Thursday, July 30, 2009

Holy Hops!

Springtime a couple of years ago I was cruising through the Menard's garden center, usually this place offers pretty standard and unexciting fare, but sometimes, in the early spring they get some unusual diamonds in the rough. Found a single, unusual looking pot labeled "Golden Hops" and scooped it up to plant on our Pergola. I didn't really have any idea of what to expect, but I needed a vine to offer more privacy from neighbors, and had some vague (and still unrealized) aspirations to make some beer sometime. This thing impresses me more and more every season, it thrives on neglect, and will grow multiple canes, at least 20' long on almost any structure it can wrap around. In late July it begins to pop these little wispy flowers which turn into beautiful green hops, in August when they mature you can pluck them and rub them in your hands and smell the hoppy goodness. The stems die down to the ground come winter but every spring come back with more renewed vigor. I have no immediate plans to use the hops for beer making, so if anyone can use them for a brewing or cheffing project, let me know.
Going to Vegas for vacation next week, hope to bring back some gardening pics of the Bellagio and Wynn Conservatories for bloggery.
Happy Growing!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The (almost) indestructible weed

You've implemented your program and things are looking good, but there is one weed so dastardly, damaging, and diabolical that practically nothing can touch it... creeping charlie, also know as gill-over-the-ground, creeping jenny, ground ivy, and several profanities not to be mentioned here. This is simply the toughest, most vigorous, and most invasive weed on the block. This weed was brought to North America by European settlers who thought it would make a good ground cover (silly Europeans). It has bright green round leaves with scalloped edges, and produces small purple flowers in the spring, when mowed or crushed it produces a strong smelling mint-like aroma that can be overpowering, and it will grow anywhere. The main problem with controlling creeping charlie is the way it spreads, it puts out long runners like a spider web, each runner puts out new roots every few inches, so practically every leaf becomes another self sustaining plant. This stuff slowly starts creeping in from adjoining lawns, and once it takes hold, watch out, it will block out the light and slowly kill your grass, and any other plants it can cover. Pulling it or raking it, are an exercise in total futility, as you can never get all the root and stem system out. The only method of eradication I have found effective is a product called Trimec +++ (not to be confused with regular Trimec). This stuff is available at nurseries like Campbells and Earl May, you mix with water and apply it with a garden sprayer. It takes two to three applications, one week apart to completely kill the weeds, and best of all it will not harm your grass. The best time to apply this, or any liquid herbicide is in the fall when temps are cooler, plants are actively growing again and trying to absorb as many nutrients as possible, they really suck up the product thoroughly and allow it to work effectively. Keep an eye out for future invasions and spot treat as needed. Here is the link to the Trimec +++ Site, and some pictures of the enemy up close, and an infested lawn. Happy Growing.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Weeds (not the show)

Ok, so it's springtime now, and you're looking at a pretty nice start to a lawn, you probably have a few patchy areas, so you pulled out that little bag of grass seed you saved from the fall, spread it over them, and watered it in. The rain is falling, the birds are singing, and everything is as it should be... but not so fast Dr. Greenjeans. Everybody on your block's lawn looks great too... for now.
But there are dark forces lurking nearby silently plotting to destroy all your hard work. Even if you live in a great neighborhood, it only takes one. Those nice friendly neighbors down the street with the 1981 Dodge aries up on blocks in the driveway, for whatever reason, they are going for that more natural, prarie grass/dandelion farm/noxious weed look in their home landscape. That's cool, but it need not ruin your fun.
Luckily there are simple programs out there to combat this insurgency, which if followed correctly will protect your investment. Most of your weed problems can be greatly reduced by keeping your lawn thick and healthy. Most weeds are not able to thrive in thick healthy turf, they simply can't compete for water, light and nutrients with healthy grass. I use the simple Scotts Annual Lawn Care Program, follow the link and it will custom tailor the appropriate application program to your area and type of grass. It is important to apply the correct product at the correct time, crabgrass germinates in mid spring, and requires the first step, most other broadleaf weeds germinate later, and require a different herbicide to control them. Even though it may sound like a waste of moeny to put fertilizer down it the fall, beleive me, it makes a big difference. Use caution when buying cheaper look-alike brands, they may claim to be the same, but usually you get what you pay for.
If you absolutely need to go budget on the product, at least make sure that the the N-P-K ratings on the bag are comparable. Fertilizers are required to post this three letter code on the bag, in addition to a list of the trace minerals found inside. The N-P-K rating tells you the percentage of the following: Nitrogen - helps plant foliage to grow strong, Phosphorous helps roots and flowers grow and develop, K - potassium is important for overall plant health. Careful application of this program is not harmful the environment, a little goes a long way, however, you should limit pet's and children's exposure to the lawn until it is watered in.
Good luck and Happy Growing!
Next time: The (almost) Indestructible Weed, or The One That Got Away

