How to Start Seeds Indoors

How to Start Seeds Indoors

Grow Your Own Victory Garden

Growing your own garden can be economical, healthy, fun, and educational for the whole family, plus you get tomatoes! Gardening can be that break you need from the hustle and bustle of the workweek. Gardening can be the connection you were looking for to get your child away from the X-Box. Dropping a seed in some dirt can do miracles for your health, family, and your pocketbook.

In the beginning, you might feel overwhelmed by the plethora of gardening catalogs and websites, so it’s best to start by trial and error. Here are a few idiot-proof tips for starting seeds indoors that will boost the beginning gardener’s success rate and confidence.

As the season progresses, Grass Pad nurseries will have vegetable transplants available for those that don’t have the room around the house to start your plants. All the most common vegetables in many varieties. Things like tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, and all the types of herbs will be available in plant form.

Needed to Grow Your Own

Getting started growing your own gardens is almost idiot proof. These are the all the tools you will need to get started:

  • Garden seed packs
  • Plant transplanting trays
  • Plant starting pots
  • Plant starting mix
  • Watering can
  • Labels
  • Marking pen
Peat Moss Pots for Starting Seeds
How to Read a Seed Label

Seed Selection

Begin by making your seed selections early, come to the Grass Pad and wander through the thousands of new and heirloom vegetable and flower seed packs. Feel free to bring mail-order catalogs along for ideas and compare prices. Things to ponder, how much area will you be planting? And do you have full sun or shade areas?

Don’t use old seeds. The older seeds become, the less likely they are to sprout. Always look on the back of the pack for the “sell-by date,” planting depth, spacing, sunlight, maturity dates, and gardening tips for each variety. At Grass Pad, we receive fresh shipments of flower and garden seed packs at the beginning of each season and continue to refresh our seed racks regularly throughout the seasons.

When to Move Seeds Outside

Seedlings can be transferred outdoors when the temperatures warm enough to support them. Starting seeds too early, you may need to“shift up” – or move the baby plants to larger pots to allow for more root growth.

In our area the average date of last frost is Mother’s Day. Check the planting chart on the back of the seed packet for the seed starting date.

Seed Starting Tray

Hardening Seedlings Before Moving Outside

The transition from inside to outside can be one of the most difficult parts of starting seeds indoors. If the move is too abrupt it can cause problems with the plant. For best results, follow these tips:

  • Start moving the plants outside during the day and bring them in each night.
  • Begin the transition stage 1-2 weeks before permanently moving them outdoors.
  • Place the plants outside in a shady spot during the day. Increase the amount of sun the plants receive gradually each day.
  • Avoid windy days and cold weather during the hardening process.
  • Slowly reduce the watering schedule of the plant, but don’t allow them to wilt.
Seed Starting Kit at the Grass Pad

Choosing Your Growing Pot

You can start seeds in open trays, in individual plastic packs, or peat pots. Different containers are best because the less you disturb baby roots, the better. Some containers, such as peat pots, transplant right into the garden with the plant during transplanting. Plastic pots must be removed before transplanting.

At Grass Pad we have pre-assembled plant starting kits that include the plant tray, plant pack, dome and starter mix. All you need is the garden seeds of your choice.

Use Seed Starting Mix

Pro-Mix BX seed-starting mix is best for starting seeds indoors. Avoid potting soils with fertilizers – these are meant for mature plants and may do more harm than good for starting seeds. PRO-MIX BX is a solution for growers seeking to benefit from both the nutrient holding ability of vermiculite and a perlite content providing good drainage. Mixed with high-quality fibrous peat moss, this formulation is ideal for growers looking for a general purpose medium which creates a well-balanced growing environment.

Seed Starting Mix


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Bagged Mulch and Bulk Mulch

Bagged Mulch and Bulk Mulch

What is Mulch? 

Mulch is a material that covers the soil, usually in flower and landscape beds, to help control weeds and insulate plants. A stroll through the woods will reveal that mother nature mulches all her plants with a thick layer of fallen leaf litter and debris.  To mimic mother nature in our landscapes we apply a layer of mulch over the soil. It can also add visual appeal to your garden by making the ground look consistent and well maintained.

What Are the Benefits of Mulch?

Mulch has many benefits for your garden area. It helps retain moisture in the soil; mulch adds organic matter breaking down over time, adding beneficial nutrients back into the soil. Mulch reduces winter injury by insulating the plants and helps with weed suppression.

Types of Mulch Available at the Grass Pad

Choosing the right mulch for your garden depends on personal preference and how you’d like the finished bed to look.  Each of our Grass Pad locations offers mulch in bags and in bulk, although the options and inventory will vary by store. It’s best to call your nearest Grass Pad and see what options are available.

Grass Pad Locations Sell the Following Bagged Mulch Options:

Black Dyed Mulch

Brown Dyed Mulch

Pine Bark Mulch

Pine Bark Mini Nuggets

Cedar Mulch

Cypress Mulch

Red Mulch

Hardwood Mulch

Bulk Mulch for Sale at the Grass Pad

Each store location has bulk mulch that can be loaded into a trailer or a truck by one of our staff members. We offer bulk mulch in two varieties – Espresso Mulch (dark brown, dyed mulch) and Premium Chipped Mulch (brown chipped mulch). These are both sold by the cubic yard and can be purchased at the point of sale. Be sure to call your local store for availability. We are happy to load our bulk mulch by the bucket full into your truck or trailer, currently our delivery options are for bagged mulch only.

How to Mulch Your Trees and Shrubs

After planting new plants, or when refreshing the mulch every year, ensure that the mulch stays at least 3-4 inches from the trunk of the plant. Mulching keeps the sun and wind from drying out the top of the root ball and also helps prevent weeds and grass from growing on top of the root ball. To keep the mulch from spilling over into the lawn or other area, it’s best to dig an edge or use a piece of metal or vinyl edging.

