Spring will come…Eventually

Thinking about spring planting blog, Jan 16, 18

It has been quite cold the past few weeks. It is hard to think about spring, but maybe thinking about it will warm us up and bring spring weather back to Nebraska sooner. We can begin to plan our landscapes this time of the year to have a plan in place as soon as planting season begins.

Landscaping seems to never be completely finished. Every year you find new plants you really like and unfortunately it is common to lose a few here and there. When you are thinking about a redesign in your landscape, be careful to avoid causing problems to existing plants you want to keep. A common problem I see is when people add soil around an existing tree to add a decorative block border or a new garden bed or to level off a slope surrounding a tree. People often add soil to roots that have emerged from the soil so that they can continue to mow over the roots. Once a tree is growing in a location, adding soil to the rootzone of the tree can and likely will kill the tree.

Tree roots need to breath just like the rest of the tree does. When you add soil to the existing soil around roots, it will basically suffocate the tree. The majority of tree roots are found in the top 18 inches of soil, they are there so that they still have access to oxygen. If you add more soil to the area around the tree, those roots will now be deeper in the soil profile and unable to get the oxygen they need to survive. The tree won’t die immediately from this addition of soil, but overtime the roots will die.

Exposed Tree Roots, J. Fech

Exposed Tree Roots photo from John Fech, Nebraska Extension

Also, when thinking about your landscape and what changes you will make to it, think about common problem areas. If you have Lilacs that are severely damaged every year with powdery mildew or roses that constantly have black spot, maybe it is time to rethink those plants. If a plant commonly has disease problems, it may be planted in the wrong location. Plants only grow to the best of their abilities in locations where they are supposed to grow. Hostas that are planted in full sun will develop brown, papery areas on their leaves every summer. In this case, the hosta isn’t planted in the best location and should be transplanted to more shade. This gives you a new area of full sun to plant something different in.

Try to think about all of the problems you have had in your landscape in the past. Sometimes our plants grow too large for the area they are planted in. If the plant needs to be pruned often throughout the year so it doesn’t grow over a sidewalk or window, it might be time for removal and replacement with something smaller. Or if the plant has a seedhead that is troublesome to you in some way, replacement may be a good option. Maybe the plant has a heavy top and weak stem, causing it to flop down in your garden or causing you to pinch it back often when you don’t have the time or ability. If this is the case try replacing it with a more self-reliant plant. Landscapes can become weedy or overgrown if the space is too large to manage in your spare time, keep your landscape at a manageable level for you.

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Ice and Snow in the Landscape

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Now that we are through the holidays, there is a little less hustle and bustle going on. It was nice to have been blessed with a white Christmas. Fortunately, the snow wasn’t too deep, but there was plenty that we had to get outside for a little cleanup on the sidewalks and driveways. With all the snow we received over the weekend and plenty more weeks of winter to go, I thought I’d give you all a reminder of how to properly take care of snow to not harm our plants.

Deicers can cause damage to our concrete sidewalks and to our plants growing beside them. Many deicing agents contain salt substances, such as sodium chloride and potassium chloride. Because of the salt content found in these products, it can cause severe damage to our plants, if too much is piled on them too often. Typical plant symptoms of salt damage include desiccation (drying out), stunting, dieback, and leaf margin and tip damage that looks as though the leaves were burned by a chemical.

Bag of Deicer

To avoid damage to the concrete, remove the salt as soon as you can. Deicers are meant to make shoveling easier, not to completely melt away the snow and ice. As soon as the salt melts through the ice and snow enough that it can be removed, go out and shovel it off of the concrete. When removing the snow, do it in a manner that protects the landscape plants growing in the yard. Do not pile the snow onto trees, shrubs, or flower gardens. If it has to be piled onto your landscape, move the salt onto the grass and try to do it in a manner that makes it more uniform on the grass surface. If too much salt continually gets piled up on the grass in one location, the turf can be harmed.

