Sunday, May 31, 2009

Lawn Renovation 2

As I mentioned I have been helping neighbor Dave with his lawn. He has a terrible problem with creeping charlie, also known as ground ivy, but whose botanic name is glechoma nederacea. As with most plants, glechoma family has variaties that are considered ornamental, and some that are, well, not so much. We sell a variety at Countryside that Micheal uses in mixed containers for the "spiller," that is the viney plant that spills over the side of the container. (Lori always calls it glaucoma, but it has nothing to do with the eye disease.)

Any way, a few weeks ago we sprayed his lawn with a product called Bonide Weed Beater Ultra. It is a broad leaf herbicide and does not contain 2,4-D. Instead the active ingredient is carfentrazone. 2,4-D acts by causing the plant to grow so fast it outgrows its food supply and dies. Carfentrazone acts by disrupting photosynthesis and causing the cell walls rupture. ALWAYS, always, always follow the directions on the label for application rates, re-entry into the area, and re-application intervals. Also, most herbicides work best when air temperatures are moderate, say below 85 F. And don't spray if it is windy.

You can see by the pictures that the first application really knocked it for a loop but there is still some life in it so we will have to make a second application. The label for the Weed Beater Ultra says you can re-apply in 2-6 weeks but that you should make no more than two applications per season.

I have a problem with garlic mustard. This is a problem in many areas of McHenry County. Garlic mustard is a very invasive weed and poses a severe threat to native plants and animals by aggressively competing for light, moisture, nutrients, soil and space. Where herbicides cannot be used you can hand pull the plants when the soil is wet so that you get the entire root or you can cut the second year stems to the ground to prevent the flowers from going to seed.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Lawn Renovation Part 1

Neighbor Dave has a terrible problem with Creeping Charlie so I have been giving him advice on how to get rid of it. For most of us here in suburbia, a lush green lawn is the sign of a well kept home and garden.

The best way to keep weeds, diseases and insects to a minimum is to use good horticultural practices. This will save you time and money in the long run, because the best defense is a good offense.

1. Always mow at the correct height. I told neighbor Dave over the weekend that he was mowing his lawn too short. "We don't live on a golf course, so your lawn doesn't have to look like a putting green!" The University of Illinois recommends most bluegrass lawns to be cut at about 2-3" high. This does several things. It keeps the soil shady and reduces weed seed germination and helps to retain moisture in the soil.

2. Keep your mower blades sharp. This makes a clean cut when you do mow and keeps the grass from looking raggedy.

3. If you do water, water early in the morning and water deeply but infrequently. Watering early allows the grass to dry off before the sun hits it. The drops of water can act like a magnifying glass and burn the grass. Also, watering at night encourages fungus growth. Watering deeply encourages the roots to grow deeper and makes for a stronger turf that can better withstand drought.

4. Proper fertilization: The University of Illinois recommends 2-4 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 sq feet per year. Fertilizers come labeled with 3 numbers. These represent the percentage of nitrogen (first number), phosphorus (sec0nd number) and potassium (third number). The nitrogen is for growth, the phosphorus is for flowering and the potassium is for overall plant health, in a nutshell. You should fertilize 3-4 times a year. If you are going to apply 1 pound of nitrogen each time of a 20-1-3 fertilizer and you have 7,000 sq. ft. yard you would need to apply 35 pounds of total fertilizer for each application. (1/.2)*7000/1000)

Are all types of nitrogen the same? No. Look for fertilizers that have water insoluble or slowly available types of nitrogens. These nitrogens do not leach out of the soil or evaporate into the air so they are better for the environment. Also, our soils are already high in phosphorus, so look for fertilizers that have a low second number. Neighbor Dave and I are using a completely organic fertilizer made from composted poultry manure. Organic fertilizers are high in insoluble and slowly available nitrogens, so the nitrogen is always available to the grass when it needs it.

Next posting we will look at how Dave's fight with the creeping charlie is coming.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Macy's Flower Show

I missed the Chicago Flower Show at Navy Pier in March, so last month I met Alexa down at the State Street Macy's for their annual flower show. Obviously, not the same scope and scale as the one at Navy Pier but a treat none-the-less on a dreary rainy Sunday. The City of Chicago Master Gardeners manned the information booth to answer any questions and there were lots of flower arranging demonstrations from some of the more avant garde downtown flower shops.

Here are a few of the things we saw: I just love topiaries, where the plants are wired, trimmed and pruned to grow into a specific shape not found in nature. This kalanchoe flamingo was really bright and cheery. Kalanchoe is a common plant available in most flower shops. It makes a great gift because of its bright flowers and long bloom time. The blossoms range from white to yellow to orange, red and hot pink. They are a succulent and require well drained soil, a sunny location and little water. They can be made to rebloom. First, cut back the faded flowers, then place the plant in a dark room for about a month. When new buds have formed bring the plant back to a sunny location and begin watering again.

The shrub at the center top of this picture is a variety of azalea called "Northern Lights." What is unique about this shrub, and what makes it a great azalea for our climate, is the fact that it is deciduous, unlike other azaleas and their cousins rhododendrons, that are evergreen. Why does this matter? Because these plants go dormant and are not subject to drying out in our winters. They are not as floriferous as the evergreen ones but I suppose, like lots of things in life, it's a trade off.

The Macy's designers must have had fun putting together these displays. It reminds us that we should have fun in our gardens. Add things that are whimsical or create an unusual juxtaposition, whether it's a fun plant or piece of statuary or even an old bike with the baskets planted up with annuals. Especially this year we could all use a little chuckle and what better place than in our garden.