Monthly Archives: April 2017
To mulch or not to mulch: that is the question. Simply put, mulching your landscape is a good thing. But…having too much of a good thing (mulch) can be bad.
There are a few common reasons we mulch our landscape beds, it makes our yard look great, it helps reduce weeds, and proper mulching can benefit landscape plants. Regardless of the reason, you want to follow a few recommendations to avoid negative impacts on your landscape plants. In general, mulch should be maintained at a depth of 3 inches. If you already exceed 3 inches and are planning to add another layer this year, we recommend removing some of the existing mulch before adding another layer to help maintain the 3-inch depth level. Avoid piling mulch high on plant trunks and stems, keep the mulch away from the bases and be sure the root flare is visible. Piling mulch too high on plants is a very common mistake that has serious consequences to the health of your plants. We discuss this in more detail later in the blog.
Types of Mulch
There are two types of mulch for landscapes. Organic and inorganic. Organic mulch is what we are all probably used to seeing landscape professionals apply to the landscape beds. You know, the brown, black, and sometimes red stuff. These types of mulch are basically ground up trees and shrubs and other organic matter. Some people may elect to use chopped up leaves or grass from the lawn mower, and others may use wood chips. The inorganic mulch would be plastic or rubber mulch, stones and rocks, etc.
Benefits of Mulching your Landscape Beds
There are many benefits to having organic mulch applied to your landscape. One benefit is keeping the weeds in the beds to a minimum. However, the key here is to be sure that the areas being mulched are free of weeds before applying, otherwise they will keep growing until they poke through. You may have a nicely mulched landscape today, and if the weeds were not taken care of prior to the installation, next week you will have beds dotted with weeds. The weeds will likely be more noticeable coming up through the new mulch so you may feel like you wasted your money. To help reduce weeds, you can apply a pre-emergent control to your landscape beds, learn more by following this link to our landscape bed pre-emergent blog.
Another benefit is mulch helps retain moisture. This is especially helpful if you do not have irrigation in your landscape beds. If the beds were bare and it rained, the water would penetrate the ground very quickly or run off before the ground can take it in. Mulch absorbs that moisture and slowly seeps into the soil, allowing the plants to take it in. It acts kind of like a sponge. In addition, to retaining moisture, mulch also helps regulate temperature in the summer and winter.
One more benefit to mulching your landscape is that when the mulch breaks down, it is putting nutrient-rich organic matter back into the soil. This is especially true if you elect to use chopped up leaves for mulch. Leaves contain natural nitrogen and other beneficial nutrients that can be recycled back into the soil.
Finally, a freshly mulched landscape is very appealing to look at. It is like laying down new carpeting or a floor. If you’re looking to sell your home, it might not be a bad idea to put down a fresh layer of mulch. Same thing if you’re having a graduation party, wedding, or a big birthday party.
Problems with Over-Mulching
Now, let’s talk about what NOT to do when mulching your landscape beds. The first would be what the industry calls ‘volcano mulching’. This is when mulch is piled so high and tight up against a tree that it looks like a volcano. Literally. This is very bad for the tree!
Trees exchange oxygen at the base, and if the mulch is piled too high, the tree will suffocate. You may not see results from that suffocation early, but over the years the tree will slowly decline. At that point, the damage is done. Trees have a natural flare at the bottom, almost resembling a bell-bottom. This is that area that needs to be exposed. If your tree looks like a telephone pole sticking out of the ground, you have too much mulch (see photo above). In addition to the lack of oxygen exchanged, mulch piled high on tree bark can also promote disease and cause the bark to rot. For more information on the potential harms of over-mulching, here is a link to an article by Rutgers University titled Problems with Over-Mulching Trees and Shrubs.
The same rule of thumb applies to woody shrubs, such as hollies, boxwoods, rhododendrons, and laurels. Woody plants have a single stem that comes out of the ground and then it branches out to its form. That stem needs to be visible. In other words, if you cannot see the stem or if some of the lower branches are covered, you might have too much mulch. Not only will it likely suffocate the plants, but the continued moisture that is on the bark will cause it to rot, and possibly girdle it and die.
Mulch is a beautiful thing when applied correctly but can also kill your plants when done the wrong way. If you have any questions about mulching your landscape, please feel free to contact us if you live in our service area.
What is Crabgrass?
Crabgrass is an annual grassy weed that is a problem in most home lawns throughout the country. As an annual, it completes a full life cycle in one season and germinates from seeds that were dropped during a previous season by a mature crabgrass plant. One crabgrass plant produces thousands of seeds which can live in the soil for many years before germinating. Crabgrass starts to germinate when soil temperatures reach 55-60 degrees and stay at that range for about a week. For New Jersey, this is typically sometime in late April or May, but can vary from year to year depending on the weather. Crabgrass will continue to germinate throughout the summer as well.
