16 April 2013


What is thatch?  Thatch is living and dead plant material in a lawn that has built up on top of the soil that is slow to decompose.  Hybrid Bermudagrass and Zoysia have more problems with thatch than other types of grass.  A certain amount of thatch is acceptable - up to a half inch can regulate the temperature of the soil, retain moisture and provide decomposing plant material for insects, earthworms and microbes.  More than a half inch of thatch can be a problem, because it prevents water and pesticides from reaching the soil when applied.

How do I get rid of thatch?  Timing is important - for warm-season grasses, this should be done after the grass has greened up or later, when it is actively growing.  Around here, that is late April or early May.  Don't apply in very hot or dry weather.  If you have a small area, you can use a de-thatching rake - it's similar to a garden rake, but it has curved tines which pull the thatch layer away from the soil.  If you have a large area, you will need to use some sort of powered de-thatching equipment.  It has vertical blades that cut through the thatch layer, making it easier to remove with a rake.  Once the thatch is removed, you need to water your lawn to help it recover - in addition, a week later, a fertilizer application of one pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet should be applied to your lawn and watered in thoroughly.

How do I prevent thatch?  Good lawn maintenance is key.   Mowing at the proper height for your type of grass is one way.  Also don't over-fertilize or over-water.  For more information , please see:  HGIC 2360 Controlling Thatch in Lawns.

14 April 2013

Unlikely Garden Resources

I planned to write an update for the following article this spring, so I went to Wal-Mart and Lowe's earlier this year looking for cool-season vegetables and I never found the abundance that I did a few years ago.  With the bad economy, people had started vegetable gardens, and they were growing more than just tomatoes in the summer.  A few big box stores were capitalizing on this and sold a larger selection of vegetables.

I looked at Wal-Mart in February when I planted potatoes and onions and they didn't have any.  And while I didn't look specifically for them at Lowe's, I was in and out of there a number throughout the spring and I didn't see any.  I went back the other day and I found their display. They had a huge variety of onions, garlic, shallots, and potatoes.  It's the absolutely wrong time to plant now, but I was looking at them and wondering if I could store them until fall (or spring, in the case of potatoes) and plant them at that time.  Maybe they will be deeply discounted.  Maybe they just threw them away.  I'll have to find out.

Red potato plant in bloom
Over the past couple of years, there has been a large increase in the amount of people trying to grow their own food.  It used to be people grew tomatoes or squash in the summer, but it has expanded to include other vegetables.  Excluding traditional feed and seed sources, Lowe's started selling onion sets in the spring a couple of years ago.  Last year they had these garden packs - asparagus, strawberries, potatoes, onions, leeks and shallots in small amounts, in various combinations, for the home gardener.

I made a discovery Wednesday at Wal-Mart.  I was leaving through the garden are and noticed a display that looked like it had a few winter vegetables.  I was expecting a few veggies mixed in with flower bulbs.  I was surprised to find that it was all vegetables.  They had asparagus crowns, strawberries, garlic, two types of shallots, two types of onions, and five types of potatoes.

Feed and seed stores are usually good for a couple of varieties of a couple of vegetables, in large quantities, at reasonable prices.  The vegetables at Wal-Mart are packaged in smaller quantities for the home gardener and they are more expensive.  Most home gardener don't have the need for five pounds of one variety of potato or two pounds of onion sets.  What Wal-Mart does right is it offers more specialty vegetables.

Asparagus is a perennial, which means that it lives for more than a year.  Most people probably don't have enough room in their garden to commit to asparagus for a number of years - I know I don't.

Most people grow strawberries here and there.  They can be perennials, but some experts suggest replanting fresh plants every year.  I've never grown them, but I know Robin would like me to.  I think I have issues with plants that need a certain amount of daylight to produce fruit or flowers, etc.  I think I will try growing them before long.

Any reader of this blog knows that I have had no real success with onions.  Wal-Mart offers two varieties in small quantities.  I may continue to try growing them, but I won't devote as much space to them as I have been.  And, on second thought, I may not buy them there either - a lot of them had already sprouted and had fairly long green shoots poking out of the bags.

I tried growing garlic almost a year and half ago.  The only place you can reliably find garlic is in a catalog or the grocery store.  The catalog can get expensive when you figure in shipping, so I decided to try planting garlic from the grocery store.  I wasn't expecting great results, but I thought I would give it a shot.  I waited a little late to pull them up - they had been sitting in soil that was a little waterlogged.  I put them on a shelf in the garage to dry and forgot about them.  They're still there and I noticed that started sprouting recently.   I suppose they would be fine plants, but they would not produce very good bulbs.  Wal-Mart is selling  garlic bulbs and I'm sure it's in small amounts and affordable.  I'd rather have found them in the fall, when you're supposed to plant them.  Maybe I can buy them and keep them around until October.  We'll see.

