When to Plant? Think Fabulous Fifties!
Cindy in Centreville writes: "I'm ready to plant begonias, geraniums, impatiens, hydrangeas, hibiscus, and other flowers. Is there a general low temperature these plants can endure? I'm anxious to get them in the ground!"
"Endure," Cindy? Then you're talking about temps in the high 30s. How about "thrive" instead? Then you're talking the 50s -- and you're talking nighttime temps, not those delusional daytime ones.
Same goes for tomatoes, peppers and the other plants of summer (hint, hint). Nights in the 40s won't kill them, but they will stress them. Much better to leave the plants outside in pots, bring them inside on chilly nights and wait to plant until nights are consistently in the 50s.
"C-O-M-P-O-S-T -- I'll Tell You What It Means to Me!"
Tom in Huntingtown writes: "Could you recommend a product for fertilizing both flowers and veggies?"
Absolutely, Tom. The answer is Compost! That's C-O-M-P-O-S-T with a capital C, fireworks going off and a brass band playing 77 trombones! Compost provides the organic matter that plants crave -- and that our chemically overfed landscapes are sorely lacking. A two-inch mulch of yard-waste compost (not composted manure or sewage sludge) provides all the nutrients your flowers, veggies, lawn and other plants need to thrive.
You'll find high-quality compost in bags and bulk at most large independent garden centers. Many municipalities also have compost sites where residents can pick up black gold made from their own neighborhood's fall leaves. Give it a try -- our region's poor plants are dying for the natural, wholesome food they've been denied for so many years.
De-Thatch Zoysia Now; Bluegrass Later
Tom in South Laurel writes: "When is the preferred time of year to de-thatch a lawn, and how many times a year should it be done?"
Well Tom, the timing for de-thatching -- vigorously raking and removing any dead, brown stolons at the soil line -- is like the timing for all lawn chores: it depends on the type of grass. For warm-season grasses like zoysia and Bermuda, the time is right now. For cool-season lawns, like bluegrass and fescue, you should wait until the end of the summer.
The reason is the same for both: chores like de-thatching and core aerating, stress a lawn, so you want to perform them just as the lawn is gaining strength. Warm- season lawns get stronger as the weather warms up; cool-season ones are at their strongest in September, after summer's heat stress is over.
De-thatching a cool-season lawn in the Spring would stress it badly and could lead to its death over the summer.
Avoid Thatch with Grass Clippings!
In our last thrilling episode, Tom in South Laurel also wanted to know how often to de-thach a lawn. No lawn should ever need this chore more than once a year, Tom -- more like once every three or four years.
A heavy layer of thatch at the soil line is a sure sign that the turf in question has been severely over-fed with cheap, salty chemical fertilizers. Follow the new rules for the feeding of lawns in Maryland and Virginia and your turf shouldn't develop thatch.
And despite what you've heard, returning your clippings to the lawn does NOT cause a build-up of thatch. Just the opposite -- those clippings provide a gentle feeding and help break thatch down naturally.
Violets: You Can't Beat ‘em—So Eat ‘em!
Rolf in Alexandria writes: "We moved into a new house two years ago. The back lawn is fairly shady from two large trees. I have most of the weeds under control, but have not been able to stop the spread of violets. Have you dealt with these, and what do you recommend to control them?"
I recommend chillin', Rolf. Although some new, highly toxic and persistent herbicides are labeled for control of wild violets, reports are that they don't work any better than the old-school poisons. Herbicides just don't seem to affect these beautiful little flowers.
That's right -- wild violets are beautiful. They're also edible (they contain an important nutrient that reverses the visible effects of varicose and spider veins!), highly resistant to any removal other than physical, and ephemeral; they'll disappear in a few weeks. Enjoy their color, add them to your salads and make peace with your landscape.
Give it a try -- you'll live longer….
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