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Lawn and Garden

What do the three numbers on the bags and boxes of fertilizer mean?

They represent the percentages of plant nutrients by weight. Just remember "up, down and all around." The first number represents the nitrogen, the second represents the phosphorus and the last one represents the potassium. These numbers are always expressed in the same order.

What is a good all-around, multi-purpose fertilizer?

A 12-12-12 helps promote growth and is good for all vegetables, flowers, fruit and nut trees, shade trees, evergreens and shrubs. A 1-1-1 ratio (10-10-10,15-15-15, 20-20-20, etc.) is widely used at the time of lawn establishment, but established lawns generally respond better to fertilizer ratios high in nitrogen. Two of the more common complete fertilizers used by homeowners for flowers and vegetables are 10-10-10 and 5-10-10. A high phosphorus fertilizer such as 6-18-6 is often recommended for vegetables when transplants are set out.

When should I apply fertilizers to plants and trees?

Don't apply liquid fertilizer at the same time you plant. Some root hairs will break, and the fertilizer will burn them. Wait two to three weeks after planting before you fertilize. In general, apply fertilizers to plants at the beginning of the growing season. For deciduous trees, fertilize when leaves appear; and for evergreens, when it turns cold. Shrubs do not require much fertilizing.

Can I spray my fruit trees from the ground?

Yes, a hose-end tree sprayer will do the job, but will often end up applying the chemical to other surrounding plants and the lawn. Consider using a ladder and a regular hose-end sprayer or pump sprayer.

How do I plant grass seed?

Start with top-quality grass seed. Work the soil up a little with a rake. If you are overseeding consider using a slicing machine. Evenly sowing larger areas by hand is difficult, so use a spreader. Cover the seeds by raking a little soil over them. Fertilize and mulch only if it's on a hillside. Use very little mulch. Water, water, water.

How often should I fertilize my lawn?

In early spring, apply a fertilizer with a pre-emergent herbicide. About six to eight weeks later in late spring apply a fertilizer with a post-emergent herbicide. In late summer, apply a fertilizer with insect control. In early fall, apply fertilizer to stimulate root growth. In late fall, apply a winterizer fertilizer that builds resistance to the cold and provides nutrients to extend the green period in the fall and green up quicker in the spring.

When is the best time to plant grass?

In late winter or early spring as soon as weather permits. Another good time is around Labor Day.

What is the difference between a round-point and square-point shovel?

Round-point shovels are used for digging, while most square points are used for scooping.

Is there any advantage of a metal leaf rake over a plastic leaf rake?

A metal rake usually has more spring and is better suited for large areas. It is easier to clean around flowerbeds, shrubs and bushes and does not rake up essential thatch in a lawn.

Can I repair my pump sprayer that has quit working?

Usually, this is the result of damaged seals in the pump. Most manufacturers sell a repair kit. In addition, the sprayer will not work if the tip is clogged and needs cleaning.

When should I prune?

Typically, it's best to do this trimming when the plant is dormant before it is budding.

What is the difference between a two-cycle and a four cycle-engine?

With a two-cycle engine, you will have to mix oil with the gasoline. Four-stroke engines tend to be more efficient and usually require less maintenance.

I need a tool to trim my evergreens.

Anvil pruning shears work well on light foliage. For heavier cutting, a lopping shear with more leverage will be needed. For other trees, a bypass shear provides a cleaner cut that those trees prefer.

What size of string do I need to buy for my string trimmer?

This varies greatly. You either need to bring in your old string or know what brand and model you have. If you don't know, we can make a guess. If we are right, you won't have to come back. If you have an electric trimmer, it's probably .064 and if you have a gas trimmer it's most likely .080.

Are lawn mower blades specific to particular mowers?

Yes, you need to know the brand, width of the cut and whether it is a mulching mower. Some blades come with adapter kits that allow them to be used on different brands.

What is the best way to water a lawn?

Once a week for an extended period (slow watering) rather than more often for shorter periods of time. This allows moisture to go deeper into the soil.

I have a good hose but it has a small break in the middle. Can I patch this?

