Q: You assured us that nature would take care of our lawn concern this spring, and it did. Thank you! Here are photos of the "after." YAY! — Tom and Beth Iverson.
A: Thanks for the before-and-after story.
To relate the background, in mid-April, the Iversons sent a photo showing a thin lawn with numerous small dirt patches, which was a problem similarly shared by many lawn owners. We determined the damage was likely from nightcrawlers or other earthworms, or birds, skunks or other critters poking around in search of these worms, which were working close to the surface, probably due to wet, saturated soil.
Raking was advised to level the bumps, followed by overseeding excessively thin areas in early May, although I felt the grass would fill in fine in most cases. Fertilizing could be done after the grass was green and growing in mid-to-late-May. Worms working unusually close to the surface in this spring’s wet soil were expected to move downward as the soil surface dried in May, causing less visible damage.
I asked the Iversons to send a photo again in June, to let us know how things worked out. Thanks, Tom and Beth.
Q: I recently removed a Canada red cherry, that was developing black knot and was suckering at a frustrating rate. I’d like to plant a Red Sunset maple. Does this sound like a good tree for my area? — Ray Bakke, Fargo.
A: Given an honest assessment, red maples, Autumn Blaze maples and other maples that are so colorful in autumn are a roll of the dice in much of the region. All such maples would be happiest in the naturally forested areas of Minnesota and eastward.
From the Red River Valley and west, the native prairie-type soils, alkaline tendencies or heavy clays aren't naturally suited to these maples. By a roll of the dice, I mean that sometimes these maples grow fine, but often they are disappointing. I receive more questions about these maples because of their difficulties than any other tree type, and I estimate half to three-fourths of all such maples eventually suffer decline.
One neighbor's Autumn Blaze maple can be beautiful, and a block away a similar tree looks half dead. A good recommendation might be to plant these maples in sections of the yard where we aren't overly disappointed if they don’t survive, and if they do, we've got a colorful autumn tree.
In a location where you would like better odds of a tree surviving to old age, select a better-adapted type, such as Ohio Buckeye. Several cultivars with outstanding fall color with great adaptation are Autumn Splendor, Prairie Torch and LavaBurst. Although the larger shade-type colorful maple trees are a gamble, several small-scale maples grow beautifully, also having brilliant fall color, such as Amur Maple and Hot Wings Tatarian Maple.
Q: In the past, my peonies have developed powdery mildew and I would like to avoid it this year if possible. What do you recommend? Is there any way to eliminate this fungus entirely or is it necessary to treat the plants every year? When I had these plants on the farm, I never had a problem with powdery mildew! What changed? — Jean Huselid.
A: Powdery mildew, with the whitish-gray coating that mars the appearance of foliage, is a fungus disease that must be treated preventatively while the foliage still looks healthy. Apply an all-purpose fungicide containing the active ingredient chlorothalonil, following label directions.
Powdery mildew spores are in the air, so I’m afraid the disease is likely to remain with us, although it does vary with weather conditions. Powdery mildew is less prevalent where wind and good airflow exist, which is common on rural farmsteads. Smaller in-town yards have more structures and closely spaced trees that block airflow, making mildew more common.
If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 701-241-5707. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.