Gardening Lawns

Tim’s Tips – Late February

Tim’s Tips – Late February

by Tim Wittmaier

February wasn’t normal and all rules changed compared to a typical February. We also don’t know how the rest of the late winter season is going to play out. Frost in March is a possibility. Now we’re on the chase. More warmer weather is coming. Everything is pushed ahead for professionals and homeowners. This February we could have fertilized and applied pre-emergent herbicide to our yards because of the atypical ground temperature. If you didn’t apply in February apply in March as usual and you’ll be fine. Grass will probably need cutting in March.

All the nurseries that grow plants in the ground are digging out everything they can because many plants are leafing out and blooming early. Magnolias and Forsythias will be ok because they will be finished blooming before cold weather starts.

Plants that are sensitive and need protection from frost may include lilacs, roses, Japanese maples, privet and fruit trees. If we do have a frost talk to a landscape garden service about how and when to prune back. We have to think ahead. Sensitive plants have to be protected.

Tips on materials for plant protection:

  • Avoid plastic
  • Old bed sheets are good
  • Paper bags
  • Newspaper
  • Straw
  • Shredded Leaves
  • Burlap

SALE – 90% off selected items at Schnarr’s Hardware in Webster Groves!

90% off selected items at Schnarr's Hardware in Webster Groves
90% off selected items at Schnarr’s Hardware in Webster Groves!
Gardening Lawns

Tim’s tips for February Lawn and Garden Care

Tim’s tips for February Lawn and Garden Care

by Tim Wittmaier

There are many tasks that need to be performed in the yard and garden at this time.

If you mow your own lawn, give your mower a spring tune up. Get blades sharpened, change oil, check for mechanical problems and check that your blade is set at the right height for the type of grass you have.

If your turf has too much acid apply lime to correct the PH.

If your PH is too high (too alkaline) and your soil is compacted, add some gypsum. Gypsum will also combat the effects of salinity and sodicity in the soil that may occur due to irrigation and the use of ice melting products. Gypsum reduces soil crusting and aids water penetration into the soil.

Scale in trees appear this month and they are crawling. Now is a good time to use dormant spray/horticultural oil if you need to control them. Dormant spray/horticultural oil is a product that does not discriminate between beneficial and non beneficial invertebrates, so it’s best to apply it for scale when other invertebrates are not yet active.

Ferti-lome Brush Killer Stump Killer
February is a good time to prune trees, shrubs and perennials, especially fruit trees. Some evergreens are not yet ready for pruning. Prune pines, holly and spruces now. Wait another month to prune boxwoods and yews.

Take a look at your lawn and planting beds. Unwanted woody plants can be a problem. Look for invasives such as Mulberry and Honeysuckle. If you can identify them without their leaves, pull or dig them as soon as you can. If you can’t pull or dig the unwanted woody plant out, cut off as much of the stem as you can and dab an herbicide product onto the end of the stub. You can apply the herbicide with a paintbrush or bingo markers. For safety wear gloves and use eye protection while applying. Ferti-lome Brush Killer Stump Killer is a product sold at Schnarr’s that would be suitable.

It’s drier than normal for this time of year, so water your evergreens now.


A Couple of Common Problems with Trees

A Couple of Common Problems with Trees

by Carolyn Hasenfratz

A Couple of Common Problems with Trees

The two trees in the picture above have some issues. The one on the left was planted in early winter in my neighborhood. That in itself is not a problem – hardy woody plants and perennials can be transplanted any time in winter that the soil is workable – that is, not frozen and not too wet. This winter there have been times when the soil has been frozen but certainly not continuously and there were some good opportunities for planting. The trouble lies in the gap you see between the original root ball and the side of the new planting hole. A freezing spell has pushed the root ball partly out of the hole. This is called “frost heaving”. It’s not good for the root flare of the tree to be too much higher than the surrounding soil, though having it a little too high is better than having it too deep. The root flare is the topmost point where roots start to flare out from the trunk. There is also an air pocket around the roots which can hinder root growth, moisture uptake and tree stability. A good course of action for this tree would be to try to push the root ball back in the hole if possible (while not compacting dirt too much), to fill any gaps with dirt and to apply 2 to 3″ of mulch around the tree to regulate temperature extremes around the planting and retain moisture. Moisture level is especially important in the first 2-3 years after planting. If mulching isn’t done correctly however it could cause the problem that the second tree on the right is suffering from.

The tree on the right is in front of my bedroom window. I’ve lived in my condo for 12 years and ever since I moved in this tree has had a “mulch volcano” around it. Mulch around a tree should not touch the tree trunk or be piled up around the trunk. This tree produces beautiful white flowers in the spring and I will miss it if it has to be removed. It might be doomed because during this past year the bark has been cracking and peeling off, a sign that it’s dying. Am I certain that the “mulch volcano” caused whatever the problem is? Not 100% because the disease has not been diagnosed, but since this practice is well known to cause death to the inner bark layer (cambium) or cause myriad other problems I recommend you avoid it. Trees can be mulched all the way out to the drip line or beyond if you want, and if you do that they may grow up to three times faster because they won’t have so much vegetation (like grass) to compete with for nutrients. The mulch must not touch the trunk – keep mulch several inches away and make your mulch resemble a donut rather than a volcano!