Uncle’s Tip: Avoid the Mulch Volcano! The trunk tissue is not meant to have moisture held against it.  Avoid having mulch piled against the trunk of the tree to avoid rotting or degradation of the bark.

How Much Mulch Do I Need? 

That will depend on how deep you want the mulch and the square footage of the mulched area. The most common bag sizes for mulch are a 2 cubic foot and 3 cubic foot bags. The bulk mulch will be sold by the cubic yard. Use the tables below to determine how many cubic feet you’ll need to cover your mulch area.

2 Cubic Foot Bag

Depth Coverage
2″ 12 Square Feet
3″ 8 Square Feet
4″ 6 Square Feet

3 Cubic Foot Bag

Depth Coverage
2″ 18 Square Feet
3″ 12 Square Feet
4″ 9 Square Feet

1 Cubic Yard

Depth Coverage
2″ 162 Square Feet
3″ 108 Square Feet
4″ 81 Square Feet


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Winter Preparations for Spring Lawn Domination

Winter Preparations for Spring Lawn Domination

When the sun is shining on a mild winter’s day, many of us are looking out our windows and asking ourselves, “Is there anything I should be doing to my lawn?” Besides checking Craiglist and Facebook Marketplace for good deals on lawn equipment, there is not a lot you need to be doing. However, if you have a busy lifestyle and have just not had the time to get all your lawn preparations checked off, a sunny, mild day in winter is a great time to get them completed. Here are a few reminders for the next break in the weather.

Preparing Your Lawn for Winter Dormancy

  • Time to get those last few leaves composted, mulched or removed from the lawn before the snow season arrives. Heavy piles of unmulched leaves block sunlight, air movement, and moisture to the soil. A thin layer of mulched leaves is good, but it must be thin enough to allow the sun, air, and water to reach the grass. 
  • Mulched leaves won’t supply enough nutrients needed for healthy turf. Apply Snowman, winter root builder on a day when the ground is not frozen. Snowman winter fertilizer is low nitrogen with added phosphorous and potash for root growth and disease resistance. Grass roots will continue to grow till the soil is frozen hard.
  • Salt from ice melter used on roads, driveways and sidewalks can cause serious damage to grass, trees, and small shrubs.  Now is the time to apply an application of Grass Pad’s Lawn Cal containing beneficial lawn calcium. Calcium can play a physiological role in recovering sodic soil as well as improving the soil structure to allow sodium to leach from the soil.
  • Dormant seeding thin and bare areas in the lawn can start now.

See Related: Snowman Key to Lawn Domination


Preparing Trees and Shrubs for Winter

  • Prune or cut off any dead growth from trees and shrubs to discourage insects who choose to hide there for the winter. Remove branches that overlap and rub against each other.
  • Avoid pruning spring flowering shrubs such as lilac, azalea, and certain hydrangea. These shrubs form their spring flower buds over late summer and fall. Any pruning of these shrubs, though not life threatening, will be removing spring flowers. Prune spring flowering shrubs after the bloom petals have fallen next spring.
  • Dormant oil can be applied on a mild day above 40 degrees. Use over burning bush, euonymous, pines or spruce to control scale and other insect eggs, such as spider mites.
  • Protect young trees from animals by wrapping stem or trunks with wire mesh. Smooth bark trees such as Red maples should be protected with tree wrap to prevent winter sun scalding.

Preparing Perennial Gardens for Winter

  • Cut back dry stems to soil level to prevent rotting in flower beds.
  • Procrastinators, if you have not planted your tulips, daffodils, crocus, and hyacinth get them into the ground soon. The ground is still workable now, but it won’t be long before we have a frozen tundra.
  • Mulch flower beds once extreme cold weather arrives. Adding a fresh layer of mulch around plantings will give the landscape a neat and tidy appearance while keeping the temperatures around the plants consistent. Mulch will hold moisture in the soil, which is one of the most important parts of fighting winter stress.

Garden Tools Need Attention

  • Oil garden hand tools to extend their life. A thin layer of vegetable oil will help to protect your shovels, spades, axes and hoes from moisture and winter rust.
  • Extend the life of your garden hoses by storing them in the shed, garage or basement.

Feeders for the Birds

  • Clean bird feeders each season.
  • Bird houses provide shelter from the weather and a haven from cats and other predators.
  • As temperatures fall, high fat, high-calorie suet is the perfect food to help birds get through long cold nights.
  • Keep a low level of fresh water in a clean bird bath. A bird bath heater will keep the water from freezing.

See Related: Bird Feeders and Bird Seed



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Skinny Trees for Skinny Spaces

Skinny Trees for Skinny Spaces

Houses are being built closer and closer together, and we often don’t have room for big, spreading trees. Planting any tree is going to be a challenge in new suburban home landscapes, but nature has the answer. Small outdoor areas, like tiny backyards or small planting islands, like those found between a sidewalk and a street, call for skinny trees. Narrow, columnar trees are also useful for designing an attractive privacy screen, wind block, or sound block. As well as being tall, skinny trees generally don’t have invasive roots, don’t need regular pruning and don’t rob all the light by creating dense shade.

Modern living has us making the most of every bit of landscape space we can. So if you are looking for something unique and have that difficult tight space, try columnar, or fastigiate, trees that have narrow, single trunks. Their natural shape makes them useful in areas with little available space for planting, as well as in areas near a house or deck where spreading trees are impractical. When planted in rows, these erect, uniform trees can also bring a classic, formal look to street sides, garden paths and long driveways.

Here are four of Uncle’s favorite skinny trees. If your landscape has limited space, but you need some vertical visual interest, then these skinny trees are just for you. Not all varieties are available at all locations. For more information about skinny trees or questions about current nursery inventory, please call and speak with one of our experienced nursery staff.

