Monday, June 29, 2015

Late June Photos

These aren't the official July Fourth photos just yet, when I traditionally photograph the end of the early season flower and lawn development.  These are just extras for fun, and due to the fact that we've had so few days without rain that I'll snag any excuse to slip outside for a bit into the sun.

As always, click on any photo to embiggen it.

The first shot, as always, is the traditional lawn photograph.  Again this time, I took it before mowing the north face but after mowing the back.  You can see that the lack of sunlight is taking its toll on the grass quality a bit, although the back has already improved since yesterday.  Quality is tolerable, color is only OK due to the iron binding in the wet soil.
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The general garden shot.  The gardens are doing fairly well, but would bloom more heavily in more sunlight.
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Another face of the garden.  This one features plenty of dahlia and celosia.  I probably won't be growing the celosia again next year as development is not impressive until very late.
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The red Figaro dahlia are doing very well and will be making an encore appearance next year.  This is a closeup of some of the blossoms on one single plant.  A quick count shows 16 fresh blooms on this one plant, with dozens of developing buds.
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Harlequin dahlia are something I use as an accent.  They don't bloom nearly as copiously, but the color contrast is more than enough to make this an impressive plant in the garden.  This plant isn't in as good a location and only features two or three blooms at once.  Other Harlequin in better conditions will have a dozen simultaneous blossoms.
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Here's a Fireworks dahlia.  While an impressively copious bloomer, the blossoms themselves have too little impact from a distance.  Unfortunately, these probably won't make the cut for next year.
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The large dahlia are just beginning to bloom, with the first buds developing now.  Blossom on this Sun Lady dahlia will be this week.  These larger dahlia are more of a late-season flower, featuring two dozen blooms per bush from July through October.  Flower sizes range from 4" (the Sun Lady and Blue Boy) to 8" (the Color Spectacle).  I tend to avoid larger flowering dahlia as they require staking.
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I have some baby swifts this year in a nest over the front door.  While annoying--and dirty--I didn't catch the nest until the eggs were already in it, at which point I wouldn't dream of removing them.  Once the babies are out of the nest, I'll remove it.  Look closely here and you'll see four young swifts, getting large enough that they'll fly soon!
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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Pouring Rain

Two weeks ago, we were just beginning to exit a month long drought.  Now, we've caught up. Although the official numbers show that we've received all of June's normal rainfall already (and a bit more), the numbers on my deck are somewhat more inflated due to the very local nature of the thunderstorms that have hit.

We received nearly four inches of rain yesterday evening alone, plus another quarter inch today, on top of the heavy rainfall we've received for the last two weeks.  It finally cleared out, but more rain is projected for Thursday and again this weekend as the remnants of tropical storm Bill come through.

Soils are sodden, but that won't be a problem over the short term.  There's really no way to do anything about this, so when it happens the only choice is to ride it out and wait for drier weather.

On the up side, plant growth in the gardens has been incredibly fast, and the grass has fully recovered from the shock it received from a very dry May.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Early June Photos

I've been rather remiss in showing off photos of the lawn and gardens.  For the most part, the lawn has been nothing spectacular this year.  The gardens have been fairly impressive.

The first image is the standard lawn shot, taken intentionally just as I'd finished the back zone mowing but not yet done the north face.  Where it's grown in, the color and quality are excellent.  Post-cutting, the limited damage from the month-long dry spell we had shows.  This damage is reversing slowly as June so far features a large amount of rain.

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The general north face garden photo also shows the grass in both zones.  However, at least the generally hot weather has moved the gardens along much faster this year, with plant sizes more like July 4th than June 10th.

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The larger dahlia are fairly well-developed, although two of these have been nibbled at by the rabbits.  The Tabasco sauce spray has stopped that and they're growing in nicely now.  And yes, I need to add mulch here!

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The smaller Figaro red dahlia are doing well so far!

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The red zinnia always do well, although they usually haven't divided stems this yearly.  This year, they have.

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And the ageratum.  Most people report having some trouble with these.  My only problem is keeping them constrained into their designed areas every year.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Feeding The Gardens...Again

The rain let up after two days (no complaints, we needed it desperately) and I fed the gardens this evening.  It's a few days late, but I had delayed until after the rainfall as I wasn't sure if we would get minor flooding.

This month, just like last month, the application was 9 pounds of Milorganite and 12.5 pounds of soybean meal per thousand square feet, for a total of 21.5 pounds of organics and around 1.3 pounds of nitrogen.

That's a high level of feeding, but the gardens are fairly tightly packed and I demand almost constant blossoms.

Applying Milorganite Every 30 Days

Or, can you apply Milorganite Monthly?

