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Fall Lawn Care Tips

The steps you take during your fall lawn care program are among the most crucial. Fall lawn care, including winterizing your lawn, sets the stage for how your lawn will weather winter damage.

Follow these lawn care tips to help bolster your lawn’s defenses against winter stresses. In addition, you will learn ways to repair wear and tear from spring and summer. Whether you prefer to take an active part in your lawn care program or prefer to use a lawn care company, and whether you prefer organic lawn care products or more traditional, the following lawn care tips can be useful.

Fall Lawn Care Tip #1: Test Your Soil

Before you begin any fall lawn care procedures, one of the most important elements of a fall lawn care program is to have your soil tested. Testing the soil will shed light on the existing levels of nutrients, pH and other factors that affect growth in plants and grass. The results will also help your lawn care specialist select an appropriate type of lawn fertilizer. If the test shows a need to reduce acidity, a lime application will correct the pH.

Fall Lawn Care Tip #2: Aerate

Aeration is a process of removing soil cores from your lawn to help improve water, air and nutrient movement in the soil. Aerating your lawn reduces soil compaction from foot and lawn mower traffic and works to break down thatch, that buildup of organic matter beneath the blades of the grass but above the soil. These two conditions impede air and water movement to the soil and work to weaken your lawn’s root system.

Fall Lawn Care Tip #3: Fertilize

Lawn fertilizer is a key element of fall lawn care. By fertilizing your lawn this fall, you will be making an investment in your lawn’s root system that will reap considerable returns. Two or three applications of lawn fertilizer scheduled evenly between September and December will provide your lawn with the nutrients that it needs to develop a deep, strong root system. This will enhance your lawn’s ability to draw water from the soil so that it survives the winter and thrives next spring.

Be sure that you (or your lawn care provider) include a slow release formula which will last through November. Once top growth of your lawn ceases, use an all-mineral lawn fertilizer for the final application in preparation for winter.

Lawn Care Tip #4: Seed

Fall is the best time to plant grass if your lawn is thin or if you wish to plant new types of grass due to poor color or diseases. Proper seeding includes preparation of the soil, choosing high quality grass seeds selected for the specific needs of your lawn, and applying the right rate. Once the seeding is complete, water is the critical element!

Lawn Care Tip #5: Irrigate

Even though the temperature has dropped, it is still necessary to water the lawn. Grass needs water in order to survive, so make sure your lawn gets at least one inch of water per week. You can use a rain gauge or pan to help you.

Lawn Care Tip #6: Clean up & Mow

Keeping a lawn free of debris and mowing properly are critical. To prepare your lawn for winter, rake up leaves no more than two weeks after they fall to prevent stress from suffocation and lack of light. Once all of your leaves are cleaned up, you should mow the lawn one final time after it stops growing. This final mowing can be at a reduced mowing height of 2 to 2.5 inches.

(original post)

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Gardening in the Fall: Preparing for a Frost

Once autumn begins, it’s a good time to start thinking about frosts and freezes and the effect they can have on your plants. Most garden plants, assuming they’re hardy in your area, will weather the winter without any problem. An abrupt, early freeze may cause them to drop their leaves prematurely or cause some tissue damage, but most will rebound next spring.

However, there are exceptions. Use the following tips to ensure that your garden is ready when the frost bites.

Bring tender plants indoors. Depending on where you live, some plants may behave as either annuals or perennials that simply can’t handle even a light frost. Many people don’t bother trying to extend the life of plants generally not meant to last more than a year and let them die back after a freeze hits.

However, if you grow tender annuals and perennials in pots and want to save them, move the pots into the garage or house when frost threatens and take them back out when the weather warms a bit, at least for a week or two. This process allows the plant acclimate better to a drastic change in growing conditions.

Tropicals can go in the house or garage before temperatures drop below 45 degrees F. Before bringing them inside, spray any plants that appear to have pests, such as spider mites, aphids and mealy bugs. A solution containing neem oil works well for treating these pests. Once the plants are inside, cut back on watering and withhold applying any fertilizer until next spring.

