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Garden Plot: Apologies to the deer and cold weather lawn advice

Friday - 1/25/2013, 11:01am  ET

Velveting deers didn't cause this damage. Read below to find out what did. (Photo courtesy Jim in Clifton)

Don't worry about bulbs and spring bloomers

WTOP Garden Editor Mike McGrath


Mike McGrath will appear in Rockville from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9 at the Community Home Show at the Universities at Shady Grove. More information is here.

Mike McGrath,

Save $25 at the Gurney Seed Catalog

Twenty-five bucks off an order of $50 or more: that's what the Gurney Seed and Nursery Company is offering WTOP listeners. Gurney's carries a full selection of edibles and ornamentals: asparagus crowns, seeds and plants for growing everything from treasured heirloom vegetables to tough modern hybrids, and flowers - even a big selection of native fruits like gooseberries and paw paws (the famed "Banana of the North").

New this year is "Gurney's Ruby Monster," a hybrid tomato perfect for sauce or sandwiches that, they say, has that real old-fashioned tomato flavor. Gurney's is also offering seeds for early, cool-season edibles like lettuce and spinach at great prices - as low as two bucks a packet - to make it easier to "go green with nutrient-rich crops." And those tasty crops are ready to be removed by tomato planting time, so you get lots of good eating and make great use of small garden spaces.

To claim your $25 off, just use the code "25FREE" at

Turns out a sapsucker made those marks on that tree

When I reported this one on Saturday, I had to change my opening line to "Garden Editor Mike McGrath with your Mea Culpa of the Day!"

You may recall that last week, I told Jim in Clifton that a series of gouge-like marks about four to five feet off the ground on his holly tree were likely made by young male deer velveting the fuzz off their new antlers.

Well, it turns out that I was wrong, wrong, wrong!

Sharp-eyed listener Peggy in Frederick looked at Jim's photo of the damage and wrote to say that it sure seemed to match the marks typically made by the yellow- bellied sapsucker, a large and colorful woodpecker, that has a yellow belly and sucks sap from trees, as its name implies.

She also included a link to this photo that shows the bird making the marks - ones that are indeed identical to the ones on Jim's holly. I alerted Jim to my error and added that he should hang suet feeders nearby. The bird, a relentless carnivore despite its sweet tooth, should go to the suet feeders instead of sucking more of his sap.

His response? "I always thought ‘yellow-bellied sapsucker' was something that Bugs Bunny or Elmer Fudd made up."

No, Jim, that would be a typical line from Sylvester, the cat that never got the upper hand on Tweety Bird.

Lawn care: The big cold weather hot topic

Chris in Arlington writes: "My current lawn is in pretty good shape, but I want to have a really healthy and sturdy lawn by the beginning of April, so how soon can I overseed? Any other recommendations?"

Buy a new blade for your mower, get the old blade sharpened or trade your old machine in for a new mulching mower if your current one doesn't pulverize clippings. Then feed your lawn some corn gluten meal in the spring, right when the local forsythia and redbuds begin to bloom. That will help prevent new weeds from appearing. Make sure your grass is still three inches tall after cutting and don't feed your turf during the heat of summer.

That will give you a great foundation for overseeding at the correct time of year, which is mid-August through late September. If you have a cool-season lawn, spring seeding is a vermin-feeding waste of money.

Chris emailed back: "My lawn is fescue. Do you really recommend against putting down seed in February or early March for early spring growth?"

Absolutely - the soil is frozen in February! And it is still much too cold for germination in March. Any seed you spread during those months will just feed and breed mice, rats and voles. And if you wait until proper germination time - when the soil temperature reaches a toasty 70 degrees, measured four inches down - it is too hot for cool-season grasses like fescue to survive for more than a few weeks.

But fescue is a clumping grass that does need to be overseeded every couple of years. So circle the last two weeks in August on your calendar. That is the perfect window for sowing cool-season seed successfully.

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