Grass, grubs, animals, weeds, and planting:
URI's gardening hotline has the answers
KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 24, 2000 -- The University of Rhode Island's gardening
and food safety hotline receives 10,000 to 12,000 calls each year about
everything from planting flowers and vegetables to lawn care, animal control,
and canning. The following are the answers to the five most frequently
asked questions during the spring and summer seasons:
1. How do I start (or repair) my lawn?
"Start from scratch," said Rosanne Sherry, coordinator of URI's
Master Gardener program. "Too many people just dump soil on top of
their old lawn and seed it, but that seldom works. The first step is to
remove all of the existing turf and weeds."
Once the area is cleared of old grass and plant material, till the soil
and grade it. Then spread on lime at a rate of 50 pounds per 1,000 square
feet (or more if a soil test indicates), add a slow-release, seed-starter
fertilizer, and rake it into the soil. Using an empty roller, smooth out
the surface without compacting it too tightly.
"Once that's done, you're ready for seed," said Sherry. "But
don't use a spreader, because that will crack and kill the seed. The preferred
method is to cast it out by hand, just like you're feeding chickens."
Sherry recommends a mix of blue grass, fescue and perennial rye if the
lawn is in full sun, or a blend of shady seeds if the lawn is partially
shaded. Grass seed needs light to germinate, so it should not be covered
in soil. "Just rake it lightly so the seed is in contact with the
soil but not buried."
The last step is to keep the seed watered every day for two to three
weeks until grass starts to grow. Wait about five weeks before mowing.
2. When do I plant my flowers/vegetables/shrubs/bulbs?
That depends on the plant. Cool weather vegetables like broccoli, cabbage,
lettuce, potatoes and onions can be planted in mid-April. Perennials, rose
bushes, shrubs, trees and early annuals like pansies and snapdragons can
also be planted in April.
When evening temperatures remain above 50 degrees-usually about mid-May-tender
flowers and vegetables can be planted. These include tomatoes, peppers,
beans, squash, impatiens, petunias and geraniums.
"Most Rhode Islanders have a good idea about when the weather is
right for these warm-season plants," noted Sherry. "But people
new to the area who are from different climate zones are sometimes shocked
to realize that they have to wait so long."
Bulbs should by planted in September and October. "If they're not
in by Halloween, the weather won't be mild enough for them to get established.
And if the bulbs spend the winter in a bag in your garage, you might as
well just throw them out," said the gardening expert.
3. How do I control grubs in my lawn and garden?
White grubs are the larval stage of five different kinds of non-native
beetles (Japanese beetles, among them). Grub control methods vary from
month to month, because different products are used in different seasons
and are based on the life cycle of the insect. For a detailed explanatory
fact sheet, call the URI hotline at 1-800-448-1011.
4. How do I kill weeds?
According to Sherry, the best organic weed killer is "your thumb
and forefinger." "Except on the lawn, I encourage everyone to
pull weeds by hand and mulch early in the season," she notes. "That
keeps most of the weeds down without the need for a weed killer that might
also kill desirable plants. If weeds are in the lawn, a manual application
of weed killer directly on the offending plant should do the trick. But
if more than half the lawn is covered in weeds, it's time to start the lawn
all over again."
Sherry said that choosing the appropriate weed killer depends on identifying
the weed. If it's a broad-leafed weed, like dandelions, choose a broad-leafed
weed killer. If it's a grass-like weed, choose a grassy weed killer. Be
sure to read the label carefully to make sure the appropriate product is
"Weeds are just plants growing in a place you don't want them,"
she said. "An oak tree growing in your vegetable garden is a weed,
but an oak tree growing in your lawn is an oak tree."
5. How do I stop animals from eating my plants?
Among the many animals that cause problems in gardens are woodchucks,
rabbits, squirrels, deer and skunks. Keeping them away requires either
a barrier or a repellent.
"We do not recommend trapping, shooting or poisoning," notes
Sherry. "An electric fence around your vegetable garden often provides
the best protection, and it won't kill the animals. But it's not practical
around an entire yard."
Predator scents usually urine repel animals by convincing
them that a predator is nearby. Depending on the product, one application
is effective from two weeks to two months against deer, woodchucks and rabbits.
For small animals like squirrels and chipmunks, dried blood or blood meal
(available in five pound bags at garden supply stores) is useful, but it
dissipates within a few days. And while it repels small animals efficiently,
it may attract carnivores like raccoons and opossums.
Sherry says that "people who call and say they have skunk problems,
I tell them, 'No, you've got grub problems,' because that's what the skunks
are looking for."
The URI gardening and food safety hotline is staffed year round from
Monday through Thursday between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. by Master Gardeners trained
by the University. The phone number is 1-800-448-1011.
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For Information: Rosanne Sherry, 874-2929, Todd McLeish,