The snow didn’t build up too much on our trees with this past snow storm, but when we get a lot of heavy, wet snow, this can be a concern. Sometimes, ice and snow can build up on the branches of our trees and shrubs and can cause the branches to bend improperly. We saw this problem last January with the ice storm that came through. It is best to let snow and ice melt naturally off of our plants. Snow can be lightly brushed off of branches with a broom, if you desire. Do not try to hit the ice off of the tree branches because this can cause you to break some of the branches, which will be more detrimental to the plant. If there is snow on your tree causing it to bend down, it will reform in the spring once the snow melts off of it.

Finally, watch out for your lawn in the winter months as well. It is best to minimize winter traffic on any turf area and especially when frost is present on green turf. If frost has formed and foot or vehicle traffic occurs, the physical abrasion can damage turfgrass. Winter traffic can cause aesthetic damage, physical abrasion, and/or soil damage depending on the situation. Too much traffic on turfgrass at a time when it cannot recover also leads to winter injury. If you have to walk on the lawn for some reason, such as to take a pet outside, try to use a different path each time.

Plant Choices

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The winter months are a great time to start thinking about gardening for the spring. There is nothing for us to grow and we can’t go outdoors and do much in our garden beds, so we can start to think about spring to reduce our cabin fever. It is a great time because the plant catalogs have begun to arrive. Hooray! A great listing of plants to utilize in your garden would include the All-American Selections and the Perennial Plant of the Year.

The All-American Selection (AAS) group is “the only non-profit plant trialing organization in North America” according to their website. This is a selection organization that is unbiased because all proceeds go into the trials and promoting all AAS winners. Each year the group selects many different judges and judging sites. One of the judging sites for this year was in Omaha, judged by my colleague, John Porter. These judges are professional horticulturists who are volunteering their time to evaluate plants for their growth, flowering or fruiting, and how well they adapt to different environmental conditions. Universities and public gardens are good judging sites because they will keep the results impartial. The AAS is a good way to test new cultivars throughout North America to help gardeners trust the plants they purchase. It is hard when shopping through all the different varieties to know which ones do well, the AAS finds those for you.

Each year the group chooses multiple annuals, perennials, and vegetables to be All American Selections. Then, the group comes up with a selection of annuals, vegetables, and perennials. For 2018, their choices include South Pacific Orange Canna, American Dream Sweet Corn, Super Hero Spry Marigold, Onyx Red Ornamental Pepper, Hungarian Mexican Sunrise Pepper, Cocktail Red Racer Tomato and Queeny Lime Orange Zinnia among others. One of the selections judged in Omaha was the Asian Delight Pak Choi. This variety does not bolt like the comparisons. Even weeks after other varieties went to seed, this Pak Choi did not bolt. John Porter stated that it did not bolt at all during the summer.

Pak-Choi-Asian-Delight, AAS Website

Asian Delight Pak Choi, Photo from the All-American Selections Website

Another great plant choice is the 2018 Perennial Plant of the year, Allium ‘Millenium’. This is a plant honor that was chosen by the perennial plant association which is a trade association of growers, retailers, landscapers, educators and others in the herbaceous perennial industry. They choose a plant to showcase each year that is a standout plant. The perennials they choose are widely adaptive and have minimal insect and disease issues with low management inputs.

Millenium Allium, Perennial Plant Association

Allium ‘Millenium’ from the Perennial Plant Association Website

Allium ‘Millenium’ is a great choice because it is a workhorse of the late summer garden, according the Perennial Plant Association. Alliums are ornamental onions, and this variety is supposed to be spelled with only one ‘n’ in the middle of the word ‘Millenium’, unlike the correct spelling with 2 ‘n’s. The parent plants of ‘Millenium’ have late flowering, uniform habit, great foliage, and are drought resistant. These traits are also seen in ‘Millenium’. This plant is a butterfly magnet and provides large blooms of deep purple in the late summer. The plant reaches up to 15 inches tall and stays looking healthy through the season. One of the great things about ‘Millenium’ is that it is deer and rabbit resistant and no serious pest problems are found on it.

