An orchid show and early fall lawn do’s and don’ts

Excellent orchid event next weekend

Save the date: D.C.’s perennial orchid extravaganza returns with the 70th edition of the National Capital Orchid Society’s annual show and sale on Oct. 7 through Columbus Day on Oct. 9. As in recent years, the event once again takes place at Behnke Nurseries in Beltsville, Maryland.

The Society promises you’ll see everything from fancy corsage orchids to exotics whose flowers resemble spiders, butterflies, moths, bees, a rattlesnake’s tail and a lady’s slipper. Some will be displayed as stand-alone specimens and others will be grouped into large flower show displays. This year, there will be guided tours, free talks and even an ‘orchid doctor’ on call to diagnose your personal orchid disasters.

Not too late to sow grass seed — yet

Brandon in Frederick County writes: “We’re finishing up having an in-ground pool built and the backyard is torn up from the excavation and building process. I want to spread some grass seed around the deck with the hopes of it growing some this fall and then becoming strong next spring. Will that work? Or should I wait until spring? You always say to spread seed in mid-to-late August. Is late September too late?”

The start of wintry weather might make you think so Bran-Man, but we’ll pop back into the 80s early next week. Much more importantly, a couple of cold nights won’t drop the soil temperature, and that’s the decider. If the soil is warm enough, the seed will sprout — and then the cool season grass that appears will love the shorter days and cooler nights and have plenty of time to establish before winter.

But don’t delay — this window closes soon!

“These weeds are my neighbors’ fault!”

J.B. in Gaithersburg writes: “My neighbors’ weeds and crab grass have invaded my half-acre yard and I’m losing the battle. What can I do now? Aerate? Overseed and fertilize? Please help me bring the green back to my lawn.”

Don’t blame your neighbors, J.B. Weeds are ubiquitous (they’re also everywhere), but they can’t take over a lawn if you don’t help them by cutting the grass too short, watering it unwisely and/or feeding it in the summer.

Core aeration at this time of year is a great idea. Just make sure that actual plugs are pulled from the soil; poking holes in the turf without removal doesn’t do anything. But overseeding and feeding won’t get rid of those existing weeds. If more than half (or close to half) of your lawn is nongrass plants, you probably need to grow a brand-new lawn and then treat it right.

Some tips: Never cut lower than three inches. Always leave the clippings behind. Water deeply and infrequently and only when needed. Feed only twice: in the spring and fall.

Just don’t delay! The next few weeks are the last chance you’ll have to sow a strong new lawn until August of next year.

Do’s and don’ts:

  • Do sow seed for a brand-new cool season lawn or overseed existing lawns that have some bare spots soon. Bluegrass and fescue grow great in cool weather, and fall sowing is greatly preferred — but the soil has to be warm enough to germinate the seed.
  • Do have a core aeration performed if your lawn drains poorly, endures a lot of foot traffic, or has a massive number of dandelions; dandelions are a sure sign of compacted soil.
  • Do plant cloves of garlic for harvest late next June.
  • Do buy lots of pansies and plant them where you’ll see them every day. They’ll bloom from now through the end of Spring — and the flowers are edible!
  • Do buy new trees and shrubs. Fall is a better time than spring to install new plants.
  • Don’t prune anything now. No exceptions. Pruning stimulates new growth that can make the plant prone to severe winter injury when temperatures drop below freezing later this season. Prune spring-blooming plants after they bloom in the spring, nonbloomers in the winter and summer bloomers in the spring.
  • Don’t put new spring bulbs in the ground yet. Tonight’s winterlike weather followed by next week’s warm spell is the perfect recipe for making newly-planted bulbs sprout prematurely. Wait until after Halloween.
  • Don’t ‘clean up your garden by cutting perennials back. They need that top growth to survive if we get a cold winter without snow cover.
  • Don’t plant new trees too deep; make sure the root flare is visible above ground.
  • Don’t improve the soil in the planting hole.
  • Do water deeply and slowly after planting.
  • If you must use mulch (nature doesn’t, you know — and her trees look pretty good), don’t let it touch the trunk or be deeper than an inch or two. Yes — all those ‘volcano mulched’ trees you see are the result of pure horticultural ignorance and those trees will suffer an early demise.

Hey — I got one right!

Many thanks to Lynn in Rockville for this nice message: “Last spring you recommended planting tuberose bulbs for fragrant blooms. They are beyond fragrant. The blooms perfume the whole backyard with a cross of gardenia and stephanotis. They’re just amazing. Thank you so much. I’ll be planting more next spring.”

Thank you, Lynn. Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised; even a broken watch is right twice a day!

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