I was reading with great interest a British study recently that implied the gender roles in the home are being rewritten including three quarters of women happy to tackle the job of mowing the lawn previously considered a task of the man of the household. Meanwhile six in ten men would be willing to make dinner every night and clean up afterwards as well. This survey of 2,000 Brits indicates gender roles have evolved in the home and an understanding that a chore shared is a chore halved. I believe it only makes sense that when it comes to yard work, cooking, cleaning and other household chores that teamwork always beats the culturally assigned gender roles that Mom and Dad demonstrated years ago. In the turf classes I have taught with a show of hands, hands down women believe they could do a much better job of the lawn and landscape then the man in the household. Conversely this study showed one in 5 men felt they could do a better job of cleaning and tasks their fathers would have declined to do. Whether it is weeding, mowing, cooking or vacuuming today’s home and garden inhabitants understand that a partnership beats previously culturally defined roles.

Mow and Behold!
Mow and Behold!

Out in the yard the green green grass of home (Tom Jones 1967 oh this dates me) can become a tiresome chore for household partners when the calendar turns to August. My first word of advice is to raise the deck on the mower. Cutting the grass short in the heat of summer is not a good idea and adds stress to the lawn. Longer grass blades shade the crown of the plant, increase surface area for photosynthesis and reduce weed growth and development comparatively to a scalped or short cut lawn. Irrigate in the morning when watering is most efficient (sun and wind evaporation is less) and avoid irrigating at sundown (to reduce disease stress). August is a great month to plan for rejuvenating your lawn with the coming month of September one of the best months to seed a lawn, feed a lawn and control weeds. Fall is the perfect time for lawn establishment and rejuvenation.
Some are abandoning the typical urban front lawn for alternatives and I say more “flower” to you. Even though our lawns are great for trapping dust particles, cooling the earth and generating oxygen, alternatives are available. Groundcovers and ornamental grasses are easy to grow hardy substitutes for a well groomed lawn.

Calamagrostis Karl Foerster lines a drive
Calamagrostis Karl Foerster lines a drive

Ornamental grasses are spotlighted in the landscape from August to October as they “dance” for our attention as drought tolerant landscape show stoppers. Perennial, deer resistant, drought resistant and hardy easy to grow plants, Ornamental grasses are available in a wide array of cultivars to enjoy. My neighbors looked questioningly as I replaced a large swath of lawn with ornamental Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ grasses at my lakeshore landscape, but now are true believers. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Consider ornamental grasses and move to the head of the “grass” for the “grass” of 2016. Congratulations and enjoy.

Are you “Shear”-ious?

I love ornamental grasses because they come in a great variety, are easy to grow, drought tolerant and give 3 to 4 seasons of interest. By sometime in April you should have your ornamental grasses cut back. You can divide them too if you haven’t done so for a few years and if you have the energy. With some homeowners I have noticed a problem the past few years which falls under the are you “shear”-ious category when it crops up.

I have had samples of turf brought to me the past few years like the one pictured here:

Pennisetum Ornamental Grass reseeding in the turf








When we have a mild fall and winter season here in Michigan we will get turf samples where Pennisetum ornamental grasses like Hameln or Moundry will seed in the turf. This causes panic for the home owner in spring as it begins to outgrow the desirable turf. Maintain your “composture” if this happens. Repeated mowings of the lawn will usually solve the problem as the ornamental grass will get exhausted and wear out as it is unaccustomed to repeated haircuts and a low profile. This is the best option because if you take the Roundup approach you will be doing some reseeding.

Remember this problem does not occur every year as we unfortunately do not have a mild fall and winter every year. I wish we did. If you have a lot of these ornamental grasses that adjoin a lawn area you might want to get “shear”-ious about cutting them back in late fall to limit seed distribution.

Don’t Get Uprooted!

Eeew, gross! Did someone spit on your Coreopsis while you weren’t looking? Unless you have some really odd people living near you, it’s probably a spittlebug. The spittlebug is the Superman of the bug world; it can leap the equivalent of a 20-story building in a single bound. It is also one of the pests disrupting our “lawn and order” this season. Spittlebugs are typically found on shrubs and perennials like Coreopsis and Phlox. One reliable method you can use to control them is imidacloprid, like Bonide Annual Tree & Shrub. It is applied to the soil under each plant in October or April and absorbed into the plant before the spittlebug larvae begin feeding in May. That said, the problem is one of those “curious” low impact issues in the landscape where you’re better off marveling at nature and living with it. But if it really grosses you out, you can also take the less subtle (and more fun) approach and blast them with the hose the next time you wash your car.

