Ask Adam! Growing Flowers in Outdoor Plant Beds

 

For those of us without a “green thumb”, growing flowers in outdoor plant beds can be intimidating. In practice, however, it can be a lot easier than you’d imagine if you know tricks that professionals use. Start with a small bed and see how easy it can be!

 

  1. Select a sunny location that is easy to water. Clear a planting bed of grass and weeds by turning the soil and removing as much of the vegetation as possible. Using a weed control product a few days before bed preparation may help in the process. As you will need to water the bed regularly, make sure it is convenient to a hose or watering source.
  2. The soil should be amended with organic material to create a fluffy soil that will hold moisture and drain well. A large bag of potting mix will work well for flower soil. You need about a three to four inch depth of prepped soil.
  3. Create a stage on which to plant your flowers. The bed should slope downward toward the viewing area. Creating this slope toward the viewer insures that every flower in the bed will be visible. If the bed is flat or slopes away from the viewer, only the first row of flowers will be visible.
  4. Maximize the impact of flowers. Plant masses of flowers, not just a couple of flowers here and there. Bright colors show best, but don’t show too many different colors. Light colors make beds look bigger and dark colors make them look smaller.
  5. Buy flowers from a location that sells lots of them. This will insure fresh plant material.
  6. Planting is simple but here are some important need-to-knows. Plant spacing should be 8” to 10” with small cell pack plants and 12” to 18” with 4” to 6” pots. Set plants in a triangular spacing, starting at the front of the bed and moving toward the back. When done correctly, you can see rows of plants from the primary viewing angle. Fertilize liberally with 100% slow release and leave it on the soil surface.
  7. Water and enjoy! Keep soil moist, but not waterlogged, with frequent watering until plants are will established.

Ask Adam! Hiring a Lawn Care or Landscape Professional

A well-kept yard and tasteful landscape increases the value of your home and provides a relaxing space to interact with friends and family. A well-maintained landscape around the office buildings and commercial establishments provides a favorable impression to your customers and the community.

With increasing frequency, homeowners and business managers are hiring professional lawn and landscape experts to save time, take away the guesswork, and enhance their investment.

How to hire a landscape professional you might ask? Here are 6 tips on doing so.

  1. Seek companies that are members of a national, state or local industry association. These companies have access to the most up-to-date information on best practices, trends and technical know how. Ask the firm for a list of references and professional affiliations or check its website.
  2. Ask friends and neighbors to recommend companies they have used successfully.
  3. Ask how long the company has been in business and the experience level of its staff.
  4. Consider a landscape company that is licensed, accredited, or certified. A licensed staff will assure you that the contractor is accountable and the company is operating legally.
  5. Check their work. Visit a job in progress. Examine the quality of the job, and see if the crew’s appearance and job presence are acceptable.
  6. Ask the company to provide a written plan and/or contract. This plan can include a design, plant material to be used, all cost and time table, and the terms of the payment.

Ask Adam! The Importance of Leaf Cleanup!

As the air cools and summer fades, piles of colored leaves start to fall from trees. Your lawn beckons attention before the snow covers it with a blanket of white.  Some lawn projects can be simple like raking on a regular basis or mowing with a vacuum bag style tractor system.  Raking, or specifically a lack of leaves allows your lawn to capture more sunlight as the deciduous trees lose their green canopy.  Increased sunlight can really help shaded and weak areas capture additional energy to help prepare for the winter.  In some cases, this vital time period could be a month or more of growing before slowing to the point of near dormancy with the onset of freezing weather.  Any leaves left on the lawn can cause a mulching action by inhibiting sunlight from reaching the leaf blades below.  Don’t allow piles of leaves to sit for weeks on end, or the grass underneath will suffer the consequences possibly even leading to damage.  Keeping your lawn clean in the fall can really improve the chances of winter survival and minimize damage.

Turf that is left covered with leaves or lots of pine needles face a lack of air, light, and often succumb to ice damage in a weakened state.  As simple as raking or leaf removal is, it is very important to all lawns as they approach winter.

