If you want to have your garden cake and eat it too, this third weekend of July marks one such occasion. There are fun projects on tap for apartment dwellers that will yield young plants to keep them company over the winter. For outdoor gardeners, there is a diversity of quick and easy projects worth pursuing, some of which offer immediate and long-term dividends for the landscape. Thankfully, there are no crises landing on your doorstep.
First, pause this weekend to take stem-tip cuttings from healthy outdoor plants, the idea being to launch as many as possible so you have an armful of colorful plants to accent the house over the winter. All your outdoor favorites are candidates for propagating, so you needn't worry about making a mistake. Basic plants like geraniums, impatiens, petunias, begonias, coleus and fuchsias are easy to propagate. While you're at it, you might as well root cuttings from healthy house plants summering outdoors, plants like aralia, chlorophytum (spider plant), citrus, croton, dieffenbachia, prayer plant (maranta) and tradescantia, among others.
If possible, take six-inch stem-tip cuttings from healthy plants with a sharp single-edge razor, immersing them immediately into a container of water. Cut below the point where leaves grow from the stem. Pinch off all foliage and stems on the lower half of the cutting, doing this while the cutting is submerged in water.
Root the cuttings in large plastic pots filled to the rim with wet vermiculite, with pulverized limestone added to raise the pH to about 6.5.
Run your finger over some petroleum jelly, then place your finger in the water and dab some on the base of each cutting immersed in the water. Next, remove the cutting from the water, roll the bottom half of the stem in hormone powder (Hormodin or Rootone), then poke a three-inch hole into the vermiculite with the eraser end of a pencil and insert your first cutting into the hole.
Using a kitchen knife, thrust it in the soil a half-inch to the side of the cutting, then use the flat blade to move soil next to the cutting. Repeat this on all sides of the cutting. Move an inch or more away and plant your next stem-tip cutting the same way.
When you have filled the large plastic pot with cuttings, spray-mist warm water over the soil, then place the pot into a large plastic bag. Gather the bag at the top, then blow into the bag to inflate it like a balloon. Tie the top securely with a twist cord or rubber band.
Next, move the assembly into the warmest room of the house, perhaps the garage, where it will receive strong indirect light. Every five days, remove the plastic bag, spray-mist warm water over the soil, then return the pot to the bag, securing it again at the top. Depending on the air temperature, cuttings will root in two-plus weeks, at which time we will have an update on potting rooted cuttings.
As for outdoor garden projects, you might consider any of the following:
The second invasion by the holly leafminer is underway, so if you found evidence of serpentine "trails" in some leaves over the past month, brace yourself for another brood. Pick off any leaves damaged by leafminers, but target an evening spray of Orthene (1.5 ounces to a gallon of water) to holly leaves in the evening. Add a commercial spreader-sticker to the spray so it clings to the waxy holly foliage. This is the last leafminer attack of the year.
Homeowners with chestnut trees should treat the soil under and around the tree with liquid Orthene now to control the small chestnut weevil. This pest will invade the nuts starting next month, ruining the crop in the process. If you treat the soil under the chestnut now with Orthene, with rain to follow, weevils in the top few inches of soil will be destroyed. Don't delay this treatment because they will be attacking chestnuts soon enough, by which time there is no control method.
Sunny lawns with past histories of summer grubworm damage should be protected soon. On the Eastern Shore, in southern Maryland and from Quantico southward target an application of a soil insecticide to the sunny lawn this weekend. Around the Capital Beltway, schedule the application next weekend.
In every case, you should use a granular product applied with the lawn spreader. Liquid sprays are inappropriate because the insecticide will be bound up in the thatch and could take weeks before being washed into the soil. The product will degrade in the thatch because of exposure to sunlight.
Your best controls are granular Dursban or Dylox, applied at the rate specified on the label. If needed, cut the lawn first, then apply the granular product. A thunderstorm or downpour soon after the application will give you instant control of grubworms on the sunny lawn. The day after the rain, look for soon-to-die grubs popping up everywhere on the lawn surface.
On some sunny lawns, the second brood of chinch bugs and sod webworms is underway. The grass exhibits different dieback symptoms for each insect. With chinch bugs, the dieback always takes an irregular shape, almost like a lightning bolt, generally on parts of the lawn near the driveway, sidewalk or other reflected heat surface. Dieback could run several inches to almost two feet in length.
Sod webworms are most active in lawn areas far away from reflected heat surfaces. At first, grass dies in small circles about the size of softballs, with some pea-size, green pellets deposited in the dieback by these soil insects. The circles of dead grass get larger as webworms siphon off sugar from blades of grass.
Should you find evidence of chinch bugs or sod webworms on sunny grass, you want to treat it altogether differently than for grubs. Here, wait until a heavy downpour, at which time these soil insects leave the waterlogged thatch covering the lawn surface and climb onto the tall blades of grass.
When the rain ends, add liquid Dursban to the jar of the hose-end sprayer, add water to the two-gallon mark, move the deflector in place and spray about 1,000 square feet of lawn area. As the spray settles on the grass blades, the soil insects die.
If you treated your sunny lawn in March with pre-emergent Gallery for near-absolute weed control, we remind you to make a second spray to your lawn this weekend or in the next week.
As before, put 10 or 12 gallons of water in a clean trash can, stir in one tablespoon and one teaspoon of powdered Gallery, then use a two-gallon sprinkling can to apply the entire solution to 1,000 square feet of sunny grass. Rain over the next three weeks will activate the Gallery so no fall weeds will sprout on your lawn this year. This means no chickweed, betony or henbit weeds on your lawn this winter, or dandelions, clover, lambsquarters or spurge, among others, next spring.
Sunny lawns not treated with Balan in early June are showing generous clumps of goosegrass, also known as silver crabgrass. Check the stems exiting the soil to see it they are silvery-white and resemble crow's feet. Treat goosegrass immediately with Super Crabgrass Killer, two applications a week apart. Cut the lawn and treat the goosegrass during the heat of the day.
If the temperature is 90 or more, use a half-ounce in sufficient water to treat 1,000 square feet. If the temperature is less than 90, use the label rate of one ounce.
Decision time about your lawn is almost here. If your lawn is a disaster by your own description, move onto the renovation program this weekend by fertilizing. Start by adjusting the lawn mower wheels to give a fairly low cut. Install the bagging attachment or buy one if you don't have one, then cut the lawn. Put everything into trash can liners for the sanitation crew.
Next, fertilize with whatever you have: Turf Builder, 10-6-4 or 5-10-5. Use the rate specified on the label, then take out the sprinkler and soak your lawn. So much the better if it rains soon after you fertilize. Weeds will start growing rapidly, making it easier to put the disaster lawn in limbo in three weeks.
Jack Eden is the host of "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM).