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New lawns don't require murder weapons

Friday - 2/17/2012, 2:20pm  ET

Help your garden survive winter

Listen to Mike McGrath's survival advice.

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Meet Mike at the Capitol Home Show in Chantilly This Friday

Mike will present "Get Your Lawn Off Drugs at 11 am, "Grow Your Best Tasting Tomatoes EVER at 1 pm, and "Organic Answers to All Your Garden Questions at 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24 at the Capitol Home and Garden Show at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly.

New lawns don't require murder weapons

Jack in Stafford writes: "The lawn in my backyard has been neglected for a few years and weeds have pretty much taken over the entire 4,000 square feet. I'm considering killing the entire lawn and starting over. What do you suggest?"

Starting over is fine, Jack, but you don't need to kill what you have, especially if your murder weapon of choice is chemical herbicides. And you probably need to wait a few months to do the job -- unless you intend to plant zoysia grass plugs in the spring. Bluegrass, fescue and other cool season grasses don't establish well enough in the spring to survive the area's hot summers.

Cut what you have at 3 inches high for now. Then, till it all up in early August, rake away as much of the old green as you can, level the surface, have a big load of compost and/or screened black topsoil delivered, spread that an inch thick, level it perfectly -- a very important but oft neglected step -- and sow the new seed between Aug. 15 and Sept. 15. Just rake it in gently, don't cover it with straw or other foolish weed helpers, but do mist it gently every morning until all the new grass is up.

Try and sow that same seed this spring and the new lawn would be all weeds by fall.

Nearby woods don't need murder weapons either

Ray in Front Royal wants to accelerate planetary destruction. He writes: "I know you don't like using chemicals in the yard, but I was wondering if you know of one that would kill tough vegetation. I'm surrounded by woods but want to keep the vines and shrubs from overgrowing and creeping into my yard. I know the power companies use something that kills everything it touches and I'm looking for something like that."

I'll make you a deal Ray, I'll tell you what they use if you agree to take a nice long soak in a tub filled with it.

Wake up, smell the coffee and join the 21st century of weed control by mechanical means -- it's the way an increasing number of power companies are doing things. In your small scale case, buy a lawnmower-like machine called a brush cutter. It'll keep tough weeds at bay without destroying the woods. Or you.

Don't Kill that Rose!

Carl in Bryans Road wants to steal defeat from the jaws of victory. He writes: "I have a rose bush that got really huge in its present location by the outside of the fence. Would it be OK to move it now to the other side of the fence where it won't get much sun?"

The answers are no and no, Carl.

Apparently, you have never tried to get a shovel into February soil. Makes you look like Yosemite in a Warner Brothers cartoon. The ideal time for such work is right after the plants start growing again in the spring or as they begin to go dormant in early fall -- not the dead of winter or the height of summer.

Lack of sun is a death knell for roses. Move that poor shrub into shade and it will be ugly and diseased ever after -- unless you get lucky and it just plain dies.

I suggest you wait until new growth appears in the spring and then just prune it back to a manageable size. You'll both be much happier.

New Garden? Compost: Yes. Peat Moss: No.

Bill in Springfield writes: "I'm helping our son get his 18 feet by 4 feet garden established. He has some compost but not enough. I was thinking about adding peat moss and Leaf Gro. What do you recommend?"

Not peat moss, Bill. It's highly acidic and contains little to no nutrition. I recommend building raised beds that are about a foot tall. They can be as long as you want but no more than that four feet wide. Lay sections of newspaper or single pieces of heavy cardboard on the bottom and then fill the frames with a 50/50 mix of Leaf Gro, which is compost and screened black topsoil. You'll have weed-free growing areas full of rich organic matter that'll produce twice as much as a flat ground garden.

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