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The grass IS always greener

This is to be the first post, so it should probably start with one of the most basic plants. Seemingly one of the simplest plants seems to be the most challenging to grow really successfully... Grass, simple old grass. I think there is nothing more beautiful in it's simplicity than a healthy, well cared for lawn.
Many people seem to have this idea that it takes endless hours of work, or a PHD in lawnololgy (not even a real major) to rehab and maintain an healthy lawn. It is really a matter of getting a good start from the beginning, and then just following a routine. Unless your lawn is already in good shape, (which most aren't) I don't recommend fooling around spraying or spreading some ridiculous cocktail of chemicals that claim to kill the weeds, and not harm the grass. It has been my experience that almost all of these work poorly and despite their claims, still stress the grass, besides even if you kill all those weeds, you probably won't have much grass worth saving. The surest route to a great lawn is starting over, the best time to do this is the fall, start the process around August or September with Roundup Concentrate, buy this stuff at your home center and mix it up exactly as directed, no need to mix stronger than recommended (this is not agent orange) Spray on a calm day to avoid getting it on desirable plants, or your neighbor's lawn (bad for relations) and make sure it is above 80 degrees for optimal effect. This should kill your entire lawn, don't worry about putting chemicals in the ground, this stuff only kills plants by shutting down their processes, it becomes inert once it enters the soil. Water the dead ground for 12 days, and then repeat the application once again as some weeds will germinate after the first kill.
Now you are almost ready to start you new lawn, at this point, assess how smooth your land is, if it looks like the Himalayas on a map, now is the time to obtain some fill dirt from a reputable and weed seed free source, and rake it over the hills and valleys, water it in, and repeat if necessary.
Now buy your seed, never buy all that patch-tastic perfect garbage that claims it will grow in a dark oxygen free environment. In fact, I don't recommend you buy from any home or garden center, as they overcharge, and you get a lot of filler and less actual seed. The rule of thumb is to try and go where golf course superintendents or professional landscapers buy. Here in Lincoln, the best seed I have found comes from a place called Miller Seed Co. (1600 Cornhusker Hwy.) It doesn't look like much from the outside but they sell some really fresh and reasonable seed. It will run you about $75 to get enough seed to do a 10,000 sq foot lawn, and depending on your situation and preference there are several choices. My favorite is a Kentucky Blue Grass / Perennial Ryegrass blend, the Ryegrass comes up early and thick, and then the Bluegrass takes over later in the season.
Moisten the soil and old dead thatch in your planting area thoroughly, then using a broadcast or drop spreader, go over the entire area three times, horizontally, vertically, and diagonally. This ensures that the seed gets into all those nooks and crannies. If you don't have underground sprinklers, set up a simple system with hoses, and invest in a $30 hose end watering timer, set it to water for 20 min. at 4 hour intervals for 2 weeks, or until grass starts to germinate, hopefully now you will be into the cooler weeks of late September and early October, this is prime grass growin time. Continue to keep the area moist, but not soaking wet until the first frost. By next may you will have a thick, lush green lawn. Next post will attempt to help you keep it that way!

These photos are pics of the same lawn rehab about one year apart, the first is just following a terrorist attack on my front yard (sewer replacement). The last was taken this June.