Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Benefits of Adding Lime to the Soil this Fall

Atlanta is known for terrific azaleas, blueberries, dogwoods, camellias and tulip poplars, all acid-loving plants that thrive in Atlanta's acid soils. Due to rainfall levels common east of the Mississippi River and acid-forming oak leaves and pine needles, metro-Atlanta clay soils are acidic in nature. Review a wide selection of plants that do well on acidic soils. 

Soil tests include a useful measurement called the "pH". This refers to a range of values from 0 to 14, where zero is the most acid and 14 is the most alkaline. (Pure water is neutral with a pH of 7).

The lower case “p” in pH refers to a logarithmic scale, which means that a pH of 6 is 10 times more acidic than neutral, but a pH of 5 is 100 times more acidic!  So native Atlanta soils with a pH of 4.5 approach 500 times more acidic than neutral.

But sometimes soils can be TOO ACIDIC for good plant growth. And not all plants thrive on acid soils. Some, like Fescue, Bermuda and Zoysia lawns and culinary herbs prefer a more neutral soil. When soils become too acid, adding lime corrects the pH level.  

Converting Acid Soils

Crabapple LandscapExperts know the best way to convert acid soils for better plant growth is by adding lime. Lime application affects many aspects of soil and growing conditions. The primary benefits of lime include:  

● changes the soil acidity to more neutral

promotes better growth of plants

makes nutrients needed for good plant growth (added as fertilizer) more available to plant roots

● increases fertilizer effectiveness by freeing bound ions and making them available to plant roots

● the chemical formula of lime is CaCO3, therefore, adding lime adds Calcium to the soil, which is an essential nutrient needed for best plant growth that is often deficient in Atlanta-area soils

● Your LandscapExperts know that in addition to the Calcium deficiency, metro-Atlanta soils are typically deficient in Magnesium (Mg). So by choosing Dolomitic Lime with a chemical formula CaMg(CO3)2  to neutralize acidic soils, we are simultaneously adding both Calcium and Magnesium to the soil.

● reduces certain acid-loving weeds

● acts as a natural irritant to insect pests

● increases the microbial activity

offsets acid rain  

improves soil structure

Lime comes in many forms, dry crushed limestone from quarries, dug as marl or from industrial by-products. In many ways lime is similar to its cousin gypsum. CrabappleLandscapExperts recommend an application of pulverized dolomitic lime once or twice a year for optimal landscape health. Call your Crabapple Rep to discuss an application of lime to the landscapes you manage.

Photos Courtesy: Geri Laufer,, Outdoor Product Reviews

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Planning Annual Flowers for Winter Color

Metro-Atlanta winters do have icy and snowy periods, but stay relatively cool and pleasant for most of the season. Crabapple LandscapExperts use cold-tolerant annual flowers to enliven landscapes during winters that experience only a few killing frosts.
The most familiar and perhaps hardiest winter annuals are pansies and Johnny-jump-ups. These are actually two versions of the same plant, with pansies having the larger flowers but Johnny-Jump-Ups (also known as violas) being a bit hardier. A wide range of colors and bi-tones are available to fit any color scheme or reinforce and emphasize any property sign, logo or sales office. Ask your Crabapple Rep to design harmonious and distinctive flower beds for your specific property.
Parsley is sometimes used as a bright green companion plant in pansy beds, thriving under the same conditions of sun and high fertility. The frilly, rich green leaves are an inviting addition.

Dusty miller is a great choice for providing silvery white contrast in residential and commercial flower beds. With dusty miller no flowers are involved, since the color is contributed by intricately cut silver foliage that lasts for years.

Ornamental cabbage and rainbow chard are pretty examples of common vegetables that routinely survive cold winter temperatures.”Flowering” cabbage has been hybridized to produce ruffled white, pink or lavender leaves that are ornamental in themselves. Rainbow chard has bright, eye-catching petioles in yellow, orange, purple and red colors. The rough-textured leaves of ornamental kale are available in a dark burgundy or purple color to provide both background and contrast. Colorful lettuces and radicchio are becoming increasingly popular as ornamental winter edgings.

Another winter possibility is the snapdragon. While snapdragons can be knocked back by snowstorms, they re-grow during warm spells and produce spikes of showy flowers. Fall planting also ensures a big springtime show of these snaps. 

Pinks or Dianthus are low-growing mats of spiky, silvery foliage with small, frilly, button-like flowers about 6 inches tall. These are often available in head-turning hot pink or attractive blends of red, rose, pink and white.

