Posts Tagged ‘Lawns’

purple crocus in snow

After a record-breaking winter of snow, many Boston-area gardeners and homeowners are wondering what they will find when the snow and ice melt. Here’s a glimpse into what you can expect for spring 2015, and how to repair winter damage in the landscape:

  1. Hardscape cracks – Paved surfaces like driveways, walks and patios may have cracked concrete and popped up paving stones. Pavers and stones can easily be re-leveled, but concrete may need to be patched or replaced. If you are replacing a driveway or walkway, consider using concrete pavers, which are easy to shovel and to repair after winter. And if you’ve had it with the snow blower, invest in a snow-melting radiant heat system under your paving — works for concrete, brick, and pavers!
  2. Frost heaving – Newly-installed plants can heave out of the ground if left unmulched, so make sure to replant these to their correct depth as soon as the ground can be worked. Water regularly to compensate for root loss due to exposure.
  3. Salt damage – De-icing salts from roads and walkways burn the leaves and needles of nearby evergreens. Prune out any serious damage, and provide extra water to these plants in spring, as salt accumulated in the root zones may cause ongoing dehydration.
  4. Broken branches – Heavy snow from roofs and shoveling damaged many shrubs and even the lower branches of small trees. Prune broken branches back to the nearest branch union, making it easier for plants to recover.
  5. Winter burn – Unless covered by a protective layer of snow, evergreen plants such as rhododendrons and boxwoods can be damaged by cold, dry winter winds. Often, leaves die while the branch remains viable, so observe plants for new growth, then prune out any dead branches.
  6. Lawn damage – Lawns and plant roots were well-insulated by the snow, which should minimize cold damage. However, the snow made a nice burrow for voles and other small mammals, leaving holes in lawns and nibbling the bases of woody plants. Edges of lawns may also have been harmed by salt and plow trucks. Plan to rake out clumps, add compost, and reseed bare areas in spring, but wait for late summer for complete lawn renovations.
  7. Weeds – Moist conditions from melting snow combines with warming spring temperatures are going to create perfect germination conditions for weed seeds, so consider applying an organic preemergent such as corn gluten to minimize the number of weeds in the lawn. Mowing high and overseeding regularly are also important to inhibit weeds.
  8. Insects – The extreme cold may reduce hemlock wooly adelgid, but will not have a significant impact on winter moth, so schedule treatments as normal for maples, crab apples, and other favorite foods of winter moth caterpillars. Also, ticks thrive after winters of heavy snow, so use good gardening practices to keep ticks out of the yard, and begin checking yourself and your children as soon as snow melts and temperatures are above freezing.
  9. Bulbs & Perennials – Friends have asked, “Will my spring bulbs still bloom when they’re covered by 2′ of snow?” Yes! Bulbs respond to light and temperature, so even early bloomers like snowdrops and crocuses will stay “asleep” until uncovered and exposed to warmer spring air temperatures. Likewise, perennials will thrive after a winter well-insulated under the snow. Before new growth starts to emerge from the ground, cut back the messy crowns of grasses, coneflowers, and other plants that you may have left standing in fall to provide winter interest.
  10. It’s all just a mess! – Squashed plants, lumpy lawn, rubbish poking out of melting snow… We know. Breathe. A proper spring clean-up, some grass seed and a fresh coat of mulch are going to make everything look 100% better. Add some pots of pansies and narcissus, and you’ll be ready for spring!

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Lawn at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin, being topdressed with compost. (Photo: SafeLawns.org)

Is your lawn looking patchy? Mid-August to mid-September is the optimal time to renovate or establish lawns from seed. Here’s how:

  • Shade? Add shade-tolerant seed such as fescue to thin areas under dappled shade.
  • Crabgrass? Rip out crabgrass and add a blend of bluegrass and rye seed for heat and sun tolerance.
  • Moss or rock-hard dirt? Aerate (poke little holes in the soil), add compost, and seed.

If you’re facing tougher problems like grubs or Japanese Knotweed, have we got the post for you!

