A “Root” awakening

If April showers bring May flowers then you my friend are in for a “root” awakening. Every April is different which adds to the adventure. I’ve seen 80-degree temperatures and I’ve seen frosts that would freeze the hardiest of plants. I’ve see sunshine and I’ve seen snow. Sounds like a James Taylor song doesn’t it?

Frozen tulips from last April
Frozen tulips from last April

Last year we had an early March warm up waking the entire landscape only to freeze in the great Arbor day frost of 2012. So what should we expect from our landscape dreams during the month of April? You my friend are in for a “root” awakening.

April first of all is a big month for lawn care in Michigan. The lawn greens and begins to grow and we welcome the sound of lawnmowers awakening in our neighborhoods.

Remember the drought damage from last year?
Remember the drought damage from last year?

A great month to get a deal on a 4 step lawn plan applying the first step now and storing the remaining 3 steps in the garage or shed for applications later in the year. The first feeding generally includes a crabgrass control which is important after the hot year we had in 2012. Crabgrass seed from last year over winters in the soil of your lawn and will wake and germinate when soil (not air) temperatures get to be around 60 degrees or warmer.

Soil thermometer
Soil thermometer

If you don’t have a soil thermometer, which most people don’t, you can listen to me on my radio show or you can use the old fashioned less scientific way of gauging spring’s wake up call.

That would be to act when the forsythias are in bloom or apply sometime around tax day. Certainly much easier for you than having to understand the methods of “growing degree days” that us horticultural people like to track at this time of year. Applying a crabgrass control in spring, especially in the hottest areas of the lawn like driveway or sidewalk edges or non-shaded areas will create a barrier to germination so you don’t have an infestation of unsightly crabgrass come the heat of summer.

Cold and frost tolerant Pansies

April includes Arbor Day which here in Michigan falls on the last Friday of the month. April is a great time to plant a tree or landscape shrub. We see many trees show off in April with Crabapples, Redbuds, Juneberry, Magnolia and Cherry trees to name a few. This month is perfect for planting evergreens and woody landscape plants, saving the more tender plants for May when frost is less of a threat. Remember that when it comes to “tender” plants a great frost tolerant plant for some early April flowers in the landscape would Pansies. In regards to tender foliage, keep some deer repellant handy and make sure to apply to susceptible plants during the month. Hungry deer after winter are anxious for a buffet of tender green growth including delicious Tulips and Hosta. Not tonight “deer.”

Understanding the weather can be a variable and tricky issue in April, it is a good month to work on soil preparation, planting bed preparation and some mulching. You don’t have to protect dirt and mulch from overnight frosts. Raised planting beds soil warm quicker in spring. If you’re itching to plant some herbs, pot up some containers and move them in and out contingent on weather conditions.

Thank you very "mulch"
Thank you very “mulch”

In regards to mulch, many will apply because it looks nice. True, but there is a functional use for mulch too. I saw a study that described the impact an appropriate layer of 2 inches of mulch can have for your landscape when the heat of summer does arrive. In this study on a San Antonio Texas day where the air temperature was 105 degrees and in the sun felt like 130 degrees, the bare soil was 102 degrees, the soil under the grass was 92 degrees and soil under 3 inches of mulch was 76 degrees. That gives you an idea of the soil temperature regulating benefit of mulch as well as its ability to hold moisture in the soil.

Let’s get out there and get “growing” now that winter is finally over. You my friend are in for a “root” awakening.

Let me “trend” you a hand

As I look forward to spring 2013 on a cold January day, I thought I would share with you some trends in the home landscape. Don’t feel very trendy? Let me “trend” you a hand and read the list, you may find you’re more “hip” than you think……..

  • High impact low care plants. Own root landscape roses,succulents, steppables and groundcovers, Hydrangeas that bloom on old and new wood, weather resistant performing annuals like Diamond Frost, Calibrachoa or Gomphrena. and perennials like the array of colors now available for Coneflower.
  • Use of mycorrhizae and soil supplements or soil replenishment to make plants better “rooted and suited” to weather trends namely heat, drought and weather extremes.

    High Impact low care plants and vines
    High Impact low care plants and vines
  • Outdoors as an escape and a living area…..and extension “room” of the home. Outdoor cooking and grilling, entertaining and seating areas, outdoor furniture, firepits and fireplaces, Garden art.
  • Vertical growing….a renewed interest in vines throughout the landscape creating the “walls” of your outdoor living space.
  • Trees making a comeback……replacement trees for those lost to Emerald Ash Borer. As the housing market improves so does interest in trees and Urban forest canopies.

    Backyard rooms, outdoor entertaining and cooking
    Backyard rooms, outdoor entertaining and cooking
  • Quality over price when it comes to plants. Consumer wants to be a smart spender and be successful with what they plant. Investment in quality plants.
  • Container gardening for 4 seasons
  • Vegetables and herbs……garden to table.

    Vegetables and herbs backyard to table
    Vegetables and herbs backyard to table
  • Impatiens and downy mildew. Education on proper plant care and how to deal with this new issue in the landscape.

    Understanding Downy Mildew
    Understanding Downy Mildew

“Plant” ahead

Looking to create some new planting beds or landscape area in your yard? To avoid the back breaking work of digging up sod, or having to spray weeds, or having to rent a sod cutter, try this…..

