Seasonal News in Westchester


Spring; A winter of heavy snow and bitter cold has taken it's toll on your lawn and trees. However, soils are too soft to do anything this early as the wheels of lawn equipment will sink into soft soils and damage tender roots of trees and turf that are near the surface. Be sure to tell your gardener to NOT do any thatching, aerating, or power-raking, as this WILL damage turf and require spot seeding, which is costly and invites summer weeds and crabgrass. A light hand raking with a blower will suffice. Here are a few of the items of concern for your property this spring...
Light green patches of flowery grass.- are actually an annual grass called poa annua that grows well in cool, wet, early Spring weather. Often also seen under trees in shaded areas. These grasses die off naturally in the heat of late spring, but this spring they started dying off early due to the early high heat and drought of mid-March, leading to calls from clients who were greatly concerned about "dead patches". Also, the majority of most home lawns is a perennial type of bluegrass, mixed with ryegrass, and these ALSO go to flower stage in mid-May through early June as part of its normal life cycle. This light green feathery flower tops give rise to false alarm calls from home-owners about crabgrass and such, these are of no concern and will mow out over the next few weeks.
WEEDS & DANDELIONS- are likely to make their appearance in two waves, early spring and late spring. It is foolish to use a weed killer early in the season when ALL of the weeds have not materialized, and more importantly, your trees are still pulling tremendous amounts of water from the already drought stressed soil. Putting a weed killer down based on calendar dates will only result in dead or stressed trees, and a need for more weed killer later in the Spring which only burdens the soil with more acids and caustic by-products. We will address weeds in a safe and sound manner later in the Spring as part of our commitment to keeping your property and trees safe by maintain a healthy, viable soil biology.
HERBS AND VEGETABLES- NOT IN SHRUB BEDS, PLEASE !... For your safety and the health and vigor of your plants, please keep herbs, vegetables, and other edibles planted in their own designated area, in order to avoid weed and insect controls that may not be suitable for vegetables. If you absolutely must place veggies in shrub beds, then also place a flag or something to get the attention of gardeners and sprayers. Also...
DO NOT PLACE GRASS CLIPPINGS IN THE SHRUB BEDS OR VEGETABLE GARDEN. - until the clippings are decomposed, they are NOT suitable mulch material, and will lead to diseased vegetables and shrubs. The few that blow in from the mowing are fine, but don't let your gardener "dump" them there on purpose, keep them in a separate compost pile until they are fully cooked out. So what is suitable mulch ? Keep reading...
MULCH SELECTION- is the most asked question we get, and perhaps the most important to the health of your shrubs. We are happy that we have so many questions about mulch each season- it tells us that discerning home-owners are no longer buying into the "cheap bulk mulch from the back of a gardeners truck theory". It is better to invest in higher quality BARK mulches that are clearly marked as BARK, from either cedar, pine, or hemlock bark, which are typically available only in a bag. While it is true that bagged, bark mulches are a bit more expensive up front. they pay you back by giving long life and causing fewer problems in the landscape. Non- bark wood chips decay too quickly, which sucks nitrogen from the plants, turning them yellow. Cheap mulches also invite carpenter ants, termites, fungal pathogens and molds, all of which cost far more in the long run. Think about this, if a tree died nearby, was cut down and chipped, and then sold or given to you for mulch, why would you want that diseased wood on your property ? The interior wood of the tree is also too high in carbohydrates, and will invite problems as it rapidly degrades. If you must keep your tree chippings, put them off in a corner to decompose for at least a year, and then use them. All excellent reasons for not using bulk mulches from tree chippings or garden centers that are little more than waste wood, some of which are dyed to increase appeal of this garbage. Again, all mulch should be bagged and clearly marked as from the BARK of the tree. It doesn't matter whether you use cedar, pine, or hemlock, in mini-nugget or large nugget, or even a shredded form, as long as it is BARK. Sweet peat is OK, but does not last. In the autumn, ask your gardener to mow the leaves into shrub beds or grind them into a confetti consistency and mulch your beds right over existing mulch, if you like. These valuable nutrients are then recycled right back to the property from whence they came. You might also want to compost them in a corner of the yard, or have an arrangement with a neighboring property. This is the best mulch money can't buy ! It came from your property, carries no imported pathogens that your trees haven't already been exposed to, requires less handling, less energy, less tax burden on villages, etc. The best part is that it is loaded with valuable minerals. If everyone did this, tax burdens could be lowered for everybody.
MOWING- Mowing heights for the balance of the spring should be no lower than two and a half inches, and certainly as we get hooter and dryer it should be three inches AFTER the cut. This keeps the lawn green and using less water, having fewer weeds, and quicker to recover from a drought. A lawn that has too much of the leaf height removed in one clipping runs a great chance of getting a disease, and will require more input$ in the form of water, fungicides, and seeding repair. This comes out of your pocketbook, and you must now live with a lackluster lawn until recovery weather of September returns. There is no reason for that vandalism, insist that your summer mowing heights be at 3 inches or better. In the cooler weather of September you can return to a more groomed look at 2 3/4 inches.
SHARPEN YOUR BLADES ! You wouldn't let a surgeon operate on you with a dull, rusty scalpel, would you ? Mowing with a dull blade tears the grass, instead of clipping it. This results in a dull, brownish haze to the lawn, which also lets infection take hold and leaves your lawn looking brownish and spotty until cooler weather returns.
WATERING- As we move into the warmer weather patterns of early summer, BE SURE to incrementally increase your water times on each zone of your clock. Many clocks have a budget, which allows for global increasing. DO NOT dismiss this chore thinking that the "sprinkler guy" set it. They typically have no horticultural knowledge, and "set it and forget" is a recipe for disaster, especially in a drought situation. Sprinkler water is intended to SUPPLEMENT rainfall, and when there is little or no rain, you MUST double or even triple the times on your clock to compensate. Be sure that you have a rain sensor kill switch installed and properly working. These devices cut off the water after a certain set amount of rainfall, saving you money. A full sun lawn requires 2 inches of water at 90 degrees per week, in tow to 4 waterings, to accumulate 2 inches per week. Adjust according to weather. Monitor your property and regularly inspect the heads and zones, I can't tell you how many times at night I drive by and see broken sprinkler heads gushing into the street, and the homeowner never comes out at night to check, and so an entire season of water is wasted, and plants suffer, especially in drought condition when there is no rainfall to cover-up these missed areas. Since each sprinkler zone is built differently from other zones, and waters a different area of your yard with different soil types and sun / shade conditions, you must measure the output of each zone to know what the runtime is for that zone to achieve 2 inches per week in how many waterings.
FUNGAL/ DISEASE ISSUES- are almost always caused by under / over watering and scalping the lawn. Scalping need only happen once to cause season long visible damage, it usually happens in late Spring or early summer when it gets hot too quick and gardeners are still cutting too low or with a dull blade. If you notice weird striations, off color, patches of brown, or other phenomena, space watering out to every third day, in order to allow 2 days of dry non-watering to let the soil dry up a bit. However, you must increase the amount of watering that you do on that 3rd day to make up what you missed. Again, 2 inches per week is needed at 90 degrees, more or less. If your system is still doing 20 minutes per zone every other day or mon-wed-fri regardless of soil type, sun-shade, plant material vs. lawn, then you know then it is not watering, it is horticultural negligence and causing more problems. You must get involved with your sprinkler clock and be completely comfortable using it and re-setting it when there are power outages or drastic changes in weather. Also, check it before you leave for summer vacation and after each lightning storm. You would be surprised how many lawns get rebuilt every September because "somebody unplugged the clock or shut a water valve, and forgot to turn it back on".