Winter Watering

Winter Watering blog

It’s hard to think about our plants in the winter months. It is even harder to realize that they are still alive and sometimes need care in the winter months. Once plants go dormant for the year many people believe that they need nothing until spring, but that isn’t always the case, especially in years with low or no snow or rain throughout the winter months.

Winter watering is essential in dry winter years. Winter desiccation commonly occurs on evergreen types of trees and shrubs. All trees are still transpiring, or losing water, throughout the winter months, evergreen trees are transpiring at a higher rate than deciduous trees. Winter desiccation occurs when the amount of water lost is greater than the amount of water the evergreen takes in throughout the winter months. The branches and needles of our trees will die. The damage from winter desiccation is brown needles out on the ends of branches. However, the damage from winter desiccation will not usually show up in our trees until early spring, so they will stay green through the winter. Drought effects can damage deciduous trees as well. Especially newly planted deciduous trees need to be watered throughout the winter months if natural moisture is absent.

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Damage to Arborvitae following a dry, windy winter

Ensure adequate watering throughout the entire growing season for all trees and shrubs, especially those recently planted. Make sure that the tree is well watered going into the fall. Also, water throughout the winter when the ground is not frozen to help the trees through a dry winter, if necessary. Winter watering should occur during the day on days when the temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or above and is only necessary 1-2 times per month until spring. It is a good idea to test for soil moisture with a long screwdriver or soil probe prior to watering to determine if watering is necessary. If the screwdriver goes into the soil easily up to 18 inches, watering is not necessary. However, if pushing the screwdriver into the soil becomes very difficult after the first couple of inches or less, watering would be necessary. After watering, apply a light layer of mulch over the roots of the tree, but not up against the trunk to avoid problems with voles.

Turf is another plant to take into consideration regarding winter watering. Winter desiccation can occur on turf when the soil is frozen, making water unavailable to plants. It is more problematic on sunny, dry, windy days when the air temperature is above freezing but the soil is dry or frozen, according to Bill Kreuser, UNL Turfgrass professor. Bill Kreuser states that, a little bit of drought stress prior to winter can actually help prepare the turf for winter conditions, it helps harden off the turf before any severe cold happens. It is actually better for the turf to have drought prior to winter rather than go into the winter with higher precipitation, as has been the case this year.

That being said, home lawns are more tolerant of winter desiccation stress because the Kentucky bluegrass, fescues, and buffalograss have a deeper root system and less overall stress than turf on the golf course. Established lawns may not need winter watering, but newly planted lawns may be more susceptible to winter desiccation. However, if we face a dry winter with little to no snow cover, irrigation may be needed at low amounts. Ensure that winter watering is not through an irrigation system or it will need to be cleared out again so the pipes don’t freeze and burst. It is best to hand water with a hose or bucket in the winter months.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Happy Thanksgiving blog 2017

Happy Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is the beginning of the Christmas season for many of us. I know many families go pick out their Christmas Trees on Thanksgiving weekend. It’s a great time to do that and it really begins to get you into the Holiday Spirit.

The biggest decoration in size and in use is the Christmas tree. Christmas trees have been used for centuries for many different reasons. According to Alabama Cooperative Extension, Christmas trees are believed to symbolize immortality. The Germanic people used evergreen boughs in their homes during winter for protection of their home and to return life to the snow-covered forest. There have been many different civilizations throughout history that have used evergreens in their homes, decorated or not, to celebrate the holidays, according to the University of Illinois Extension. The ancient Romans used decorated trees during their winter festival to honor their god of agriculture. Trees were sold in Germany in the 1500’s to be put in homes, undecorated.

Christmas Trees came to the United States in 1747, when people in Pennsylvania decorated wooded pyramids with evergreen branches and candles. By 1850, decorated Christmas trees were a widely used tradition in America.  The first retail tree market was in New York in 1851 and the first President of the United States to put up a Christmas tree in the White House was Franklin Pierce in 1856.  The first national Christmas tree was put up in 1923 on the lawn of the White House by President Calvin Coolidge.