Easy bed preparation using black plastic to “solarize” existing turf and weeds

The black plastic is pinned down with landscape fabric pins and the heat of the sun “solarizes” or cooks the vegetation growing below it. Leave the black plastic on for about a month. When the leaves start falling off the trees in October pull up the plastic. The turf and weeds below will be dead. Cover the area in leaves and till the soil. You now have a new landscape bed ready for landscaping. October and November are a great time to plant and come next spring you’ll be glad you’re so smart.

Living on the “Hedge”

I remember the summer of 1988. Built an above ground pool that summer. A very hot and dry summer just like this year. I remember coming home from work one afternoon and there were so many people in the pool I wouldn’t have been able to fit a leg in the water if I tried. The summer of 2012 feels like 1988 to me.

A little water will provide “Lawn”-gevity

The lawns are just like they were then, a toasty golden brown with shrubs and trees living on the “hedge” looking stressed.


Trees and shrubs need your attention right now with some trickle or deep watering. This is especially true for spring plantings this year without well established root systems. Be watching for wilting or curling leaves. Some older established trees are showing leaf scorch just like they did in the summer of 1988. It’s not just the heat and drought, but wind adds to the problems increasing the rate of transpiration in foliage.

Trees showing leaf scorch

Remember the ability of your trees and shrubs to endure the stress of this season’s weather hinges in part on how healthy they were going into the season and your willingness to deep water them at the base now.

Looks like it may be too late for these Arborvitae

An impulse sprinkler or the hose nozzle you use to water your car isn’t going to work. You need to lay the hose at the base of the landscape plant and soak the soil for any beneficial effect.

Ironic that this appropriately named “Burning Bush” is showing the strain of weeks without water








I’ve had a lot of people lately ask me if their lawn is going to survive the heat and drought. Turfgrass dormancy is a survival mechanism allowing survival up to 4-8 weeks without irrigation or precipitation without significant thinning upon recovery from dormancy. This would be under ideal conditions of no traffic, good sub or parent soil, moderate temperatures, minimal root competition from trees, etc. Survival can be affected by species, age, shade, maintenance, the quality of feeding you have done in the past, the deck height on the mower, traffic, heatand other factors. Raise the deck on your mower and if you can, park the mower until the drought is over.



A shaggy lawn is better than a scalped stressed turf. Remember that dormancy is reversible but death is not. If the lawn goes too long without any water or if it was unhealthy and stressed going into the drought the roots my die causing thinning of the turf. Cool season turf can survive summer dormancy but cannot survive root death.

Cool season lawn dormancy. Remember dormancy is reversible, death is not.

Turfgrasses that are trafficked during drought conditions must be irrigated regularly to maintain performance and prevent widespread turf damage. Lawn areas established in spring or previous fall should be irrigated because they have not yet developed extensive root systems.

Check irrigation systems for improperly aimed sprinklers, defective heads and evenness of distribution, etc. Water in the early morning hours to improve efficiency because of less evaporation from sun and wind. Watering at sunset encourages disease issues.

Limit traffic on your lawn (including mowing) to minimize crushing of the turfgrass leaves and crowns. Avoid the temptation to apply herbicides even though weeds become more obvious in a dormant lawn because they may be the only thing left that is green! Wait until fall to control lawn weeds, a perfect time for weed control.
Remember the fall season is a perfect time for overseeding and feeding thinned lawns. Turf establishment in Michigan is best done between August 15 and October 15 so don’t lose your “composture” if things are looking bleak right now. Your window of opportunity to improve the green green grass of home is coming soon!


Trick and Treat

It’s October….time for trick and treat. No not trick or treat but a landscape “treat” compliments of yours truly and then a “trick” nature plays on us. First for the treat to save you time and money.

Fall turf feeding time

Fall is a time the natural rainfall can be quite variable. During dry spells you can minimize insect damage (namely grub damage) to your lawn by simply raising the deck on the mower to 3 to 3.5 inch mowing height. Grubs do the most damage to lawns that are dry and stressed by low mowing heights. This damage often happens late in the season. Raising mowing heights helps improve root mass and the denser the root mass the better able the turf can withstand grub activity in fall and spring. It’s an easy, effective no cost “treat” for your turf that will improve your green…..both in your wallet and with your lawn.

Now for a nuisance “trick” in the landscape….Oak Skeletonizer. This insect when abundant will “skeletonize” the foliage on your oak trees. Not a “biggie” because the foliage is about done for the season anyhow. The bigger issue is the people problems it causes. Greenish caterpillars that dangle down from thin threads of silk crawling on people and decks and the tiny whitish cocoons (look like rice) that mess up the landscape, patio furniture, grill and your car parked in the driveway. Fortunately the insect is native and not an invasive foreign insect so the populations are cyclical and vary from heavy to “crashed” from year to year. Oak trees are majestic but also susceptible to a host of insect problems (Gypsy Moth and the resultant black rain anyone?) so I recommend an annual imidacloprid drench at the base of the trees. This will help systemically control the ebb and flow of leafminers, tent caterpillars, loopers, skeletonizers, rollers and worms that seem to party in an oak tree.

Oak leaves in October

Some years are worse than other meaning you may have to grin and bear this “trick” of nature.

Keeping my eyes peeled for Nature's tricks