With all the rain we’ve had this spring, your turf may be crying out, “I’m hungry!” How do you know? Red thread may make an appearance in your lawn. It looks like pinkish-red strands extending from the tip of the leaf blade.  In the early morning dew, it can even look like pink cotton candy on your lawn. Red thread is typically active during wet, moist periods like we’ve had this spring when temps are between 55 and 80 degrees and the turf may be under-fertilized. The infected area dies and the turf looks wilted. In severe cases, you may need to apply a fungicide. But most of the time, an application of fertilizer will help the turf outgrow the damage.

Another uninvited guest in our yards right now is the four-lined plant bug This creep-crawly is pretty “skittish” but can make a big mess of your plants. It has a bright yellow body with bold, black vertical stripes and likes to eat perennials, shrubs and trees, leaving leaf-spots that can be mistaken for disease. Because they’re so nervous/skittish (I guess they feel guilty about making such a mess?), you probably won’t ever see the bug. The pattern of damage will be your best clue that you have a bug, rather than a disease, problem. The plant bug doesn’t like to dine alone so the leaf damage will appear in clumps, with surrounding leaves looking fine. In trees, usually only the low-hanging branches are affected.  They feed heavily from June to mid-July then disappear. If you like “living on the hedge,” you can try waiting them out. If not, you can also try spraying with an insecticide that contains carbaryl (Sevin) or a pyrethroid (resmethrin, permethrin or cyfluthrin).

Grass grows best where you wish it wouldn’t

I’ve got grass growing in my __________ (you fill in the blank). Usually the grass is growing in a ground cover or in the middle of a rose bush. It seems to be true that grass grows best where you wish it wouldn’t.

Grass growing in Vinca

I myself have become an expert on a sunny calm wind-less day with a brush or directed pin-point nozzle on a pressure tank sprayer and a little bit of Roundup. The danger is that Roundup or glyphosate is a “non-selective” herbicide i.e. kills whatever vegetation it hits. To the inexperienced gardener trying to deal with grass growing between plants it can result in involuntary plant slaughter. In some cases brushing it on the offending grasses…..well let’s just say you’ve got better things to do with your time……take me to your “weeder”.

There are some products that are considered an “over-the-top” grass killer. They are meant to be used over and around ground cover and landscape plants in controlling grassy weeds. Products like “Grass Getter” and “Grass Beater” as post-emergence herbicides.

Grass Getter, Spreader Sticker, Grass Beater, Halosulfuron

The active ingredient is Sethoxydim.  It kills grasses by preventing synthesis of lipids in plants, an essential process in cell membrane integrity and normal plant growth and energy. Lipids aren’t just a human thing…..plants have lipids too. When I get a physical my doctor will order a lipid panel or test to measure fats in my bloodstream. That’s why I’ve learned not to drink a chocolate shake before a blood test….and yes I have made that mistake before.  Broadleaf plants are tolerant of Sethoxydim, grasses are not…..that’s why you can use it “over-the-top” of desirable plants.

It is recommended that you use a surfactant or as we call it a spreader sticker when applying Sethoxydim. A spreader sticker is Alcohol Ethoxylate lowering the surface tension of a liquid or water by and allowing it to interface with the surface. Your application then has a conversation like “Hi grassy weed, my name is Sethoxydim and I’m going to stick around for a little while”……..friendly but deadly and effective.

Another selective herbicide to consider in the landscape if the miserable weeds Nutsedge or Horsetail are present would be Halosulfuron-methyl. Again a selective control that broadleaf plants will tolerate. A sulfonylurea herbicide that inhibits an enzyme essential to plant growth. This becomes very helpful when dealing with Nutsedge (a sedge) in turf and landscape or the dreaded primitive weed Horsetail that looks like a cross between a mutant mini evergreen and the tail of a horse.


Horsetail will take over poorly drained areas with root tubers that can run 6 foot deep. It spreads though root stock and spores with both vegetative and reproductive stalks. When you get an invasion of horsetail you really want to call a realtor and move. A word of warning…..just as with the grass killers noted above, use a spreader sticker or surfactant when applying Halosulfuron.