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Poinsettias  are colorful because of the modified leaves that are called bracts, which is the red part that we see. The truth flowers are the tiny yellow ones in the center.

All information here is for creating healthier, stronger plants thereby increasing their beauty.

Each month’s blog has had one main thing to remember. Only this month it will apply to all winter, i.e. November through March. So here it is: KEEP YOUR PLANTS, MEANING BUSHES, TREES UP TO 3 YEARS OLD AND PERENNIALS WATERED!! WELL WATERED PLANTS SURVIVE FREEZING TEMPERATURES BETTER!! Do this by going out on a warmer day and water before a freeze approaches.                                                                                          

December

Merry Christmas! 

First of all, I would like to apologize for not getting mid-November notes published as I promised. Between a nasty cold and Thanksgiving, it just did’t get done. So, moving forward I will post good things to know about thatch, which is a nice segue to ‘why aerate my lawn AND garden’ etc.. but first please humor me while I say a few things about some pet peeves of mine.

Decorative grasses that are large, especially if they have large airy plumes, are beautiful but are also a fire hazard when planted next to the house. During the hot, dry periods of the summer is when this occurs. Because grass blades are so thin and the side of the house so hot, they catch fire easier than a bush. This gets worse when it’s windy because it makes the air more dry. This situation occurs when the grass/house is exposed to  the south, southwest or west afternoon sun. Any grass protected from the hot afternoon sun should be fine. If it was my house with the dangerous set of conditions, I would take the grass out.

Trees that have not been properly pruned, or have never been pruned, are: subject to breakage during bad storms, not healthy because the tree becomes more susceptible to disease (by decreasing the air flow through them), and in the rare times when we have an early snow, the branches become very heavy when snow collects on all of the leaves and then a lot of limbs break. Do yourself a favor and have a trained arborist come out to evaluate your tree. They should do this for free. It will cost money, likely several hundred dollars but it is well worth it to encourage the health and longevity of your tree.

Trees that are staked! Eeegads, I know that you think you are helping your tree but you are not! Young trees only need to be staked if you planted a bare root tree or if the tree is planted out in an open field. The natural sway from breezes and even wind is good for the trunk. It will encourage it to stand up straighter on its own . The bending back and forth makes it stronger and also encourages stronger root development. Trees that are staked have been known to have roots that never grow strong and end up circling and girdling the tree, which ends up killing it.

Trees that have rocks around them are another pet peeve. Rocks do not suffice as mulch. They increase soil compaction around the tree because they are so heavy. They accumulate heat during the day and end up releasing it over the roots during the evening. The idea is to keep your tree mulched so that the roots stay cool. Do this with ground up wood chips or purchased mulch. It will also help the ground conserves moisture. Mulch should never be applied close to the tree. It should not touch and should be about 2 inches away from the trunk . In addition, planting plants underneath the tree make the tree compete with the other plants for moisture. A tree gets the majority of its water through its surface roots. A healthy tree with mulch alone is a beautiful sight to see.

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The next section has to do with care of your soil underneath your lawn. One part will be about thatch, the other aeration. The two are intertwined with each other.

Thatch is an accumulation of living and dead grass parts interwoven. This is part of having a normal healthy lawn. Having some thatch is good because it protects the roots  from extreme temperature changes and also protects it from foot traffic . In some lawns rate of organic matter produced from the growing grass exceeds the rate of decomposition, making thatch a problem. Thatch becomes a problem when it is more than 1/2 inch thick. At that point, mechanical means are necessary to get it under control. Research shows that the best way to do this is by using a power rake. Properly done this won’t tear up your yard. I will discuss proper use of doing this next spring and fall when it is time to dethatch. Please note that dethatching your yard will likely produce more material that can be bagged. It serves as excellent compost which can be used to add organic matter back to the soil later. Once the excess thatch has been removed yearly aeration will keep it controlled.

Some things that contribute to too much thatch accumulation could range from picking a type of grass that is a vigorous grower, applying too much fertilizer in the spring when most of it goes to top growth of your lawn, mowing infrequently or when the soil is compacted. The idea is to prevent large deposits of grass at one time. Grass that is not healthy  does not contribute to  decomposing  thatch. Other things that impede the decomposition of thatch: letting your lawn go dormant or using pesticides.  Things that naturally help thatch decompose are active microorganisms, earthworms and insects which lawn pesticides harm and that healthy soil supports.

Prevention of  thatch development includes regular mowing. An example of this would be, if you want to keep your grass two and a half inches tall, then mow it when it is three and a half inches tall. Smaller grass clippings will decompose faster.   Also, fertilizing in the fall helps the grass more by encouraging it to develop healthy root system. Fertilizing in the spring only encourages top growth which creates more mowing! ( waste of some good money ! ) Lastly, compacted soil and soils that don’t drain well accumulate thatch. Enter into the next topic which is aeration.

Aeration is the cure for compacted soils. Soils become compacted from years of foot traffic or dog runs. They can also be a result of builders removing healthy topsoil and filling it with leftover building materials  such as boards (evidenced by seeing mushrooms grow on the decaying wood), leftover concrete and even beer cans.  Years of accumulated thatch contributes by destroying the crowns of the grass. Aeration combats this and it also helps the individual grass plants. The plugs of ground left from aeration break down and begin the process of increasing the soils microbial activity ( good fungi, bacteria, insects etc). Also increasing the oxygen content of the soil improves their living conditions.  These critters are essential for healthy soil. They are part of the aeration cycle as you will see below.

When the soil is compacted, the roots are not able to develop deeply  thereby by making them stick to the surface and less likely to survive short periods of drought. Core aerating  removes plugs  of soil creating channels for air and water movement. You have heard me say this before and it bears repeating, aeration is the most important thing that you can do for your lawn and for your plants. Bear with me as we travel back to high school biology, where we were taught that plants make food through the process called photosynthesis. In order to use the food that they make they need the process of respiration which uses oxygen. Plants receive oxygen at their roots. Gas exchange occurs at the roots. It is at the roots where the root hairs receive oxygen and there they also release carbon dioxide. Good gas in and bad gas out.  If there are not enough air channels in the soil this will not occur, and the plants will eventually die from suffocation.  Aeration and enough organic matter in the soil, leave these air channels open. The newly established channels also serve as a way for water to go down as well. Healthy roots also keep the grass less susceptible to disease, similar to the idea that healthy people are less likely to get sick. At this level the roots will begin to drink deeply helping them survive those short periods of drought. This process takes time but eventually  you water less  because  the grass uses the water more efficiently.  The plugs that have been removed and sit on top of the grass  are available to decompose which helps to add organic matter back to the soil . It will take longer than using dethatching with aeration, but aerating only can accomplish the same by eventually breaking down the thatch as well. It is vital to keep your soil from becoming compacted again. Aeration keeps the underground healthy. Take care of the roots and the plantwill take care of themselves.

Gardens also benefit from aeration. The most common way to do this is to regularly apply organic matter back to the dirt. This includes most anything that has been composted, ranging from raw kitchen scraps, yard waste, old newspaper or purchased compost, but never the use of animal products. Gardens can also benefit from actual aeration which you can do by wearing the devices that you strap on your shoe with spikes on them to avoid slipping on the ice. Use these to walk around your garden area.

Master Gardeners of Greater Kansas City hotline (serves Platte, Clay and Jackson counties) 816-833-8733   or email mggkc.hotline@gmail.com