Common Causes of Grass Death

It’s raining, it’s pouring, and all your grass is turning….yellow? For homeowners, this combination just doesn’t sound right. A well-watered lawn is supposed to be a healthy lawn, after all! Indeed, grass needs water to grow and thrive, and a good irrigation system or a healthy dose of rain certainly helps. But, as landscaping professionals, we are well aware that there are many different causes for yellowing grass, and some are more surprising than others. As you prepare for the upcoming holiday, it is wise to keep in mind all the potential threats that might be encroaching in on your lawn. If you can recognize the risk, you can do more to keep your lawn healthy and looking its best.

Check Your Mower

Did you know that a dull blade on a lawnmower can dry out your grass? A dull blade tears at grass instead at cutting it, leaving frayed ends that prevent water and nutrients from reaching grass tips. Luckily, the fix for this problem is quick. Simply check your mower blades and, if they appear to be getting dull, replace them with new, sharp blades that can cut grass more efficiently.

Add Nutrients

You probably know that your garden plants need nutrients like iron and nitrogen to thrive. Grass also benefits from these nutrients and, without them, can quickly become yellow. Especially if you live in an area with nutrient-poor soil, consider adding fertilizer to your lawn once or twice a year to improve growth. As an added tip for those with pets, dog urine can also mess up nutrient balance in your yard and yellow your grass due to its high nitrogen content. Encourage your pups to do their business in areas with less grass or water off dog urine with a gardening hose to limit damage.

Watch Out for Soil Compaction

Do you have lawn furniture or children’s play equipment around the yellower parts of your yard? You may be dealing with soil compaction, in which soil becomes too closely packed to allow for a healthy flow of water and oxygen to grass. Aerating your lawn a couple times during the summer will help prevent this from happening.

Check for Disease

There are a number of diseases that target grass. The majority are fungal, with the most common being fairy rings, snow mold, fusarium, and smut. Apply a soil fungicide in the spring to combat mold and fungus growths in the summer. Regular (but not excessive) watering, aerating, and mowing will also defend against fungal disease.

Remove Dead Growth

If you have tried and tried again to fix a dead spot in your yard to no avail, the best course of action might be to pull up that dead grass growth and plant anew with fresh soil and seed. This area could have permanent damage due to sun scorching or a chemical spill, and thus may be resistant to generous watering. This dead patch could cause damage to other areas on your lawn, and therefore should be removed as soon as possible.

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Landscape Lighting Tips and Tricks

Proper landscape lighting can make your landscape just as enjoyable and inviting at night as it is during the day. It is a must-have when it comes to hosting parties or being able to relax with your family after hours. With the plethora of lighting options now available, you can be creative, flexible, and cost-efficient with your designs. Now that summer is in full swing and barbecue season is upon us, Roanoke Landscapes is happy to provide some useful tips for how to get the most out of your landscape even after the sun goes down:

First, you probably want to consider what type of lighting to use. If you’re planning on using light bulbs along with or instead of candles and lanterns, we recommend using low-voltage LED lights. They are less costly to install, safer, and will save you a pretty penny when it comes to your electric bill! They can be purchased in various shapes and sizes at almost any hardware store.

Trees: Trees and shrubs look absolutely stunning when illuminated by landscape lighting. A ground lighting fixture (like a small outdoor spotlight) can be pointed upwards towards the trunk and base branches of larger trees to create a soft glow that will brighten up your entire yard. For smaller shrubs and trees, strands of white or yellow string lights can add a bit of holiday flare all year long. These smaller lights are fun, beautiful, and many strands come with different settings like “twinkle” or “fade” so that you can change things up to fit different moods.

Planting Beds and Gardens: Gardens and beds are at risk of being blown out by large light fixtures. Consider putting it softer, smaller fixtures that create pools of light to guide the viewer’s eye over the garden. Small, solar-powered lanterns and orbs lining the outer edge of your beds can give your garden a great highlight. Ornate, glass light fixtures look particularly beautiful in the garden, though small spotlights can work just as well.

Patio Lighting: There are lots of fun lighting options for your porch and patio. On outdoor tables, consider putting small lanterns or candles in glass jars to make vibrant, glowing centerpieces. Lanterns can also be placed on the outer edges of retaining walls or can be elevated on posts where extra light is needed. For those of you that prefer natural lighting, a fire pit, decorate torches, or even an outdoor fireplace installation are sure to wow guests and create a cozy atmosphere. A combination of natural (candles, lanterns) and electric light works great in outdoor living spaces, with natural light best being used as an accent against brighter electric light fixtures.

