May 1996 - Indiana Yard and Garden - Purdue Consumer Horticulture

May 1996

Q. I have a hillside that is now scarce with grass and weeds and would like to try little bluestem. Where can I find it? Can the seed be planted directly on the ground, or what kind of preparation is necessary? – Myrna Sowers, Crawfordsville, Ind.

A. Prepare the site by killing all the existing weeds. Because you’re planting a hill, you don’t want to loosen the soil too much, so till lightly or hand rake a seed bed. Broadcast the seed, and press it into the soil or cover very lightly with soil. You’ll probably receive some additional information from the seed company when you get the seeds.

Little bluestem is available from Prairie Nursery, (608) 296-3679 and Applewood Seed Co., (303) 431-6283.

Q. How can I tell if my lawn needs to be dethatched? How often is dethatching necessary? – Steve Tally, West Lafayette, Ind.

A. Thatch is a tight layer of dead shoots, stems and roots that accumulate just above the soil level. Many people think leaving grass clippings on the lawn creates a thatch problem, but the leaves break down very quickly and are not the cause of the problem. Actually, leaving the clippings on the lawn returns enough nitrogen to the soil to save you one fertilization each year!

Too much thatch interferes with water and air movement, reduces fertilizer and pesticide activity, and increases insect and disease problems. However, a small amount of thatch is desirable because it moderates soil temperatures. One-quarter to 1/2 inch of thatch is considered normal. If your thatch is more than 1/2 inch thick, rent a dethatcher and make a number of passes in different directions. Reseeding may be necessary. If thatch is 1 inch deep, lawn renovation is recommended. Rent a sod-cutter, remove the existing sod and start over!

Kentucky bluegrass and fine fescue should be dethatched in April or September. Tall fescue and perennial ryegrass rarely develop a thatch problem.

Q. I just read your column, and one item surprised me so much I did a double take! You said the poppy seeds used in cooking come from Papaver somniferum. The opium poppy?!? I’m also surprised the seeds are available legally in this country. What’s to keep someone from growing their own opium? I like poppy-seed rolls; I just never imagined how nefarious their origins are! – Steve Moore, Pierceton, Ind.

A. Amazing isn’t it? According to the May/June issue of Fine Gardening, “In the U.S., all parts of Papaver somniferum, except the seeds, are considered a controlled substance. Seeds, many of which have been bred in the Netherlands to diminish the opium alkaloid content, are available for cooking or cultivation. Still, sensitive drug tests can detect the presence of opiate alkaloids in someone who has recently snacked on baked goods peppered with poppy seeds.”

The familiar orange poppy is a different species, Papaver orientale.

Q. I have three flowering dogwood trees that are 6 years old, and they’ve never bloomed. They get leaves every spring and are nice, but no blooms. How long does it take for them to bloom? A nursery told me to give them 1/2 cup of acidic granules twice a year, but I still see no results. What do you suggest? – Shirley Chrismer, Patriot, Ind.

A. It does take a dogwood a few years to become established. In nature, they are woodland understory trees, but we often see them planted in full sun in suburban lawns. Your tree is established now, and flowers should be forming. There are many possible reasons for a lack of flowering in plants, including age, light, excess nitrogen, temperature and pruning.

Dogwoods are often shipped into the Midwest from southern sources. These plants are not adequately hardy in northern areas. Many flowering dogwoods in the Midwest have minimal flower production caused by this lack of flower bud hardiness. If possible, ask the nurseryman or garden center where the trees are grown to save yourself disappointment three to five years down the road when the trees show limited flowering.

It’s also possible that your tree is receiving too much nitrogen fertilizer if you’re fertilizing the lawn around the base of the tree. Excess nitrogen promotes leafy growth at the expense of flowers.


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