekend. Garden Editor Mike McGrath urges gardeners to check out the orchids instead of pruning any trees or plants - it's too late in the year to safely stimulate any growth. It might also be too late to seed your lawn, but he has some tips in case you want to try. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Meet McGrath in Fredericksburg Oct. 15-16!

Mike will appear at the Fredericksburg Home and Craft Show, at the Fredericksburg Expo Center, on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 15 and 16. He’ll speak at 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m. on Saturday and at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Get orchid envy this weekend!

Looking for something amazing to do over the long Columbus Day weekend? The National Capital Orchid Society will host their 69th Annual Show and Sale at Behnke’s Nursery, in Beltsville. It’s free and open to the public Saturday through Monday.

You’ll see hundreds of orchids on display and for sale, from unusual species to mainstream and utting-edge hybrids; plus workshops on orchid growing as well as on-site orchid enthusiasts who will give you one-on-one advice on avoiding orchid ills.

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

Lawn care 101: Over-feeding = thatch

Remember Neville in Bowie? He wrote last week complaining of thatch in his lawn, and I speculated that he might be overfeeding his turf, because heavy use of chemical fertilizers is the No. 1 cause of thatch. But I couldn’t say for sure because he didn’t get back to me with those details by deadline time.

But he did email me back shortly after that to say that he uses a noted “Four Step Program” on his tall fescue — to which we can only suggest enrolling in a 12-step program, because four is two steps too many!

Tall fescue is not as heavy a feeder as bluegrass, and will do just fine with two feedings a year — once in the spring and once in the fall. Feeding more often than that can cause problems — and may even be in violation of the new lawn-care laws in Maryland and Virginia that are designed to help protect our fragile but wonderful Chesapeake Bay.

So start doing the two-step and dance that thatch away!

Hey Charlie — stop creeping across my lawn!

Holly in Silver Spring writes: “I made a huge mistake by mowing over a patch of creeping Charlie last fall. This year, it has taken over almost all of our backyard. We have small children, so we wanted to solarize the entire yard with clear plastic sheeting instead of spraying poison. Is it too late to try this year?”

Well first, you didn’t spread the creeping Charlie, Holly — it “creeped” into your lawn all by itself. That’s what this weed (also known as lawn ivy and Gill Over the Ground) does — it creeps across the ground, often overtaking lawns that are cut too short and/or that have to tolerate a lot of shade.

Now, to answer your solar-powered question …

Can you solarize your weeds away?

The basic answer is yes. But the answer to Holly’s specific question is also yes — as in yes, it is way too late in the season to try and defeat weeds with solar power this year.

Solarizing the soil does destroy the absolute worst weeds and disease, but it has to be done precisely and correctly. First, the area must be scalped down to the barest soil possible (we want to see dirt blowing out the back of that mower!). Then it must be leveled and absolutely saturated with water. Only then can you cover it tightly with clear plastic (2 to 3 mil thick is ideal) and cook every bad thing in the soil — grubs, disease spores, weed seeds and invasive rhizomes — to absolute death.

And in our region, it takes an entire summer of sun to achieve the desired result; making this a technique much better suited to reviving a single bed than an entire yard.

And it also requires full sun or close to it. So if the area is shady, solarization is not a viable option.

Make peace with the creeper

Holly in Silver Spring also asks, “What other methods are safe? We were hoping to have a nice lawn by next spring but now I think that might be impossible.”

Well, it’s kind of late in the game for option No. 1, which would be to tear up what you have and reseed. Reseeding would have worked brilliantly a month to 6 weeks ago. But this option is getting riskier by the day as the soil rapidly cools.

Laying sod in the spring would be your next shot at a fast cure. Sod is much more expensive than seed, but it succeeds in the spring (when seeding is a waste of time and money). Sod is a great choice for smaller areas (or if you can just plain afford it) and for lawns where children and/or dogs want to play right away. And the installers would remove all of your existing Charlie as they prepare the soil for installation.

But the weed we call Creeping Charlie is not some invasive, alien invader. It was once a prized ‘purchased perennial’ that was deliberately planted on a wide scale as a ground cover, because it thrives in the damp shady spots where lawn grasses struggle, prevents erosion perfectly, needs no mowing and produces beautiful purple flowers in the spring.

So, especially if the area in question is the kind of shady spot where lawn grass is always going to struggle, consider installing deep edging to keep it within the bounds of your yard and let your kids roll around on Charlie.

Holiday weekend marching orders

  • If you haven’t fed your cool-season grass (fescue, rye and/or bluegrass) this fall, do it now before it gets much chillier. (The colder the soil, the less effective the fertilizer.)
  • It is now officially risky to sow cool-season grass seed and be assured of good germination. If you want to give it a shot anyway, spread some compost or mushroom soil first and then do any needed watering with lukewarm, instead of freezing-cold, water.
  • Last call to plant garlic cloves, but wait another month for spring bulbs.
  • Pull off any new flowers or small fruits on your tomato plants to hasten ripening for the rest.
  • Bring in potted pepper plants and keep them in strong light over the winter. Peppers are perennials that will live for many years if protected from frost.
  • Bring in shade-loving begonias and put them just about anywhere inside for free indoor color all winter long. Like peppers, they are also perennial if protected from the cold — and they don’t need a lot of light.
  • Get ready to shred fall leaves for mulch and compost.
  • But don’t prune anything between now and the dead of winter. This is the absolute worst time to year to stimulate new growth.
  • Yes — I mean anything.
  • Yes — including the plants you desperately want to ‘clean up’ this weekend. Watch football or the Major League playoffs (go Nats!) instead. Take up woodworking; go on a cruise …
  • Warning to people with “helpful” spouses and/or partners — hide the pruners!

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