See Related: Evergreens for Living Fences


Armstrong Gold Maple

Height: 40 feet

Spread: 12 feet

Foliage: Green

Fall Color: Golden to Orange

Considered one of the best for early fall color. Armstrong Gold’s rich green foliage remains clean and healthy all season. Plant this tree where the morning or afternoon sun will filter through the autumn leaves, and it will glow like a candle flame. This terrifically showy specimen makes a perfect street tree and is beautiful lining a drive.

Crimson Spire Oak

Height: 45 feet

Spread: 15 feet

Foliage: Dark Green

Fall Color: Rusty Red

An excellent choice for narrow spaces. Crimson Spire is most useful as a privacy screen where space is limited. Dark green foliage turns to spectacular shades of red in autumn. Leaves will turn brown, and many will stay through the winter. This is a strong wooded tree that grows moderately fast. Crimson Spire will withstand high winds much better than softer wooded trees.

Emerald Sentinel Sweetgum

Height: 30 feet

Spread: 12 feet

Foliage: Dark Green

Fall Color: Yellow Orange to Orange

Narrowly and compact, with sturdy upright branches, this tree is ideal for busy city streets. Slower growing than most sweetgum, it is valued for not outgrowing its space. Star-shaped, glossy green leaves in summer change to yellow-orange in fall.

Mountain Sentinel Aspen

Height: 35 feet

Spread: 8 feet

Foliage: Green

Fall Color: Yellow

Extremely narrow and upright with ascending branches. An excellent selection for small narrow space. This skinny Aspen offers the same silvery-gray bark, golden fall color and fluttering leaves as traditional aspen.


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Living Fences Make Good Neighbors

Living Fences Make Good Neighbors

Best Evergreens for Living Fences

Planting a living fence can be a low maintenance way to privacy from an annoying neighbor or disturbing traffic noise. Green fences, especially when they are evergreen, can provide a year-round buffer from wind and noise, create shade, and add beauty. Planting an evergreen living fence will allow families to enjoy their yards year-round without feeling like their family activities are on display.

There are many choices when searching for the ideal trees to use for screening. It’s best to begin your quest by measuring your area to determine how much or how little room you have available. Choose plants that fit the space at maturity to avoid maintenance and overcrowding. It’s essential to learn the growth habit, along with height and width at maturity to match the best plants for your conditions. Here are a few of Uncle’s Idiot Proof Plants for living fences.

See Related: Skinny Trees for Skinny Spaces

Green Giant Arborvitae

Green Giant Arborvitae is Uncle’s favorite backyard screen. It’s considered one of the best evergreen trees for privacy. This western red cedar is fast-growing and can provide privacy quickly. Cold hardy to our region, the Green Giant can survive harsh conditions and tolerant of pests and disease. The uniform, natural cone shape requires very little pruning. Height: 30’-40’ Width: 5’-8’ Spacing: 10’-12’

Green Giant Arborvitae

Emerald Green Arborvitae

Emerald Green Arborvitae is another of Uncle’s favorites. Half the size of its cousin, the Green Giant, Emerald Green, is ideal for small yards or narrow corridors. Emerald Green is low maintenance reaching a mature height of 12 to 15 feet. Slower in growth rate than its cousin, the Emerald Green average growth rate of six to nine inches makes it an excellent choice for small spaces. Height: 12’-15’ Width: 3’-4’ Spacing: 6’-8’

Sky Pencil Holly

Sky Pencil Holly, a broadleaf evergreen, will make a space-saving privacy fence. Sky Pencil has a narrow width of only two feet. Unlike traditional holly, the Sky Pencil’s foliage is soft to the touch. This variety of holly thrives in well-drained soil or large containers, making them ideal for patio privacy. Height: 8’-10’ Width: 2’ Spacing: 4’

Sky Pencil Holly
Hetzi Columnar Juniper

Upright Juniper

Upright junipers work very well as a screen. Hardy varieties include the Caenarti, Hetzi, Spartan, and Taylor Juniper. The Caenarti, also known as red cedar, has the best drought resistance. They reach a mature height of twenty to thirty feet and width of up to fifteen feet, making Caenarti ideal for larger open areas. Hetzi and Spartan junipers make excellent windbreaks reaching fifteen to twenty feet with a width of only four to six feet.

Evergreen and Semi-Evergreen Viburnum

Evergreen and semi-evergreen viburnum are impressive for privacy hedges. Burkwood Viburnum, with stunning clusters of pinkish-white spring flowers and red berries in fall, is well-suited for use as a hedge screen growing up to twelve feet tall and five feet wide Leatherleaf Viburnum is an outstanding choice for a fast-growing evergreen viburnum reaching ten feet tall and eight feet wide.

Burkwoodi Viburnum Living Fence
Fineline Fern Leaf Buckthorn

Fine Line® Fern Leaf Buckthorn

Although not an evergreen, Fine Line® Fern Leaf Buckthorn,Proven Winners introduction gets an honorable mention from Uncle. The lacy fern-like foliage combined with a narrow columnar habit makes this an excellent plant for adding texture and shape to the garden. Foliage turns yellow in fall. Ideal as a narrow hedge, accent specimen, and to frame doors and pathways. Height: 5’-7’ Width: 2’-4’ Spacing: 2’-3’

Planting Living Fences

The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The next best is today. Fall is the right time to plant, and we have truckloads of Idiot Proof trees and bushes arriving daily at all Grass Pad locations. Get off your duff and bring your measurements to the Grass Pad. Our experienced nursery staff can help you find the right tree for your conditions.