This is another Dear Reader question from my search results.

And yes, you can apply Milorganite every month to your lawn and gardens if you want to.  Personally, I'd recommend skipping July on northern lawns as the grass isn't interested in feeding that month, and any very cold month is also best skipped as the Milorganite can't decay.  Use in July in the gardens is fine, however, and I do this every year.

When It Rains...

In this case, it didn't pour, it kind of deluged.  We've received nearly three inches of rain in the last forty eight hours.

Sections of lawn I thought were dormant turned out to be badly shocked and are rapidly recovering.  At the moment, there's perhaps fifty square feet that will require consistent rainfall to fully recover while the rest will be back by the end of the week.  The forecast for the next ten days includes very consistent and rather heavy rainfall, so that shouldn't be a problem.

Rainfall contains an average of around 3 parts per million of nitrogen, which sounds like absolutely nothing until you begin calculating the weights.  Each inch of rainfall, per square foot, is approximately 0.6 gallons, or 600 gallons per thousand square feet.  Water weighs 8.8 pounds per gallon, for 5,280 pounds per thousand square feet.  At 3 parts per million, that's 0.016 pounds of nitrogen per inch of rain.  In our case, with 2.8" of rain (and a little more, but close enough), we also received 0.045 pounds of nitrogen total.

While hardly extreme, that also helps the grass to gently, slowly recover.

The gardens have also responded to the wetter weather by growing extremely fast.  Unfortunately, the weeds also responded by sprouting at incredible speed, so I'll be weeding those out shortly.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Dahlia Getting Eaten

Again this year, the rabbits seem to be rather hungry.  Fortunately, I'm having far less of a problem with them than I did in 2014.

This year, the favored snack seems to be my Blue Boy dahlia.  Which is a bit odd as rabbits aren't supposed to care for dahlia when there are other, more preferable plants around.  But there it is.  They're even ignoring the Sun Lady dahlia between the three that are being eaten, and the Color Spectacle not far away.

I sprayed with 1 tsp Tabasco sauce in water (plus a few drops of soap and Elmer's glue), plus sprinkled a tiny amount of dried blood around the plants as a temporary scent deterrent.  That should take care of the problem, but if not I'll step up the amount of Tabasco sauce used in the solution until the rabbits go away.

How Long for Milorganite To Work?

Yet another Dear Reader question from my search results.  I can't remember if I covered this before, but it bears repeating anyway.

Milorganite has some water-soluble nitrogen, and definitely has a lot of water-soluble iron, so you might notice some change in 72 to 96 hours after irrigation or rainfall.

However, the organic nitrogen and biological effects won't be seen for at least three weeks.  Even then, they're not the sudden green-up of synthetic fertilizers.  Slowly, over time and with continued use, the lawn will continue to look better.

Organics are not a fast cure, which is actually good.  We don't want them to be.  Fast cures tend to also peter out quickly, whereas the organic fertilizers you're using will be slowly improving your lawn and gardens for years to come.

Can Milorganite Be Overapplied?

Here's a Dear Reader question that showed up in my search results, probably not coincidentally with the question being asked on a forum where I post.

And yes, Milorganite can certainly be overapplied.  Milo contains a maximum of 40% water-soluble nitrogen of the nitrogen in the product, or a grand total of a maximum of 2% of the product weight in total.  As such, fifty pounds per thousand square feet would be the absolute maximum application rate allowable under most circumstances, and I wouldn't go that high for other reasons.

A localized spill of Milorganite will definitely exceed the fifty pound per thousand square foot rate.

If this should happen to you, scoop up what you can.  Then rake the rest as widely as possible, then follow up by scratching into the grass with your fingers, spreading the spill as far as you can.

Post that, if you can irrigate with at least an inch of water in that area, it will help to dilute and disperse the free nitrogen into the soil.

If a burned area results, treat it as you would any other burn.  Water well, and reseed that area in late summer if required.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Still No Rain

We're officially at 0.22" at the local airport for the month of May so far (4.10" being far more normal).  On my back deck, the recorded amount is 0.18".

The gardens are holding because I'm watering them, and they're actually flourishing in the heat and sun.  At this point, they're as far along as they would be by the middle of June, although I had a highly unusual loss of six plants (out of 650) this year.

The grass is blasting and dropping toward dormancy, with about 150 square feet nearly dormant at this point and the rest highly stressed.

On the up side, we're forecast for nearly an inch of rain over the weekend.  Now to see if we get it.

What can you do if this happens to you?  Not much, except water.  In my case, it's simply pointless to try to hold the lawn, so I let it slide.  The gardens, of course, will be maintained through the season.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Feeding Your Gardens

It's the end of May, and most of the garden is in bloom at this point, although the dahlia are a little later than other plants.  Every year, people ask me what I do.  Really, it's easy.