In general, any lawn will benefit from core aeration, compost application, and overseeding at this time of year. Adding this treatment you your annual maintenance will improve your soil, thicken turf, and reduce weeds over time.



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Gardening, done well, is at least 50% preparation. Once you realize what you should have done, it’s probably too late for this year. So, having a garden journal is invaluable to for successful planning for next year.

Here are a few things to look out for this spring, and steps to make next year even better:

  1. A Blank Slate – By fall when the bulb catalogues arrive, it’s easy to forget where you planted what. Take photos and use inconspicuous plant markers to remind yourself where you have clusters of daffodils or where you meant to add that globe allium. (Geek tip: If you use Evernote to capture random ideas on your smartphone or tablet, the Skitch app lets you easily annotate photos right on your device.)
  2. Color Me Beautiful – Love it or hate it, flowering shrubs give spring in New England a distinctive palette. Yellow forsythia, mauve ‘PJM’ rhododendrons,  lilac magnolias, scarlet quince, and a range of cherry-blossom pinks. If you have mature flowering shrubs on your property, take note of the color and bloom time, and build bulb and perennial planting around a similar color family. For instance, forsythia could take tulips in loud, saturated reds and oranges, or contrast with more subdued purples and blues of scilla, hyacinth, and periwinkle.   tulips, hyacinth, squill and forsythia forsythia, parrot tulips, hyacinth, ranunculus
  3. The Grass Is Always Greener – After doing a spring clean-up and seeing bare patches where last year’s crabgrass died out or there is too much shade, one’s inclination is always to want to rip up the whole yard and start from scratch. Don’t. Spread some compost and grass seed now, but wait to do major renovations until late August, when  the grass seed will stand a chance against weeds. The one exception: if you have a shady area where grass is patch, and you are ready to develop it into a planting bed, its easiest to do it in spring while you are edging and mulching beds.
  4. Seedy Characters – Want to start a veggie garden, but don’t want to wait to buy expensive seedlings at the farmer’s market? Plan ahead next winter so that you can start your seeds in time. Here’s a nifty seed starting calculator from Margaret Roach at AWaytoGarden.com to tell you when and how to start what in your zone.

toddler & mom planting seeds

What did you remember to do this spring? What do you want to remember for next year? Let us know in the comments!

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garden seating area in springTwo-plus months in to the year, how are you doing with those New Year’s resolutions? Luckily, the gardening year in the Boston area is just starting, so you have a chance to start off on the right foot with your outdoor plans. Doing a thorough and careful spring clean up lays the groundwork (no pun intended!) for a year of trouble-free gardening:

  1. Prune dead and broken branches from ornamental trees and shrubs, repairing any snow damage.
  2. Prune roses and renew over-grown shrubs before new growth starts. This will ensure vigorous growth, and improved flowering and shape for the rest of the year.
  3. Remove leaf litter from around trees and shrubs to prevent the spread of disease.
  4. Rake lawn areas. Assess bare areas, and either overseed or plan new planting beds if lawn is not the best choice. If possible, postpone new lawn installations until late summer.
  5. For a clean look, hand-edge beds before mulching. This keeps mulch from spilling out onto the lawn, and discourages grass from rooting into the beds.
  6. Add compost to planting beds. If you shredded and piled leaves last fall, this is the time to add that good organic material back to the soil.
  7. Add well-composted mulch to planting beds, to a depth of 2-3″. This will reduce weeds and add organic material to the soil. Do not use mulch that has a sour smell, as it may harm your plants.

For more maintenance tips, see our Yard Maintenance Owner’s Manual (PDF).

Get more inspiration for spring gardens on our Spring Forward Pinterest board.

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toddler in the garden with black eyed susansEvery year, we attend trade and garden shows where companies peddle their latest, greatest green wares. There is often someone promoting their “100% certified organic” 4-step lawn service, and I have fun pretending I’m a homeowner and grilling them about their methods. Why? Currently, no agency “certifies” landscape or lawn care practices or companies as organic. So, how do you know that your lawn service is keeping your family safe and your landscape healthy?