Cut out the bad section and connect the two lengths with a hose mender. Simply slide on the compression fitting and screw on the connector. There are also replacement male and female hose couplers that can replace damaged ends. The plastic ones are easier to use.

Which is better, rubber or vinyl hose?

Rubber hose will last longer and will not kink as easily. However, it is heavier and more cumbersome to handle.

When is the best time of day to water?

Some people mistakenly believe that daytime watering can burn their grass, but the best time to water is actually from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. If that is not possible then morning or early evening.

When do I apply insect controls?

These can be applied anytime there is a problem. However, a preventative application for surface insects should be made in late spring. The best time to attack insects below the surface is in late July and early August. This application should include watering the lawn before and after the application to ensure the insecticide gets down to the root zones where the grubs are active.

Do you have a grass and weed killer that can be safely used around a flowerbed?

There are many brands, but they will all harm flowers. You can try to shield the plants from overspray, but the best way is to simply pull the weeds.

What is the difference between annual, perennial and biennial weeds?

Annual weeds, such as crabgrass, germinate from seeds each spring. After maturing, they drop seeds before dying. These are the seeds that germinate the following year. Perennial weeds, such as dandelions, do not die at the end of growing season. They may lay dormant in the winter, but will become noticeable in the spring. There are also biennial weeds, such as thistle, which grow vegetation in the first year and then flower and die the second year.

When should I plant flower bulbs?

Planting times vary, but as a general rule, earlier in the fall is better than later. Bulbs need to establish strong root systems, before the frosts of winter set in and the bulbs enter a new cycle in preparation for spring blooming. Remember to plant bulbs in an area that drains well and water newly planted bulbs to help those roots get going.

In fertilizer what is nitrogen needed for?

It's the up. It promotes plant growth and greening, thus providing more foliage, color and density.

In fertilizer what does phosphorous do?

This is the "down" number. It stimulates cell building and root growth and is particularly beneficial in helping seedlings, flowers and vegetables to develop.

In fertilizer what does potassium do?

It assists plants in forming starches and proteins, thus promoting plant hardiness, disease resistance and a tolerance to drought and cold. It's the "all-around" number.

What are micronutrients?

These are nutrients, such as sulfur and iron, that plants need in tiny amounts. Generally, micronutrient deficiencies are not common because organic matter and most soils and fertilizers contain sufficient amounts.

What are special-purpose fertilizers?

Some fertilizers are designed for certain uses or types of plants such as citrus food, rose food or azalea food. For example, azalea fertilizer has been specifically formulated to acidify the planting medium. Packaging of other fertilizers for specific types of plants is often based more on marketing then reliable research. Pick the most inexpensive product that supplies the correct amount of needed nutrients.

What are the advantages of synthetic fertilizers?

They're faster acting than organic making them a good choice for aiding plants in severe distress from nutrient deficiencies. These fertilizers, which come as dry, granular pellets or water-soluble products, also provide even, consistent feeding.

What are the advantages of granular pellets?

They are usually less expensive than their organic counterparts. They can be applied by simply spreading them around plants or using a spreader to apply them to a lawn.

What are time-released granular pellets?

These controlled-release fertilizers provide consistent feeding for three to nine months, depending on the product. The fertilizer granules are coated with a permeable substance. With each watering, a bit of fertilizer diffuses through the coating and into the soil. Advantages include the need for fewer applications and less of a chance of burning the plant. However, they do not provide as quick a boost and they cost more.

What are the advantages of water-soluble fertilizers?

These dry or liquid concentrates must be diluted in water before application. They are applied with a hose-end sprayer or a watering can. They are relatively expensive, but they are easy to apply and provide even feeding. They are easy to use, especially on container plants. There is no risk of burning a plant as long as you follow label directions for dilution, and the nutrients, in solution, are available to plant roots immediately. They are less practical than the solids for large-scale use because of their greater cost and because they must be reapplied more often (their nutrients in solution leach through the root zone more rapidly).

What are the advantages and disadvantages of organic fertilizers?