See Related: How to Plant Trees and Shrubs


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Fertilize for Healthy Trees and Shrubs

Fertilize for Healthy Trees and Shrubs

Why You Should Be Fertilizing Trees and Shrubs

Fertilizing trees and shrubs is a necessity, and that includes fruit trees. One of the most significant benefits of fertilizing trees is in the preventative maintenance they provide. Landscape shrubs and trees require sufficient energy stores to remain healthy to survive insect and environmental stress. Trees and shrubs are a valuable part of your property, and it is essential to protect your investment. Established trees and shrubs can be easily fed by homeowners using fertilizer spikes or a deep-root feeder. For best results, feed your trees twice each year, once in early spring and mid-fall.

Fertilizer Tree Spikes

The easiest method for feeding established trees is with fertilizer spikes. The spikes are compressed cylinders of slow-release fertilizers. Gradually dissolving, tree spikes release nutrients evenly throughout the season. These compressed spikes can be driven into the ground using a mallet or hammer. In a dry season, using an auger attachment for a drill makes installation more convenient. Once the quantity of tree spikes needed has been determined, drive the spikes into the soil, spacing them evenly near the tree’s drip line. The drip line is the imaginary ring on the ground directly below the outer circumference of the tree’s branches.

How to Measure a Tree for Fertilizing

How much fertilizer to for trees?

Measure your tree trunks diameter 18 inches up from the ground to get the most accurate measurement. Bring your tree measurements to the Grass Pad, and our Green Team can help you determine how many spikes or tablets are required for your landscape. Fertilizer formulas are available for evergreen, shade, ornamental and fruit trees. Also, there are formulas fortified with iron for plants needing iron supplements such as azaleas, rhododendron, or chlorotic pin oaks.

How to Use Tree Fertilizer Spikes

Fertilizer spikes are combinations of slow release fertilizers compressed to form a spike. Spikes can be driven into the ground using a mallet or hammer. A bulb auger and electric drill make installation much easier. Tree spikes should be dispersed evenly along the outer drip line of the tree. For small trees and shrubs requiring only one or two spikes, break spikes in half to allow for a more uniform distribution pattern.

Uncle’s Tip: Do not use fertilizer spikes on newly installed trees or shrubs. Spikes contain fertilizers in amounts not recommended for new trees or shrubs. For newly planted trees, use Uncle’s Root Accelerator for the first 12 months. 

Tree Fertilizer Spikes
How to Use Tree Fertilizer Spikes
Drill Holes for Tree Fertilizer Spikes
How to Install Tree Fertilizer Spikes with an Auger

What Is a Root Feeder? 

Root feeders can also be used for fertilizing established trees. A root feeder connects to your garden hose. Tablets of pre-measured fertilizer are inserted into the handle. An attached soil probe is pushed into the ground at equal intervals near the tree’s outer drip edge. As the water moves through the cup assembly, the tablets dissolve, and fertilizer is injected deep into the ground, nearer the root zone. These deep-root can also be used for watering trees during drought periods.

See Related: Correcting Iron Chlorosis

How to Use a Root Feeder
Uncle's Root Accelerator

Granule tree foods are also available. Uncle’s Tree Food is formulated to feed both ornamental and shade trees. Green Love, with high iron content, is specifically suitable for trees such as oak that thrive with iron in their diet. Spread granulated tree food over the feeder root zone using a push or hand spreader or use an auger to drill holes and fill.

If you are planting new landscapes, wait to use fertilizer spikes or root feeders until the plant has been established for at least one year. New plantings require a unique fertilizer formulation to accelerate root development. Uncle’s Root Accelerator is intended for new plantings and is recommended for all trees and shrubs at installation. Applied once per month for the first year, Root Accelerator will ensure transplanting success. Uncle’s Root Accelerator is a liquid concentrated plant starter fertilizer mixed with water then poured around the tree’s base or shrub. The liquid is immediately available to the plant, encouraging healthy root growth.

See Related: Fertilizing New Trees and Shrubs


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Ornamental Grass

Ornamental Grass

Best Ornamental Grass for Landscapes

Uncle’s Elite Eight Ornamental Grasses



Dwarf Hameln Grass

Slender green leaves and tan, wooly, caterpillar-like blooms from mid-summer through autumn. Drought tolerant. Foliage height is 2′ with blooms 3′.

Dwarf Hameln Fountain Grass at the Grass Pad

Maiden Grass

A tall, graceful, and clumping ornamental grass with slender, weeping, and silvery green leaves that turn golden bronze in fall. White, fan-shaped plumes in fall extend above the foliage. Foliage height is 5′ with blooms 7′.

Porcupine Grass 

Green leaves with yellow colored horizontal bands make the ornamental grass stand out. Fast growing 6′-7′ tall. Silvery white plumes rise 2′ above the foliage in fall.

Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass

Beautiful cool season grass with an upright growth habit. Flowers in late spring starting as bright pink to red and fading to buff. Thrives in poor soils. Foliage height 2.5′ to 3.5′ with blooms to 6′.

Shenandoah Switch Grass

Bright red foliage deepens to burgundy by fall. Blooms begin in color, up by early June. A good substitute for Japanese Blood Grass. Foliage height is 2′ to 3′ with 4′ blooms.

Japanese Silver Grass

A creamy-white variegated grass, Reddish-brown feathery seed heads turn to white plumes and contribute to the striking appearance of this grass. Matures at 6′ to 8′ tall and 4′ to 5′ wide. An excellent alternative to Pampas Grass.

Hardy Pampas Grass

Hardy Pampas Grass is a winter-hardy variety of Pampas Grass. Saccharum ravennae ‘Erianthus’ grows to about 5-8 feet and then sends up airy, white plumes that can reach up to 10 feet tall. One of the most popular ornamental grasses, superb as an architectural specimen or broad accent. The foliage has a clumping habit; plant in groups to create a screen or windbreak.

Prairie Blues Bluestem

A selection of Bluestem with gray-blue foliage turning to an orange-red fall color. Produces purplish-bronze fall flowers that age to silvery white. Has an upright growth habit and matures at 3 to 4 feet tall and 1.5’ to 2’ wide.

Annual Purple Fountain Grass

Not Hardy in Mid-West but this one deserves an honorable mention. Working in landscapes as an annual or in containers this is a great plant. Narrow, gracefully arching, burgundy-purple leaves. Foliage height is 3′ with blooms to 4′.

Pruning Ornamental Grasses

Prune anytime after the leaves turn brown, as long as you cut them back before they start growing again in spring. Avoid cutting fresh new growth tips.  

Uncle’s Tip: Start by wrapping a piece of twine around the outside of the grass and tie the foliage into a tight bunch. This way, the grass will stay bundled as you prune and not explode into pieces everywhere. After your grass is tied up, use handheld or powered hedging shears to cut the dead grass leaves. If you’re using powered hedging shears, it’s helpful to have a friend hold up the grass, so it doesn’t fall on you as you cut. Just be careful not to trim anyone’s fingers!


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How to Bring in a Sample

How to Bring in a Sample

If you have a problem in your lawn or landscape, the Grass Pad has the knowledge and products to steer you in the right direction. Over the last 60 years, our staff has come across almost every lawn problem imaginable. In our experience, 99% of all the problem spots in turf fall into 1 of 4 categories.

  • Drought – Rarely just a spot, but more likely a general browning of a large area. Early signs of drought stress can be detected by the turf color. Dry spots turn a noticeably darker shade of green eventually fading to a bluish gray. And, if you cannot push a screwdriver in the ground 6 inches without a hammer, lack of moisture is probably the cause.
  • Fungus or turf disease – Most frequently shows up as patches where it transitions from perfect turf to brown grass over a short period, almost overnight, and continually expands.  Occasionally lawn diseases can show up as general browning where it appears only 60 to 80% of grass turns brown. This look is similar to the appearance of drought stress.  With no recent rain or irrigation, the screwdriver test will tell the difference. When you pull on the grass from diseased areas, the grass remains rooted, and it isn’t easy to pull out of the soil.
  • Insect – Damage can come from grubs that eat the roots and live underground.  When you tug on the brown spot, the grass comes up like a loose piece of carpet with soil attached to the bottom.  Other insects that live on the soil’s surface can feed on the parts of the grass plant above ground.  When you tug on this type of damaged turf, it comes up easily and has no soil attached, almost like grass clippings.  Further investigation frequently reveals a caterpillar or maybe a tiny tunnel or hole with spider web looking material or caterpillar feces present.
  • Spills – Something like gas, salt, pet urine, a misapplication of weed control, or fertilizer. Always check for loose gas caps and never fill the gas tank while the mower is on the grass. Move it to the driveway or sidewalk to refill.

Run through these scenarios, and you may be able to self-diagnosis your issues. These by no means identify all problems, but we find it gets most.  If you suspect a disease, bring in samples of the browning grass in a sandwich bag.  Try to get grass blades from the edge of the spot that is part green and part brown. Pictures took up close, and from a few steps away can also help.  We like to be hands-on when it comes to diagnosing the problem.  We get the questions every season, and sometimes, explaining the problem over the phone just isn’t the same as seeing it up close.  Bringing the issue to us is easy and painless.

How to Take a Picture of Your Lawn and Weeds

If you need advice on what to do for your lawn, it’s best to take a wide-angled picture of the yard so we can see how thick the grass is, how much shade you have, and any other factors. However, if you want us to identify a specific type of grass or weed, a sample works best (see below). If you can’t provide a sample, then an extreme closeup picture of the plant is the next best option. It’s very hard to identify a grass type or weed from a distance.

Bad Example of a Weed Photo

Good Example of a Weed Photo

How to Bring in a Grass Sample

If you are looking for us to help identify what kind of turfgrass you have, bring in a handful of freshly picked blades of the grass and we can tell you what it is and how to grow it.  If you are buying new grass seed for overseeding and want to match your current lawn, it can be a good idea to bring a sample from several different areas of the lawn. Over time our yards can get reseeded with several types of grass and it’s good to know what grows well in different areas of the yard. A good method for bringing in a sample is to grab a handful of grass blades from each section of the yard and bring them in labeled plastic bags.

How to Bring in a Weed Sample

Pick the weed right out of the yard and bring it into one of our locations for us to look at. The weed needs to be green and growing – we can’t identify much from a dead plant. Try to bring the entire weed plant in if possible – roots, stem and leaves. We will try to identify it and get you the products and advice you need to be successful in killing the weed.

How to Bring in Samples of Turf Disease

Brown, yellow, gray or any other wacky colored spots in the yard?  Turf disease can be a bit more difficult to identify unless we have both the healthy and the sick grass. Pick out some fresh grass blade samples from the middle of the diseased spots, and just around the outside of the spot to where the grass appears to be healthy. Having a sample of this transition zone from healthy to sick helps us identify what is going on with the grass. Bringing in a picture of the affected area can also help us identify if there’s something in the environment that may be causing the issue.

Bringing in Samples of Plants or Shrubs

The same method applies to items in your landscape.  If you have a tree or shrub that has weird looking spots or holes on the leaves, snip part of the plant off and bring it into one of our stores.  We like to see parts of the plant that have been affected as well as parts that still look healthy.  That will help us get a better idea of what we see that’s going on. Also, putting the sample in a sealed plastic bag and keeping it cool will help preserve the sample, making identification much easier.

It’s good to get out in the yard and it’s even better when the yard is trouble free.  Don’t be afraid to head on down to the Grass Pad to get the expert advice and quality products you need to continue to have the best-looking lawn in the neighborhood.

See Related: Fruit Tree Care


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Japanese Beetle Control

Japanese Beetle Control

Japanese beetles are this generation’s destroyer of the landscape. These little metallic militants appear in swarms in July and last for months. They are feeding on their favorite plants and when those are decimated, they move on to the next.  They love roses, fruit trees, vegetables and especially linden trees. Reducing the Japanese beetle population requires a different strategy than the traditional preventative control for white grubs.  Protecting our favorite roses and fruit trees will involve treatments for adult beetles as well as the grub stage. 

What is the Best Way to Control Japanese Beetles?

Traditional preventative grub control had been easy.  Before the Japanese beetle invasion, we never worried about the adult stage masked chafer. They don’t feed on plants the same as a Japanese beetle or reproduce in multiple hatchings. Effective Japanese beetle control will now require multiple phases:

Best Preventative for Trees and Shrubs

Preventative treatment for adult beetles on shrubs and trees* begins in early May with a soil drench application of Dominion Tree & Shrub Insecticide. A direct soil application of Dominion Tree & Shrub around trees and shrubs should be applied before Mother’s Day to provide systemic control with up to twelve-month residual. The insecticide is absorbed into the plant, killing any insect that eats the leaves or bark. This product not recommended for use around linden trees.

* Be Safe! Always read the label before using any pesticide. Follow all label instructions. 

Best Curative for Trees and Shrubs

Swarms of adult Japanese beetles are more of a challenge to control.  The best method is to spray them with Cyonara, Bifenthrin or Malathion. These products are compatible with most fruit and vegetable crops as well as landscape plants. If you discover just a few beetles, they can easily be picked off and dropped into a bucket of soapy water.

Best Preventative for Lawns

As the Japanese Beetles move through their life cycle they will start to lay eggs in the grass. To prevent grub damage, start treating the yard with Long Lasting Grub Control in early summer before the lawn goes into heat stress. This is a preventative treatment, and is designed to be applied before a potential grub problem develops. It is normally applied in late June to early July and kills the baby grubs as they hatch. Long Lasting Grub Control will stay active in the lawn for about ninety days.

Best Curative for Lawns

The Hail Mary is applying Quick Kill Grub Control in the middle of September as Long Lasting Grub Control has faded. Quick Kill is the only effective contact-kill for white grubs. It is very fast acting with a short active life. It’s important to water heavily after application to help penetrate any thatch in the yard. If the problem recurs, you can apply a second or third dose of Quick Kill Grub Control.

Why Are Japanese Beetles So Bad?

Japanese beetles reproduce at very high rates, unlike their cousin the masked chafer (the “June bug”) that lives only a few weeks. The adult Japanese beetle lives for months to eat, mate, and lay eggs recurrently. Once the eggs start to hatch into grubs, continuous waves of ravenous white grubs begin feeding on the roots of your grass.

Why do Japanese Beetles Swarm?

Plant odors attract both sexes to potential food sites. Japanese beetle feeding produces odors which act as pheromones to attract other Japanese beetles to the area to feed and mate. Pheromones are chemical odors used by insects to communicate. 

Where Did Japanese Beetles Come From?

Originally from Asia, Japanese beetles were brought over to the United States in 1917 into New Jersey. Currently the insect can be found in all states east of the Mississippi River, except Florida and Louisiana.

Japanese Beetle Life Cycle

What About Japanese Beetle Traps?

Japanese beetle traps do work in that they capture adult beetles. However, placement is critical. DO NOT place the traps near any plant material you do NOT want the beetles feeding on. Although the trap is quite effective in attracting the beetle, only about 70 percent of the beetles end up in the trap. In addition, pheromone traps attract more beetles to your property than would have visited your property naturally. Research has shown that putting the traps in the perimeter of the property well away from valuable plantings or vulnerable crops may be the best use of the traps. Traps work better if you also get your neighbors to set out traps. Use a community-wide approach of 25 to 50 traps per square mile.


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Best Hydrangeas for Shade and Sun

Best Hydrangeas for Shade and Sun

Why Do Hydrangea Flowers Change Color?

One of the most exciting habits of some hydrangeas is the ability of the flowers to change color. This is not true of all hydrangeas, but most often seen in the mophead and lacecap cultivars of hydrangea macrophylla.

How to Change Hydrangea Flower Color?

This color change is due to the soil pH. Those with blue or pink flowers tend to be blue in acid soil conditions and pink in alkaline conditions. To get the best flower color, choose cultivars that give the best colors for the pH in question. White flowers will remain white regardless of soil pH. Hydrangea with blue flowers can be kept blue by growing the plants in acidic soil, or by acidifying soils. In soils where hydrangeas are not reliably blue, add aluminum sulfate. If the soil is very alkaline, this treatment may not work but can be very useful for container-grown plants. Use rainwater to water hydrangeas, since hard water can affect the flower color, turning blue flowers pink.  Boost red or pink flowers, by applying granular lime in winter

Endless Summer Hydrangeas

Twist and Shout Hydrangea

Tiny Tuff Stuff Hydrangea

Tuff Stuff Hydrangea

What Are Reblooming Hydrangea?

Reblooming hydrangeas are types that have the unique ability to flower on both old and new wood. Even if the buds are damaged by winter weather, the plant can still flower on wood it produces that season. Reblooming hydrangea varieties include the Endless Summer® series. These mophead and lacecap varieties, such as Twist and Shout® , Tuff Stuff™, and Tiny Tuff Stuff™ hydrangeas will bloom with little attention. Still, regular pruning encourages new growth, that can produce a better display.

Why Won’t My Hydrangea Bloom?

