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Using corn gluten and kelp on your lawn

Friday - 2/25/2011, 11:00am  ET

Mike McGrath, WTOP's garden editor

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What's the timing for seed and gluten?

Cap in Columbia, Maryland writes, "I want to sow some additional grass seed this spring (in addition to the seed I applied in early September) but I also want to apply corn gluten meal to prevent crabgrass and other weeds. I understand the corn gluten may prevent the grass seed from germinating if applied at the wrong time. When should I apply the grass seed? And when should I apply the corn gluten?"

Great questions, Cap. You should apply corn gluten meal as soon as the first blooms appear on forsythia and redbuds in your area, 10- to 20- pounds per thousand square feet of turf. Get the timing right and you'll prevent the bulk of crabgrass and other dormant weed seeds from germinating and give your lawn a perfect spring feeding - all without the nasty chemicals we're trying to keep out of the Bay.

But you should not apply any grass seed this spring or any other spring, really. Grass seed takes forever to germinate in the cool soil, and by the time the grass is up, summer heat is likely to burn the baby blades to a crisp. The effects of any pre-emergent herbicide - chemical or corn gluten - persist for months, making spring seeding a waste of money no matter how you try and work the timing.

If you already have the seed, keep it cool, dry and in a mouse-proof container and use it to fill in bare spots anytime from mid-August to mid-September. That's when grass seed grows perfectly.

What about using both corn gluten and kelp?

Teresa in Carroll County writes, "I've heard you talk about using corn gluten meal for crab grass prevention. I use liquid kelp to fertilize my lawn. I know that corn gluten also fertilizes. Is there any reason I shouldn't use both?

Liquid kelp? Excellent! You're a real friend of the bay, Teresa.

I would use the corn gluten alone this spring (apply it when the forsythia blooms next month) and hold the liquid kelp until the very end of spring.

Now, I normally don't endorse any summer feeding of lawns, but kelp and seaweed are very gentle fertilizers. They contain micronutrients that really help plants resist stress. Some liquid kelp applied right before the worst of the heat arrives could help your lawn survive the stress of summer.

Let me know how the lawn responds to that timing. This may be something I start to recommend.

Young Boys + dog + shade = No lawn

Tom in Bethesda writes, "Our front lawn receives very little sunlight, and has to endure the traffic of a Labrador retriever and two young boys. By July and August my front yard turns into a dust bowl with little lawn. I've become convinced that I can't sustain grass there. Do you have an alternate ground cover that would keep the area open for play, but look presentable all year long?"

Oof, a crazy dog, two crazy kids and no sun? That's a pretty tall order, Tom. If you had some sun in there, I'd suggest you plant zoysia grass this spring. It can handle that kind of traffic pretty well, but it won't grow in shade. I can't really think of any good ground cover for that level of abuse that I, as a kid, would want to play on. And the shade makes getting anything started very difficult.

I know I'm always supposed to do the plant thing, but in your case, I'm thinking pavers and a movable basketball hoop make a lot more sense. Then when the kids are grown and gone, you can reconfigure the pavers into a nice raised bed frame in another location in your landscape and install a shade-loving lawn of fine fescue in its place between August and September, or maybe even grow a lawn made of moss when the time comes.

Big Pile of Wood Chips? Please don't burn them

Ray, who works at the Pentagon, writes, "I recently had a tree stump ground up and the mulch is still here. Is there any usefulness to this stuff or should I just throw it on the burn pile?"

You should not throw it on the "burn pile," Ray, and you should be done with outdoor burning. Illegal in a growing number of areas, "burn piles" have always been the height of rudeness. They pollute the air, stink up nearby homes where the windows have been left open, and send folks with asthma to the emergency room, gasping for air. And, of course, you're also completely wasting the inherent energy in the wood as you do all those bad things.

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