There are many different tree species you can choose from for your family’s enjoyment through the Holiday season. The most common tree species used for Christmas trees in Nebraska include: Balsam Fir, Douglas-Fir, Fraser Fir, Noble Fir, Scotch Pine, Virginia Pine and White Pine. Before leaving to go pick out your tree, it might be a good idea to measure the area of the room where the tree will be placed to ensure you get a tree that fits in the room.

Christmas tree farm, flickr, UGA College of Ag & Env

When choosing your tree, assess the tree to learn the condition it is in. Walk around the tree to look for holes in the branching. Slightly tug on the needles that are on the tree to ensure they are tightly attached to the tree. Also, give the tree a good shake, if green needles fall off this is not as fresh of a tree, choose another. Brown needles can fall from the tree and not indicate a problem with the tree.

When you take your tree home, cut a fresh cut on the stump of the tree and place it immediately into the tree stand with plenty of water. Ensure that the stand maintains an adequate amount of water through the Holiday season. A fresh tree can use one quart of water or more per day. If you allow the water to drop below the fresh cut, a seal will form. A new cut would then be necessary to keep the tree fresh, use hot water the first time you water the tree after the new cut to dissolve any sap that would clog the water conducting tissues. The use of additives in the water will not help the tree stay fresh longer, just use fresh water and make sure the tree has enough.

A few fun Christmas tree facts from the Nebraska Christmas Tree Growers Association:

  • When one tree is removed for a Christmas tree, 2-3 seedlings are planted in its place
  • It takes 7-15 years to get a mature tree height of 6 feet tall for Christmas trees
  • Christmas trees are grown and harvested in all 50 states, including at 15 choose and harvest farms in Nebraska
  • There are approximately 1 million acres in production for growing Christmas trees

Fall Color

Shagbark hickory, flickr, Nicholas A. Tonelli

Shagbark Hickory photo courtesy of Nicholas A. Tonelli via Flickr Creative Commons License

Fall is a wonderful time of the year, especially when the trees have a good display of colors.

There is a reason why our trees turn so pretty in the fall and why they are green the rest of the year. The color in our trees, during any part of the year, is due to four different pigments that are present in the leaves: chlorophyll, carotene, tannin and anthocyanin. During the spring and summer, chlorophyll is the primary pigment in leaves. It is constantly being generated by the trees as it is easily broken down by bright sunlight. When this compound is being produced in the spring and summer, it is the most prevalent and that is why we see the green in the leaves.

As the nights gets cooler and the days get shorter, the tree produces a membrane between the branches and the leaves, causing them to no longer receive any chlorophyll that the tree might still be producing. This membrane also leads to the eventual shedding of the leaves in the fall. At this time, the other pigments are allowed to show up in the leaves.

Carotene is the pigment that is responsible for yellow and orange colored leaves. Carotene is always in the leaves, as it aids in the capture of sunlight for photosynthesis, but it is at a lower amount than chlorophyll so the green color shows up as the predominant pigment.

Tannins are our least favorite pigment color; they make the brown colored leaves. Tannins are always present in leaves but are not shown until the chlorophyll and carotene are gone from the leaves. These often accumulate in the dead portions of the leaves, which is why dead areas of our leaves turn brown in color.

Anthocyanin is the pigment that is responsible for pink, red, and purple leaves. This pigment is usually not present in the leaves until the fall. Some trees have red or purple colored leaves during the entire growing season because they have higher amounts of anthocyanins than chlorophyll throughout the whole growing season. Other trees don’t produce any anthocyanins and those are the trees that turn yellow, orange, or brown during the fall. Those trees and shrubs that turn red in the fall form anthocyanins when the concentration of sugar in the leaf increases. Low temperatures and bright sunshine destroys chlorophyll and when the temperatures stay above freezing during this time, anthocyanins are produced.

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Burning Bush with great Red fall color

So, what causes our trees to turn bright and colorful in the fall and why are some years better than others? The brightest fall colors are produced when dry, sunny days are followed by cool, dry nights. The dry, sunny days are needed to break-down the chlorophyll in the leaves allowing the other pigments to be dominant in the leaves. The cool, dry nights are also necessary for fall color because trees need to avoid freezing temperatures which can injure or kill the leaves causing them to stop producing much sugar at all. The sugar content is what increases the amount of the anthocyanin, or red pigment. The yellow and brown will be present, but the red is necessary as well.