Don’t forget to prepare your house for the new arrivals. There’s nothing worse than watching the evening weather, only to discover that a freeze is on the way, and realize that you don’t have any room for your plants.

Protect evergreens. Evergreens in pots can be especially vulnerable. If their roots freeze, they may not make it through the winter. Those in large pots may be fine during mild winters, but evergreens in small pots should be protected. Place them against a wall and cover the pots with mulch or shredded leaves. Keep them watered throughout the winter. Don’t allow the root balls of evergreens in the garden dry out completely, even if it means dragging the hose out in the middle of winter and giving them a thorough soaking.

Cover tender seedlings in the vegetable garden. Fall veggies, especially tender seedlings, may need protection, although most can survive temperatures of around 28 degrees F with little or no tissue damage. Nevertheless, when the forecast calls for temperatures in that range, keep a few blankets handy to cover crops overnight.

During the day, if temperatures rise above freezing, remove the blankets so that excessive heat doesn’t accumulate beneath the coverings. Some people use clear plastic to protect their plants. Plastic causes more accumulation of heat, which is good, but if you don’t take the plastic off before direct sun hits it the next day, your plants will cook.

Grow hardy selections of culinary herbs during the winter months. Most culinary herbs are fairly tender but can survive temperatures in the upper 20s. However, some herbs, such as rosemary and thyme, can overwinter in their pots outdoors.

Watch out for new plant growth. Interestingly, some plants may actually start to put on new growth in response to cooler temperatures, especially if summer temps were really hot. But that new growth is tender, especially in the case of broadleaf and needled evergreens, and unless it has a chance to harden off before a freeze, it may die back.

Resist cutting back ornamental grasses. If you grow ornamental grasses, resist the temptation to cut the foliage back until late winter or early spring because all that top growth helps insulate the root ball. That’s especially true if the grass is only marginally hardy in your area.

Keep in mind that freezes don’t just affect plants. They can wreak havoc on other features in your garden as well.

Clean out and store pots in a protected area. Even the best pots can crack if the soil is left in them over the winter, so remember to remove the soil. If you have time and are so inclined, scrub the pots clean with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water.

Store watering cans in a protected area. Watering cans, especially galvanized cans, may expand and crack if water left in them freezes. Empty watering cans and place them where they can’t collect rainwater.

Winterize water features. Water features are of particular concern during the winter. Small features will freeze, despite the running water produced by the fountain, and that can ruin the pump and the pot. So make sure you drain them and store the pot and pump in the garage or garden shed. Depending on where you live, larger water features and ponds may freeze over somewhat, but if they are deep enough or have a waterfall rapid and large enough, they shouldn’t freeze solid. Consult a pond installation expert on how to properly winterize your water feature.

Prepare fish for the winter. Koi enter a state of suspended animation during the winter and survive the cold water with no problem. Cut back on feeding the koi because the more they eat, the more waste they produce. In cold water the bacteria that breaks down that waste doesn’t work well. So to maintain water quality, limit feeding to those occasional warm spells that may occur in the winter.

Generally speaking, winter frosts and freezes don’t cause nearly as many problems in the garden as late-spring freezes, when plants are busting out all over with tender new growth. So don’t panic this winter when the mercury takes a dive. Just do what you’ve got to do, then go inside and warm up by the fire.

(original post)

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How To Prepare Your Lawn and Garden For Fall

Gardening expert Paul James offers advice on fertilizing, seeding and planting.

As fall weather takes hold, you need to change your gardening practices to get your landscape ready for the season ahead. But when do you start? And what should you do? Gardening by the Yard host Paul James offers advice on the intricacies of preparing for autumn:

His first bit of advice: Start your work about six weeks before the first hard freeze.

Preparing the lawn.

This will be the ideal time to sow cool-season grasses such as fescue and rye; it will give them the opportunity to germinate and develop a good root system before freezing temperatures arrive.

It’s also the right time to fertilize turfgrasses, preferably with slow-release, all-natural fertilizer. When given adequate nutrients, turfgrasses can store food in the form of carbohydrates during the winter months. That will mean a better-looking lawn come spring.

This six-week window is also the perfect time to put down a second application of selective, pre-emergent herbicide.

The first application — which lawn enthusiasts usually apply in late winter to early spring — takes care of weed seeds that overwintered in the lawn. The second application deals with weed seeds that were deposited during the summer months. (You can buy all-natural pre-emergent herbicides made from corn gluten.)

At the end of the year, you can also make an application of post-emergent herbicide, or you can spot-treat weeds with a nonselective herbicide such as glyphosate. For spot treatments, you can also use an all-natural formulation such as horticultural vinegar or clove oil.

Caution: Know the difference between selective and nonselective herbicides. Selective herbicides target specific weeds or seeds without damaging turf grass or landscape plants in the process. Nonselective herbicides destroy anything and everything green.

Maintain the landscape.

This is the time to tidy up a bit, removing unsightly foliage, dried stems and similar debris. It’s also a good time to fluff your mulch with a steel rake to allow water to penetrate deep into the subsoil.

While you’re messing around with the landscape, you can also fill it out with new plants. Trees, shrubs and various perennials — especially those that give seasonal color such as mums, asters and pansies — are some good options. You could even tackle a cool-season vegetable garden consisting of lettuce and other greens, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, turnips and even potatoes.

As you take care of your landscape, use as much of your compost as you can, spreading it in flower beds and at the base of trees and shrubs. That way you’ll have plenty of room in your pile or bins for all the leaves that will soon fall.

A note of caution: Resist the urge to prune, because the tender new growth that would result may not have a chance to harden off sufficiently before cold weather arrives, and that can lead to damage.

Ready your container plants.

Believe it or not, the most overlooked group of plants this time of year is container plants, and there are plenty of things to consider with respect to their care:

  • Annuals. By definition, these plants only last a year, but there are ways to extend their lives. You can, for example, take cuttings of various annuals and root them in either water or a potting medium such as vermiculite, perlite or soil-less potting mix. Just remember to strip all but the top few leaves off the stem, keep the potting medium moist at all times and keep plants out of direct sunlight. Within a few weeks the plants should develop a dense mass of roots, at which point you can pot them up and grow them as houseplants. This doesn’t work with all annuals, but it’s fun to experiment.
  • Tropical plants. Many of them, including palms and bananas, make excellent houseplants throughout the winter months. A good move now is to make room for all your tropical plants indoors, because this is also the time of year when sudden drops in temperature can come seemingly out of nowhere. Woody tropicals such as plumeria and citrus can easily be overwintered indoors – or in the garage, as long as the temperature doesn’t drop below freezing.
  • Perennials. Consider transplanting perennials from their containers directly into the garden. Carefully remove them from their pots, trim their roots a bit to stimulate the growth of new feeder roots, stick them in the ground and trim their top growth a little.
  • Herbs. They tend to look pretty shabby toward the end of summer, so either harvest and dry them or consider moving them indoors. Generally, though, herbs don’t do very well inside unless they get a lot of natural or fluorescent light. (The same goes for most succulents, though cacti seem to fair best among them.)

Keep the birds coming.

When you invite birds into your yard by feeding them, they do a fantastic job of keeping the insect population in check, which means you don’t have to spray or dust as often to control pests.

Don’t forget the shed!

Take time to clean your garden storage area, tossing old chemicals — responsibly of course — and taking note of what you’ll need to replenish before next spring.

A number of gardening products have a shelf life and may lose their effectiveness over time or if they get too hot or too cold. That’s particularly true of botanical insecticides such as Bt and beneficial fungi.

And of course you should tend to your tools. Rub metal tool surfaces with a light coating or oil; rub wooden tool handles with boiled linseed oil; and sharpen everything that needs it with a proper file.

