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Lawns, Bulbs and Thoughts of September

Change of Seasons Heralded by the Clarion Call of Yellow Jackets

When last we talked I was considering my options as a corn farmer. I am here to report that I successfully fed my resident deer herd with about fifty ears of corn, and managed to sample three and a half ears on my plate. The failure to perform was noted as I optimistically evaluated the rest of the gardens at our nano-estate. The state of the garden was tired; first soaked in June then dehydrated in July and August, followed by drenched in early September.

I decided to attack the weed problem in the flower beds. While removing the latest crop of crab-grass near a stand of now unknown rose bushes, I cleverly reached into the front door of a yellow-jacket nest, and then rather quickly stepped back into the second entrance. The resulting pain to both wrists and both ankles gave me ample time to begin working on my fall garden work list.By now many of my annuals are looking great, as are some of the more aggressive weeds.

I gave some consideration to spending time thoroughly weeding, but have rejected that course of action. For now is the time to remove the spring and summer annuals, and weeds, and to plant spring bulbs, winter pansies and autumn chrysanthemums and asters. Further, now is the time to reseed an established lawn, or begin a new lawn. Even though this seems to be a daunting amount of work there is an activity that we should not be thinking about. Now is not the time to prune almost anything. Do not get out your pruning shears. Do not even think of trimming anything but your grass. This is also not a good time to be feeding almost anything in the ground, except perhaps your lawn.

To Green, or Not Too Green: The Lawn Dicotomy

I am of two minds when it comes to lawns. There is something delightfully impracticable about a deep green, well-manicured expanse of order and calm. On the other hand, this same well-groomed monoculture is an example of a biological desert. I want to react negatively to the beautiful stretch of lawn, so mowed as to leave contemplative patterns that produce a strong desire to lie down and watch the clouds.

I however cannot, even though I love the meadow too.The key to a perfect lawn is the elimination of everything but your grass. I think I recall that Stravinsky once said that composing is easy; just take away the sounds that don’t belong. Thus too the perfect lawn. Keep in mind that diversity will be limited to a few select species of grass of your choosing which will mostly not be native to this area and will require a certain amount of tender loving care, money and time from you. Nature will be working against you on this project, attempting at every step to reset the playing field with plants of her choice.

This means that at some level, if you want perfection, organic is not going to work well with exotic non native lawn grasses. You will be compelled to apply chemicals. It is the classic problem with using non-native species which do not quite adapt to our expectations of perfection. We use, therefore, chemical agents to assist our exotic plant friends in their struggles to survive nature’s attempt to set the environment back to a balanced state.

Already My Thoughts Turn to Spring Blooms from Fall-Planted Bulbs…

Fall is for planting. The soil stays warm; the roots grow, and the gardener gets an early start on next year’s presentation and display. Imbedded in the last sentence is a clue to a brilliant spring garden. Bulbs! Now is the time to plant daffodils. You want to get an early start on root growth. Daffodils truly trumpet tidings of spring’s arrival. Brilliant color when everything else is just waking from winter’s slumber, they are among the least favorite food for the deer population.

Optimally, the soil temperature, according to bulb experts Brent and Becky Heath, in their wonderful book, “Daffodils For American Gardens”, should be around 60 degrees, six to eight inches in depth. Soil should be a sandy-loam with goodly amounts of organic material. Weeds should be deterred by a layer of mulch, which will also keep the bulbs cool and moist in the hot summer. Daffodils, along with tulips, crocus and hyacinths are the best bang for the buck with the least effort and the greatest chance of success.

The bulb is a ready-to-go package requiring nothing from you except placement. Daffodils return year after year, increasing in number when happy and asking for little from you. Wood edges, hillsides, formal garden plots, and road edges, there are no places where daffodils cannot add excitement to spring. In addition to all the inspired reasons to plant these bulbs, they come in a multitude of forms and colors.

Trumpets of yellow, white, gold, and pink can be found in cultivars such as ‘Delibes’, ‘Ice Follies’ and ‘Orangery’. Double flowered cultivars including ‘Golden Ducat’ result in double-takes from garden visitors. I find that a sprinkling of unusual color and texture cultivars such as ‘Flower Parade’, a yellow with an interesting dark center, and ‘Love Call’, which in certain light looks like a fried egg, among drifts of standards add glittering points of interest which catch the eye and cause the gaze to linger.

Mums: Perfect Companions to Spring Bulbs

Now is the time to plant, and, having chosen the colors and forms which appeal to you, do not forget to bring home a few chrysanthemums to brighten up your autumnal garden display. You can plant the bulbs and the mums together in the same area getting color now and again in spring. Remember, the daffodils are the easy and inexpensive way for great garden displays.

by: John Peter Thompson

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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