Help, My Lawn Has Been Thrashed!

CHAFER BEETLE DAMAGE

Female chafers lay 20-40 eggs over their lifespan. They are laid singly, 5–10 centimetres (2.0–3.9 in) deep in moist soil, and take 2 weeks to hatch. The grubs hatch by late July. In frost zones, the grubs feed until November, then move deeper into the soil. In frost-free areas, the larva will feed all winter. Vigorous feeding occurs from March through May. In early June, the grubs again move deeper, from 5–25 centimetres (2.0–9.8 in), to form earthen cells and pupate. The pre-pupal and pupal stages last 2–4 days and 2 weeks, respectively. By June, the new beetles begin emerging. (Wikipedia)

Thanks Wikipedia.

Crow damage

Crow damage

If you live in Metro Vancouver you have seen this, probably in your own neighbourhood, and possibly in your own lawn. This is European Chafer Beetle damage, caused not only from the beetle grubs, but even more from the predators that feed on the grubs.

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Crow damage

The C-shaped really disgusting-looking grubs (how could anything called a “grub” be anything other than disgusting-looking?) started the damage by feeding on the roots of mostly turf. Some sources say they’ll feed on other vegetation roots if there’s a shortage of turf, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue yet, since we have lots of lawn. So you will seldom see this kind of damage in a lawn that is thick and green–it’ll have nice long roots preventing the animals and birds from pulling up the turf. You can see in the pictures that the undamaged areas still look pretty patchy. Of course, it is winter…

Then once the predators know the grubs are big enough to provide a tasty morsel, they start to dine–seems to be Fall through Spring. And since the grubs have already eaten away at the roots, the turf is now more like a carpet laid on the soil, so the crows, racoons and skunks don’t have to work very hard to get the turf out of their way.

Crows doing the damage.

Crows doing the damage.

More crows, more damage.

More crows, more damage.

 

Damage control

Damage control

Trying to keep the “carpet” pinned down will have limited success, since the critters can easily pick away in the spaces. Enlarge the above picture and you can see patchy areas that may have been damaged before the netting went down, or since.

Racoon damage

Racoon damage–just a little.

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Same site, different angle.

This was what I found one morning in early December. I’ve had crummy turf, but no CB damage for the 7 years I’ve been here, but since I wasn’t going out of my way to make my lawn really healthy (I keep vacillating on replacing it with…something), an infestation was inevitable–I was disappointed but certainly not surprised. Why racoon damage instead of crow damage? Who knows–I guess because there are racoon families in some of our neighbourhood Douglas-firs.

THIS did surprise me though.

Lots and LOTS of racoon damage.

Lots and LOTS of racoon damage.

Between waking up (in the dark) last Monday morning (I like to look out the front window while I’m brushing my teeth–sometimes I’ll see skunks or racoons ambling by) and leaving the house (in the dark) 45 minutes later, the racoons had had breakfast.

I guess I should be grateful to the racoons, not only have they probably decimated my chafer beetle population, they’ve also made me stop procrastinating making a new design for my front yard. I’m checking out Houzz “lawn alternatives” page.

PREVENT DAMAGE:

I’d like to see your lawn protected from this damage in the first place. We’ve got the invasive beetle here in Metro Vancouver, so either you prevent a devastating infestation, or you clean up the mess. Hoping it won’t happen is ineffective management!

The following is taken straight from the City of Richmond “Chafer Beetle” site, a nice concise lawn management guide:

Minimize lawn damage caused by chafer grubs by keeping your turf healthy and thick with proper lawn care practices:

* Increase mowing height to 8-10 cm (3-4 in). Longer grass blades mean a longer root system that is more resilient to the larvae feeding. (Ed. It may also help prevent the female from laying here eggs in your lawn, since apparently she prefers shorter grass blades.)
* Fertilize regularly by top dressing twice a year with compost or by using organic, slow-release fertilizers. Leaving grass clippings on the lawn, rather than bagging and disposing of them (grasscyling), also naturally fertilizes your lawn with nutrients after each mow.
* Water your lawn deeply: 2 to 3 cm (½ to 1 inch) once a week to promote a lush lawn with deep roots that better resist insect damage and drought. Follow the water use restrictions in effect from June 1 to September 30.
* Overseed your lawn annually with a grass seed mix will contribute to maintain a dense, healthy, and weed-free lawn. (EdThis can be done with the “top dressing” of compost.)
* Lime your lawn in fall and spring to counteract the soil’s natural acidity. Acidic soil prevents grass from taking up key nutrients necessary for its optimal growth and health.

If you’ve experienced the damage already, you can, like me, plan a new design that doesn’t include grass turf–or very little of it. If it’s Jan 6 and your turf looks like mine, there’s not much you can do until the weather warms up a bit. For now, you can clean up the mess and cover the bare soil with mulch, and in Feb or early March, if you’re hoping to keep lawn in this area, you can heavily grass-seed the area.

Besides the above maintenance regime, there’s a biological control, Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, or nematodesThese are a microscopic round worm that actually feeds on the the CB eggs before they turn into larvae. So it has only a short window of applicability–the latter half of July, after the eggs have been laid, and before they hatch into grubs. You can get nematodes at any nursery, and they’ll give you instruction on how to use them. They’re not cheap, and depending on your lawn maintenance you may need to repeat every year, so it may be another reason to consider removing your lawn.

Child Friendly Garden Design–6 Things

Child friendly Garden Design

Yesterday I was out recruiting clients and a homeowner asked me if I could design something that would be suitable for her kids.

Bien Sur! I said–easiest thing ever. All you have to do is think of the things that kids love to do, and make sure your yard has that. What do kids like? Climbing, hiding, getting wet, exploring, experimenting, and of course, critters. And my first advice was “Take out the lawn.”

Climbing

So let’s start with climbing. Of course you can nail ladder rungs to a tree, or build a play structure, or you can incorporate climbing into the garden design. If you have a slope that needs remediation, good big rocks that act as retaining walls could also be chiselled with footholds. or use other funkier materials for retaining walls.

 

As long as the rocks are big enough, or embedded deeply enough, that is one great climbing wall. The one above is I believe concrete…things. If they’re constructed like a jelly roll, they’ll probably be close to two feet long.

Hiding

This could be a little secret garden, where a small patio or grassy patch is surrounded by shrubs or small trees. With a path of course, connecting it to the next secret garden or other space. Or a teepee with a wide base with runner beans growing. Or how about a mini-meadow of tall grasses? (Which makes me think of Cary Grant hiding from James Mason in a corn field.)

Water

Nothing kids like more than making a mess in water and mud. But you can have the water without the mud and pondless-waterfall-with-girlthey’ll still love it. A pond-less waterfall has all the joy of flowing bubbling water without the risk of a toddler falling in unnoticed.

You can get it done by pond-less waterfall suppliers, or DIY with a lot of Internet research.

 

Exploring

Think of a museum, or a zoo, or a science centre, where you take a defined route, and there’s something new to see around every corner. You can create the same anticipation in your garden with paths, varying height plants, and then exciting things to find around the bend.

Experimenting

Who doesn’t want the children to have a better understanding (than we did) about food sources. We’ve all heard of the surprise that some have when they find out that the carrots that come in a bag, all shiny and tiny, actually come from the ground. Dirty! If you grow a vegetable garden with your children, they’ll love being told to go out to the veggie patch to harvest a snack. Just have a bucket of water handy for them to rinse off their snack. Great to choose plants that are quick growing to start with. Beans are quick to germinate and grow, but slow to produce a harvest. Radishes are productive in only a month and snow or snap peas are not only quick to produce, but also clean to eat. Then there’s always sunflowers: growing so large you can almost see them sprouting.

Critters

Butterflies, frogs, beetles, spiders, birds, dragonflies. You can have them all in your own garden for your children to enjoy. The main thing you need for this is diversity. Trees and tall shrubs give shelter to birds. Water –even the pond-less water feature– will draw dragonflies and possibly even frogs. And the birds will love it. Spiders and beetles don’t need much encouragement, but letting some of the garden stay a little messy will still give them habitat. And plants with tiny flowers for the butterflies.

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Annual candytuft (Iberis umbellata) that self-seeds like crazy in my garden.

Letting some of your carrots or dill or parsley or coriander go to seed is perfect.

Redesigning your garden meet the needs of the whole family isn’t rocket science. It’s work, but fun work, and imagining your children enjoying so many different experiences is the place to start.

The Do’s and Don’t’s of Groundcovers

Lots of plants are designated as “ground cover”, because they do in fact cover the ground. If the whole object is to prevent weeds from falling on the soil and germinating, almost anything dense will do. But my own definition is limited to plants that are essentially living mulch (and you all know how much I love mulch!).

Do choose low growing plants.

So I don’t use spreading junipers. Or cotoneaster. Or anything else woody. Or most ornamental grasses. All these have more “character” than I desire in a “living mulch”. I prefer my ground covers to almost disappear into the background (unless they don’t, as you will soon see…), and allow the taller, bolder plants to really shine. A bit like a subtle frame for a picture–usually it’s the picture you want to feature, not the frame.

Do choose plants that are not too aggressive but will still spread in a civilized manner

I include in the category of “too aggressive” things like Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis). It’s got a lot going for it, but it self-seeds like crazy, and tho’ fairly easy to pull out even when it’s pretty large, it does make for a lot of pulling. On the other hand it you’ve got a lot of space to cover, and this would include dry shade like under conifers, Lady’s Mantle is the thing for you.

Ajuga is a pretty vigorous spreader, but can be controlled. Ditto for Creeping Thyme or Wooly Thyme. Both of these grow into my lawn, but if I had a wider edging, like 12″ flagstone instead of 4″ bricks, the runners of ajuga wouldn’t go that far.

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Ajuga growing into the lawn. Click on all pictures to enlarge them.

Do choose plants that will give all season interest.

First of all, evergreen. Herbaceous perennials (plants that lose their above ground growth at the end of fall) do not meet the need of ground covering. Large patches of daylilies or columbine or Sedum spectabilis (the tall ones) will indeed cover a lot of ground, but only until winter, when all above ground greenery dies off (needing to be cleaned up), and the ground is again open and subject to weeds blowing in, to compaction by winter rains, and to squirrels digging up bulbs and burying nuts.

Secondly, colour. Either foliage colour or flower colour.

Heuchera 'Purple Palace'

Heuchera ‘Purple Palace’. An “evergreen” that still needs a little spring clean-up.

Another Heuchera--it was already here when I moved in, so don't know what cultivar it is.

Another Heuchera–it was already here when I moved in, so don’t know what cultivar it is.

Both these heucheras have strong colour–not what I’d call subtle. But I find they don’t compete with their mates–I have them located mainly where the plants that grow up around and through them have a much shorter season–like spring and summer bulbs.

Veronica repens--Creeping Speedwell

Veronica repens–Creeping Speedwell

Finally, texture. I keep referring to Lady’s Mantle, and positively in this case:

Alchemilla mollis. Tiny hairs on the surface of the leaves creates "ultrahydrophobic" effect.

Alchemilla mollis. Tiny hairs on the surface of the leaves creates “ultrahydrophobic” effect.

Do choose plants that your native garden visitors (like pollinators and insect predators) will appreciate.

This would include anything native that still fits into all the other requirements: Mike’s top 5 include Tiarellas, Heucheras, Epimediums, and I’d add Salal (Gaultheria shallon)–the dwarf varieties.

Gaultheria shallon

Gaultheria shallon

Don’t choose plants that are considered invasive in your area

Here it’s English or Boston ivy, Periwinkle, Lamium, Goutweed…

Don’t choose plants that need a lot of cleaning up. 

Poor Lady’s Mantle, she gets a bad rap from me. She’s not “herbaceous”, in that she doesn’t lose all her leaves in winter. But most of them will dry up and shrivel. So they are still covering the ground, but need cutting off in the spring when new growth starts. Hellebores have a similar need: they really are evergreen, but by late winter or whenever the particular cultivar begins to produce flower buds, the foliage is looking a little tatty, and may actually hide the flowers. So I usually cut off old foliage as new flowers begin to sprout.

Hellebore in flower with last year;s leaves removed

Hellebore in flower with last year’s leaves removed.

Hellebore after blooming with full spring growth. Both pictures taken same day.

Different Hellebore after blooming with full spring growth. this one blooms much earlier than the previous pic. Both pictures taken same day.

Now neither of these chores is particularly onerous–unless you have acres of them, in which case they will be onerous.

Don’t choose plants that will compete with other plantings.

This would include plants that have a bold character on their own–like Blue Fescue. Blue Fescue is a brilliant plant–love its colour, its shape, it texture, it’s minimal clean-up. But it definitely doesn’t meld into the background. So as a feature plant, especially when mass-planted, it’s wonderful. But not “groundcover”.

Other ornamental grasses however have a more subtle presence, and are fine for groundcover: Carex caryophylla ‘Beatlelmania’ is one of my faves, altho in my garden it’s hard to keep it happy.

Here are a few more options:

Most low-growing sedums

Most low-growing sedums

Another sedum. Most flower in the early summer. Most can be walked upon without damage. most have spectacular texture. Hard to beat.

Another sedum. Most flower in the early summer. Most can be walked upon without damage. most have spectacular texture. Hard to beat.

Wooly thyme.

Wooly thyme.

Iberis sempervirens

Iberis sempervirens. 

Strawberries!

Strawberries!

Saxifraga x urbium --London Pride, also called "None-so pretty"!

Saxifraga x urbium –London Pride, also called “None-so pretty”!

Aubretia.

Aubretia. 

Most of the above plants are mainly sun-lovers, but will tolerate some degree of shade. Those like Iberis and Aubretia that put on a carpet of bloom would seem to be a bit bold to “meld into the background”. But when they’re in bloom, there’s not much else around them. But the time other perennials or shrubs are growing and sprouting, the groundcover is a lovely carpet of green. Background green.

So you have LOTS of suggestions here. No excuse for not having your soil safely covered and protected from weeds, critters, compaction. Unless you prefer wood chip mulch!

Comments? Questions? Concerns? What are you using for ground cover? Leave them all in the comment box.

How to Create a Dry Creek Bed in 5 Not-So-Easy Steps

I used to think the concept of having a dry river bed in your yard was stupid, artificial, a waste of good planting space, pretentious, and lot of other adjectives I don’t have to mention. But having had my vision expanded and exposed to lots more interesting features recently, I’m increasingly a fan. Of well designed dry river beds, not most of the ones I’ve seen on Houzz. (Having said that, most of my pictures here have been slurped from Houzz.)

Here’re your main points:

1. Make it natural looking

This is an actual natural dry river bed. Thanks to Kate Presents

This is an actual natural dry river bed. Thanks to Kate Presents

*Meandering

*Following a natural slope if possible

*Irregular in width

*Heaviest rocks don’t move much, so tend to be either in the centre or embedded in the banks. Lightest–sand and small rocks–wash away  with the flow of the river and are deposited along the edges in “beaches”.

Also from Kate Presents, and this time a pretty good man-made version.

Also from Kate Presents, and this time a pretty good man-made version.

2. It doesn’t need much space, but the depth should be twice the width. When excavating, if the soil is usable it can be mounded a bit along the edges, so as you’re digging deeper you’re raising the edges–less excavating. Tamp down the bottom, then line the bottom with heavy landscape cloth. Much as I hate landscape cloth, in this case you’re going to be exposing long buried weed seeds to light, and that means growth. And then covering them with rocks, which means getting those weeds out is tediously hard work. Landscape cloth will help minimize that. Place your biggest rocks first, if possible embed some into banks, others in the middle. Then fill with small-medium sized rocks–mixed sizes are much more natural than all one size, and mixed colours ditto. Keep the smallest stones to create widened areas opposite and just a little “downriver” from your largest boulders.

Apparently this is a BC creek, or so the caption says on the photo. Town Mouse

Apparently this is a BC creek, or so the caption says on the photo. Town Mouse

3. Make the beginnings and endings appear to come out of something and go into something. These somethings could be a collection of rocks, or a collection of plants.

4. Plant along the borders. Grasses are particularly effective in this context, as are creeping things flowing over the banks and side rocks. I don’t care much for the actual river bed here, but the planting is cool.

Ditto here:

5. Add some lighting. These can be low-profile spots that show up large rocks, and/or in the planting beds alongside. Or under a bridge you built to “get over the river”.

That’s a ridiculously simplistic primer on dry river beds, but if you like that, google “dry river beds”, and with these five steps in your toolbox you’ll be able to judge better what you’re reading and viewing.

Look forward to your questions and comments.

Tips For Low(er) Maintenance Lawn

Image

This lawn is maintained by a landscape crew

The pictures of turf on the package of grass fertilizer is ultra-high maintenance, and unless you’re a golf-turf manager, you’ll never achieve it. It needs watering, weeding, fertilizing, liming; top-dressing with compost, overseeding; receives lots of harmful chemicals to weed-and-feed (golf course turf isn’t subject to the same restrictions as homeowners), and needs a team of care-givers to accomplish all this.

Also a lawn managed by maintenance company

Also a lawn managed by maintenance company

If you’re determined to have a turf lawn, but still want to try for “low maintenance” here’s a few tips:

Summer Dormancy

The first thing to know in planning your low maintenance lawn is that cool season grasses (“cool season” is what we have here in BC)—fescues, perennial ryegrasses, bentgrasses—naturally go dormant in hot weather. So not only is watering them through the summer a lot of work and environmentally unsound, it’s also illogical. The grass’s nature is to go dormant, so let it do so. Yes, it will look brown and sad, but it’s doing what it’s meant to do. And we have watering restrictions (increasingly restrictive!) requiring you to get up at 4 am. if you want to water your lawn during dry season! When the rains return so does the green—and very fast! And so does the mowing again. And now it’s getting colder and wetter, but you’re still out there mowing until winter. If you make that lawn a smaller portion of a greater concept garden, it will diminish in impact while the rest increases in impact. And be a lot less work.

Location, Location, Location!

In our location—coastal BC— we have acidic soil. Turf grasses prefer neutral soil. So the lawn needs liming. I’m not going to go into the details of liming, just that it should be done in spring and fall. The alternative is to have a yard full of moss and buttercup.

And grass that is walked on—what grass isn’t? It is inviting bare feet to enjoy it!–gets compacted and needs aerating every year or two.

Sun exposure and moisture levels determine not only what seed to use, but whether grass will grow at all. If you have cedar trees (Chamaecyparis, Thuja, Juniper), you will constantly fight to establish grass nearby, both because of the shade, and the fact that the trees are VERY THIRSTY. There’s not much water left for poor little grass plants. Douglas firs are similar, and they have a wide canopy. Ditto most large maples.

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You can see the cedar trunks on the left, about 10′ from the edge of the grass. When I moved in, that’s the line–well beyond the drip line of the trees–where grass stopped growing well. That’s where I edged the lawn–then tried to figure out what else might be happy there.

Don’t try for a “picture-perfect” lawn.

As I pointed out in a previous post  the weed-free, golf-course-looking home lawn is a pretty recent development. If you lower your standards a bit and allow some other, non-grass plants (sometimes called “weeds”) to co-exist, you’ll reduce your workload exponentially. I’m all for Dutch White Clover.

lawn sown with Dutch White Clover

Lawn sown with Dutch White Clover

Here are some pics of my backyard grass today:

Lots of Sphagnum Moss

LOTS of buttercup

LOTS of buttercup

Yet, unless I'm down at nose level, it looks pretty good. To me at least.

Yet, unless I’m down at nose level, it looks pretty good. To me at least.

Bottom Line Tips 

  1. Don’t fight with what you can’t change. Unless you’re willing to cut down large thirsty trees, plant something other than “lawn grass”.
  2. Don’t expect to reproduce the lawn picture on “Weed and Feed” fertilizer bags.
  3. Let lawn go dormant in summer.
  4. Make your lawn space small. Let other plantings dominate.
  5. Invest in shares of Dutch White Clover 🙂