Hydrangea failing to bloom is a common dilemma for many of the older varieties of macrophylla and oakleaf hydrangeas. An unseasonable hard freeze or an improper pruning is typically the cause. These hydrangea types bloom on old wood. Winters with extreme freezing temperatures can injure unprotected flower buds. A pre-winter routine to protect these big leaf hydrangea blooms is to pile fallen tree leaves over the top of the plant for winter bud protection. Pruning out of season, too late in winter or too early in spring, will result in cutting off flower buds formed the previous season. 

Where to Plant Macrophylla Hydrangeas?

These shade-loving big leaf hydrangeas thrive in moist but well-drained soil, preferring morning sun. Avoid planting macrophylla hydrangea (mophead and lacecap types) in dry, sunny spots in exposed areas, where cold winds may damage young spring growth.

Can I Plant Hydrangeas in the Sun?

Uncle’s Idiot Proof hydrangeas are the panicle and arborescence (smooth) type hydrangea. These types are sun-lovers. While they prefer the sun, these hydrangeas will do just fine in partial shade, too. Both panicle and smooth hydrangeas, such as the white Annebelle, the Incrediball® and the red Invincebelle Ruby® hydrangea bloom late in summer on new wood. Unlike their famous shade-loving cousins, the macrophylla, or mop head hydrangea, which bloom on old wood. Hydrangea quercifolia, also known as Oakleaf hydrangeas, such as Alice and Ruby Slipper, are sun-loving hydrangea that flower on old wood growth.

When to Prune a Hydrangea?

Panicle and arborescence hydrangea are the perfect idiot-proof hydrangeas. Blooming late in summer on new wood, they require no special mulching or pruning techniques to see blooms the next year. If you forget to prune a paniculata hydrangea the previous season, no worries, shape them up during the winter thaw or the following spring.

The same is not valid for its cousins, the macrophylla hydrangeas. Mophead, lace-cap and oakleaf varieties of hydrangea bloom on old wood and should be pruned soon after blooms fade in late summer to early fall.

New Hydrangea Varieties

In the last few years, breeders have been developing many excellent varieties along with introducing new colors with bright whites, creams, lime green, and various shades of pink. Some of our most popular panicle hydrangeas are the Bobo, Quick Fire, and LimelightLimelight, with its huge football-shaped flowers, has almost revolutionized landscaping across America. Opening into light green, the blooms age to a bouquet of pink, red, and burgundy persisting through frost. Breeders have recently introduced a sibling Little Limelight growing three to five feet tall and wide. Proven Winner’s panicle hydrangea collection includes Quick Fire and a dwarf version Little Quick Fire. One of the first hydrangeas to bloom, the Quick Fire bloom emerges bright white and as blooms age; they change color to pink and finally red, giving the plant a multicolored effect in late summer and early fall.

What Is the Best Way to Plant Hydrangea?

When planting a hydrangea, use a balanced blend of Uncle’s Max Mix, mixed with native soil as backfill. Add organic matter after planting by using Uncle’s Black Magic peat compost as a top dressing. Consider using pine bark mulch to help soil acidity for mophead varieties.

Fertilize hydrangeas with Uncle’s Root Accelerator, low nitrogen plant starter, at planting.  Avoid feeding too often, with high nitrogen fertilizers, which can encourage excessive leaf growth, with plants less likely to develop flower buds and more at risk from winter damage.


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How to Fix Soil Compaction and Eliminate Pet Spots

How to Fix Soil Compaction and Eliminate Pet Spots

What is Lawn Cal?

Uncle’s Lawn Cal is an agricultural grade pelletized gypsum, an excellent source of calcium and sulfur for lawn or garden. Calcium is essential for healthy soil and vigorous plant growth. Used as a soil amendment, Lawn Cal reduces compaction by improving water and air penetration, which in turn counteracts the effects of salt and other excessive elements in the soil. Lawn Cal is an inexpensive granular treatment that can be applied with a home or professional rotary spreader. Lawn Cal can be used at any time of year when the ground is not frozen.

Benefits of Using Lawn Cal

  • Loosens compacted soils improving soil porosity
  • Aids fertilizers to penetrate the ground and be more available to the plant
  • Calcium is essential for nutrient absorption through plant roots
  • Stimulates microorganism growth
  • Improves water and oxygen penetration into and through the soil
  • Enhances the value of the organic matter in the soil
  • Amends waterlogged soil and lessens water puddling.
  • Assists in moving harmful salts through the soil, such as animal urine and ice melter

Lawn Cal Helps Compacted Soils

There can be multiple reasons why soil is compacted. Heavy machinery during construction, heavy foot traffic, and dog runs are just a few. These conditions can be made worse with heavy clay soils. Applying lawn calcium to a compacted yard works to break down the bulk density of the soil, relieving compaction will provide a better growing environment for your grass.

See Related: Building Better Soil with Soil Builder

How to Reduce Salt Damage in Plants

When salt is applied to roads, sidewalks, and driveways during icy winter months, the effects can be long-lasting to the surrounding soil and plants. Large amounts of salt in the soil is harmful to both landscape and grass plants. Adding calcium, contained in Lawn Cal, will facilitate damaging salts to leach through the soil quickly while preventing salt uptake into the plant. Left untreated and allowed to be absorbed, toxic ice melting salts will interfere with the plant’s metabolism causing lethal and permanent damage. Also, this newly available calcium will promote the root uptake of beneficial nutrients.

See Related: Salt Free Alternative – PrimeraFC for Traction

How to Prevent Pet Urine Spots in the Yard

Pet and animal urine can leave behind unsightly dead spots in your lawn, usually found in areas where the dog or pets frequently urinate. To prevent pee spots in your yard, apply Lawn Cal at a rate of 40 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft. over the entire pet area in early spring and fall. Supplementing beneficial calcium into the soil will assist in the leaching of harmful elements contained in pet urine, facilitating their movement through the soil structure, away from grass roots, allowing the grass to stay green and healthy. Lawn Cal is a naturally occurring compound safe around kids and pets.