Your outdoor lighting should ultimately reflect the kind of atmosphere you want to create when it comes to entertaining friends and family. Want your yard to be whimsical and fun? Consider adding lots of string lighting and ornate light fixtures like globes and lanterns. You can even experiment with different colors! Are you looking for something more practical? Spotlighting on your large yard fixtures, path lights, and entrance lights around doors can easily do the trick. What you do with your landscape is up to you; we’re just happy to get you started!

Storm Proofing Your Landscape

A passing summer thunderstorm can easily cause massive damage to a landscape. Wind gusts can cause branches to fall from trees and heavy rain can pummel flowers and shrubs into an unrecognizable mess. In the peak months of summer, the occasional severe thunder storm is an expected occurrence. All homeowners should be aware of severe weather threats and the precautionary steps necessary to keep families and homes safe. But there are also various ways homeowners can safeguard their yard from severe weather damage. Being aware of the kind of damage that might occur to your landscape during a storm and how to best prevent it can keep your yard looking strong and healthy as you navigate through thunderstorm season.

Know Your Yard, Know Your Risk

Preparation is one of the best defenses against severe weather threats. It is important to prepare your yard for wind, rain, and hail before the severe weather season starts. One way to do this is to keep in mind the types of flowers, trees, and shrubs that populate your yard and do some research on the durability of those plants. For instance, some trees (magnolia, oak, cyprus, and elm-for example) have deep root systems and hardy branches that are better suited to withstand heavy winds and rain. Other trees like willow, cottonwood, and cedar have shallower branch systems and are much more likely to be uprooted or damaged by storms. If your backyard is populated with these trees, you might want to consider being extra cautious when preparing for storms: be aware that these plants are vulnerable and could perhaps create debris.

Look For Hazards

You should always periodically check your yard to make sure it’s happy, healthy, and thriving. A yard with many dead, rotting, or damaged plants is more vulnerable to severe weather. Dead or rotting branches can be easily blown off trees, and unhealthy trees have weaker root systems. Take care of your yard by watering regularly, adding nutrients to your soil, and pruning plants to remove old growth. This will give your yard the strength it needs to withstand bad weather.

Check and Prep

Plants and trees can be tested by hand for strength and durability. If you have the time, consider shaking small trees and shrubs to see how they withstand pressure. Break off branches that are weak or low-hanging and consider bracing young trees by tying them to metal stakes with nylon rope. This will limit debris. Before the storm hits, take note of yard decorations and landscape design elements. Everything that isn’t rooted should be secured in one way or another. Potted and hanging plants, yard decorations, and lighting fixtures can be moved inside. Yard furniture can also be moved or otherwise covered with a protective, weather-proof cover. If you are concerned about soil erosion, consider lining your flower beds with sand bags, extra mulch, or hay to increase durability.

Save What You Can

Are there ripe or nearly ripe fruits and veggies hanging from your produce plants? Bring them in! Harvesting produce regularly helps protect it from various hazards, whether it be severe weather or the insatiable appetites of neighborhood animals and bugs. Losing good produce to a bad storm is a real shame, so be sure to keep an eye out on your plants and always bring in what’s ready.

Design Smarter, Plan Better

If you are just beginning a landscaping plan and have not yet considered weather-proof design elements, this is the best time to do it! Building a durable yard is much easier than making a vulnerable yard more durable after the fact. Consider putting in fencing or retaining walls to block wind, sloped beds to help naturally drain water, or raised beds to help curb erosion. Chose hardy, strong-rooted plants and trees to reduce the risk of your home being damaged by debris, and always plan ahead for severe weather. It is better to be over-prepared than under-prepared!

Do you have any tried and true weather-proofing tips for yards and gardens? We would love to hear about them in a comment!

Shade Gardens: Getting Started

A shady yard can be a huge asset during the dog days of summer. Shade provides a much-needed escape from sweltering sunlight and helps keep outdoor spaces cool so that you, your family, and your four-legged friends can relax and enjoy the season more comfortably. But, for gardeners and landscapers, shade has often been an enemy to flowers and shrubs. Popular garden plants like rose, marigold, and daisy just can’t thrive in shady climates. However, that doesn’t mean that sunless parts of your yard have to become boring dead spots. Building a shade garden is easy, fun, and can add interest and beauty to even the most sun-starved yards. There are shade-loving plants to fit almost anyone’s taste and budget. Here are some starting points to get you planting:

A shade garden doesn’t have to lack color and flare. There are many annuals that thrive in shady climates and produce bright, beautiful blooms. Pansies, forget-me-nots, and begonias are easy favorites considering their vibrancy and fortitude.

Pansies

A number of perennials also thrive in shade: Azalea, primrose, foxglove, and the calla lilly are all colorful, long-lasting choices that will add beauty to your yard year-round.

Primrose

If you’re going for more of a green, woodsy look, consider planting some shade-loving foliage. Wild ginger, English ivy, and wintercreeper have no problem living in the shade and are great additions to a flower-heavy garden. They can also adorn the shaded sides of houses for a particularly rustic look.

English Ivy

Shrubs can help fill-out a shade garden as well. Boxwood, hydrangea, mountain laurel, and rhododendron are just a few options to consider. These shrubs are hardy, durable, and produce colorful blooms of their own. Think about making a shade-tolerant shrub the centerpiece of your garden and then lining the outer edges with flowers. No one will ever accuse the shady parts of your yard of being dull again!

Mountain Laurel

For a longer list of shade-tolerant plants, check out: this link. Ultimately, shade gardens are just as customizable, flexible, and beautiful as traditional gardens. There are hundreds of options, arrangements, and combinations you can try. If any of you are working on a shade garden, we would love to hear about the creative designs you’ve come up with! Leave a comment and let us know what Roanoke Landscapes can do to help you with your gardening and landscaping needs!

It’s Bagworm Season: Are you Ready?

If you live in southwest Virginia, chances are you’ve seen your fair-share of bagworms. These pesky, destructive insects can be seen enveloping the branches of deciduous and evergreen trees in the spring and summer. Bagworms encase themselves in a silk “bag” and feed on needles and leaves, sometimes completely destroying a tree’s foliage. As their bags grow bigger, they also grow harder and harder to penetrate and destroy, and, once bagworms start breeding, they can become difficult to control. This is bad news for gardens and yards but, luckily, there are various ways to remove bagworm populations before they become a big problem. Here are a few you might consider:

Bagworm caterpillars typically hatch towards the end of May or early June. Keep an eye out for these bugs early on, regularly inspecting leaves and needles for their presence. Soon after hatching, they are very susceptible to insecticides with bifentherin in them. When searching for the right insecticide, be sure to get one that controls for lepidopteran insects (ie. bag worms) and spray on affected areas. This will nip the problem in the bud before it gets out of hand.

Spraying tip: When applying insecticide, be very thorough in your application. Spray from branch tip to trunk and apply to both inside and outside foliage.

Looking for an organic spray treatment option? Try anything labeled with Bacillus thuringiensis or neem oil.

If you would rather forego a chemical treatment, physically removing the bagworms after their peak season can also help control their population. They breed in early Fall and store their eggs in the bags over the winter. In late fall, you can begin removing the egg-filled bags by hand before the babies have an opportunity to hatch. This will cut down on bagworm populations the following spring. Just be sure to be very thorough in your removal to avoid leaving eggs behind.

If the problem becomes severe, always contact a professional! A nasty bagworm infestation might require numerous applications of insecticide that are best left to the pros.

Slime Mold: An Eyesore on Your Mulch

Have you noticed a connection between hot, humid weather and the growth of a bright yellow, rather unsavory looking (unsavory is an understatement) organism on your mulch? You might be dealing with slime mold, a creature with a name as gross as it looks that thrives on wet, hot mulch.

Despite its name, slime mold is not an actual mold (molds are classified as a type of fungus). Rather, it belongs to the Protista family, and, unlike mold, it is capable of independent movement. It ranges in color from bright yellow, to orange, to brown and grey during the latter part of its lifespan. Though slime mold poses no significant threat to you or your garden, it can be a huge eyesore when it comes to family barbecues and outdoor parties, and most homeowners would prefer to see it quickly eliminated. Luckily, slime molds can be controlled, but not through traditional mold-fighting techniques. Chemical killers have no effect on slime mold, and they can be extremely toxic to your yard. The best way to fight slime mold is through preventative techniques that limit the amount of moisture your mulch is getting. It’s impossible to control how much rain your yard will get in a given summer, but, for those of you with irrigation systems, heads and spray times can be adjusted to ensure that mulch doesn’t get soaked through when grass and plant beds are being watered. An irrigation system that lets too much water seep into your mulch is a quick culprit for slime mold growth.

