Grass clippings left on the lawn are returned to an elemental state by microorganisms in the soil and recycled as nutrients.
A quarter-inch layer of clippings is good; more is not.
Clippings build when overdoses of pesticides kill the soil microorganisms, and when soluble high-nitrogen fertilizers and excess watering push grass growth.
Your lawn could need dethatching if it feels spongy to walk on.
To test your lawn, cut a wedge-shaped plug of turf that includes dirt with the roots.
If the spongy layer between the grass and the soil measures more than a half-inch, dethatch.
The best time to dethatch a cool-season grass is in early fall.
A convex rake with short knife-like blades in place of tines can be used to dethatch a small lawn.
For a big dethatching job, a gas-powered vertical mower and power rake attachment is needed.
If the thatch is thick, make two passes at right angles to each other.
To avoid thatch buildup do the following:
• Remove less than one inch of grass blade when you mow. Use a mulching mower to double-cut the clippings, which makes it easier for the microorganisms in the soil to break them down.
• Avoid excessive dosing with pesticides that kill the soil microorganisms.
• Avoid soluble high-nitrogen fertilizers and excessive watering.
• Aerate every two or three years. Aeration helps avoid a big thatch buildup although it is not enough alone to solve one.
• Beneficial insects speed the breakdown of thatch, so be conservative in your use of pesticides.
Here is a checklist of overall gardening duties to keep in mind this month.
• As tulips finish blooming, apply Espoma’s Bulbtone. This will help to perennialize newly planted bulbs. You will also have bigger and more prolific blooms next year. Apply 4 to 6 pounds per 100 square feet and repeat again in early September.
• Mow the lawn often enough so you never have to cut off more than a third of the grass in order to maintain the recommended height. Always keep your mower blades sharpened.
• Begin a spray program with Bonide’s Fungoil, Liquid Copper, or Infuse to help stop and save susceptible perennials and roses from blackspot, powdery mildew, rusts, and bacterial diseases. Spray at recommended intervals usually every 10 to 14 days, depending on the weather.
• Begin a regular fertilizing program for hanging baskets and container plants. They’ll benefit from biweekly application of Greenlight’s Super Bloom or Jack’s Classic Blossom Booster and 1 tablespoon of Epsom Salt per gallon of water.
• If you intend to plant gladiolus for cutting, start now by planting sets of six or eight gladiolus and repeat at three-week intervals until early August.
• To keep roses looking good and producing flowers, deadhead religiously, especially hybrid tea roses and grandifloras. Always prune to down to a five-leaf segment, and cut at a 45-degree angle.
• Good plant growth is essential to the development of a healthy root system. When planting new plants use Espoma’s Bio-tone Starter. It has living microbes that have been enhanced with humates and a synthetic nitrogen source. If a good soaking rain is not present every week to ten days, water planted beds gently and slowly, long enough to allow 1 to 2 inches of water.
• Whenever it rains, insect pests go into hiding, when the rain stops, bugs begin feeding again. The best time to attack insects is when they are feeding on plants, generally from sunrise to about 10 am, after which they go into hiding.
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Guide for Harvesting Roses
• Harvest roses early, before the sun bakes them. (Before 10 am).
• Take a five gallon bucket with floral preservative and clean sharp shears.
• Choose stems whose buds have not fully opened.
• Make the cut just above the first five segment leaf set.
• Immediately place the stem in the water bucket, being sure to remove the foliage below the water line. Be sure buckets are cleaned with ½ teaspoon of bleach.
• If possible, condition the roses in fresh preservative water overnight in a refrigerator away from citrus.
• Place stem in clean vase with floral preservative.
Submerged and Oxygenating Plants
Submerged plants are included among pond plantings to gobble the nutrients feeding undesirable algae and to add oxygen. Growing in sand-filled pans set on the pond bottom, they quickly develop stems 2 to 3 feet long. Allow 6 square inches of container surface for every bunch of submerged plants, and use a separate container for each variety. To plant, gently press the ends of each bunch 2 inches into the sand. Add sand to within an inch of the rim, and top that with rinsed gravel. Water the containers to displace trapped air. Never fertilize; their job is to take nutrients from the water.
Koi and goldfish can nibble the submerged plants to death. Cover the pans with plastic mesh domes; the plants grow through the mesh and the fish graze without harming the roots.
Pruning Guide for Evergreens
• Dead or damaged wood on evergreen conifers can be removed at any time.
• Flowering broadleaf evergreens that bloom on new wood, like abelia, should be pruned in late winter or early spring before growth begins.
• Flowering broadleaf evergreens that bloom on old wood, such as azaleas and rhododendrons, should be pruned immediately after they bloom and before they initiate new growth to avoid cutting off buds being initiated for the following season.
• To slow or dwarf a broadleaf evergreen, after its main spurt of growth, remove up to a third. You can cut the main stem back to the first side shoots, but do not take off more than has grown the last year or two.
• To encourage dense branching in evergreens, whose growth is initiated by candles, cut the candles back by half when growth is complete. Prune the tips of yews, junipers, and hemlocks lightly any time during the growing season.
• To establish a shape, prune evergreen shrubs and hedges when they are three to five years old.
(Editor’s Note: Ken Morgan is owner of Robin’s Nest Floral and Garden Center in Easton, Md.)