Even though Thanksgiving is almost here and more attention is being focused on indoor plants, it's a bit too soon to close the curtain on the outdoor landscape.
Certainly, if you are hosting the family next week, launch the holiday season in grand style, but remember to tackle the last-minute chores that guarantee a perfect landscape when the first buds announce the arrival of spring next March. The priorities aren't many, but they are crucial nonetheless.
On the lawn, this is probably your next-to-last mowing of the turfgrass, so lower the wheel adjustment levers another notch to the 1 1/2- to 2-inch cutting mark. Bag the clippings and add them to your new compost pile.
This weekend or next week, target your dormant fertilization of the lawn with IBDU Turf Assurance, this time at the higher rate on the label to apply 1.5 pounds of slow-release nitrogen for each 1,000 square feet of lawn area. All lawns except zoysia should receive the IBDU application after you cut the lawn.
Mindful of last year's snowstorm the day before Thanksgiving, try to apply IBDU as soon as possible. Your lawn will pale a little from its fall color, but will keep its green appearance over the entire winter.
Since the lawn is soon to be put to bed, consider making a final check on the pH with your electronic pH soil tester. Knowing that today's lawn pH will certainly decline over the winter because of rain and snow washing lime from the root zone, we should be adjusting the pH now before the ground freezes.
Liming now to reach pH 7 is certainly in order -- use dolomitic lime, pulverized lime or ground limestone. On sandy soil, delay all liming until early March, but test the pH every two weeks thereafter to maintain acceptable limits for turfgrass.
If you upgraded your lawn in August or September, the new grass has already matured, therefore you can safely attack any weeds that have surfaced this fall. North-facing lawns attract chickweed while south lawns host betony, henbit and speedwell.
Since these weed seeds only sprout from mid-September to mid-March, early control will prevent weeds from creating seeds which, in turn, would lead to more weeds over the next four months. Bring weed samples with you to the garden shop and they will diagnose for you.
Homeowners who embarked on the "latecomer lawn program" a week ago should witness the gradual disappearance of weeds. In preparation for manual or powered de-thatching of the lawn the first weekend of December, equipment rental stores should be contacted now to reserve the machine when needed. Also, purchase sufficient grass seed now so you can overseed the lawn the first week of the new year.
Overseeding rates for each 1,000 square feet are as follows: tall fescue, four pounds; fine fescue, two pounds; perennial ryegrass, four pounds; and Kentucky bluegrass, one pound.
Mid-November is the best time of year to prepare flower and vegetable gardens for spring planting, especially since at no other time of year is it possible to incorporate fresh cow manure into the soil. With its high urea and nitrogen content, fresh cow manure must leach some of its energy into the soil over the winter, otherwise roots of adjacent plants would be killed.
Manuring isn't for everyone. The thought of lugging home fresh cow manure in the trunk of the car, then digging it into the garden, is enough to make some people forsake gardening altogether. However, for those who have yet to work any miracles with plants, the idea of picking 150 tomatoes per plant or growing 16-foot tall sunflowers may be appealing. If you are so motivated, the next three weeks are important.
First, there is no substitute for fresh cow manure. Composted cow manure is just that: composted. The good things are gone. Dehydrated cow manure is just that: moisture has been heated away and a pleasant odor imparted to the product. Nice things are sometimes said about it, but dehydrated cow manure simply will not work miracles.
Fresh cow manure isn't easy to come by. You have to drive to get it. You just don't see "fresh cow manure trucks" driving down Massachusetts Avenue, but if you head west to remote parts of Frederick, Loudoun and Montgomery counties, it will be a short but profitable drive. Stop at any gas station and ask directions to the nearest cattle farm.
Travel prepared. Bring heavy-duty plastic trash can liners, shovel, old clothes and rubbers on old shoes.
Some farmers will allow you to help yourself, while others may ask for a donation. Either way, you are investing in liquid gold.
Use two trash can liners, one inside another, otherwise the bags will break. Fill bags one-third, tie at the top, then load into the trunk. Not surprisingly, you won't be able to lug much manure home because it seems to weigh a ton. Put the shovel in its own plastic bag, also the rubbers off your shoes. Try to confine the odor as much as possible.
Enclosed in sealed bags, fresh cow manure won't decompose or leach its nutrients immediately, but the breakdown will accelerate once the manure is scattered on the soil. Here is how to "preserve" its chelating powers:
Empty the contents of one trash can liner into a wheelbarrow, followed by three heaping garden shovels of 0-20-0 superphosphate, or two shovels of either 0-30-0 double superphosphate or 0-45-0 triple superphosphate. Turn everything over to distribute the white phosphorus granules evenly throughout the fibrous manure. Dump the mixture over the garden site, using a steel rake to spread the fibers uniformly over the soil. A thin, loose covering is the desired effect.
Finally, turn everything under, working the manure into the top four inches of soil. Do not lime the soil just yet since calcium accelerates the oxidation of water-soluble urea in the manure; it will leach soon enough over the winter, and by mid-March the bed may be limed without problems.
Only fresh cow manure is capable of chelating phosphorus in the soil. Applied to the soil, phosphorus granules are quickly "locked up" by naturally occurring minerals in the soil.
In acid soil, aluminum and iron quickly bind with the phosphorus to prevent its use by nearby plants. In sweet soil, calcium binds with phosphorus in the same fashion. The result is that, in good soil or bad, phosphorus is simply not available to the roots of plants, be they flowers, shrubs or vegetables.
However, in the presence of fresh cow manure, these obstacles are quickly overcome. The manure contains enzymes (citrates, oxylates and tartrates) that are released into the soil and bind with the aluminum, calcium and iron; no other organic compound functions in this manner.
With aluminum, calcium and iron "bound up" in the soil, the phosphorus granules clinging to the fibrous strands of fresh cow manure are "chelated" and free to be used by feeding roots of plants. It is here that the spectacular growth of all plants begin, be they flowers, herbs, shrubs or vegetables.
Unfortunately, the "window" in the garden schedule for improving the soil with fresh cow manure and phosphorus is a short one, all of three weeks, but the expectation of seeing plants perform miraculously in otherwise hostile soil is all the ammunition we need. Sooner or later, you'll want to prove that it works. See you at the farm.
Jack Eden is the host of "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM).