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Don't aerate now and pick flowers off tomato plants

Friday - 9/16/2011, 10:23am  ET

Meet Mike in Chantilly Sept. 23

Mike will give a talk on a timely garden topic, answer all your questions and sign books at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. at the Capital Home Show at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly Friday, Sept. 23. Note: The show runs all weekend, but Mike will only be there on Friday.

Can't core aerate? Compost cures compaction

Nick in Pasadena, Md. writes, "Earlier this spring I used a core aerator on my lawn, not knowing that spring wasn't the right time of year to aerate. So, should I aerate again before I put down a layer of compost next weekend? Or, if that would be bad for the lawn, should I wait until next fall?"

Don't aerate again this year, Nick. Most lawns are still way too saturated from the 7 inches of rain from last week. Luckily, spreading a 1-inch layer of compost over your lawn for its fall feeding is the next best way to loosen a compacted turf. The living organisms in compost dramatically improve the structure of the soil underneath your grass as they provide a perfect fall feeding.

Did newly spread seed simply sail seaward?

Jade in Silver Spring writes, "I was feeling pretty smug about managing to reseed my lawn just prior to last week's predicted rain. But given the deluge we got, I'm now wondering just how clever I was. Do you think my seed survived? Or do I need to reseed?"

Don't beat yourself up, Jade. There really hasn't been any good timing for lawn work this season. Now, that rain last week was pretty intense, so it might be a smart idea to simply overseed your work. Get more of the same seed and just scatter it around. (If you have any serious ruts, fill them with compost or topsoil first.)

And don't worry. If there's bluegrass in the mix, it'll spread and fill in any bare spots once it gets growing. (If it's all fescue, however, spread the seed more thickly. Fescue is a great, low-maintenance grass, but it doesn't spread laterally like bluegrass.)

You can kill crabgrass and sow seed, too

Gene in Ellicott City makes it short and sweet. "How & when can I kill crabgrass, and when should I plant new seed in the same area?"

Well, Gene, the best way to "kill crabgrass" is to apply a pre-emergent (preferably non-toxic corn gluten meal) in the early spring to stop the seed from germinating. (That corn gluten will also give your lawn a perfect spring feeding.)

You can't apply grass seed for two months after any pre-emergent, but spring is a lousy time to spread grass seed anyway, while September (now) is the perfect time. So pull up as many big clumps of crab as you like (mostly just to make room for the new grass), spread some compost or top soil over the entire lawn and sow the new seed. (Make sure it matches what you already have out there!) Any remaining crab grass plants will die over winter; only their seed survives the cold.

Then be ready with a pre-emergent next March to prevent those dropped seeds from sprouting, care for the lawn correctly over summer (that means never cut lower than 3 inches and never feed the lawn in the summer) and all should be well.

Boo hoo! Time to pull new flowers off of your tomato plants

Well, I'm sorry to have to say it, but it's that sad time of year once again for tomato growers; time to pull off any new flowers that appear on your plants. Those flowers won't have nearly enough time to become full-sized fruits before frost, and pulling them off will help your existing fruits ripen up faster.

Same goes for your pepper plants, unless you'd like to try and bring a few of those plants indoors for the winter. Like geraniums, peppers are perennial if protected from frost, and bringing them inside when the weather chills at least gives you a good chance of ripening up any existing fruits. (And if you have any talent at this kind of thing, you can keep them alive all winter and put out huge plants next spring.)

Pot them up in containers with good drainage. Keep as much of the original soil as possible around their roots, but don't add garden soil to fill up any empty space in the pots. Use soil-free mix instead. Water the plants well and leave them outside in their pots for a few days to stabilize. Then rinse the plants off completely with sharp streams of water from your most laser-like hose nozzle. Don't worry if you blast off a few leaves, and make sure you get the undersides of the leaves. Aphids love to come inside on pepper plants.

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