You don’t have to travel far to get amazing fall colors from the trees. There are many places right here in Nebraska to go for a wonderful fall color display in the trees. Indian Cave State Park in the far Southeast portion of the state, Ponca State Park in Northeast Nebraska, the Nebraska National Forests, and even your own backyard are great locations to find fall tree displays. Look around, they are not that hard to find, just as long as we have dry, sunny days followed by cool, dry nights and minimal frost until later in the season we will have a beautiful display of trees in the fall.

Pumpkins!

Halloween Pumpkins

October is a great month. From harvest to football and cooler weather to…Pumpkins!

Pumpkins are great for eating and for decorating homes for Halloween and Thanksgiving. People seem to go crazy for all of the different edible pumpkin ideas. I even use products to make my house smell like pumpkins. The pumpkin industry is huge in the United States. In 2015, every person in the United States consumed an average of 3.1 pounds of pumpkin. This was even lower than the typical average of 5 pounds per year, but in 2015 we had a pumpkin shortage due to poor weather events, making it more difficult to find pumpkin food products in stores.

Pumpkins are a member of the cucurbit family of plants. They are in the same family as cucumbers, squash, watermelons, cantaloupe, zucchini, and, their cousin for decorations, the gourd. They can be grown throughout the majority of the United States. For mass production, the majority of our pumpkin comes from Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California. Illinois grows around 90-95% of the processed pumpkins for the Libby corporation located in their own state. Libby is the company that makes the majority of the canned pumpkin products found in stores.

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Pumpkins are easily grown, but need a lot of space to grow well. They need full sunlight and a lot of water because pumpkins are 90% water. Vining pumpkins need 50-100 square feet of space per hill. Allow 5-6 feet between hills. It is hard to keep the correct spacing when planting little seeds, but the plants will fill in fast. If they are planted too closely together, they can get diseases from the humidity during the summer months amongst all of the large leaves. Pumpkins can be planted when tomatoes can, as long as it is after the last frost of the spring. However, if planted too early, you will have pumpkins for Halloween in August, so it is best to wait until mid-June to plant your pumpkins. You know when your pumpkins are ready to harvest when they have turned color and resist a fingernail when it is gently pushed against the rind of the pumpkin.

Saving seeds from pumpkins can be done easily when carving, however the next year your pumpkins may look different. Plants can cross pollinate with other plants within the same species. Pumpkins, zucchini, gourds, and some types of winter squash all share the same plant species, Cucurbita pepo. These plants could then cross-pollinate among each other and cause a unique type of pumpkin to grow. However, the cross-pollination will only change the plants that are grown from saving seeds. So, if you save seed or throw old pumpkins into a garden patch and don’t disrupt them too much next spring, you will get plants to grow, but the pumpkins you grow will not look the same as what you had this year. Cross-pollination does not affect the current seasons produce.

There are a lot of different pumpkin varieties to choose from, each having their own niche in the pumpkin market. The most common one this time of year is the Jack-o-Lantern type pumpkin which is medium sized and good for carving. It is best to not use the Jack-o-Lantern type for cooking, they don’t have the best flavor and texture. For cooking and baking use the pie pumpkin, a smaller type with creamier flesh and better flavor, which are not ideal for carving. There are many other choices including Fairytale pumpkins which are squattier, heavier, and light orange colored. Mini pumpkins are fun for easy decorating indoors and out and can be found in many colors including traditional orange and white. Giant pumpkins are grown for competitions and festivals and are specially grown. A regular Jack-o-Lantern type can get large, but for the extraordinarily large, choose seed for giant pumpkins. There are pink pumpkins, striped pumpkins, blue pumpkins, warty pumpkins, and even gourds that like to help accent your Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations. This information came from John Porter, Urban Agriculture Program Coordinator at Nebraska Extension.

Dandelion Control Should be Done Now

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Photo by Nic Colgrove

Weeds in the lawn will drive us crazy through the whole summer, but don’t forget about them yet. Fall is the best time to treat for broadleaf weeds, even though we don’t notice them as much now because they are done blooming for the year.

Perennial broadleaf weeds including dandelions, creeping Charlie or ground ivy, and clover are best controlled in the fall once the weeds have begun their preparations for winter. In the fall months, these perennial weeds will move sugars that they use for energy from the above ground portions of the plant down into the roots to store them for next spring. If they are sprayed during this phase of their lifecycle, they are more likely to take that herbicide down into the roots and kill the plants rather than just burn the tops off.

The cooler temperatures in the fall are better for turf and ornamental plants due to a reduction in volatilization. In the warm summer days, the herbicides we typically use on broadleaf weeds can turn into a gas and move to non-target plants, causing damage and in some cases even death. With the cooler temperatures, this is not a big concern because the common chemicals we use, such as 2,4-D and Dicamba, do not volatilize at temperatures below 80 degrees. Wind drift is still a concern, so always be sure to apply herbicides on days with little to no wind.

The fall is not the time to worry about or treat for summer annual weeds such as crabgrass. Those plants that are still alive will die with the first frost and the seed will not germinate until next spring when the weather warms back up again. However, you can treat now for winter annual weeds such as henbit, speedwell, and little barley. Once they have germinated this fall you can use a 2,4-D product, which can be achieved with a late October and into early November application for dandelions.

Remember, all of these chemical controls are pesticides and therefore need to be carefully considered and applied according to the label. Any material used to maintain a landscape, including fertilizer, sand, or pesticides, can end up in the storm sewer and lead to pollution of lakes, rivers, and streams. In the same manner, even our grass clippings and leaves can pollute our water supply. There are ways to manage our landscapes while reducing water pollution. The following will help when managing our lawns this fall:

  1. Any fertilizers, pesticides, and grass clippings should be swept back onto the landscape. Using a leaf blower will work as well. The idea is to keep these items on the greenscape rather than on the hardscape that leads easily to the storm sewer. Raking up leaves in the fall will also help reduce the amount of leaf debris that ends up in the water.
  2. Check your sprayers before using to ensure they are properly calibrated and the nozzles are not clogged.
  3. Compacted soils and thin turf do not allow fertilizers and pesticides to infiltrate the soil surface. Aerate and add organic matter to improve the composition of the soil to ensure these products do not run off of hard, compacted soils. Reseed bare areas of the lawn to catch lawn products.
  4. Thatch layers in the lawn can become a natural barrier to prevent infiltration. Aerate the lawn to reduce the thatch layer to allow lawn products to infiltrate their intended areas.

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Tips for Fall Plant Protections

Protect plants for winter, blog

Fall has officially arrived. There have already been frost advisories for the western part of the state, so it won’t be long until frosts occur here. It is at this time that you need to think about care for your plants to protect them through the winter. Here is a ‘To Do’ list to prepare your lawn and garden for winter.

Care of newly planted trees should be considered. If it is a thin barked tree, add a tree wrap to protect it from sunscald. Sunscald is a condition that occurs during the winter with the rapid cool down at night of the cells in the trunk of the tree. The warm up can occur in the winter on warmer days but when night comes, those cells freeze and burst, causing damage to the trunk. Tree wraps will help protect young trees from this condition, but only leave the wrap on during the winter months and allow the trunk to be opened up during the summer to avoid damage from insects and disease.

tree wrapping

Tree Wrap

Young trees would also benefit from a fence around the tree to protect it from damage from rabbits and voles during the winter months. During the winter, these critters chew on the bark of our trees which causes wounds and, in some cases, girdles the tree leading to eventual death. A 2-foot high fence of chicken wire will be sufficient to protect your tree from both of these animals. Make sure the fence is dug into the ground a couple of inches so the voles can’t get under it.

