Runoff from fertilizer recently made Toledo’s water undrinkable. Mike McGrath explains how you can help be part of the solution instead of the problem when you feed your cool-season lawn for the fall. Plus: Answers to all your growing questions.
Question of the Week:
“I applied fertilizer to my fescue lawn in the middle of July, right before it was supposed to storm. It did not storm. Now I have huge yellow spots in my back yard. Will the grass eventually grow back in those spots?”
— Glenn in Manassas, Virginia
Photo by Flickr user Rudolf Vlček
Highlights from show for August 23, 2014:
Guard against blossom end rot
Dean from Long Beach Island, New Jersey calls in to ask Mike about the blossom end rot he’s dealing with on his tomatoes. Mike explains that this issue is a result of this summer’s weather. Mike says: “We have had a record amount of rain and so the plants have been constantly saturated. Tomato plants are unusual in that they like even watering. They do not like long dry periods followed by long wet periods.” Mike continues to explain that the extreme moisture compromises the structure of the tomato, and that while he’s happy to assure folks that the blackened, rotted bottoms of their tomatoes are not due to disease or pets, it is a culture issue that needs to be addressed. To correct the culture issue, Mike advises adding calcium to the soil. Crushing up dried egg shells and adding that to the soil will guard against blossom end rot.
Blossom end rot. Photo by Flickr user Scot Nelson
Bare spots in your lawn welcome weeds
Jennifer in Wilmington, Delaware is looking for a chemical-free method to rid her lawn of plantain weeds. Because Jennifer has a lot of shade on her property, Mike suspects that she has a cool-season lawn of fescue grass. He explains that while fescue grows well in shade, it’s a clumping grass that tends to leave bare spots. If bare spots are present in the lawn, that’s where the weeds get their chance to grow. Mike advises that Jennifer first dig up a section of her lawn and have the grass officially identified by her local extension service. “What you most need to do — right now, over the next month — is buy seed that matches your existing grass.” If she’s able to plant matching seed in these areas, she can reclaim these bare spots and block the growth of plantain weeds.
A cherry bomb
John from Haines, Alaska has a cherry tree that is performing wildly well. He calls Mike to ask why he’s seeing this boom in production. Mike finds that John has been doing everything right with pruning and feeding the tree, but discovers that John lucked out with the timing of seasonal frost. Mike explains: “Don’t forget, both your sour cherry or tart cherry or pie cherry and the sweet cherries … all the trees flower very early in the season. I mean, the cherry trees along the Potomac, along East River Drive here in Philadelphia — these are very early flowering trees. And if you get a really hard frost at exactly the right time, you could lose what would have been an even bigger harvest than what you got this year.” John realized that this spring hadn’t been hit as hard with frost. With the first round of early blossoms in tact, his cherry tree produced record amounts of fruit.
Photo by Flickr user Babi_Santander
Transplanting mature plants
Laura from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has a sizable perennial garden on a plot that is going to be developed next year. Before the plot goes under construction, she’d like to transplant a few of the mature plants — specifically her blueberry bushes. Mike explains that these need to be moved while they are sleeping: “When all the leaves are off and we get to the dormant part of winter, that is a time where you can dig these plants up. … Now ideally, of course, the spring would be better. If you could wait until spring, then what I’d say is go out on the first nice day of spring and give them a really hard pruning. Reduce them in size by half … and the only reason I’m pruning them that hard is that it makes it easier for them to move.” Mike suggests that Laura find a community garden whose members may be interested in the plants and would help her move them.
Caring for succulents through the winter season
Ruth in Traverse City, Michigan has hens and chicks in planters on her balcony and wants to know if they will survive outside in a Michigan winter. Thankfully the pots are not real terra-cotta, they are made of plastic. Mike says that there is no way they will survive the winter and wants to know if Ruth can bring it inside. It sounds like that’s not an ideal solution since Ruth lives in a condo. So Mike gave some alternative solutions like putting the plants in a closet and letting them go dormant or taking the pots to a friends house and putting them in the basement. Ruth thinks these are some great options.
Photo by Flickr user Stephanie Wallace
Correcting poor soil
Michael in Haddonfield, NJ built a brand new house with his wife and was hoping the builder would stand up to their word and put good soil over the fill dirt that was left there, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Michael planted Zoysia grass over the fill dirt, which seems to be ok, but the trees seem to not be doing as well as the zoysia. Three out of five of the birch trees planted have died and the honey locust is not doing well. Mike says “when you have poor soil or good soil you always want to plant a tree high in the ground, not low.” Mike suggests loosening up the soil, planting the tree high, putting compost far out around the base of the tree (not up against the trunk) and setting a hose to drip at the base for 24 hours to really saturate it. Mike says no matter how awful the soil these practices should result in healthy trees.