Autumn is also a great time harden your lawn off for winter.  A wonderful mowing height during the growing season is 3″ as a standard.  Your mowing height can be lowered as October fades into November.  Drop your mowing deck a half-inch a week starting in late October with the final cut in mid to late November.  The slow drop in mowing height helps harden your lawn off and slows growth in addition to falling temperatures.

Plan ahead now and rest easy this winter knowing you did all you could to help your lawn make it into a new year!

Ask Adam! Fall is the time for seeding.

Fall is the best time to overseed a lawn or repair thin or bare areas. The cool nights and mild, shorter days provide the ideal conditions for seed germination. Seed is better able to retain moisture in these conditions and seedlings will thrive without the extreme heat that occurs in the summer months. When seeding your lawn, the two important items to remember are to make sure and establish a seed-to-soil contact and to water the new seedlings regularly.

Establishing a seed-to-soil contact is very important. While simply throwing grass seed out on top of the ground may work, it is vital to work up the area being seeded first. A simple hard rake can be used to scuff up the area and break the ground. Once this is performed, spread the new grass seed on top and rake it in again. A tiller can also be used to break the ground but is not necessary. Lastly, if you core aerate your lawn in the Fall, the plugs that are being pulled out of the ground makes a hole for any new seedlings to fall into. This also establishes seed-to-soil contact.

The last, very important item, to remember after seeding is to water thoroughly. By keeping the seedlings moist, you will ensure seed germination in approximately 14 days. I recommend watering lightly, every day, for 2 weeks. You can then wean the new seedling off of this schedule by watering every other day and even longer stretches in between watering’s after 1 month. Remember, a lawn needs 1” of water per week for established lawns.

Ask Adam! Brown Patch…

Brown Patch is a turf type disease that is running rampant in lawns throughout Southern Illinois this year.  What appears to be circular, or even irregular shaped, browning spots in your lawn is probably really a fungus that has developed in your turf.  It is caused from over-saturation of turf areas and high night-time temperatures and humidity.  The 5 days of constant rain from tropical storm “Bill” this mid June, gave lawns the ugly look of these browning spots.

Products such as fungicides can be applied and help to stop the spreading of the fungus, but often time it is too late.  The fungus can literally start and thrive over night and is hard to control unless you are applying a fungicide as a preventative.  Re-application of the fungicide should be applied at a 7-28 day interval, but it is important to always read the product label and follow the instructions as every product is different.

Items to remember and to help prevent this outbreak are to water only early in the morning and keep your turf cut a reasonable height.  It may take weeks for the damaged turf to recover.  Greening of new or existing turf to fill back in the dead looking spots may take time.  Many of lawns will need to be core aerated and overseeded in the Fall to help thicken the turf back up.

 

Ask Adam! Mosquito Control!

 

There are really only two reasons to control mosquitoes; to avoid nuisance biting, and to preclude the spread of mosquito-borne disease.  Everyone recognizes that mosquitoes can be a real nuisance, but most people do not realize the magnitude of the health threat that they represent.  Some of the world’s most dreaded diseases are known to be carried and transmitted by mosquitoes.  Many countries around the world are ravaged yearly by malaria, yellow fever, and mosquito- borne diseases, but dengue has recently crossed the Mexican border into Texas and is now seen as a serious public health threat.

Mosquito-borne encephalitis in the U.S. is prevalent in several forms and is geographically wide spread.  In Florida, the Eastern Equine and St. Louis viral strains were the most common before the invasion of West Nile Virus in 2002.

Did you know that the mosquito can transmit the parasite that causes heartworm in dogs?  By having an effective Mosquito control plan, you can help reduce the amount of these pesky insects in your area.

One of the easiest things to do is to eliminate standing water.  This is a mosquito’s breeding ground!  Even things like kids sandboxes hold water.  Try drilling some tiny holes in the bottom of the sandbox so the water drains through.  Turn over tarps that hold water that might be covering up firewood piles as well!  Fill in any low spots in your lawn that hold water after a rain.  Lastly, have your lawn aerated yearly!  By having tiny holes punched in your lawn, it allows absorption of water and other beneficial nutrients to enter the soil.

Lastly, call a specialist and have your lawn, trees and shrubs treated.  There are many options available on the market that will kill mosquitos.  There are also organic options as well, although they are a bit more pricy.  One good thing about insecticides is most will not only kill mosquitos, but also kill fleas, ticks, ants and spiders too!  

 

Ask Adam! Hiring a Lawn Care or Landscape Professional

While some of my readers are a do-it-yourself type person, some like to sit back and leave the chore of lawn care, landscape maintenance or gardening to a professional.  This month, I’d like to talk about what to look for when hiring a true green industry professional.

First and foremost, hire a lawn care or landscape provider that is properly insured.  According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 200,000 people are injured each year because of lawn mowers.  Operating a lawn mower or lawn tractor on your property, can be very dangerous.  Mower blades can spin as fast as 16,000 feet per min!  Hitting a rock with a spinning blade can easily break out a window or even worse, hit someone in the eye and cause permanent loss of sight.  I know of several individuals that have had lawn mowers flip over on themselves which has caused several years of rehabilitation from their injuries, or even death.  Please, always ask for a copy of your provider’s certificate of insurance and make sure they are also covered under workers compensation.  This will help alleviate any claims against you or possibly a claim under your homeowner’s insurance policy.

Secondly, consider hiring a professional that has a website.  Do your research and see how long the company has been in business.  Companies that have been in business for 5 plus years are probably doing something right, otherwise they would have folded or went out of business by then.  Is your provider reachable?  Can you call their phone number and get a response immediately?  I am amazed at how it sometimes takes days for a company to return a phone call. Use a provider that is reachable, reliable and ready.

Third, ask your provider if they have any accreditations or awards.  Many established businesses are members of civic organizations like a Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, etc.  This should tell you, the consumer, if the company is truly invested in his or her business and community and is a wise choice or not.  For accreditations, the National Associations of Landscape Professionals is the voice in the green industry for all lawn care or landscape professionals.  A simple search on their website can tell you if your provider is involved and is a member.  This association also provides the opportunity to apply for safety awards, which make the company nationally accredited.

Lastly, does your service provider have the proper licenses?  To apply fertilizer and weed killer, ALL lawn care companies MUST be licensed by the Department of Agriculture.  The applicator undergoes a 2-day class and must pass a written exam to become licensed.  Herbicides and pesticides must be applied properly to be safe.

 

Ask Adam! Spring Cleanup 2015!

Now’s the time of year to start prepping your outdoor landscape for Spring.  Simple tasks like cutting back dead growth on plants, cutting down ornamental grasses, clearing the lawn of leaves and gumballs and applying a layer of mulch will make your property look cleaner and help with curb appeal.

As a green industry professional, I highly recommend regularly performing a Spring cleanup of your property.  Using a sharp pair of pruners or hedge trimmers, cut back all unwanted growth on ornamental trees, shrubs, and grasses.  Also, dead or brown debris from perennials like daylilies, can simply be pulled out of the ground and disposed of.  You will start noticing green growth coming up from the plant base, which is an indication that Spring is almost here!

Raking the lawn of leaves, gumballs, sticks and other debris is also a simple and beneficial way to prep your lawn for the Spring, as well as protecting the cutting blades on your lawn mower.  If leaves are left on the lawn and they are too thick, it could prevent sunlight, air and moisture to get to the turf, resulting in turf damage.

Lastly, apply a 2” layer of bark mulch on all existing mulch beds.  If you have been doing this already, year after year, and there is a significant built up, simply cultivate what you have.  This will enhance moisture intake into the beds and give the existing mulch a new look.  Don’t forget to apply a bed pre-emergent herbicide, such as Preen, BEFORE mulching, to help suppress any new weeds from emerging.

Lastly, check all your roof gutters to be sure they are clean and clear of any leaves or other debris.  Spring rains will be here soon!  Any clogged gutters can cause problems of your downspouts and could then overflow, causing water to collect at the base of your home foundation.

 

 

Ask Adam! 10 most common lawn care myths!

Next month is National Lawn Care Month, and the time of year when homeowners turn to the care and upkeep of their lawns with the goal of seeing their yard and landscape flourish. It’s also the time of year when lawn and landscape professionals must address some common misperceptions about when and how to tend to the lawn for maximum success.

My job as a green industry professional is to help advise and emphasize ways to save time and money on lawn care.  As a member of the National Association of Landscape Professionals, the association provides me with a great deal of information and knowledge that I would like to share with my readers.  The following information was taken from the associations website and provided below.  With that being said, here are the 10 most common myths about lawn care.

 

  1. Myth: The best time to replace the lawn is in the spring, as plants get ready to bloom. 

Reality: Sowing seed in the spring sets one up for potential problems, as heat sets in during the summer months and weeds compete for space. The best time to sow seed is in the fall when the temperatures are more consistent and highly competitive weeds, like crabgrass, have gone dormant.

  1. Myth: Water new plants every day to prevent them from drying out.

Reality: Overwatering kills as many plants as lack of water. It is better to make sure you are wetting the entire root system of your new plant and then allow the soil to dry to the point that it is only moist.

 

  1. Myth: To have a healthy lawn, dethatch in the spring.

Reality: Thatch is a layer of living and dead plant material, including the crown, roots and stems of the turfgrass plant. The brown on the surface at the beginning of the spring will slowly recede into the background all by itself as new leaves emerge. While dethatching is a common and sometimes necessary practice, it should be done only when thatch is excessive.

 

  1. Myth: It’s a good idea to remove clippings after mowing.

Reality: There is a misconception that grass clippings contribute significantly to thatch. Grass clippings are mostly water and decompose rapidly, returning significant amounts of fertilizer to the lawn. Research shows that up to one-third of applied fertilizer can be recycled by simply returning clippings.

 

  1. Myth: Golf courses cut their grass short, so it’s a good idea to do the same.

Reality: Golf courses use incredibly sophisticated and expensive mowers to achieve a short height of cut. Check the appropriate mowing height for your species of grass, but in general, never cut more than one-third of the grass leaf at a time.

 

  1. Myth: Lawns are not “organic.”

Reality: Sometimes, lawns are thought of as areas that don’t provide environmental benefits. However, they are actually highly complex and dynamic organic systems that not only contain turfgrasses, but also earthworms, fungi, soil microbes and other life forms that coexist and make possible the lawns we all enjoy for recreation, sports and aesthetics.

 

  1. Myth: The best time to fertilize your lawn is in early spring.

Reality: Different varieties of grass like nutrients at different times of the year. You need to use the right fertilizer source, at the right rate, at the right time, and in the right place. Cool-season grasses, like Kentucky bluegrass, are usually given nutrients in fall and early spring when it is cooler. Warm-season grasses, like Bermuda grass, usually like nutrients in late spring and early fall when it is warmer.

 

  1. Myth: The products lawn care companies use are dangerous and more powerful than what a homeowner can use.

Reality: Most of the products professionals use can be purchased at the garden center, but the difference is that professionals are regulated and, by law, have to use the proper amounts, apply them correctly and dispose of them properly.

 

  1. Myth: While digging in my lawn, I saw a grub worm. I should apply a grub control application every year. 

Reality: Most of the time, grubs don’t attack fescue lawns because of their deeper root zone. Grubs in small numbers are not harmful to a lawn; in fact, they are beneficial, as they aerate the soil. It’s having too many that can be harmful. Call a professional to evaluate your lawn.

 

  1. Myth:Watering the lawn with the garden hose saves more money than installing an irrigation system. 

Reality: Consider installing an irrigation system that uses smart controllers which have sensors that only allow for watering when conditions require it. Smart irrigation can offer a cost savings of approximately 15–20 percent on water bills. Convert irrigation spray nozzles from sprinklers to rotating nozzles which spread heavy droplets of water at a slower pace which makes them more targeted and effective.

Source: National Assocation of Landscape Professionals