Do-it-yourself soil testing!
Soil problems don’t just affect your soil. The soil in your lawn and gardens can influence the health of the plants you grow. Ensure the health of your soil by performing regular tests. There are a number of soil testing kits available at garden supply stores and nurseries, but believe it or not, there are some reliable tests you can perform yourself using your own two hands, household products, or garden tools. Read on to learn more.
Your soil’s pH levels indicate its acidity and alkalinity measurements. Test it by taking two soil samples and mixing them with water to make a muddy mixture. Add 1/2 cup of white vinegar to one sample, 1/2 cup of water to the second sample, and blend. Then add 1/2 cup of baking soda. If the first sample starts to fizz, your soil is alkaline. Should the second sample have a similar bubbly reaction, it’s acidic. If there’s no reaction at all, your soil is probably neutral.
Test your soil’s drainage by digging a 1′ deep hole and saturate it with water, leaving it overnight. The next morning, fill it again and monitor the length of time it takes to drain. The water level should lower by 1″ to 3″ per hour. Your soil has poor drainage if the water drains faster than 3″ per hour or less than 1″ per hour.
The Hands-On Test
This test determines your soil composition. Take a handful of moist soil and squeeze it.
- Loamy soil: smooth-feeling soil that holds its shape for a while before it breaks apart with a gentle poke is probably loamy.
- Clay soil: when you take a fistful and the soil stays packed in a pressed ball that doesn’t lose its shape, it is most likely clay.
- Sandy soil: a handful of sandy soil immediately falls apart. When pressed into a ball, it barely holds its shape before crumbling.
Late season nitrogen fertilization has been practiced by professionals for some time, but new evidence shows the wisdom of this technique. Late season nitrogen fertilization, sometimes referred to as fall fertilization, has been utilized by turf managers for years. This type of fertility program involves the application of much of the season’s nitrogen during the late season months of September through December.
Late season fertilization has become popular because many of the agronomic and aesthetic advantages attributed to its use supposedly are not realized when spring and/or summer fertilization are practiced. Purported advantages of the late season concept include: better fall and winter color; earlier spring green-up; increased grass shoot density; improved fall, winter, and spring root growth; and enhanced storage of energy reserves (carbohydrates) within the turf plant.
Choosing a Fall Fertilizer analysis similar to a 32-0-10 is your best bet. Be looking for a high number in the front of the analysis and apply when temperatures will stay consistently cooler during the day and at night in the months of September through December.
Nutsedge is a common weed found in lawns and in most areas where grass can grow. It thrives in a variety of conditions and its presence often means that turf is stressed and less competitive due to poor drainage, too much irrigation, extreme heat and or an abundance of rain.
Although grass-like in appearance, nutsedge can easily be identified by its triangular stem. You can roll the stem with your fingers and feel the distinctive triangular edge. The nutsedge will protrude above the canopy of your lawn because of rapid growth and the yellowish-green leaves contrast with the uniformity of color. Ever wondered which 4” tall weed that was only 2 days later after cutting your lawn….NUTSEDGE!
Nutsedge is difficult to control and can reproduce by seeds. Most of its rapid growth is vegetative, through the production of rhizomes (underground stems from which plants can sprout. While the above ground shoots/leaves might be removed or appear to die off, the underground rhizomes and tubers may still survive and give rise to more plants. This is why mowing or pulling nutsedge is often ineffective. The rhizomes spread underground laterally and can quickly invade other areas. You might try to control an area of nutsedge only to find it “pop up” in an adjacent area.
Products such as Sedgehammer, Image, or Dismiss effectively control nutsedge because it is translocated through the plant’s vascular system to reach the rhizomes. It is important that the nutsedge be actively growing when you make an application as a stressed plant will not efficiently translocate the herbicide within the sedge. Several liquid treatments may be required to get this weed under control and to keep your lawn looking its best.
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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Buy flowers from a location that sells lots of them. This will insure fresh plant material.
- 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.
- Water and enjoy! Keep soil moist, but not waterlogged, with frequent watering until plants are will established.
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.
- 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.
- Ask friends and neighbors to recommend companies they have used successfully.
- Ask how long the company has been in business and the experience level of its staff.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!
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.
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.
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!