Winter mulch can be applied when temperatures are consistently dropping down to the twenties each night. Winter mulch is the heavier layer of mulch we apply to plants like chrysanthemums and strawberries to keep them from having temperature fluxes in the soil they are planted in. Any plant that may be prone to frost heaving, the plant being pushed up out of the soil by a constant freeze and thaw condition. Plants that were just planted this fall could also benefit from winter mulching. This mulch can be up to twelve inches deep, which is much deeper than we usually advise but is needed for winter protection. It is better to use coarse wood chips, straw, or leaves for winter mulch rather than grass. Be sure to level the mulch back down to 2-3 inches in the spring.

Clean up all spent leaves of annual and perennial plants. Remove the dead plant material and compost it or dispose of it. If there was a problem with a disease or insect problem in the plant this summer, it would be best to dispose of it to reduce the problem with that insect or disease next year. Be sure to wait until the plants have turned brown in the fall before removing this plant material to allow them all the time available to build and store up sugars for next spring.

Now is the time to dig up your summer bulbs to prepare them for winter storage. Plants such as gladiolus, cannas, begonias, caladium, elephant ear and dahlia need to be dug up in the fall and stored indoors over the winter. They need to be dug up prior to a hard frost, or shortly after the first frost. Once the bulbs are removed from the ground, they need to be cleaned off, removing the leaves as you clean, and cure or dry them for 2-3 weeks. Then place the bulbs in crates or boxes, allowing for air flow. Store them throughout the winter in a cool, dark location such as a basement. Check the bulbs periodically through the winter to ensure no bulbs are starting to rot or mold.  If any do start to rot or mold, discard them immediately.

Aerating a lawn…

Lawn Aeration Blog

September is the beginning of our fall lawncare season. Overseeding or reseeding lawns can be done throughout the month and at the beginning of the month we can fertilize our lawns. Toward the end of the month, fall weed control can begin, but not until our temperatures cool off more. One of the other lawn activities that may be considered is lawn aeration.

Compacted soils can inhibit the growth of your grass. When a soil is compacted, the soil particles are packed too tightly together to allow oxygen and water to pass through the soil. This can lead to shallow roots for the grass plants and in turn, can lead to less drought tolerance. Compacted soils can also lead to more thatch build up on the soil surface.

Thatch is the accumulation of dead grass stems that don’t become decomposed. In compacted soils, earthworm activity decreases, as does the activity of other decomposing organisms. The reduction in decomposing organisms leads to the build-up of thatch which can cause problems with the growth of the lawn. Lawns with a high thatch layer can begin to die because the thatch layer repels water keeping it away from the roots of the grass plants.

One of the best ways to reduce thatch and alleviate soil compaction would be to aerate the lawn. Many people interchange the terms “power raking” and “core aerating” when it comes to lawn aeration. However, these are 2 very different activities. Power raking is a more intense form of reducing the thatch layer on the lawn. It is only recommended when a thatch layer is more than ½ inch because at that point it would be necessary to renovate a lawn rather than just to core aerate.

Aeration equipment

Core Aeration Equipment, Photo from John Fech, Nebraska Extension Educator

Core aeration is the method of aerating your lawn most recommended. This is the method where a machine is driven over the lawn while it pulls out many small, core soil samples throughout the lawn. These cores are laid over the top of the lawn but help by leaving holes in the soil surface for water and air to move in and they will fill back in. Core aeration will also sever the roots of the grass plants which stimulates the plants to grow new shoots to fill in the holes.

It is best to aerate a lawn in the spring or in the fall. This time of year is best because the plants can recover before winter or summer conditions that are sometimes difficult on our plants. It is also a good time of year to aerate due to the fact that the soil has more moisture in it than in the other dry months of the year. It is not recommended to aerate a lawn when it is too dry or too wet because it is more difficult to get the tines into the soil which can damage the plants more. It is not necessary to aerate your lawn every year, or sometimes at all. If your thatch layer starts to build up, you drive on the lawn a lot causing more compaction, or if the lawn begins to look thin, aeration can be done. At most, it would only be recommended to aerate a lawn every 3-5 years.