I hope you can protect your investment in trees by avoiding these commonly occurring issues!


50% off selected items at Schnarr’s Hardware in Webster Groves

50% off selected items at Schnarr's Hardware in Webster Groves
50% off selected items at Schnarr’s Hardware in Webster Groves!

Prairie Restoration at Litzinger Road Ecology Center

Prairie Restoration at Litzinger Road Ecology Center

by Carolyn Hasenfratz

I’m a volunteer at the Litzinger Road Ecology Center in Ladue. Volunteers and on some occasions the public are invited to educational events on the premises. I recently attended a session for volunteers to learn about why the prairie sections at the center are periodically burned and an introduction about how to start a fire, control the fire, and perform the burn safely.

At the time of European settlement, about 1/3 of the state of Missouri was covered by tall grass prairie. Today 70,000 acres remain and only 22,000 acres are protected, making prairie one of the most endangered ecosystems. Fire is necessary to maintain prairie. Lightning and human intervention provided the fire in historic times and in the present day.

Tallgrass Prairie at Fort Bellefontaine County Park

An example of a restored tall grass prairie at Fort Bellefontaine County Park

Here are some reasons why Native Americans in Missouri used fire:

  • Fire stimulates growth of raw shoots which attract game animals to eat them
  • Aid to visibility of enemies coming
  • Weapon against enemies
  • Herding game
  • Made travel easier

In the present day fire is used for managing remnants and for restoration. The prairie at LREC is not a remnant of prairie that was never plowed or otherwise destroyed, it is a restoration approximating to the best of our ability what used to be there. A real prairie takes thousands of years to form so a restored prairie is not exactly the same but a managed restoration can perform some of the functions of this type of ecosystem.

Purposes fire management at LREC:

  • Removal of non-native invasive plants and woody seedlings that are unwanted
  • Supports birds and other animals with food and habitat
  • Encourages forbs and grasses
  • Increases plant diversity
  • Protects against unplanned burns by removing excess fuel
  • Removes thatch and helps animals that can’t make use of the thatched areas

I’m sure many readers remember the Yellowstone Fire of 1988. That is an example of a situation that was more serious than it might have been if the land had not been managed to suppress all fire and to let fuel build up for many decades. My first visit to Yellowstone was during the 1988 fire so I remember it well!

At LREC we only burn certain sections of the prairie at one time, so animals can escape and take shelter in the unburned portions. Also we want to leave some habitat for insects, reptiles and amphibians. We try to keep from cutting down or burning stems until spring because many insects overwinter in the stems and they need a chance to escape.

Tools for starting and managing fires

We were shown tools and techniques that are used to start and manage controlled prairie fires

This year we are going to attempt to burn the “Mulch Pile Woods”. Woods are harder to burn because there is less fuel. The large piles of brush will be removed before the burn because too much fuel could set trees on fire and we only want to burn the undergrowth. Large logs and vines may also be removed before the burn. Some wood may be returned after the burn so it can continue to serve it’s natural purpose in the forest.

Mulch Pile Woods

The brush in the foreground will be removed before the burn because that is too much fuel for the type of fire desired

Settled areas are difficult to burn in. Mowing can be used for management in areas where burning is not possible. Mowed grassy areas are used around the prairie patches as a firebreak.

LREC submits burn plans to the Ladue Fire Department and the St. Louis County Health Department to make sure air quality is good enough and that the Ladue Fire Department is available for backup. We have to let them know what sections we want to burn and what the reasons are for burning. Three prairie sections are on two-year rotations.

The best conditions for burning consist of low wind speeds, humidity levels of 20-50%, air temperature of 35-65 degrees F and good air quality. LREC obtains a permit for a range of dates so they can seize a favorable opportunity when it happens. Volunteers are given 24 hours notice. This year a permit was applied for between December and May. The Ladue Fire Department comes as a backup but so far they have not needed to do anything to help out. If the Fire Department is too busy to come that day the burn will have to be postponed until they are available.

Click this link to see photos and video of previous year’s burns:

Many volunteers at LREC are eager to witness a burn or to participate in one because it’s unusual and exciting. I don’t know if I’ll be available the day it happens this year, but if I participate I’ll be sure to write about how it went.

If you would like to learn about fire safety or how to conduct a controlled burn on your own property, these resources from the Missouri Department of Conservation will help you get started:

Here are a couple of my other articles about activities at the Litzinger Road Ecology Center: