Why do the weeds in my gardens, sidewalks and lawn continue to thrive in this hot weather, when the grass and flowers struggle? On close inspection, the only part of my lawn that looks green are weeds.
On principle, I refuse to get out there every morning or evening to waste water on my lawn in these drought conditions, so every year my south facing, front lawn looks pretty sad in July and August. Unfortunately this year the parched, yellow, straw look started in mid-May!
Remember that grass is supposed to go dormant in these hot, dry conditions and will revive naturally with a few rainy days. We did have a bit of rain last week so the grass did recover somewhat, but this week’s forecast is for more sun and heat, so the recovery won’t last.
After a heavy rainfall is the best time to pull WEEDS in your lawn or gardens out by hand so you get the whole root, otherwise the weeds keep coming back to haunt you. After the weeds are all pulled from your gardens, apply a thick layer of mulch to deter them from coming back too soon. Weed seeds blowing around or carried around by birds will germinate in mulch too, but the mature weeds will be much easier to pull out when their roots are growing in mulch instead of soil.
Just like the inside of your home, your gardens and lawn will benefit from a good spring cleaning too…
As soon as the snow disappears from your lawn and garden you can start the spring cleaning. When the lawn is dry (not spongy to walk on) give it a good rake to remove all the dead grass and leaves. Core aeration is recommended after raking to allow oxygen and nutrients to penetrate into the root system of your lawn, especially if your soil is heavily compacted.(as most lawns are in this area) If your lawn has a lot of crabgrass and broad leaf weeds (dandelions) you can treat it to a weed and feed product. The ones containing corn gluten are particularly effective if used before the weed seeds have a chance to germinate. I sprinkle corn gluten right on the snow when there is only a small amount of snow left on my lawn, because as soon as the snow is gone, the weeds start to germinate and within a few days the crab grass growth is visible. You can also overseed your lawn (but only if you have NOT applied something for weeds, otherwise wait 6 weeks to seed) by raking in topsoil and sprinkling grass seed on the soil. This is best done before a rainy spell as the seeds should be kept wet until they germinate.
Your gardens can also use a good raking early, but be sure to use a plastic rake and a gentler touch, so tender dormant perennials are not damaged. Remove all the dead leaves, last year’s annual (annuals are plants that you must replant each year) plantings and the twiggy pieces of last years growth on the perennials (perennials are plants that come back on their own each year). Generally speaking, if the twiggy pieces break off easily with a gentle rake, it is safe to remove them. Woodier perennials (lavender, sage, hibiscus etc) need a bit more time and should not be cut back until new growth is visible. Shrubs that bloom in summer or fall (weigela, pink spirea, burning bush etc) can be pruned in early spring, while those that bloom early in spring (forsythia, lilacs, magnolia etc) should not be pruned until after they bloom. Dividing perennials is best done this time of year too; dig up the overgrown clumps, divide them with a sharp spade, and plant in their new locations. This can be done as soon as the ground thaws. Annuals should not be planted until the danger of overnight frost is gone, usually late May in this area.
Once all of my perennials have re-emerged, the weeds and old annuals are removed, and the necessary pruning is done, I like to amend the soil around them with a triple mix of soil, compost and peat moss. This product can be purchased already combined. A layer of cedar mulch (I prefer the dark brown or black) is the final touch, but to prevent your plants from rotting, be sure not to apply the mulch too close to the base/stalks/stems of the plants.
The last step is to retrieve the outdoor furniture from its winter storage, and, the most important part, take a few minutes out of your busy life to sit down, relax and admire your efforts…
I mentioned it to a friend of mine, who thought she would like to give it a try in her backyard. Her backyard is small, but it features a gorgeous rock wall that must be at least 12 feet tall along the back edge. The home is in a subdivision build on a rocky ridge, so the rock wall was created instead of carting the huge boulders away. The only drawback it that her yard is substantially lower than her neighbours’ behind her, giving her yard a “fishbowl” setting. I am told that when we receive a heavy rain, the water cascades down the rock wall in several spots. I will have to choose plants that like damp soil for these spots; I have several in mind.
There are two maple trees and a few sumac shrubs that will eventually provide some privacy along the back. One side of the yard is walled off by a tall, full cedar hedge and the opposite side has a wrought iron fence. In my plan I will add a few small trees to the side with the fence, possibly lilacs, as they grow quickly, are inexpensive, hardy and a favorite of my client. For now the yard receives a lot of sun, but once the trees get larger, they will provide some shade with the privacy…
The old, single level deck was recently replaced with a beautiful, multi-levelled deck with two sets of steps leading off it. The plan is to have a walkway between the two sets of steps with a small patio (just large enough for a small table set and a lounger) on the ground level between the cedar hedge and one set of steps. The deck builder was kind enough to leave us this area bare, you can see it in the first picture. I recently found two colors of patio stones for sale at a great price on Kijiji, and will keep looking for more inexpensive material to create a pattern for the patio and walkway. The rest of the yard will be a combination of garden and river rock; no grass.
This seems like a large, expensive project, but with the method outlined in the article and the use of many recycled products and donated plants, we hope to keep the budget at a minimum. It is also a plan we can work on in stages as time and budget permit…
The first step was to get rid of the grass. To do this we cut it short, then covered it with several layers of newspapers, which in turn was covered with a triple mix of soil, peat moss and compost. The final layer consists of leaves that I collected, bagged and ready for pickup, from my neighbors curbs on garbage day. I used the leaves as an inexpensive (free) substitution for the mulch suggested in the article.
I did not disturb the perennials that were randomly planted; I simply applied the layers of paper, soil and leaves around the plants, and will move the plants to their new homes in the spring when we get to the planting stage…
It did not look very pretty when we were done this stage, but we managed to get the layer of leaves down before the snow arrived. I am anxious for spring to see how well the process worked.
I know we need the rain, but do we have to get a full summer’s worth in twelve hours? Three weeks ago I spent two full days hand pulling the weeds, raking the compacted dirt to aerate it, top-dressing with soil, and seeding my front lawn. I then very carefully watered the lawn twice a day making sure the soil and seed did not wash down the slightly sloped yard. Yesterday the grass was coming along nicely, with the thick new growth about two inches tall. Today, after the downpour, it is looking pretty sad, with most of the added soil in a river on the other side of the curb, headed down the street!
Lorieb is a freelance writer and avid gardener residing in Kanata, Ontario, Canada. Please check out her website at www.gardens4u.ca
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Is your lawn golden brown and crispy, aka sunburned? Don’t despair, look around, you are not alone. The extreme heat and lack of rain this summer has created havoc on eastern Ontario’s usual lush green landscape. My heart goes out to the farmers in the area whose crops are so severely affected.
In comparison, the condition of my lawn seems trivial…my front yard usually gets sunburned in late July/early August as it has a southern exposure getting full sun pretty well all day, but this year it is well beyond “dry”. Please remember, grass is supposed to go dormant in these extreme conditions. At this point there is nothing you can do to revitalize it as it will not respond to fertilier and water is not enough. Fortunately, our nice green lawns will return with cooler weather and some rainy days. When this happens, and your grass starts to turn green again, you can apply a fertilizer to strengthen the roots which will promote a faster recovery.
The one positive thing about the condition of our lawns is that it is easy to pick out the weeds! If you have the energy in this heat, now would be a great time to remove those pesky weeds including the green “creeping” sort that edge the driveways. Then when the cooler, wetter weather does arrive you can sprinkle some grass seed where those weeds were growing.