(original source)

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A Water-Wise Hamptons Summer

Drought. It’s an ominous word that arrives here in the Hamptons. Ever since the National Weather Service reported that Long Island had been suffering the driest winter and spring in 13 years, concerns about water usage and conservation have been part of every thought and conversation on topics from watering the lawn to making a cool glass of iced tea.

The Irrigation Association is educating irrigation professionals and the public with some sensible programs and promotions for water-efficient products and services. “Using these types of controllers has dramatically reduced unnecessary water consumption,” says Robert Boyle of RB Irrigation in Westhampton Beach.

The first of these, called WaterSense, is a voluntary public-private partnership program sponsored by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Its mission is to protect the future of our nation’s water supply by promoting and enhancing the market for more water-efficient products and services.

WaterSense recommends these simple methods of saving water:

For Lawns & Landscapes:

  • Water lawns and gardens during the coolest part of the day, such as early morning, when there’s less evaporation.
  • Set sprinklers to ensure they’re watering grass and plants, not getting on the street or sidewalk.
  • Use soaker hoses or trickle irrigation systems for trees and shrubs.

Use Your Appliances Wisely:

  • Wash only full loads.
  • Scrape off dishes before loading into the dishwasher, don’t rinse them.
  • Replace old washers with Energy Star qualified appliances that use less water.

Replace Leaky Toilets:

  • Use high-efficiency models that use less than 1.3 gallons per flush.

Conserve Drinking Water:

  • Keep cold water in the refrigerator – don’t run water out of tap until it is cold.
  • If you can, use left over water for other projects such as watering plants or cleaning.

Consult an irrigation professional who is certified through a WaterSense program. A certified professional can design, install and, most of all, maintain your system to ensure optimal efficiency.

At the present time there is a need in the irrigation industry for irrigation professionals to become certified in auditing in order to help conserve water. This gives your irrigation contractor the knowledge needed to inform you and to utilize the types of water-saving technology such as weather-based irrigation controllers and moisture sensors, available for your outdoor watering system.

Another example of this technology is the climate or soil moisture sensor-based ‘smart” controllers which evaluate weather and soil moisture conditions. These controllers then calculate and automatically adjust the irrigation schedule to meet the specific needs of your landscape.

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New Law Takes on “Trophy Lawns”

State restricts use of phosphorus in fertilizers and “weed and feed” products.

Homeowners have been told to limit fertilizer use, which has contributed to poor water quality, shellfish declines, and contamination of swimming areas.

A state law that limits the percentage of phosphorus in lawn fertilizers and restricts the time of year when and locations where fertilizers can be used went into effect on Jan. 1. The New York State Dishwasher Detergent and Nutrient Runoff Law was enacted to reduce the amount of phosphorus entering and degrading the water and to lower the cost to local governments of removing excess quantities.

The law applies to fertilizer application and would restrict the use of “weed and feed” products that contain phosphorus in amounts over 0.67 percent, unless a soil test showed that a lawn needed phosphorus or in cases where a new lawn is being established.

“I would like to see it go further,” Kevin McAllister, the Peconic Baykeeper, said.

The law, according to a release from Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., aims to improve recreational and other uses of the state’s waters.

Mr. McAllister said the county put restrictions into effect a few years ago, and while the state is now involved, “We’ve got to do better. . . . We have got to move beyond the trend of the ‘trophy lawn.’ ”

The desire for emerald green, dandelion-free lawns is leading homeowners to pay for excessive applications of fertilizer, he said. Those “hooked on turf,” the baykeeper said, need to learn that a healthy green lawn is possible using organic and sustainable practices that will not threaten water quality.

The State Department of Environmental Conservation states that most soils in New York already contain sufficient phosphorus to support turf grass growth without additional phosphorus from fertilizers, which can account for up to 50 percent of the phosphorus in stormwater runoff.

Phosphorus is expensive for municipalities to remove from wastewater at treatment plants — from $1 to $20 per pound. More than 100 sub-watersheds in the state contain water impaired by phosphorus, according to the D.E.C.’s Web site.