The word "organic" simply means that nutrients contained in the product are derived from a once-living organism. Most are high in just one of the three major nutrients and low in the other two. Their major advantage is adding bulk to the soil. Except for manure, the organics generally release their nutrients over a fairly long period. However, the potential drawback is that they may not release enough of their principal nutrient at a time to give a plant what it needs for best growth. Because they depend on soil organisms to break them down, most organic fertilizers are effective only when the soil is moist and warm.

How much ground will lawn fertilizer cover?

Lawn needs are usually based on nitrogen needs and vary from 1 to 6 pounds needed per 1,000 square feet per year. Specific amounts depend on the type of grass. Leaving grass clippings on the lawn usually reduces this number by 1 pound.

I have some bare spots in my lawn. What do you recommend for starting grass growth?

There are lawn patching products that are specifically formulated for these situations. It is a mulch that contains seed and fertilizer. You apply the mulch to the bare spot and keep it watered.

I want to fertilize my lawn and prevent crabgrass, but I just seeded my lawn. What should I use?

There is a product specially formulated as a pre-emergent that prevents crabgrass but allows grass seed to germinate.

Do you have an ice melter that will not damage concrete or adjoining grass?

Yes, one option is a product that uses a specially formulated corn derivative.

What is lawn thatch?

It's a layer of stems and the crowns of dead grass just above the soil. While clippings decompose quickly, thatch decomposes slowly. When it builds up, it creates a problem. Either use a de-thatching machine or a core-aerating machine to fix the problem.

How short should I cut my grass?

About 2" or 3", but never more than about 1/3 of its length.

I used a shade-tolerant grass seed in a shady area, but I am still having trouble getting the grass to grow.

Make sure you keep this area well watered, and do not cut it as short as the rest of the lawn. In addition, rake the leaves in the winter. If you still have a problem, you may have to trim the branches on a tree that is blocking the light or cover the area with mulch.

On long-handled tools, such as a shovel, what is the advantage of the more expensive ones?

The higher-priced sho vels have a sturdier construction and have better materials. For example, the composite handles are less likely to break.

Should I buy a long-handled or short-handled shovel?

A job's limited space may require a short handle. However, a long handle supplies more leverage and allows you to work in a more upright position. As a result, a long-handled shovel is usually a better choice.

What are the advantages of shovels with curved handles?

These are called back savers because they allow you to work without bending over.

What sizes of wheelbarrows are there?

For general use around the yard, there are 3-cubic-foot and 4-cubic-foot models. The heavy-duty 6-cubic-foot model is designed for commercial use.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of drop spreaders and broadcast spreaders?

A drop spreader allows for precise applications, such as along flower beds, but it typically takes a little longer and requires you to make sure that you do not put too much or too little in one area. Broadcast spreaders are quicker and require less precision.

Which are better, plastic or metal trashcans?

Most people prefer the heavy-duty plastic models because they do not bend or get out of shape as easily. However, metal cans make good storage containers for things such as birdseed, when you want to protect the contents from mice, rats, squirrels and insects.

What type of pump sprayer do you recommend?

For the homeowner, the plastic ones are often a good choice because they will not rust. Some of these have metal wands and tips, which are stronger, more durable and easier to clean.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of anvil and bypass pruners?

Anvils provide one blade that is pushed up against a flat surface. These are less expensive and are good on dried wood. Some experts also believe evergreens also prefer this type of cut. Bypass pruners allow you to cut larger branches (up to about ?").

What are compound pruners?

These use a mechanical action so the tool does more of the work. It requires less effort and force.

What do I use to cut branches more than 1"?

Loppers are used on small trees and bushes up to 2" in diameter. They are essentially oversized pruners and are also available in compound models. For larger branches, you will need a saw. These come in a variety of styles. Essentially, you need to pick one that will allow you to get at the branches.

What's the best way to trim large branches with a saw?

About 6" to 1' away from the trunk of the tree, cut about halfway up through the branch. Next, cut down from the top. Finally, cut off the stub at its collar on the trunk.

How do I take care of my pruning tools?

Simply keep them clean and wipe them down with light oil. Oil their pivot points and blades and keep them sharp.

What is the advantage of composite handles on an ax or maul?

