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Q: My house is on a slope, but the bottom will not grow grass no matter how much I water it. I put rolls of sod down and a week later it’s burned. What would you do?
A: When new homes are constructed in California, the soil must be super-compacted to protect against earthquake damage. This is one reason it’s so difficult to garden – the soil lacks any natural structure or organic matter.
We’ve seen builders install sod over this super-compacted concrete-like soil, and it looks good until escrow closes. Then the fun begins.
Turfgrass, under normal conditions, will send roots several feet deep into the soil. (Prairie grasses can root 15 feet or more!) When we removed our builder-installed sod, which had been in place for 3 years, it had only rooted an inch or two. We found building materials, beer cans, roof tiles, and stucco underneath the sod, which explained why our grass always looked terrible.
If you’ve removed the original sod and replaced it, hopefully you were able to remove any buried debris.
Check your sprinklers for head-to-head coverage, proper aim, and blockages. Sprinklers installed at the bottom of a slope tend to become clogged, so they should be flushed out periodically.
Wait until early winter or early spring to install new sod. The cool (and hopefully rainy) weather will give the grass a chance to establish before the hot weather arrives.
Q: My irises and daffodils have thick, healthy foliage, but they haven’t flowered much in the last two years. What can I do to get them to flower again?
A: Time to divide those bulbs (or corms, or rhizomes). Any flowering plant that stops flowering but looks otherwise healthy probably has overcrowded roots. Wait until fall or early winter, when the plant goes dormant, and carefully dig up the roots. They can be cut or broken apart, then replanted or given away.
Q: Can I use cow manure to fertilize my fruit trees?
A: Yes, but not straight from the cow. Cow manure is an excellent soil conditioner and fertilizer, but it must be aged before use.
Pre-packaged bags of steer manure available for purchase at most garden centers are labelled “composted” or “aged”, but if they are still warm to the touch, they are not ready for prime time. Bacteria are still hard at work and generating heat. These organisms are what causes the steam when you see a steaming pile of, well, you know.
Once things have cooled off, the composting process is done and the manure can be dug into the soil. Manure is high in salt content, so it should be applied in moderate amounts and watered into the ground. Don’t let it just sit on top of the soil because your neighbors will soon hate you.
Never use uncomposted horse manure in your garden! Horse manure contains many viable weed and grass seeds that will turn your garden into a lush meadow. It’s also dusty and difficult to work with. We made this mistake once, and it was a memorable learning experience.
Have questions? Email [email protected]
Looking for more gardening tips? Here’s how to contact the Master Gardener program in your area.
Los Angeles County
[email protected]; 626-586-1988; http://celosangeles.ucanr.edu/UC_Master_Gardener_Program/
[email protected]; 949-809-9760; http://mgorange.ucanr.edu/
[email protected]; 951-683-6491 ext. 231; https://ucanr.edu/sites/RiversideMG/
San Bernardino County
[email protected]; 909-387-2182; http://mgsb.ucanr.edu/
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