The state’s recent closure of Shinnecock Bay was nitrogen-related, Mr. McAllister said. “We have to curtail the loading of fertilizer,” he said, adding that the way we manage tens of thousands of lawns will make a difference.

Pollutants enter bays and harbors in a number of ways, but primarily through groundwater and stormwater runoff, according to the Nature Conservancy. Fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that are used on lawns travel through the soil to the groundwater that flows into our bays and harbors. Phosphorus affects fresh water, and nitrogen affects marine waters.

Mr. McAllister said many of our water bodies have been on the state’s impaired-waters list, which is reassessed every two years, since 2006. In 2010, he said, the entirety of the county’s south shore, including fresh water bodies in East Hampton and Southampton Towns, were placed on the list for either recurring algae blooms or low oxygen levels.

The baykeeper explained that nitrogen from fertilizers triggers the microscopic plants to burst in growth for several weeks. They then decompose and consume dissolved oxygen from the water, resulting in fish and crab kills.

In addition to devastating shellfish populations, overgrowth of algae causes brown tides and interferes with swimming, boating, and fishing, too, the Nature Conservancy said. Even chemicals used on properties far inland can travel long distances underground, ultimately finding their way into bays and wetlands and onto beaches.

In the release, Mr. Thiele reminded East End residents to be mindful of the new state law, which prohibits the application of fertilizers that contain nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium between Dec. 1 and April 1. If a product does not contain any of the three primary macronutrients, it could be applied during the winter months without violating the law.

“Banning fertilizer in the winter is not going to do it,” Mr. McAllister said. “To really see the reductions, we need to impose more restrictions during the entire year.” The spring and summer are when most homeowners are using lawn products, often as a result of “brilliant marketing” disguised as education by companies such as Scotts, he said.

Although the law also states that “no fertilizers may be applied within 20 feet of surface water,” an exception is made where there is a 10-foot-wide vegetative buffer of planted or naturally occurring vegetation — trees, shrubs, legumes, or grasses — or if the fertilizer is applied using a deflector shield or drop spreader, in which cases applications may be done within three feet of a body of water.

The law does not affect agricultural fertilizer, flower or vegetable gardens, pasture land, land where hay is harvested, the trees, shrubs, and turf grown on turf farms, or any form of agricultural production.

Mr. McAllister is concerned that the law does not apply to agricultural lands, which he said are a significant contributor of nitrogen flushing into groundwater. He said the county’s monitoring of nitrate levels in groundwater downstream from farms is “through the roof.”

The law requires retailers to display phosphorus fertilizer separately from phosphorus-free fertilizer and to post signs notifying customers of the terms of the law. It has no specific disposal requirements for lawn fertilizer containing phosphorus. The law affects organic phosphorus fertilizer, as well, but not compost or liquid compost as long as they do not contain chemically, mechanically, or otherwise manipulated manure or plant matter.

The state banned the sale of phosphorus-containing dishwasher detergents for household use in 2010. The new law prohibits the sale of such detergents for commercial use as of July 1, 2013.

Mr. McAllister said education of property owners about sustainable practices is a priority — the application, for example, of compost that is organic and slowly releases nutrients that are absorbed for growth instead of flushed. He said useful information such as “Four Steps to a Pesticide-Free Lawn” is available online at neighborhood-network.org. The website has suggestions such as mowing with the blade set higher, watering infrequently and deeply, seeding with a tall fescue blend, and using organic solutions on weeds and pests. There is also a list of companies that provide landscaping services using sustainable practices.

The Nature Conservancy suggests that homeowners replace high-maintenance sod lawns with native grasses and shrubs that require less fertilization and irrigation.

Mr. McAllister also pointed out that the natural resources of the water bodies on the East End drive the economy here. Regarding polluted, fishless waters that can’t be swum in, he asked, “What will this do to property values?”

“We’ve got to change our evil ways,” the baykeeper said. “This isn’t alarmist, it’s reality.”

(by Carrie Ann Salvi – original article at The East Hampton Star)