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1404 Goodale Boulevard, Suite 100
Columbus, OH 43212
Phone: (614) 486-9613
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Backyard Conversation

Lawn Fertilization in Spring

The snow has melted, tulips and crocuses are popping up and your lawn is turning an oh-so-springy shade of green. If you're like most people your first inclination is to give your lawn some food after its long winter dormancy, but research shows that it's better to hold off on the fertilizer until Mother's Day at the absolute earliest. (That being said, an established lawn really doesn't need to be fertilized until fall.) In March and April your lawn is focused on root growth, setting a solid foundation for itself so it can survive when the rain tapers off in summer. When you fertilize your lawn during this time the grass will reroute its resources to grow more leafy foliage instead. Your lawn needs healthy, plentiful roots to stay healthy through the year. Cutting root growth short with fertilizer means your lawn will get browner, faster when things get dry.

When you do fertilize, make sure you're following the instructions on the fertilizer label and sweeping up any extra product that falls on the street or sidewalk since it WILL end up washing down a storm drain into your local river or stream. Despite fertilizer's direct negative impact on waterways, turf or lawns that are managed properly pose minimal threats to (and can even help) water quality. Rate, timing of application and type of fertilizer are key factors- never fertilize before heavy rain or on frozen, bare, or snow-covered soil. Moreover, while weed and feed products seem like a good idea, seldom do weed control and timing of fertilizers coincide. Spot-treating problems and using these products separately is better for your lawn and the environment. As mentioned above, you might not even need to fertilize until the fall. It depends on what type of turf you have, but most lawns are happiest with one fertilizer application in September and another optional application in November. More in depth information on different lawn types and their fertilizer needs can be found in this helpful guide from Purdue Extension.

If you still feel lost the best place to start when it comes to fertilizing is with a soil test. New lawns, for example, benefit from phosphorus that older lawns may already have. Consider too that environmental factors such as compaction will not benefit from fertilization, but from cultural practices like aeration.

Thanks to those of your who voted in last month's poll! We wish we had time to answer each question in depth, but you can find resources on the other questions below!

Removing turf to plant a garden

From a reader: 

"When I wanted to put a small triangle garden in my corner lot, I purchased bags of soil and placed them where the garden was to be. After a few weeks, the bags had wilted off the grass, turning it into compost.  I just sliced opened the bags and dumped them, making my new, slightly raised, bed."

This is our preferred method, often referred to as "smothering" or "lasagna mulching". Simply cover the area with newspaper, plastic, mulch or cardboard (or bags of soil!) and wait 6 weeks or so for the grass to die back and it will compost itself. You can even poke holes in your cover and begin planting your garden plants in them if you're eager to get them in the ground! 
Here's a guide to removing turf and what to replace it with

Why topsoil is important, and tips for better soil performance 

Here's an article on soil preparation for a beautiful lawn!

Native Plants- A Lazy Gardener's Guide

Everyone who has ever tried to grow plants has failed at some point. Maybe you set the cactus your aunt gave you for your birthday in the window only to watch it shrivel slowly despite watering it on schedule, or came outside one morning to see your newly planted bell pepper nibbled to the ground by a slug. It can be disheartening, and you probably have a friend who’s sworn off plants forever thanks to their “black thumb”. But no matter what your gardening frustrations, native plants are here to help. In this article we’ll talk about how you can plan a native garden that will require about a month of commitment, and then thrive on its own for years with just light weeding. That’s right: no water, no fertilizer, no pesticides.

Step 1: Know your soil and light profile
Native plants are adapted to live in Ohio. The top reason I’ve seen native plantings fail is because the plants were planted in a location that doesn’t meet their soil requirements. Light is pretty easy:

Full sun- sun touches the spot for the vast majority of the day

Part sun- is sun for a little more than half the day

Part shade- shade for a bit more than half a day

Full shade- shade most of the day

Soil moisture and texture are a little harder to figure out, but can still be done without special tools. Dig a small 3-5” hole in the spot you want to plant in and do a ribbon test with the soil from the bottom of the hole. This video from Clemson Extension describes the ribbon test in depth, and how to determine if your soil is primarily sand, loam or clay-based. After the ribbon test check your hole every few days for a couple weeks and note how much moisture stays in the soil. A simple observation of wet (saturated, nearly dripping), moist (slightly wet to the touch) or dry (crumbly) is sufficient. This will give you a good idea of how wet or dry your soil usually is. Armed with this knowledge, and your knowledge of how much light hits your plot, you’re ready to choose your plants.

Step 2: Pick the right plants
You might like a plant for the colors of its flowers, the time it blooms, or because it attracts butterflies, but these are not good first thoughts when choosing plants. Your first thought should always be “Can this plant thrive in the conditions I have?” My go-to resource is Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center’s native plant search feature. Not only will it show you a list of Ohio native plants commonly sold at nurseries, but it will also let you narrow down your search by soil moisture and light requirements.

Step 3: Watering- A short commitment
Just like people, plants take a little while to settle into a new environment. Most perennials will require 2 weeks to a month of regular watering until their root systems are large enough to support the plant without your assistance. Trees will likely need more. During this time, make sure you’re really soaking the plant, especially if it’s in clay soil since the water will take a while to make it down to the roots of the plants. A soaker hose is a great investment for newer plantings, but if you’re using a watering can or standard hose, don’t hesitate to water the base of each plant, or group of plants, for 15-20 seconds before moving on. After a while you’ll start to notice that your plants are starting to grow noticeably and are less prone to wilting, and at this point you can taper off waterings. When perennials pop up the second year their root systems will be large enough that they won't need watered!

Step 4: Weed now and then and enjoy!
Some native plants are more tolerant of weeds than others. Anyone who’s grown Common Milkweed can attest to its ability to overrun any other plants that attempt to crowd it out. Other plants, such as Scarlet Beebalm and Royal Catchfly, will need more weeding to keep them from being overtaken by other species. A layer of mulch laid after planting does wonders for reducing weeds and helping soil retain moisture.

Step 5: Put off Pruning for a few months
It's tempting to dead-head flowers and cut back old, dead growth once fall rolls around. However, native plants have an important job to do during winter- provide food and housing to wildlife. Once new, green growth starts to emerge in the spring, you can take the hedge trimmers to the old dry stalks.

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