These cost a little more than wood-handled versions, but they are stronger. This can be particularly important if you have a tendency to overstrike, which can break a wood handle. In the past, wood handles were easier to replace, but new composite designs make these easy to fix as well. Some people say they prefer the feel of wood and that it creates less vibration.

I am trying to decide which is better for me - a gas or electric chain saw.

Gas chain saws can be used anywhere and are more powerful. Plus, they come in larger bar sizes. Electric chain saws must stay within the limits of an extension cord.

What should I look for when buying a lawn mower?

For a mulching or self-propelled mower, you need plenty of horsepower. Look for one that has a 5- to 6-horsepower engine.

How do I maintain my mower after each use?

After each mowing, wait until the engine cools and then use a hose to spray the clippings and grass debris that may be clinging to the underside of the mower deck. Some people recommend that you get your blade sharpened about once a month.

What about annual maintenance on my mower?

If you are going to store your mower for the winter, disconnect the sparkplug and drain the fuel from the tank. Then, reconnect the sparkplug and run the engine until it runs out of gas. This keeps aging fuel from going bad inside the engine. In the spring, change the oil in the mower if you have a four-stroke engine. In addition, replace the spark plug, fuel filter and air filter.

How should I trim?

Most people use a power trimmer that spins a nylon line. Try to keep it at the same height as your mowed grass. Remember cutting grass too short can damage it. And always remember to wear protective eyewear and heavy clothing on your legs.

What is an edger?

This tool provides a vertical cut into the soil, to create a clean line between a lawn and a flowerbed, driveway, sidewalk or some other structure. The fastest models are powered models. A non-powered edging tool looks like a shovel with a small blade shaped like a half moon. You can push the blade in with your foot so that it slices off a thin piece of turf, leaving a clean, straight edge of soil along the edge of the lawn.

When buying a trimmer or edger, should I buy gas-powered or electric models?

If you can reach every corner of your yard with a 150' extension cord, you should consider an electric model. They typically cost less, are quieter and require less maintenance. If you have a larger yard, then a gas-powered model may be better.

Is there a power tool that I can use to trim evergreens with?

Yes, there are electric hedge trimmers. They come in different sizes. The larger units are more powerful, but do not buy a model that is too heavy for you to handle.

Which is better, an electric or gas leaf blower?

A gas blower provides mobility and is more powerful.

Are there tree-trimmers you can use from the ground?

Yes, pole tree trimmers typically extend 12' to 20'. Shears with a pulley and rope can cut about a 1" diameter branch, and saws are used on branches up to about 6". For these and larger branches, you may want to consider a chain saw.

How big of a snow blower do I need?

Most consumers buy a single-stage model, which has a rubber paddle that reaches to the ground. People with driveways that are wider than two cars may want to consider a two-stage model. These can throw snow farther because they have an intake and an impeller that throws the snow. However, these do not always clean all the way to the surface of the drive.

I need a glove to work in chemicals.

Use a neoprene-treated glove. It is chemical resistant.

I need a glove to work in the yard.

If you are using tools or equipment such as a rake, ax, shovel, lawn mower or string trimmer, you should consider a leather glove. It will offer comfort and protection while a standard canvas or cloth glove can be your choice if all you want to do is keep your hands clean.

What's a better choice in edgers: electric or gas?

Since all gas-powered equipment is noisy, some people prefer the electric models. The cordless models have run times of about one hour, which is generally sufficient for homeowners.

What should I consider in a leaf blower?

It's best to buy a blower that can be reversed and also used as a vac. This allows you to sweep up the leaves, and some models even have a mulching feature.

Are cordless electric hedge trimmers a good choice?

For general use they are more than adequate, but most only offer run times of less than one hour. Some corded models are more heavy duty.

Is there a sprinkler that I can restrict to a small rectangular area between two buildings?

Yes, an oscillating sprinkler can be set so that it will direct water to a specific area. There are also pattern sprinklers.

What is an impulse sprinkler and what are its advantages?

It will water a large area with minimum evaporation.

I have a large area to water, but I don't want to be bothered with moving the sprinkler.

Use a traveling sprinkler, it moves under its own power along a track of hose and has an automatic shutoff feature.

I notice there is quite a price range in hoses. What do I get for my money?

The less expensive hose is not reinforced. Medium-priced hoses are usually 5/8" and have some reinforcement in the walls. Higher-priced hoses have more reinforcement and are usually made with rubber.

What is a soaker hose?

It is a hose that is blocked at the end and moisture seeps through its walls. It can be weaved through a garden to provide water directly onto the soil.

How do I rid my lawn of moles?

You must first get rid of the food source - grubs, sod webworms and some beetles. Then you can use either a toxic cartridge that "smokes" their holes or a toxic pellet that you place in the burrows.

I have roaches in a basement room. What do you recommend?

There are both room foggers and roach bait.

Do you have anything that can clear an outside area of flying insects?

There are electric insect foggers and, for smaller areas, there are outdoor foggers that come in an aerosol can.

My neighbor's dog is killing my evergreen. He comes to the same spot everyday.

Apply a dog and cat repellent.

Wasps have built a nest on our patio. How can I get rid of them?

There are sprays that have a range of 20' so that you can stand far away and still be effective. Some sprays leave a foam so that returning pests will also be killed.

What do you recommend for eliminating mice in the house?

There are a variety of traps, or you can use pellets that you can place in the area.

How can I keep rabbits out of my garden?

There is a galvanized fence that is 28" high.

How do insecticides work?

There are basically two types: systemic and non-systemic. The systemic is absorbed by the plant and makes it poisonous. The non-systemic provides a coating on the outside of the plant.

I have bugs damaging my plants. What insecticide should I use?

It's difficult to tell unless you can identify the bug. There are books to look through, and many insects are illustrated on the bottles of insecticide.

When do I apply pre-emergent herbicides?

These are applied in late winter or early spring before seeds begin to germinate.

When do I apply post-emergent herbicides?

These are used on weeds that are actively growing and should be applied in mid spring. Another excellent time is in early fall.

Why should I use mulch in my beds?

It retains moisture in the soil, reduces the growth of weeds, protects ground temperature, prevents erosion, attracts earthworms, enriches the soil and adds to the beauty of the planting.

When and how do I apply mulch?

Summer is the best time. Applying in the spring slows the soil's ability to warm naturally. Course mulches should be applied 3" to 4" deep and fine mulches 1" to 2" deep. It should be wet thoroughly after application. One cubic foot of course mulch should cover about 3 to 4 square feet of space.

What is the difference between a standard sheet of plastic and a landscape fabric?

A landscape fabric lets water through while preventing weeds from growing. While plastic will stop weeds, it does not allow moisture penetration. Cutting small holes for your plants prevents weeds from growing in the bed but still allows your plants to get moisture. A sheet of plastic could be used if you are trying to keep anything from growing in an area, such as under a deck.

Is there anything I need to do to winterize a young tree in my yard?

Some people recommend that you use a wrap to help prevent frost damage.

How do I compost?

Compost converts waste material into a fertilizer. Bins should be almost 30 cubic feet to ensure they retain enough heat to spur composting. Choose a location for your bin that is partially shaded. A pile can contain leaves, grass clippings, prunings, straw, spoiled hay, coffee grounds, eggshells, paper and wood ash. Remember, you should add about equal parts of green material (nitrogen), like fresh grass clippings and food scraps, to one part brown material (carbon), such as leaves. Keep it as wet as a wrung-out sponge and aerate your pile by stirring it once a week. You can layer in manure, garden soil and commercial fertilizer to speed bacterial action. You should have finished compost in about three months.

How close should bulbs be planted together?

Groups of bulbs make a much nicer show. To create greater color impact in the garden, plant clusters of same-color flowers together in blocks or "bouquets." Generally, larger bulbs should be planted 3" to 6" apart, smaller bulbs 1" to 2" apart.

How do I transplant flowers?

First, dig a hole a little larger than the plant's rootball. Put your hand over the rootball and turn the container over. Now, you can gently pull off the container with your other hand. Set the rootball in the hole, cover with loose soil, press down firmly and water thoroughly.

How long will it take to replant flowers?

If the soil is well prepared, you can plant a flat of about 36 flowers in about 30 minutes.

What is a perennial?

These flowers will survive winter and return the next summer. If you plant perennials, you will not have to replant them next year unless you want to move them to a new location.

What is an annual?

These plants last one season and die out.

How do I plant a tree?

For best results, choose at least a 5' tall tree. Select a site with enough room for roots and branches to reach full size, and don't forget to avoid overhead and underground utilities. Prepare the area by loosening the soil three to five times the diameter of the root-ball. Dig a hole in the middle set the root-ball even with the ground level. Then water the soil. If the tree will not stand up in the wind, stake it down. Spread a 2" or 3" layer of mulch on the prepared area, but do not put any mulch within 6" of the tree trunk.

What tools do I need to spread mulch?

If you are using bags of mulch, simply pour the mulch out and spread it with a rake. If you have had a pile of mulch delivered, you should use a pitchfork specifically designed for picking up mulch. Use it to put the mulch in a garden cart or wheelbarrow to take it where you want to spread it.

Planting Trees and Shrubs

  • Good grass is important, but it is only one element in a beautiful lawn. Grass can be enhanced by attractive trees, shrubs, flowers, etc. Although trees and shrubs are hearty plants, they must be planted correctly to survive.
  • The first step in planting trees and shrubs is to give them plenty of room (see image). Make the hole in which the tree or shrub is to be planted wide enough for the longest root to be laid into it without crowding. A rule of thumb is to make the hole in which the tree or shrub is to be set 50 percent larger than the diameter of the roots of the plant.
  • You can save yourself considerable cleanup time by piling the soil dug from the hole onto canvas or plastic sheets. This also prevents the piled dirt from killing or damaging the grass around the hole.
  • It's a good idea to mix some peat moss into the soil when replacing it around the newly set plant or tree.
  • If the shrub or tree is in a container, dig the hole at least 2" deeper than the root in the container (see image). Loosen the soil below the root and add a small amount of plant food.
  • Remove the shrub or tree from the container and lower it into the hole. Refill the hole with thoroughly loosened soil. Then, form a mound with additional soil around the edge of the newly dug hole. This provides a basin to hold water until the plant is thoroughly rooted in the new location.
  • If the tree or shrub is a bare-root plant, unwrap the roots of the tree after the hole is dug and place it in position. Hold the plant upright with a spading fork while you tamp the loose dirt around the roots (see image). Always set the shrub or tree about 2" lower in the ground than it was originally set before replanting.
  • Use plenty of water when resetting balled or bare-root plants. Fill the basin around the tree and let the water soak in thoroughly. After one complete soaking, resoak it again.
  • If the tree or shrub is a bare-root plant, unwrap the roots of the tree after the hole is dug and place it in position. Hold the plant upright with a spading fork while you tamp the loose dirt around the roots (see image). Always set the shrub or tree about 2" lower in the ground than it was originally set before replanting.
  • Use plenty of water when resetting balled or bare-root plants (see image below). Fill the basin around the tree and let the water soak in thoroughly. After one complete soaking, resoak it again.
  • Water is essential to a new shrub or tree in the first few days after replanting. Keep the hole wet during this period. Be sure to build up a basin arrangement to keep water on the plant for several days. Water your newly planted shrub or tree every week to 10 days during a dry spell.
  • After replanting the tree or shrub, trim it to the shape and size desired. Pruned limbs will heal faster if you make slanting cuts just above the bud (see image). Spray pruned areas with special pruning spray immediately after trimming to deter insects and disease organisms.
  • Protect the new plant against injury and disease by covering the lower part of the tree trunk with a tree wrap. Start the wrap just above the roots and a little below soil level. Continue wrapping to just below the lowest limb (see image). Hold the wrap in position with cord.
  • Keep the soil loosened around the new plant and give it a good start by feeding it lightly with plant food. Soak the food into the soil by watering (see image below). Feed any new plant with plant food both in the spring and fall until it reaches maturity.
  • You can create interesting clumps of trees by tying different varieties.

For additional information on these and other lawn and garden questions, check out these helpful links:

How to Plan a DeckBuilding Wood Fences
How to Build a DeckInstalling a Sprinkler System
Building Outdoor StairsComposting
Maintain a Lawn 

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