Weekly:  I apply a half rate feed of Miracle Gro to the gardens.  In my case, this is easy as I have a watering system with an EZ-Flo fertigation system attached.  The recommended application is 1 packet of Miracle Gro per 500 square feet, I apply it over 1,000.

Monthly:  I apply either 1 bag (36 pounds) of Milorganite or 1 bag (50 pounds) of soybean meal across the garden, or 18 pounds per thousand square feet of Milorganite or 25 pounds per thousand soybean meal.  This begins to feed the plants two to three weeks after application, and continues to feed gently for several months.

I tend to discontinue the monthly organics as of August as that feeding will continue to work through early October.  The weekly Miracle Gro is discontinued in mid September.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Almost a Frost

I'm not certain what happened, but the local weather stations and weather service were reporting lows of 45 to 50 degrees.  Temperatures in my garden plunged to 36.

Fortunately, I was still awake at the time and immediately watered the surrounding grass. Temperatures rebounded to 38, falling back toward 36 just before sunrise.

Once again, there doesn't seem to be any damage, and that was the last night that temperatures have any possibility of falling that low.  Still, it proves that it's always wise to keep an eye out.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Four Weeks, Little Rain

We did receive about 0.05" of rain yesterday as a cold front blew through, but that brings our total over the last thirty days to 0.09" of rain in total.

I can easily hold the gardens, but the lawn becomes a major problem as temperatures rise into the nineties and stay there for a week.  So I've made an executive decision.

The lawn is going to be allowed to go dormant for the first time in nine years.  If rainfall resumes normally, I'll also resume irrigation, but that doesn't seem likely.

As I mentioned below, Kentucky bluegrass has no major issues with this.  It'll go dormant and spring back when rains resume, requiring only about 1/4" of rainfall or irrigation every two weeks to keep the roots alive.

For those with fescue or rye lawns, the dormancy mechanism isn't quite so good and the grass will die in a few months.  However, 1/2" of rain or irrigation per week will be sufficient to keep it alive, if not particularly attractive.

We Got Away With It...Cold

And cold it was.  I recorded a low of 39° in the gardens this morning just before sunrise.  The official low at the more heavily built-up airport was 41°.  Since I normally show a five to six degree difference, the excess watering helped enhance my temperatures by three degrees.

Initial evaluation shows absolutely no damage in the gardens, although I wouldn't be terribly surprised if the most sensitive plants showed minor burns by the end of today.

Tonight's low is estimated to be around 45°, which is still quite cold, but would give me a minimum temperature of 39° in and of itself.  Just to be sure, I'll lay down a light protective layer of water to guard against lower than projected temperatures.

We're projected to be hitting highs in the low 90's by Monday, so this unusual late-season shot of cold air looks like the last issue I'll have for a while.  Next up?  Guarding against slugs.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Very Late Frost...Maybe

Our weather is wobbling all over the place this spring (except without any rain), with potentially freezing temperatures tonight and 90 and humid by Memorial Day.  Tonight's potential frost is what concerns me, as the plants are well-prepared for 90 degree weather and won't mind it a bit.

You can keep off a light frost by irrigating the gardens before or at sunset, deeply watering.  Moist soil holds much more heat than cold soil, and brings warmth up from the lower levels very, very well.  Studies show a 5° F difference in surface air temperatures even at 6 AM the following morning when the sun is already rising.

I also run the grass' irrigation system around sunset, and it's currently running now.  Twenty to thirty minutes will dampen the soil and deposit plenty of moisture on the grass blades, which can slowly evaporate (and carry off heat from the grass) all night long.  I'll probably touch it up around or just after midnight to make certain that the air over the grass is moist and warmer.

That doesn't benefit the grass, which won't be harmed by frost, but helps in the adjacent gardens.  Like carbon dioxide, water is a greenhouse gas--but a very strong greenhouse gas.  Infrared radiation trying to escape the soil into space has a better chance of being captured by moist air than by dry air.

The generally more humid air will hold and reflect back more heat.  Additionally, if temperatures drop below the local saturation point, water will condense back on the lawn and plants, releasing copious amounts of heat as it does so.  Essentially, I'm creating a light fog and using it to my advantage.

Here, the goal is to keep the dew point well above 32 degrees, as well as to attempt to keep the air temperature far enough over 32 that frost isn't possible.

I'd estimate I have a 95% chance of making it through tonight with minimal to no damage, and a 5% chance that the lowest-lying plants in the garden will be damaged but not killed.  I can recover damage if I have to, but I'd rather not.