Other hardy annuals for winter landscape color include white candytuft, blue larkspur, sweet William or pot marigolds (also known as Calendula).  Your Crabapple LandscapExperts will devise the perfect color scheme and design for flower beds on properties you manage. 

Photo Credits, thanks to Kristen Alexander,, Paul Chinn San Fran Chronicle 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Overseeding Fescue Lawns This Fall

Fall is the ideal time to overseed fescue lawns, and Crabapple LandscapExperts know which Fescue varieties do best in metro-Atlanta and how to get maximum germination and growth for a velvety turf on the properties we maintain. Overseeding involves spreading fresh grass seed over an existing lawn that typically has bare patches, to improve the quality of the turf. The key to this important step in maintaining quality turf is knowing how to overseed correctly. 

Fescue is a popular choice for lawns becaues it maintains its green color throughout winter. Unlike warm-season Bermudagrass or Zoysia lawns, Fescue does not go dormant but experiences its best growth during the cool months of fall, winter and spring. During the hot summer months Fescue lawns may experience heat stress. 

Reseeding in the Fall has many advantages:
  •            Soils remain warm from summer, causing fescue seeds to germinate rapidly 
  •       The late summer drought is broken by regular autumn rains 
  •       Moist soils encourage germination and root growth of young Fescue plants 
  •      Cooler temperatures promote good growth of Fescue 
  •      Overseeding in the fall reduces competition from weeds  
  •      New plants have 3-4 months to develop deeper roots and become established before cold weather 
  •      Fall-established lawns can more easily handle drought next spring

Understanding grass growth  
Most Fescues are bunch type grasses, growing in clumps rather than sending out horizontal runners (called rhizomes) like Bermuda. The grass plant has a crown at the center, with roots growing down and blades of grass growing up. Grass plants grow side shoots (called tillers) that are formed around the crown. Since each blade of grass has a short lifespan (about 6 weeks) new tillers must continually develop to keep a lawn looking good. 

As a lawn ages, the individual grass plants get older and the growth of new tillers decreases. Therefore, the best way to ensure a healthy, thick lawn is to ensure the grass is young (Nick Christians, PhD, Iowa State U). Thus the practice of overseeding is the most efficient and easiest way of keeping lawns young.

Crabapple LandscapExperts prepare Fescue lawns for overseeding by core aerating the soils first. See our March 22 Blog for detailed information and a video on the topic of Core Aeration. Watch the quick video on YouTube about core aeration for warm season grasses, which also applies to fescue lawns in the fall.   

Schedule overseeding for the properties you manage with your Crabapple LandscapExpert Rep this fall. 

Photos courtesy Geri Laufer, University of Vermont Extension Service, lft Seed Company 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sun & Shade Plant Requirements De-Mystified

Shade comes in many forms. The range of lighting conditions is important to successful  gardeners. Crabapple LandscapExperts know that matching plants with their light requirements is a great way to plant a thriving landscape. Not an exact science, plus there are variables such as cloudy days and drought stress.  

Full Sun means a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight each day, providing there is a regular supply of moisture and roots do not dry out.

Partial Sun refers to direct sunlight most of the time, but 4-6 hours of shade during the hottest part of the day. By “Part Sun” the grower is indicating that the plant requires at least 4 hours of sun and will likely do better closer to 6 hours daily. Direct sunlight is OK the rest of the time.

Partial Shade indicates that the plant will do better if provided with some shade, but early and late sunshine is fine. The sun’s rays striking the leaves between 6–11 am and 4-9 pm have less of an impact, and the plants receive relief from the hot sun during the hours around noon and early afternoon.

Dappled Shade is filtered light that makes its way through the branches of deciduous trees or through tall pines. Woodland plants and understory trees prefer this type of limited exposure. This is also called thin, filtered, medium or semi-shade.

Full Shade means shade all day. Under Full Shade conditions, plants do not receive any direct exposure to the sun but can grow well with bright indirect light and reflected or filtered light and a moisture source.

Dense Shade is the unremitting shade cast by walls or buildings, or low light levels underneath dense tree canopies like American Beech or large conifers. They receive no direct sunlight and very little reflected, indirect light. Weeping trees also cut off sideways rays of light. These plants typically have larger, dark green leaves with lots of choloroplasts for photosynthesis.

Darkness. Only mushrooms grow well in the absence of light.  

In order to successfully landscape under a variety of shady conditions, Crabapple LandscapExperts analyze and understand the type or types of light conditions that your property receives, and select plants accordingly.