This week we discuss the care, installation and maintenance of turf and we design and plant a beautiful moss covered container. Kevin McLean is in charge of the maintenance of this beautiful professional croquet court. This court was built in 1985. Underneath the surface is a herringbone patterned french drain system. Corrugated pipe is placed underneath the bed to keep the water from sitting on the grass. It percolates the water down from the grass. A solid base, the turf, is then needed. The turf used in this environment is Tift Dwarf Bermuda. It is used often in warm climates as opposed to bent grass which is used in cooler climates on putting greens.
This grass is cut to 1/8 of an inch this time of year. There is a new grass called Pastpallum which is like Bermuda but can be watered with brackish water. Regular Bermuda or Fescue couldn't be used in this environment because they cannot be cut so low. This grass is mowed 3 times a week with a reel type mower. It is also pattern cut which means they cut in a different direction every time they cut.
The lower you cut grass, the shorter the root system which creates the need for extra water to give the grass a nice, lush green color. Normally the length of the grass is equal to length of the roots. Because this grass is cut so low it requires watering every night. They water 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch per evening. They water in the evening because there is traffic and/or people playing croquet during the day. In the winter they don't water as deeply. As the season gets hotter they water more and cut the grass higher, to shade the root system.
They fertilize twice a year, once in the early spring, usually around April 15th and use a slow release granular fertilizer. They first soil test to determine the soils needs, then fertilize accordingly. They select something with about 50% slow release or coated nitrogen and something in the 27-3-4 works well for Bermuda. They use slow release because if you have too much Nitrogen and it is fast release it will damage or burn the grass. There is a little yellow here and there in this grass. Last week a spray company sprayed a post emergent herbicide - post emergent is for weeds that have already germinated, it kills those weeds and gets them out of the turf. While it is doing that since it's a herbicide it will yellow the grass a little. Also, and importantly, remember when those type chemicals are put down and the temperatures range from 85-90 degrees a little yellowing may occur, in fact it's possible to get a bit of burning. So pay attention to the temperature when spraying.
Mulch is a valuable commodity in the water efficient garden. almost anything that is organic matter and indigenous to your area can be used as mulch. In hot, dry, arid parts of the country mulching is essential. Pine straw or pine bark work well and should be applied two to three inches thick. It's a good idea to use different size materials, it allows water to percolate and air to move through easily, yet doesn't mat. One of the worst materials for mulching, especially in hot areas are rocks or pebbles. They act as heat sinks, they absorb heat, then remove the moisture from the soil. Light colored rocks reflect light into our eyes and onto plants. Dark colored rocks tend to absorb a lot of heat and re-release that heat into the ground, removing moisture.
There are new dyed mulches on the market. These may be dyed a specific color. One could coordinate the color of your house or other parts of your architecture. Don't make the mulch the focal point of the landscape. Mulch is also effective in keeping weeds under control. Mulch keeps sunlight from penetrating the earth, thus keeps weeds from germinating, thus reduces maintenance.
St. Augustine grass tolerates a wide range of conditions and heavy traffic. The variety Kevin is using is Bitter Blue. It works well in coastal regions and in warmer climates. It holds up well to foot traffic, even vehicle traffic. It is drought tolerant, but can handle wet areas. The coarse texture contrasts well with the fine texture of Bermuda. It thrives in sun or shade but isn't as lush or dense in shady areas. It will grow under trees. Fungus problems are rare, unless there is constant rain and areas that don't drain well. Chinch bugs and Mole Crickets are the only bugs that cause concern. Kevin cuts this grass once a week, they don't need to use a reel mower, just a regular mower. It has a very coarse textured blade that is tough on mower blades. They sharpen their blades after each mowing, this provides a clean cut. They fertilize similarly to the Bermuda. They use a high quality slow release fertilizer at 80% green-up, then again in the middle of the summer, July. They overseed with Rye every winter. This keeps the grass nice and green throughout the cool season. This doesn't harm the St. Augustine, it comes back every spring as vigorous as before. With these two grasses there is never a brown, down, turf time.
St. Augustine, like other warm season grasses, tends to creep. If you have dead areas, spaces that you want to fill in, add some good soil in that area and the St. Augustine will encroach or fill that space.
We look at a space where a runner or stolen of the St. Augustine grass is encroaching on the croquet court. St. Augustine isn't supposed to creep in this situation because it is being cut so short. The solution for this problem is to use a metal edging or a board edging and border the areas to keep the St. Augustine out. When doing weekly maintenance bring in your edger and trim around the edging.
Many get upset when something grows in our grass. Mushrooms are growing in the area. Kevin feels this is just an aesthetics problem. These are the flowering part of a fungus that's growing underneath the soil surface. It's not feeding off the grass, it's feeding on decaying matter underneath the grass. Kevin feels the best way to deal with these mushrooms is to cut them when mowing, otherwise leave them alone.
Kevin points out an area where St. Augustine is surviving in an extremely wet, boggy area. This area has drainage problems, there is no place for the water to go and people, lawn mowers and golf carts pass through. All of these tend to wear down the grass. This area needs to be fixed or a fungus problem will develop but for the time being the St. Augustine is surviving in this wet, boggy spot. It is tough stuff.
