Garden Tips | September 6, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - September 6, 2013

Garden Tips

Time to aerate that lawn — or build a wall

by Jack McKinnon

September is lawn renovation month. It is still hot and the grass is growing at full speed. If you have a postage-stamp garden or an acre of putting green (bent grass), aeration and thatching are the best thing you can do for your turf. Of course, you need to continue watering and a regular fertilizing program.

Here are the tips:

1. Mow down, de-thatch and aerate your lawns. Rent a thatching machine and aerator or have a contractor do the work for you. Spike aerators just compress the soil around the holes. It is better to use a real aerator that removes plugs from your turf. You can leave the plugs on the lawn or rake them up.

2. Keep watering, check your systems and replace clogged emitters on drip systems. Rhododendrons like their foliage wet. I recommend putting in risers on a PVC system (versus a drip system) to accomplish this.

3. Do a walk through your garden with your gardener. This will help both of you know how the other is feeling about the work being done. All too often, after the contract is signed, the owner and the contractor seldom see each other, let alone talk. If the contract needs amending this is a good time to do it.

4. Study something architectural that is of interest to you. One time I had an interest in rock walls. I got a really good book on it, went to Scotland (where the art is being lost) and looked at miles of walls. I even attempted a couple of small, short walls myself. What I learned was that there was no way I was going to lift and move that much rock. No wonder it is becoming a lost art, you have to be crazy to take on that much work. The good news is, I learned a lot about walls.

5. Have a summer family gathering in a garden. If yours is not in shape for it, ask a friend who has a nice garden if she or he would host your get-together. If that doesn't work, have a family visit to the Golden Gate Park Botanical Garden and Arboretum in San Francisco; it is wonderful this time of year.

6. Plan your spring bulb planting now. When the catalogs arrive and the bulbs show up in the nurseries, you will be ready. I was looking at a 1948 edition of the Sunset Visual Garden Manual I got at a book sale. It has a great picture description of how to plant bulbs. "Mix good compost into the bulb bed but do not let your bulbs touch the composted soil or they may rot. Use a little sand in each hole to provide drainage. Also, make sure there are no air pockets around the bulbs." I think some of these techniques are wonderful.

7. Divide plants like agapanthus, day lilies, fortnight lily and flax when the bloom is finished.

8. Fertilize citrus with a high nitrogen fertilizer. Spread it around and outside the drip line of the tree and scratch it in, water thoroughly. Do this three times a year or as per the instructions on your fertilizer package.

9. After they are finished blooming, prune hebe, bottle brush, oleander, buddlea and other blooming shrubs. You will know where to prune by noting the lateral branches and cutting just above one that points in the direction you want the branch to grow. Easier said than done but this is another one of those lost arts, so practice. You will learn if you are patient.

10. When the weather cools, visit the local nurseries and shop for fall bedding plants and vegetables. It is never too late to put in greens for the table, flowers for a vase and herbs for the kitchen.

Good gardening.

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-879-3261, by email at Visit his website at


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