Sunday, January 25, 2015
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Garden doctor: Water-wise tips for a healthy green lawn

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What: Master Gardener workshop on composting chicken manure

When: 9:30 a.m. Saturday, May 25

Where: Central Park Gardens, along B Street between Third and Fourth streets

Question: With water rates increasing and California in a drought, what can I do to help my lawn? I’m not ready to replace it, but there must be something I can do.

Answer: There are easy things you can do to keep your lawn healthy and to minimize water usage. One of the best things to do to this time of year or in the fall is to aerate your lawn. Lawns become compacted over time and lose the ability to trap oxygen among the soil particles.

For a low cost, you can rent an aerator and do it yourself. Mow the lawn first and then be sure to mark where the sprinkler heads are. The machine pulls out plugs of lawn and soil about 2 inches long. Rake these up (or leave them, if you prefer). You’ll get better penetration of water into the soil and you’ll barely notice the holes.

You can also top-dress your lawn with compost or a fine mulch, raking it in. The blades of grass will grow up through the compost and the compost will add nutrients to the soil. This is particularly good to do after you have aerated. Be sure to mow your lawn before you top-dress, so the mower’s suction doesn’t remove the compost you just added! The compost or mulch also will help to hold moisture from watering, providing much-needed water for the lawn.

You have choices in fertilizing the lawn. Compost is a slow release-acting natural fertilizer and (with the help of worms) mixes with the soils to improve the condition of the soil. If you want something faster-acting, there are organic and synthetic fertilizers. Just be sure to read the label, mix and apply according to directions and keep the over-spraying to a minimum. Garden fertilizers are expensive and you want to keep all chemicals out of the city drainage system.

How often are you watering and for how long? Lawn roots only grow to a depth of 1 to 2 inches. You can purchase an inexpensive water meter that you stick in the ground. Another method is to put out shallow cans (e.g., tuna or pet food) in a grid pattern on the lawn before watering. Water as usual, and check areas of to be sure the sprinklers are working uniformly. Adjust your sprinklers accordingly.

Remember, too, that rather than one long watering cycle of 20 minutes, your lawn may significantly improve with two cycles of 10 minutes, allowing the water to soak in between time intervals. If you water every day, you are probably wasting water.

Have you thought of possibly decreasing the size of your lawn and increasing the beds or walkways around your lawn? It doesn’t take much reduction in size to reap benefits in water conservation. Just something to think about as you look around your yard. You may find areas of your “lawn” that are more like bare soil or moss because of heavy shade. These would be good places to avoid watering.

Question: Why should I be concerned about cats using my raised bed for a litter box? I mean, other than it seems really nasty. Is toxoplasmosis a problem in our area?

Answer: Wow, you’ve opened Pandora’s box and found kitty litter! First, for information on toxoplasmosis, go to www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc/brochures/toxo.htm. This site gives a thorough explanation of the cause and effect of this issue. Note: A standard caution alerts pregnant women to avoid cleaning litter boxes.

Second, on the issue of cats in gardens, raised beds, pots and all other gardening areas, it “seems nasty” because it is nasty. Cat urine and feces in areas where children play, in areas where vegetables are harvested, or where a gardener has occasion to work are repugnant, offending to visitors, and with any excrement, just plain unhealthy. That’s why, as a general rule, you should avoid putting waste products into your compost. (Composting chicken manure is another topic: If interested, attend the Central Park Garden workshop on May 25.)

There are several ways to keep cats out of gardening areas. From practical everyday solutions to expensive store-bought concoctions and gadgets, here are a few:

* Talk to your neighbors. They may not realize Tinkerbell is visiting your yard on a regular basis, a high probability especially if T-Bell is a territorial (male) cat.

* Fox/coyote urine. Available commercially and supposedly repels cats.

* Moth balls. Sprinkle around plants regularly; the smell of moth balls may be worse that the pet waste.

* Pepper/red hot chili peppers. Cats will pick up the pepper on their paws and lick it. Pepper must be replaced on a regular basis.

* Pine cones, chunky rough bark, rocks, cut-up citrus rinds. Cats prefer soft, fine ground, that is easy to dig. These rough additives have cats looking for more hospitable areas. Cats supposedly don’t like the smell of citrus.

* Chicken wire. Put around plants or locations continually in use by cats and cover with soil. When they dig and hit wire, they will move on. They do not like the feel of the wire. Plastic forks, planted tines up, or commercial cat spike strips (metal rectangles with protruding spikes) placed in prominent litter areas would do the same thing.

* Motion-sensor sprinkler. When the sensor detects movement, it shoots out a spray of water. A less expensive alternative might be a water pistol or household sprayer. Cats abhor being sprayed with water.

Send questions, addressed to the “Garden Doctor,” by email to mgyolo@ucdavis.edu, voice mail to 530-666-8737, or regular mail to UCCE Master Gardeners, 70 Cottonwood St., Woodland, CA 95695. Be sure to include your contact information, because any questions not answered in the Garden Doctor column will be answered with a phone call or email to you.

You can request the Yolo Gardener newsletter delivered by email and learn more about the Master Gardener program in Yolo County at http://ceyolo.ucdavis.edu/Gardening_and_Master_Gardening.

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