What a Difference a Year Makes by Bill Hayes (May 2013)

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Gardeners spend much of their time talking about the weather. Flowers, grass and crops thrive or fail based on the proper amount of rain and sun and the gardener keeps an eye on both. The differences in the weather vary from year to year but the differences between 2012 and 2013 are rather remarkable.

In 2012 spring came in early with temperatures reaching and holding in the 80’s by March 14th. Bradford Pear trees were in full bloom by the third week of February and the Dogwood and azalea flowers were finished and nowhere to be seen during the Masters tournament. By May 1st, we had already recorded 30 days in the 80’s and 5 days in the 90’s. Along with the heat, we recorded less than 3” of rain. Contrast that to 2013 with only 10 days in the low to mid 80’s but between 9”-10” of rain in February alone depending on your location. The cooler temperatures slowed the summer weeds from germinating early but it allowed the winter weeds to thrive a lot longer.

The wide variances keep gardeners on their toes and there is always something to watch for. This year we have to pay some attention to those brown spots that are showing up in our lawns. The possibilities can be as simple as a pet making a daily deposit or they can become more complex if a fungus is involved. Warm night time temperatures and excess moisture will allow the fungus to thrive and, in a few days, it can spread in all directions. The main culprit is Large Patch caused by the fungus, Rhizoctonia solani. If you have ever had a serious outbreak, you know why they call it “Large Patch”. The lawn quickly flattens out as the leaves turn brown and the disease spreads out in all directions.

A curative fungicide may help a little but don’t expect a miraculous recovery. Of our four major warm season turfgrasses, Bermuda will recover the fastest with longer warm daylight hours. Centipede will suffer the most and may take the better part of a year for recovery. Fungicides do best when they are applied in the fall as preventative measures. Over fertilizing and extra moisture are two ways to make the disease spread and make it worse. Centipede grass only needs ½-1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 sq. ft. per year. Water the lawn in the early morning hours and never at night.

Finally, map the affected areas while the disease is easy to see. This will allow you to spot treat these areas rather than apply the fungicide to your whole property. The disease tends to return to the same locations from year to year. For more information, go to http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/pests/pdf/hgic2150.pdf and read HGIC bulletin 2150.

You can also call the Clemson extension office at 649-6911, ext. 122 and speak with a Master Gardener. The office has a Master Gardener present Monday through Friday from 8:30 A.M. until around noon. You may also visit the office at 1555 Richland Ave., East, Suite 500 if you have a plant or insect that needs identification.

In the past I have reported on the drinking habits of the cardinals, mockingbirds, blue jays, and cedar wax wings that live nearby. These large birds love the fruit of the Oregon Grape Holly, Mahonia aquafolium and I have nine large plants. In normal years, the birds will share the grapes as they ripen and if they eat responsibly, they will fly off to a quiet place to sleep off the effects of a fermenting grape. In the past, some birds have stayed too long at the shrub and have to be sobered up before trying to get airborne. If you have never seen a plastered mockingbird, they will stagger about with their wings wide open and try to fly. They will usually crash into the bushes and sleep it off until their motor functions return. I have taken one cardinal into the garage to protect him from predators. This year, a pair of mockingbirds decided that the grapes belong to them and have driven other birds away. 10 to 15 cedar wax wings are no match for two uptight mockingbirds. For two to three weeks of continuing entertainment, I urge you to get a few Oregon grape hollies. They are also great specimen plants with yellow winter flowers that turn into purple grapes. For humans, these are decorative and would not be suitable for making a home brew. Alas, the grapes are all gone but the mockingbirds continue to hang around reminiscing of days gone by.

On Saturday, June 1st, the Master Gardeners will be at the Farmers Market from 8:00 A.M. until noon to answer your lawn and garden problems. The local growers will have an abundance of products on display. Our next Lunchbox Seminar will be on June 17th at Trinity UMC at 12:30 P.M. Everette Jones of Shady Characters will speak on “Woodland Gardens.”