Why does Crabgrass grow in my lawn?
Crabgrass is typically found in stressed areas of lawns that are thin, bare, and have poor growth. Common examples of these areas are along curb edges, driveways, and walkways. It favors these areas because these types of areas are hit hardest by stress throughout the season. That being said, even a well-maintained lawn can still have annual issues with crabgrass.
What options are available for Crabgrass prevention and control?
There are many options available for crabgrass prevention and control. Here are some helpful tips to help you this season:
- Crabgrass prevention can be accomplished by apply a crabgrass pre-emergent every year. Crabgrass pre-emergent needs be applied in the early spring season (March & April) and it is also recommended to complete two treatments. The second treatment should be applied 6 to 8 weeks after the first treatment and is meant to reinforce the initial treatment and increase the duration of the product into the summer season. Crabgrass pre-emergent products typically lasts in the soil for about ten to twelve weeks depending on site conditions and cultural practices. A crabgrass pre-emergent creates an invisible barrier in the soil and controls the plants once they cross the barrier. For more information on how pre-emergents work, follow this link to our Landscape Bed Weed Control Blog. Try not to disturb the soil after the crabgrass pre-emergent has been applied. If the barrier becomes compromised (core aeration, dethatching, seeding, construction, etc.), crabgrass will most likely emerge in these areas. Because crabgrass is very similar to desired grass species, the pre-emergent will also control any new seeding you may have completed. For this reason, (and many others), spring seeding is not recommended.
- Once the crabgrass plant has emerged, it’s too late to apply any pre-emergent controls. This is where a post-emergent crabgrass control will come in handy. Post-emergent crabgrass controls are applied as a liquid, directly to each plant. This will control the crabgrass plants after they’ve already started growing above ground. A post-emergent crabgrass control will NOT prevent new growth of crabgrass nor will it control actively growing broadleaf weeds.
- Keep the lawn thick for additional help with crabgrass prevention. Any bare or thin areas should be seeded in late summer. A dense lawn not only helps shade the soil, keeping it cooler, but it also provides less space for the crabgrass plants to grow. See steps 6-9 below for additional tips on keeping the lawn thick. All of the following steps will not only help with crabgrass prevention, but also improve overall health of your turf.
- When mowing the lawn, keep the grass blades at a height around 3 – 3 ½ inches and only cut off 1/3 of the grass blade at a time. Keeping the canopy of the grass tall will help shade the soil beneath, keeping it cooler which will help reduce crabgrass from germinating.
- Edges of driveways, walkways, patios, pools etc., typically get cut too short with a weed wacker. In addition, uneven ground can result in short mowing heights or even scalping. Both scenarios are problematic when it comes to crabgrass prevention and control. Scalping weakens the grass plant and makes it more susceptible to injury and death when stressed. Once turf grass is in decline and more of the soil is exposed to sunlight, crabgrass seeds can germinate in those areas. Be extra careful mowing uneven areas and using the weed wacker along the edges to avoid cutting your turf too short.
- Water. Watering will not only help improve color but will aid in growth as well. By watering correctly early in the season, and continuing thru August, you will be promoting good turf growth which will make it difficult for crabgrass plants to move in.
- Fertilize regularly. Fertilizing on a regular basis will help stimulate growth and create a thicker lawn. When the lawn is thick and vigorously growing, it will shade the soil and create more competition against the crabgrass plants. A thick and healthy lawn is a great way to help with crabgrass prevention.
- Core aerate the lawn annually. Crabgrass thrives in compacted soils. By core aerating regularly you are creating better soil conditions. This also helps improve water and nutrient movement to the roots, resulting in a stronger root system and healthier lawn.
- Lime the lawn if the pH of the soil is low. The pH is the measure of the alkaline or acidity of the lawn soil. When the pH is in the proper range (6.3 – 6.5) the lawn will utilize all of the nutrients it gets during the year, creating a healthier, stronger and vigorously growing lawn. For more details on Soil pH, here is a link to our pH and Lime blog.
Don’t let crabgrass become a pain in your grass! The steps above will not only help you with crabgrass prevention and control, but they also promote a healthier lawn. With the tips above, you and your lawn professional can reduce crabgrass and make your lawn look beautiful for years to come. If you are in our service area or have any questions, feel free to contact us at 908-281-7888 or visit our website at www.fairwaygreeninc.com