Grass

That dry spell we had this past fall may have caused us to leave some things undone in the lawn.

It was too dry to plant grass, and with the warm weather extending into December, most of the leaves did not fall from the oak trees until almost Christmas. The weather has been somewhat unsettled since the dry spell ended.

I think the weather service finally called it a drought by the end of October, so many of us still have some fall garden chores to complete before we can get ready for spring.

Let’s start with the lawn.

Many gardeners saw the grass in their lawn thin out last fall. This will happen anyway as the grass ages and people walk around on it. With the weather so dry last September and October it simply was not possible to overseed with new grass.

If new grass was sown then the owner would need to keep watering the lawn often enough to prevent the soil from drying out until the grass germinated and established a good root system. This would translate into a very high water bill.

If the lawn was not watered, most of the seed would have been collected with the leaves when the lawn was raked. Either way a lot of money would have been wasted.

So what can we do?

The second best time to seed a lawn is mid-February through March. Just try to avoid seeding close to one of those times where a hard freeze is in the weather forecast.

When the seeds are starting to germinate they are full of water and a hard freeze will burst the shell open before the little embryonic roots are ready to start growing. So there still is time to get a good looking lawn, but remember that it may take extra irrigation this summer to help establish the roots.

And there still is plenty of time to have a soils test done to determine the need for lime and fertilizer.

If you want to apply either or both of these products before seeding, put them down just before a good snowfall. That way they will dissolve and seep into the soil as the snow melts with less chance of washing away.

I have heard some say that putting the grass seed down just before a good heavy snow will help to get a better lawn too, but I have seen no scientific evidence to support that idea so use your own judgement.

If, like me, you have been trying to get up the leaves that fell in December you will just need to stay after it.

Whenever I find a couple hours where the temperature is in the low 40s or higher and it hasn’t rained for a couple of days I will get up as many leaves as I can. They are wet so they are heavier and some seem to be glued to the ground. So it is taking more work to get them up.

Speaking of soil testing, if you have not had one done on your garden for a few years, this is an excellent time to get one done. Contact the Danville Extension Office at (434) 799-6558 for information. The test will answer two critical questions for you — is lime needed and what formulation of fertilizer should be used.

These tests are run based on what you intend to plant in the soil being tested and the recommendations reflect what is needed in the soil sample you send in.

The sample is pretty much broken down to the molecular level so they can see what is there. Be sure to say if the soil will be used for a lawn, vegetable garden, apple orchard, blueberry orchard or whatever.

We are getting close to planting time for many of our cold weather crops. These include Cole plants. “Cole crops” is a general term used to describe several vegetables in the mustard family, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale and kohlrabi. These plants grow well in cooler weather and cannot tolerate high temperatures for very long. We can also add onions, lettuce and spinach to the list of cool season vegetables.

Start the seeds indoors now. Once they have grown and produced two or more mature leaves then go ahead and plant them outdoors. These plants not only tolerate cold weather, they actually seem to enjoy it. Planting early will allow you to replace them with summer vegetables in late May through early June to keep your garden productive. If you can find seedlings to transplant, these should go into the ground around March 1, give or take a week.

When I worked at the extension office I got numerous phone calls asking when to prune roses and when to put down the crabgrass preventer herbicides. The answer to both questions is the same.

Wait until the forsythia shrubs are in full bloom. When this shrub blooms it mean all the environmental conditions are in place to accomplish both tasks successfully. Once the blooms start falling off it is getting too late to use the crabgrass preventer.

Remember two things about crabgrass preventer.

First, read and follow all label direction to get the best results — more is not better and may damage your lawn. Second, most products recommend a second application anywhere from two to eight weeks after the first. This is to prevent goosegrass from taking over the lawn.

Finally, crabgrass preventers also will prevent grass seed from germinating so do not sow grass within eight weeks before or after applying the herbicide.

Just a few words to conclude.

Getting outside is good for our physical and psychological health. Gardeners may not know this specifically, but we do know we feel better when we get out there.

Always look for a reason to get out into the garden, even during winter. It will be good for you. ◆

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