Starting a weed free lawn: Start preparing the area to be planted in mid summer, plant grass seed in late summer or early fall. To prepare the soil, dig out and remove any weeds, now is a good time to add any soil amendments. Cultivate the soil lightly by hand digging with a shovel, or rototill with moderation. Rake and even out soil, press down or walk over it. To make any weed seeds in the area germinate and die the following measure can be taken. In summer, when it is hot and sunny – about one month before planting – place a sheet of clear plastic over the soil, and place stones or bricks around the edges to hold it in place. What happens: weed seeds germinate under the plastic because it is warm and moist; then they fry and die under the hot plastic. This will not work in the shade. Before planting, remove the plastic and rake out dead weeds and any bits of weed roots. Chose a grass variety suited to the area, i.e., a shade mix if shady. Sow grass and keep well watered, or lay down sod.
How to get rid of crab grass and other low growing weeds: Mow high – i.e. set the blade on the mower to its highest setting – this will cause crab grass to get shaded out. As well, apply fertilizer in late fall to give desired grass species a jumpstart in the spring. Chicken manure is good because it is high in nitrogen and promotes green growth.
How to get rid of dandelions: Dandelions can be effectively controlled through hand pulling. A long handled dandelion fork is much easier on the back than the short handled forks. When dandelions are in bloom they don't have much energy stored in their roots, this is an excellent time to dig them out, since the bits of root left in the ground will not have enough energy to grow back.
How to get rid of creeping charlie, and other weeds with runners: Rake the lawn with a garden rake to pull up the creeping plant stems before mowing, then remove grass clippings from the lawn.
“There are brown patches in my lawn. What can I do to stop this?”
Chinch bugs: Do a soap test by saturating a small section of the lawn with soapy water for about 15 minutes and check to see if anything comes to the surface. If chinch bugs are present they will be forced out of the soil. Other grubs can be detected this way.
Grass grubs: The grubs eat grass roots. If your lawn has yellow patches in late spring or summer, pull up a small piece of sod. If it pulls up like a carpet (comes away from the soil with little or no roots), it is a sign that you have white grubs.
Drought stress: If the soil is very sandy and there is a drought or dry spell, and your grass is browning, it is likely just too dry. To solve this problem water the grass if possible. Water in the early morning or late evening when the water will not just evaporate in the sun and heat. Also, water deeply every few days rather then a little every day; this will encourage the grass to grow deeper roots so it can get to the water in the soil more easily.
Fertilizer burning: Applying a fertilizer with a high nitrogen content can also burn plant leaves. Avoid applying a high nitrogen fertilizer in the hot months of the summer. Quick release type fertilizers are the worst, such as chemical fertilizers. Quick release types of fertilizer with added phosphorus are one of the main causes of the current spread of blue-green algae in the lakes of Quebec. Organic fertilizers are better, like compost or in the summer leave the grass clippings on the lawn rather than removing them, these clippings will act as a fertilizer for the lawn. Slow release fertilizers, even with added phosphorus, are not as big of an environmental problem as the chemical quick release ones. The slow release of nutrients provide plants and soil the time to take up the majority of the nutrients released, meaning that fewer compounds are leached as runoff into our lakes.
There are many different types of soils; different plants like different kinds of conditions for growing in. The following are some aspects of a soil that most plants prefer.
Soil aeration and drainage: Most plants like to be in well-aerated soil. Soil can be aerated by hand turning the soil with a shovel, by forking the soil, or in the lawn with a special machine to take little divits out of the soil, these can be rented at most places that rent small machinery. Some soils are naturally more aerated than others, for instance clay-based soils are naturally very compact and will need lots of aeration, while sand-based soils usually have better natural aeration and won't need as much care. Check your yard before you make any aeration decisions.
Soil pH: Most plants like to be grown at a pH of between 5.5 and 6.5. Some plants, such as pines and oaks, will actually change the pH of the soil that they're growing in to suit their preferences over time. It's good to keep this in mind when adding plants to the garden. The pH of your soil can be tested with a soil pH test kit purchasable at nurseries and hardware stores.
Soil nutrients: plants need three nutrients in large quantities: nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. As well they need a number of other nutrients in smaller amounts. Organic fertilizers will provide a good source of these nutrients, and release them more slowly then most chemical fertilizers (some chemical fertilizers are slow release).
To change the nature of a soil: If you have sandy soil, and wish to increase the water holding ability, add some clay to the soil and mix it in thoroughly. If you have clay soil and wish to improve the drainage, don't add sand, as this will clog the small holes in the soil, but add small gravel to break up the clods. As well, adding organic matter will give the soil a better crumbly texture.
Mulches are any layer of matter placed on the top of the soil. They can be organic, living plants, or plastic. Mulches are used to help reduce erosion, discourage weeds from growing, to keep moisture in, to improve aesthetics, to provide nutrients to plants and to improve the structure of the soil.
Around the base of trees wood chips are often placed to ease in mowing and keep weeds away. If this is done, some nitrogen fertilizer should also be added, since the decomposing bark uses up nitrogen, and can rob the soil and the tree of an essential nutrient. As well, the bark mulch will acidify the soil, and should only be used around trees that tolerate acidity; do not spread it around maples, apples, birch, or willow trees.
In flower and vegetable beds mulches can be very useful. Spread mulch up to three inches thick around plants. Grass clippings are good since they decompose and add nutrients to the soil, but be careful not to use clippings from a lawn that has been sprayed with herbicides. Plastic mulch can help heat up soil for plants like eggplants that need a long hot growing season.
Disadvantages to mulching:
- Mulch can harbor diseases.
- It can be a habitat for mice.
- It will prevent soil from thawing early in the summer.
- It can be a habitat for insects.
- If spraying is necessary, the mulch may act as a barrier to the spray.
The best time to plant or transplant any garden plant is in the spring or early fall. Always avoid planting or transplanting in hot weather, the middle of the day when the sun is at its brightest, and if it has not rained recently, or a drought is expected. The best condition for transplanting is rainy weather: the plants are less stressed by the move due to the high moisture keeping them wet, and the low light levels. Transplanting on overcast days is preferable to planting on sunny ones.
Transplanting involves digging a plant up from one spot, and moving it to another one. You may want to do this if your perennials become overcrowded. If this is the case, the plants should be divided into smaller clumps, and some of these clumps should then be moved to a new spot in the garden. There is more than one way to divide perennials, the method you choose will depend on the plant you are dealing with. As well, some perennials will not tolerate being split, so do your homework first. The whole plant can be dug up and then sectioned with a spade or pried apart with a garden fork or by hand. As many roots as possible should be kept with the plant. Water the plant as you do this if it is not raining, and water when you are finished. Water the plant over the next couple of weeks until it has established.
Planting annuals should obviously be done in the spring. Annuals that come in flats should be divided into individual plants, and these should then be planted approximately a hand's spread apart or about seven inches.