Even during particularly wet summers, you can utilize a number of tactics to keep your mulch from getting too wet. For instance, periodically raking and loosening mulch chips will let air into your mulch and prevent it from becoming water-logged. Raking up accumulated plant debris and overgrowth will also help prevent slime mold growth by limiting areas in which water might pool. Generally, keeping your yard well-aerated and free of excess growth and debris will control slime mold populations. If it does pop up, keep in mind that it is not harmful, and can simply be dug up and disposed of with a shovel if it becomes an issue. When handling slime mold, be sure not to get it too close to your clothing or skin, because it can leave a staining residue the approximate color of dog vomit, and nobody wants that.

Stopping Garden Ants with Home Remedies

When I asked our Facebook friends what they’d most like to see a blog about, Kathleen Edwards replied with “Ants!” As far as garden pests go, ants might be some of the most insidious and annoying ones out there, and Roanoke Landscapes regularly deals with ant infestations. For those who, like Kathleen, are struggling with this problem, I’ve researched some possible remedies that you can try for yourself:

Cornmeal

Cornmeal is an inexpensive and fast way to make a dent in ant populations. Simply apply a bit of cornmeal around the affected areas and look for results. This could take multiple applications, and, unfortunately, it is not typically potent enough to kill off entire colonies, but, if your ant problem is mild and containable, it can make a big difference.

Water and Vinegar

Water and vinegar is another cheap and effective way to kill off garden ants. Mix equal parts water and vinegar in a spray bottle and then spritz infested plants. This is a direct treatment, so keep in mind that you can only spray what you can see. For infestations that are happening below the soil, a water and vinegar treatment might not be enough. Try combining this method with others.

Borax and Jelly

This one’s a real ant killer. It’s quick and it works well. All you need to do is mix equal parts borax and something sugary (jelly works just fine) in a bowl and place near the problem area. The ants will quickly eat the sugary jelly, ingest the borax, and die off, giving you back your garden. As an additional plus, some of this mix will also be carried back to the colony’s queen, doing major damage to the entire population.

Pipe Tobacco

This may sound far-fetched, but pipe tobacco is an expert ant killer, and it can be used directly on ant mounds. Soak the tobacco in water overnight, making a tea-like substance. Discard the wet tobacco leaves and then pour the remaining liquid on top of any visible mounds to eliminate them.

Careful Planting

Plants that attract honeydew producing insects like aphids also attract ants. Ants will stick around to eat the honeydew that gets left behind, and prevention is often the best form of protection. Plants like chrysanthemums, dahlias, hydrangeas, and rockcress can easily attract aphids. However, insects like ladybugs do a great job of killing off aphids (and thus limiting ant populations) so, if you are dead-set on keeping these plants in your garden, you may want to consider having a healthy population of ladybugs around.

Serious ant infestations are always best dealt with by professionals. If you have tried these remedies and still can’t control your infestation, Roanoke Landscapes can help. And, if you have any questions that you want answered on our blog, feel free to let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009303223791

Creating an Edible Landscape

After moving into a beautiful historic house in Roanoke City, I had the opportunity to really think about landscaping. I wanted our yard to accentuate the antique beauty of our new home, and I wanted it to be practical. When considering what kinds of plants I wanted to grow, I immediately thought of my pantry. “What kind of spices do I use regularly?” I asked myself. “What veggies and fruits am I always buying at the grocery store?” When I was growing up, my mother always kept a vegetable garden. We had a big, rich yard and plenty of soil. Season after season, growing food on our landscape just made sense.

Now, “edible landscapes” make more sense than ever. Many homeowners have incorporated produce gardens into their landscaping plans, and many others are utilizing community gardens as a food resource. No matter where we come from, the ability to grow our own fresh, organic produce is an awesome and useful feat.  And, in a world where food shortages are an ever-persistent reality, edible landscapes have become a huge point of interest among landscape innovators. Lawn and Landscape magazine recently published an article on urban agriculturist Tracy Lee Sewell, who has been creating edible landscapes for restaurants and residents in Georgia. As landscaping innovators ourselves, Roanoke Landscapes was interested in finding out more about what edible landscaping is and how to do it. Here’s what we dug up.

What is an Edible Landscape?

Like an “edible arrangement,” an edible landscape combines natural beauty with delicious practicality. It uses produce and spices as decorative elements within a landscape design. An edible landscape can be a mix of traditional landscaping elements (flowers, shrubs) and produce, or all produce. However, for most families, a small edible component within a traditional landscape is enough to provide health, aesthetic, and economic benefits.

How Can I Create an Edible Landscape?

Edible landscapes are typically very simple to create and customize. For homeowners and landscape designers, the most pressing question is how to combine produce, flowers, and shrubs in an attractive way. There are many different combinations that homeowners can try for themselves, but it’s important to keep a few key ideas in mind. Generally, an edible landscape is meant to diversify not just your garden, but also your pantry. Capitalize on this by choosing a wide variety of plants with different colors, textures, and forms. This will undoubtedly add interest to your landscape as well. If you’re worried about this looking too hectic, utilize pathways, patios, planters, borders, and hedges to give your garden some increased organization. Labels can become particularly helpful when a lot of produce is being grown side-by-side with flowers and shrubs.

Why Should I Grow an Edible Landscape?

Edible landscapes give you a much more productive, practical garden. Though flowers are beautiful, their blooms are fleeting and not very useful to us once gone. Produce can be harvested and enjoyed by families and communities, while also having aesthetic value. A bright red pepper plant has just as much flare as a rose bush, and fragrant herbs and spices make beautiful and durable borders. Even a small edible landscape can save families hundreds in grocery bills while providing nutritious, home-grown food. Large scale edible landscapes are being used to provide fresh produce to restaurants and help feed millions of impoverished people who have limited access to fruits and vegetables. It’s a growing movement than anyone can get involved with. Start small, and see where it takes you.

The Benefits of an Irrigation System

In order to keep grass green and fresh throughout the hot summer months, regular watering is a necessity. For homeowners who grow produce or flowers, this is especially true. Manual watering can be time consuming, costly, wasteful, and just a general pain. An irrigation system can simplify lawn care tremendously, making it worth the investment. Here are a few reasons you might consider an irrigation install for your home:

Taking the Worry out of Uncertainty

It’s hard to determine exactly how much your lawn and garden need to be watered when you live in an unpredictable climate. It could be dry one week and raining almost constantly the next, leaving you wondering how to correct for forces out of your control. An irrigation system can do this for you. It only waters grass when grass needs to be watered, and it applies the near exact amount of water that your yard requires. The simple installation of a rain sensor ensures that grass will never be overwatered, and with the aid of irrigation professionals, your whole yard will be sized up so that it can receive the care it needs 100% of the time. It’s nearly impossible to achieve that kind of precision manually.

Customization Made Easy

Irrigation systems can be customized to target the problems that your yard faces. For instance, do you have trouble getting rid of invasive weeds? A drip irrigation system waters plants directly at their roots, preventing the accidental watering and germination of weed seeds. It’s also gentle on flowers and other delicate foliage. Additionally, heads come in a variety of sizes and designs. They can rotate or stay fixed, propel a light mist of water or shoot a long-reaching stream, and most are miraculously discrete. This allows you to give different plants different watering routines based on their unique needs. There’s no better way to cover all your bases.

Water (and Money) Conservation

Watering by hand can take hours out of a day, and it is typically much less efficient than an irrigation system. When irrigation systems are working properly, they are conserving as much water as possible. They channel water to directly where it needs to be and limits the amount of water lost to runoff and over-watering caused by the high-pressure water stream of a standard hose. A high quality irrigation system will end up decreasing your water bill in the long run, nullifying the installation cost.

More Time for Whatever You Want

And, of course, one of the most valuable aspects of an irrigation system is the flexibility it allows you to do, well, anything. With an irrigation system, your grass is watered automatically in the early hours of the morning or while you’re at work. When you get home, you don’t have to worry about anything except spending time with your family, working on the projects that you love, and relaxing in your beautiful yard. The amount of time you’ll save will pay for your irrigation install tenfold.

Roanoke Landscapes does professional irrigation installs across the Roanoke Valley. Our systems are high-quality, reliable, and affordable. At very little cost to you, we will maintain your system throughout the year and do automatic turn-ons and winterizations so you can spend more time doing what you want and less time worrying about your yard. We make irrigation a stress-free, easy part of your landscape.