Uncle’s Tip: Water those pet areas frequently to assist in moving the harmful elements through the soil.

How to Repair Dog Urine Spots in the Yard

The first step in repairing pet urine spots in the yard is to apply Lawn Cal to the entire area and then water it in with a minimum of ½ inch of water. To repair pee spots in your yard, apply Lawn Cal at a rate of 40 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft. The calcium contained in Lawn Cal will assist in leaching the damaging soil contaminates from the pet spots. Repair the bare spot by raking and removing any loose debris. Apply a thin layer of PrimeraFC over the bare area. Apply your preferred grass seed at the heavier bare soil rate. Cover the grass seed with an additional thin layer of PrimeraFC, then water, water, water.

Routine Repair for Dog Runs

Soil compaction makes it difficult for the grass to grow in the areas where Spot runs along your deck and fence. Compaction leaves little or no oxygen available to the roots. Reduce compaction with an application of Lawn Cal every spring and core aerating your lawn every fall. Pass over the lawn at least 2-3 times focusing on the heavy traffic areas.

PrimeraOne field conditioner should be applied after aerating the dog run and all compacted areas. Rake or sweep the chips into the core holes. The entire lawn will benefit as well, especially if you have poor drainage.

Sports Turf Perennial Rye for Heavy Traffic

Overseeding those areas with high traffic tolerant sports turf perennial rye grass such as Stadium Special, frequently throughout the season, will give support to your existing lawn and blend well with bluegrass or fescue. Stay ahead of the game and overseed with Macho Mix fescue or Estate Mix bluegrass each contain some perennial sports turf rye for traffic tolerance and quick germination.

Fertilize High Traffic Areas Regularly

Golf Course Starter or Renovator should be applied every four weeks in spring & fall growing season. Water your lawn regularly during the dry summer months. Watering in the morning is recommended to avoid turf fungus. A deep watering applied infrequently is best. Average watering should be one inch per week. Hot summers with excessive heat, may require up to two inches per week.

Are These Product Pet Friendly?

It is impossible to eliminate all risks inherently associated with any lawn products either organic or inorganic. There are hazards and cautions for sugar and table salt as well. We do recommend watering each product with at least ½ inch of water and letting the lawn dry before allowing pets access to be on the side of caution. And as always we recommend reading the entire label prior to any application and following all label recommendations. We’ve been doing this for 60 years and haven’t lost anyone yet.


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Cold Snaps Are a Part of Spring

Cold Snaps Are a Part of Spring

How To Protect Plants Against Cold Spring Weather

It’s the same thing every spring, a few warm days in March and early April has everyone in the mood to get out of their winter doldrums. Our customers are happy to get out of the house and get into the yard. Clean out the garden bed, prune the shrubs, mow the lawn and rake leaves.

Then like a kick in your shorts, a late freeze comes along. Now everyone is stressed about all those pansies they just planted or the daffodils in bloom. An early spring freeze is nothing new for our region. Just one of those reminders, it’s not spring ‘til Mother Nature says it’s spring. Here are some things that can help ease your stress.

Established Wood Shrubs and Perennial Care

Don’t lose sleep over established woody shrubs or perennials. Some things you just can’t control.  Mother Nature always has a way of looking after her own. Established plants will have stored energy to grow a second generation of leaves.

Should I Cover My Flowers?

Covering your flowering plants with a cloth or blanket can give an extra 4 to 5 degree difference. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is a big difference. If you choose to cover your plants, make sure the entire plant is covered and DO NOT USE PLASTIC. Be careful not to overweight any limbs and branches. If you are not careful, more damage can be done from covering them, than the freezing temperature.

Why not plastic?

Never use plastic of any kind, including black plastic garbage bags, to cover plants, as plastic conducts cold to the leaves and will increase the likelihood of damage to the plant. Old sheets, blankets, drop cloths and special frost protection blankets work best.

What About my Perennials?

Hardy and well-established perennials such as daffodils, tulips, daylily, and iris can usually handle overnight dips nearing the mid 20°s with minimal damage. However, sustained cold temperatures, especially nearer the teens, can cause injury. Most of the time, this would result in cellular wall damage. If the plant was mature and well established; the plant will typically produce new shoots and grow out of it. They may be a little sluggish to perform at first, but a monthly application of Root Accelerator should help them reestablish.

Peony and hosta have tender new foliage, and it may be best to push mulch up around the sides and base of the plant to give support and cover them with a frost blanket or cloth sheet (NEVER USE PLASTIC).  Another trick my Mother used was to set clay garden pots and 5-gallon buckets upside down over the plant. Be careful not to let the plants touch the sides of a plastic container.

What About My Annuals & Vegetables?

If you have pansies in the garden or in a container, chances are they look amazing. Cold weather snaps of short duration should not have any affect on the pansies. Annuals that are more sensitive to the cold and should have protection or brought inside are zinnia, vinca, and sweet potato vine. Cold hardy vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and most lettuce should be fine in cool conditions slightly above freezing temperatures. Tomatoes and peppers are more sensitive to cold snaps and may need protection.

Expect the Worst, Hope for the Best

The real damage won’t be realized for several days.  If signs of damaged tissue appear, fertilizer will be needed to replace expended food storage. The supply of stored energy is limited and will take time and supplemental nutrients to replace.

Fertilize Flower Beds and New Trees

This will help them begin the process of replenishing depleted energy reserves. In two weeks remove dead and black tips that show no sign of new growth. A positive side is we have plenty of time for new growth to return. The loss of fruit may be a good thing for certain crabapples and Sweet Gum trees.


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