I’m trying to maintain my lawn organically. But I became discouraged by weeds and came close to buying a bag of weedkiller at the hardware store. How can I eliminate weeds without poisons?
You are wise to be skeptical of chemical weedkillers. Read the warning label on one of those products and you’ll think twice before using it anywhere near yourself and your family.
Once you’ve decided to eliminate poisonous chemicals from the equation, you’ll need to change your perception of what constitutes a beautiful lawn. Perfectly weed-free lawns are nearly always chemically induced. Nature doesn’t create monocultures on its own; if left to nature, your lawn would fill with a variety of plants. And who’s to say that a natural lawn isn’t prettier than one whose tidy appearance comes at a toxic price?
In my small patch of lawn, I hand-weed the dandelions and plantain, rake out the ground ivy, and welcome the white clover. One easy technique for improving your lawn’s ability to combat weeds is to set your mower blade at its highest setting in summer. Mowing low gives the weeds an unfair advantage over turfgrass.
Although a turfgrass lawn is the “default” choice for home landscapes, you should consider alternative groundcovers that blanket the ground but don’t need to be mowed, watered, or fed. Options include sedges, moss, creeping thyme or sedums, dichondra, and clover. Or put the space to productive use and grow organic vegetables and herbs. —Doug Hall
My ‘Black Krim’ tomatoes are cracking like crazy—vertically, horizontally, all over. Other tomatoes are fine. Please help!
As you have discovered, some varieties of tomatoes—often the ones with thin, tender skins—are more prone to cracking than others. In fact, genetics is the most significant factor leading to tomato “growth cracks.”
Weather is a frequent contributing factor. A heavy rainfall (or generous irrigation from the gardener) causes nearly ripe fruit to suddenly swell with moisture and the skin to split. Some experts say that too much nitrogen fertilizer is another cause. Fruits that are exposed to direct sun, rather than being shaded by the tomato foliage, may also be more likely to crack.
To limit cracking, strive to maintain steady soil moisture. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers. Keep foliage dry and clean and therefore better able to resist fungal diseases that lead to leaf loss. Harvest crack-prone varieties a day or two shy of maturity, especially if a heavy rain is forecast.
Despite your best efforts, you’re still likely to find a few cracked fruits. Just carve out the cracked parts and eat the rest. —Doug Hall
I have a problem with my 30-plus daylilies. As they finish blooming, the leaves get brown streaks and spots and die. I have been told they have thrips. I need to know what to do to have healthy plants.
Thrips are so small that they are hard to spot with the naked eye. These insects cause brown streaks on the leaves and distorted, damaged flower buds. There are also foliage diseases that can disfigure daylilies. If you suspect diseases or pests, you should have an extension agent or master gardener give your daylilies a look.
But I think it’s more likely that they are simply displaying typical daylily behavior. Daylilies love lots of moisture when they are in bloom. They grow best in rich, porous soil that stays moist. If the soil dries out during hot weather, leaves will turn brown at the tips and start to shrivel, beginning with the oldest leaves. Sometimes by the time the clump is done blooming, more than half its leaves are brown. Some varieties of daylilies are more prone to shabby foliage than others. The repeat-blooming ‘Stella d’Oro’ is one of the worst offenders.
The solution is to give the soil a regular soaking while the daylilies are blooming. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers. Mulch the soil to maintain moisture. Healthy daylilies, by the way, are better able to fend off diseases and pests (like thrips). Even so, you may find it necessary to cut back the fans of foliage halfway in late summer, and to groom out the remaining brown stuff. This will prompt fresh leaf growth. —Doug Hall
On hot or windy days my hydrangeas wilt completely, even if the ground under them is moist. What’s going on?
When plants wilt despite plenty of moisture in the soil, it’s not water they lack—it’s roots. Soil that is rich in organic matter, deep, loose, and porous, promotes extensive root systems that sustain plants through brutal heat and dry spells.
Unfortunately for your hydrangeas, the time to work on creating ideal soil is before you plant. It also helps to locate plants that are prone to wilting, like hydrangeas, where they will get sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon. Other chronic wilters, like impatiens, are more likely to stay hydrated in all-day shade.
Now that summer has set in, help your hydrangeas through the heat with a cooling layer of organic mulch on the soil. Mulch maintains soil moisture, reduces competition from weeds, and slowly adds organic matter to the soil. Your hydrangeas might also benefit from a cooling spray of water at midday, if you are so inclined. —Doug Hall