A challenge for time poor landscape managers and most homeowners is caring for turf in a time efficient manner. Kevin uses Bollards, they keep cars and golf carts from encroaching on the grass, yet don't become time consuming for those maintaining the turf. Many people will take a post and cement it into the ground. This causes a problem when mowing. A weed eater must be used, which is time consuming and they then need to be painted frequently because the paint is constantly chipped. Kevin uses a pressure treated 4x4 post, drills a hole in the bottom and inserts a piece of rebar. The rebar is placed in the ground and easily removed, then easily replaced after mowing. It's a good tip.
Kevin's secret for a successful lawn. Mow often and never take off more than a third of the blade.
Georgia Raimondi visits this week with Diane Devore a well known landscape architect in New England. Diane has designed a garden maze. Her client collects early American antiques and wanted an American garden. Diane points out that there was a maze in Colonial Williamsburg, so there is historical significance to a maze. As well this area is on top of a wetland so she was limited to what would succeed. The homeowner has a beautiful lawn that terminates at the hedges of the maze. It is a fun place and Diane has utilized native plants. To start something like this, pick out the configuration you like, draw something on a piece of paper, take it outside and start laying it out. Mark out the space allowing 2 1/2 to 3 feet for the foot path and 2-3 feet for the plants. Use string and nails to lay out the plan, these can easily be moved, then mark with turf paint, this will give an idea about finished design. Make sure everything is parallel, use an angle for the corners making sure they're 90 degrees. Typically hedges that can be pruned are used. Arborvite was used in this situation, it is a wetland plant but Privet or Taxis could be used. Many of these are inexpensive plants that are common in nurseries. Use a grass that might grow high in the winter, then cut it back in the spring. Diane has used gates that swing both ways, this enables the maze to be changeable. Each gate has a small peep hole with a different design so children can look through. This maze is fun for children and adults.
Kevin also is responsible for hanging baskets and today shows us how to make one. This container is large, about 24 inches across and has a heavy duty wire basket. Kevin prefers wire over plastic because it provides more structure and because wire baskets come in larger sizes. Kevin uses a new product, a moss liner - almost a carpet padding type product, with the moss glued on the outside. They buy these by size, for a 24 inch container for example, making it possible to drop it in and fold it over the top. It's time saving, attractive and blends well with the Spanish Moss in the surrounding areas. In the summer time take a piece of plastic liner, a 6 mil liner common at garden stores, put a lot of slits in for drainage help and line the basket, this helps retain water in the container. Kevin uses a professional potting mix, Metromix 300, it has Peralite, Vermiculite, washed sand and bark ash. Apparently it breaks the bark down so it doesn't tie up nitrogen. It also has starter fertilizer so the plants get a boost or jump start from the beginning. He then fills the basket about half full with the premium potting soil. Because he likes to use larger plants, the plants and the soil will fill the rest of the space. Kevin doesn't pack the soil which would compress the soil and not allow it to drain as well as it should. Kevin has used some outstanding plants. He places the tallest at the back. Strobelanthus, Persian Shield is striking. Its' leaf has a nice purple, silvery, almost metallic hue. It is drought tolerant. Next to this he places a Santolina, a commonly used herb, that works well in drought conditions and compliments the silvery hue of the Persian Shield. Make sure to use a well drained mix when using these two plants because they don't like it too wet. To insure a container looks good from the beginning he doesn't worry about using even or odd numbers of plants, just make it look good from day one. To save money one could use a smaller number of plants and let them grow out. Keep pinching them and they'll flush out. He places the plants in a symmetrical shape and allows them to cascade over the side of the container. Kevin adds Bacopa, it has nice trailing white flowers and will fill in nicely. The white picks up the silver. Plectranthus, has many names, Cuban Oregano, is in the herb family and has a pungent scent. Swedish Ivy is a close relative. It has a trailing habit, this one grows a little upright. It puts out runners and will trail over the side. The plants on the side have been angled to flow over the side to give a fuller, grander display. To pick up on the purple of the Strobilanthes, Kevin uses a Purple Verbena, this one is called Denim Blue. It gives a nice effect with the coarse texture of the Strobilanthes, the softer texture of the Santolina, both upright plants, then trailing plants Plectranthus, Bacopa and Verbena. It's a simple color scheme, but because the colors are echoed or repeated, purple is used in several places, it ties together. The white and silver draws your eye in the evening, in the moonlight, while the purple and dark colors are more visible during the day.
When Kevin plants he puts in a slow release fertilizer so all the plants will grow throughout the season. Every now and then he'll follow with a liquid fertilizer if the plants look weak or tired. Kevin likes a full basket so feeds the plants heavily.
He pinches the Santolina a little to bring out the height. This plant could be sheared, tightly clipped or just let it be more free formed.
Once the plants are set in the pot, he takes them out of their nursery containers and plants them. He uses this placing stage to get an overview of the design. And by only moving the roots once reduces stress on the roots and allows for design changes. Once done they ready to hang.