Here’s the deal:

OMRI (the Organic Materials Review Institute) certifies organic materials, like fertilizers and composts, and certified organic produce growers must use products certified by OMRI or other agencies.  The National Organic Program (NOP), part of the USDA also certifies organic produce, but not landscapers or ornamental growers.So, how do you know your landcare company is legit?

NOFA (the Northeast Organic Farming Association) was one of the leaders in certifying organic fruit, vegetable, and livestock production in the United States.  Now, they are the leaders in setting and training in a voluntary standard for organic lawn and landcare.  NOFA-Accredited Landcare Professionals pledge to maintain these standards in the landscapes we design, install, and maintain.  There is currently no audit or certification process beyond that.If your “all-natural” landscaper is not NOFA accredited, ask what materials, methods, and principles they use in their work.  Also, consider their overall business practices: if they are paying fair wages to their workers, providing proof of insurance and other certifications, and getting involved in serving their community, there is more of a likelihood that they are also “walking the talk” when they say that they are “green.” Greenscapes, a local environmental non-profit, has developed a helpful consumer guide for choosing an environmentally-responsible landscaper.

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Download a free organic maintenance checklist

When do I prune this? How high should I mow my lawn? Can I cut back my perennials after they turn brown?

Get answers to these and other basic organic maintenance questions by downloading this simple checklist. Then, go deeper with landscape tips and design ideas from our bi-monthly newsletter. Enjoy!

Something we forgot to answer?  Give us a shout on Facebook or Twitter, and we’ll try to help.

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Mid summer is the true test of your landscape’s heath. Are layered planting beds, mulch, and turf thick enough to shade and cool the soil, withstanding drought and out-competing weeds, or are pests proliferating? If pests are getting the better of your lawn or garden, here are emergency and long-term solutions:

  • Crabgrass is an annual weed that grows from
    crabgrass in lawn

    Crabgrass may be the only green thing in the August lawn

    seed each year. It loves hot, dry weather, and picks up steam just as fussier lawn grasses are giving up. It will take advantages of bare patches, especially hot areas by paved driveways and walkways.

    • Quick fix: Hand-pull or spot treat with an organic herbicide. Cover bare areas immediately with sod.
    • Management: Mow high – 3″ or more – from spring on. Taller grass shades the soil and keeps it cool, minimizing germination of weed seeds. Overseed any bare patches in fall, and fertilize with corn gluten in spring, which has been shown to have some pre-emergent benefits.

New Japanese Knotweed shoots look similar to asparagus

  • Japanese Knotweed is a perennial weed on the invasive list in Massachusetts.  It can spread by seed, but it also  develops a deep root system and will resprout from root pieces left in the soil.  Eradication usually requires several seasons, even with the use of chemical herbicides.
    • Quick fix: Cut or mow repeatedly to keep from flowering and spreading. Cutting also weakens the plant by keeping it from photosynthesizing (making food for itself).
    • Management: Timing is everything.  Do your final mow/cut in late June.  Allow plants to resprout until early August.  Then, when the plant is at its weakest after flowering, cut to 12″ and inject trunks with organic herbicide.  Repeat for 3-5 seasons.
Japanese beetle damage in lawn

Damage caused by digging predators in search of grubs

  • Grubsare the larval lifestage of certain insects, including Japanese beetles.  They feed on plant roots, including the roots of turf grass.  With serious infestations, predators digging for the grubs may do more damage than the insects themselves.
    • Quick fix: Application of beneficial nematodes (tiny worms that attack the grubs) in mid-late August can substantially reduce populations. Read label instructions carefully or hire a trained applicator.
    • Management: A healthy lawn maintained organically can withstand a few grubs, whereas a stressed lawn will show damage quickly.  Mow high, water deeply but infrequently, fertilize organically.  Note that synthetic pesticide treatments for grubs tend to also reduce the numbers of beneficial soil life and predators, so may hurt the lawn more than they help.

If spot treatment is not enough for your lawn, keep in mind that mid-August through September is the ideal time to establish a new organic lawn.

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