Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.


When these blooms fall to the ground, put down your weed preventer.

This is the lone forsythia bush in my yard. Of course, the bright yellow blooms are an awesome, welcome sight in spring for gardeners hungry to get their hands dirty. But I have it there for another reason: it’s a “phenological indicator”. That’s what the geeks say, instead of just calling it a biological clock. It’s long been understood that plants and animals react in predictable ways to warmth, and you can use that fact to help time various gardening activities. In this case, you can use forsythia to time your weed preventer applications for lawns. Crabgrass seeds germinate just about the time forsythia blooms drop from the plant. And you need the weed preventer on the ground before the seeds begin to grow. Many other garden pests can be timed this way too. Check with your local cooperative extension office or master gardener program. They often can tell you when pests typically are active. Just take a look around your garden at those times, and make note of what’s in bloom. Chances are, that will serve as a good guide to when you should apply a controls.
The real reason this is so helpful is that you rarely see pests until it’s too late to control them (or control them easily). Once a borer is inside your cucumber vine, it’s too late. Once weed seeds have germinated, weed preventers are ineffective. So timing is everything.

I don’t like to mow the grass in my yard. I know it’s good exercise and a chance to enjoy sunshine and fresh air, but I’d rather spend time weeding and watering than pushing a lawn mower. It turns out I might be missing out on an opportunity to get happier. I read a news release from the University of Queensland’s school of biomedical science that indicates a handful of chemicals released by cutting grass can reduce stress, make us feel happier, and improve our memories.

Plus there’s the long-standing research that people feel good after a workout from the release of endorphins, so if you use  a push mower to get in a little extra exercise, it’s all the better.

It makes sense, especially when you think about how many people list freshly mowed grass as one of their favorite scents. And it’s nice to have another positive quality to add to the list of reasons why we should garden. It’s all-around good for our physical and mental health!

What do you think? Does mowing the lawn really make you happier?

Late summer to early fall may not be the showiest time for dandelions, but it’s the best time to eliminate them from your lawn. I usually avoid using toxic lawn chemicals, so I was curious to try the new Ortho Elementals Lawn Weed Killer sample that I received at the recent Garden Writers Association Symposium in Indianapolis. This broadleaf weed killer is made with naturally occurring iron. The active ingredient is iron HEDTA–or hydroxyethylenediaminetriacetic acid, for those of you studying organic chemistry!

The product works by creating iron toxicity at the cellular level. Because the mechanism of iron uptake is different in broadleaf plants such as dandelion from that in monocots such as lawn grass, the weeds die while the grass is unaffected. This naturally occurring chemical is reported to be safe for humans and other animals. Sprayed areas are safe to reenter as soon as the product dries. And further background research shows that iron HEDTA is not persistent, so it is quite friendly to the environment. Additionally, rather than spraying the entire yard, you’re supposed to spray only the dandelions (or other broadleaf weeds you want to eliminate), so much less chemical is used than with conventional weed killers.

The initial results are impressive. I spot sprayed dandelions in my yard this last weekend. In just 72 hours, they looked like the dandelion in the “after” photo below. The true test will be how much regrowth happens. The label indicates that for best results, two applications three to four weeks apart may be necessary. So I expect that the dandelions will regrow from the roots and need another shot of weed killer to wipe them out entirely.

Dandelion before treatment

Dandelion three days after spraying with Ortho Elementals Lawn Weed Killer

A clump of crabgrass in a browned-out lawn

Late August is prime time for crabgrass. The yellow green foliage and forked seed heads are especially evident in lawns browned out from hot, dry summer weather conditions.

However, late summer is not the time to control crabgrass. It’s an annual, and will die with the first frosts of fall. But prior to that, it will spread thousands of seeds ready to germinate next spring.

Last year the crabgrass got out of control in my yard, so I vowed to do something about it this year, despite the fact that my lawn is the poor stepchild of my garden. I admit that the perennial beds and shrub borders receive a lot more attention than my lawn. It’s hard not to play favorites! The lawn usually survives with periodic mowing, no fertilization, no watering, and spotty weed control. (I use a dandelion puller, and often hand weed the black medic and oxalis that pop up in the grass.)

GreenView crabgrass control and fertilizer

This spring I agreed to try GreenView’s Crabgrass Control Plus Lawn Food. This slow-release fertilizer and crabgrass control combination is supposed to prevent crabgrass and many other annual weeds all season long, and has the benefit of slow-release fertilizer to promote sustained growth of grass. The time to apply the crabgrass preventer is in early spring before the soil warms to 50 degrees F, which is usually about the time that forsythias bloom.

I was pleased with the results. The grass in the lawn was thicker and greener than in the past, with no sudden flush of growth. And crabgrass has remained mostly under control. (In some of the worst sections, I saw some seedlings sprouting in mid-July, so I applied some corn gluten meal to those areas to prevent further sprouting of the crabgrass.) Since then, I’ve been easily able to keep up with hand weeding the occasional crabgrass seedling that pops up in the lawn.

This fall, I’ll apply the GreenView Fall Lawn Food to give the lawn a boost going into winter. And next year, I’m looking forward to a much-reduced crabgrass crop because I’ve been able to stop it dead in its tracks this year.

I have to admit that the golden yellow blooms of dandelion can be quite beautiful. But their “pretty” season doesn’t last long. They soon develop fluffy white seed heads that float on the breeze to take root in any available speck of soil.

This year’s crop of dandelions in Des Moines has been prolific! And although the lawn is a lower priority for me than flower beds and the vegetable garden, I just couldn’t leave the dandelions to propagate throughout the neighborhood. Maybe it was was my reputation as a gardener that I was trying to protect. Or maybe it was lingering guilt about “What will the neighbors think?”. Whatever the reason, my husband Patrick and I have assaulted the dandelion scourge with a variety of dandelion removal tools.

I try to garden with few chemicals, so all-out chemical warfare wasn’t a top choice. (I must admit to occasional spot treatment with herbicides, however.) Instead, we use a variety of digging tools to remove the dandelions roots and all. Patrick’s favorite weapon is the Fiskars dandelion digger, pictured on the left side of the photo at right. It has a convenient step bar to aid in puncturing the soil, and a convenient long handled lever that grasps the dandelion root and pulls it out in a single motion. My only objection to it is that sometimes as it pulls out the dandelion root it also removes a large plug of soil, which must be filled back in. I like the long-handled garden trowel at right. The long T-bar handle provides good leverage and results in a minimal amount of bending over. I find that the dandelion root pops out without having to completely remove the soil plug. We also have a traditional forked dandelion digger, which I find just too small for our robust dandelions.

Have you battled dandelions and won? What are your weapons of choice for eliminating the pests? Or perhaps you peacefully co-exist with dandelions, enjoying the greens in salads and using the flowers to make dandelion wine.

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