I've never grown shallots, but I'd like to.  If Robin will use them, I'll grow them.  I just don't think we've ever eaten them around here before.  I also think it's great that Wal-Mart has potatoes.  Although I'll buy the bulk of my seed potatoes, I may buy the blue potatoes that they are selling.  I like growing a few odd things.

That's it for vegetables at Wal-Mart.  I blogged about more traditional sources for some of these here.  Go out and try to grow some of these this spring!

10 April 2013

10th Annual Spring Park Circle Plant Swap

I missed the plant swap last fall, so I thought I would be really excited about the one this weekend, but I wasn't.  The main reason is that I have been very busy the past few weeks and did not prepare as much as I usually do.  Last year I had grown a lot of things that I ended up taking to the swap.  Spring this year has been on the cool side and it hasn't been very warm until the past few weeks - and then it was more than ten degrees colder this weekend!

So, here's what I managed to scare up for the swap, and I'm warning you - it wasn't much:  a couple of Sago
Palms that I decided I didn't have a place for, three small tuberous begonias that survived the winter and being eaten by chickens, a couple of arrowhead plants that were growing in a pot that someone was throwing out, and lots of alligator plants, that came from something else someone was throwing out.  Like I said - not much.

I think I talked about how either the swaps aren't as good as they used to be, or that I'm just not in to them as I was before, and that was the same this time.  I hadn't really thought about what I hoped to find there until the morning of the swap.  I realized that I ought to look for vegetables, especially tomatoes, so I don't have to go out and buy them, and maybe something for Robin's new house.

I saw a few things that I might want if I could get them, but nothing really jumped out at me.  There was a giant pot of native palms that I thought about, as well as a corpse flower cactus - I had one of these at one time, but I let it freeze.  I saw a couple of night blooming cactuses - I have two, but I thought I would get Robin one.  I did get a few good things:  Mother-in-law's Tongue - I have some, but I thought I would get more, a couple of cactus cuttings, and some daisies for Robin.  Robin found a rubber plant, a few succulents, and she decided that she wanted a sago palm after all, and she found a pineapple bromeliad for me.  The best part of the swap was when someone showed up very late with flats of vegetable plants.  We got "moon and stars" watermelons, plus another variety, cukes, and some purple/red okra.
I plan to re-pot a few of the plants for Robin and plant the vegetables after I first pull up my unproductive peas.  It's either that or clear and make another row and that's a little too much work at the moment.  Happy Earth Day!

06 April 2013


This has been an interesting spring.  With the exception of a warm period in January, it has been kind
of average.  In recent years the weather has warmed up very quickly, like it was a race toward summer.  I was glad this year was looking a little more sane - mid-March and I just started to think about warm season vegetables.  But then something happened.  Since my posts about warm weather and last frost dates, it has turned cold - not bitterly cold temperatures, but a constant cold, with lows in the 30s and 40s.  It's enough to put a damper on spring for some of us.  In addition to the weather, a minor back injury has kept me from getting out in the garden.  Let me tell you what I'm missing in the garden.

One of my top priorities is raking - I know it should be a fall chore, but, when you have a live oak, it is a spring one.  Our grand oak holds onto its leaves all winter and then drops them in early spring.  It's not as bad as it seems - a few years ago I made a shade garden under the oak, so I would just have to rake the leaves into it when the time came.

Get the lawn mower started and mow the weeds - every spring I wonder if the mower will start.  Every year I tell myself that I will do the right thing and run it empty or buy some fuel stabilizer.  I also tell myself that I will change the oil and air filter too.  It wasn't starting earlier this spring, but I added a little fresh gas and it started right up.  Now to do what I always say I'm going to do.

Plant warm-season vegetables - this weekend finally looks like the end of cold weather, which means that I can really start to think about planting corn and squash and beans without worrying about it getting too cold at night.  Some of our coneflowers are even starting to bloom!

Hatch some chicks - now that nighttime temperatures are a lot warmer, it's safe to hatch some chicks.  I haven't completely decided what I'm going to do, but I have two broody hens that want to raise some chicks.  I thought about using some of our eggs again, but I also thought about getting eggs from someone else, so we could have completely different chickens.

I've been a little busy (and hurt) during the past few weeks, but I've got some more posts making their way down the pipeline as we speak.  Stay tuned.