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Listener Solutions: Nutsedge and Deer

Instead of only asking questions, our listeners occasionally send in clever solutions they've come up with; and like many of you, the approaching holidays have me looking for a little extra time. So as a Christmas present to myself, I'm going to present two recent 'listener solutions' that address some especially tough garden problems: nutsedge/nutgrass and dastardly deer!

Let's begin with one of the most difficult lawn weeds around.

Q: Mike—I found an organic answer to a problem that I'd like to share with you and your listeners. I bought a house whose lawn had about an inch and a half of nice dark topsoil on top and the typical hard clay underneath. During the three years we've lived here I've weaned the lawn off chemicals, instead using corn gluten meal to feed the turf and prevent new weeds from sprouting in the Spring and compost for the big feeding in the fall.

This cured most ailments, but not the lawn's primary weed: nutgrass (aka nutsedge), which as you know, is a tuff nut to crack! I tried every suggestion I heard, including pulling the clumps out by hand, aerating the turf in the fall, and even trying to burn the weeds away—all without much success other than to give my chemically dependent neighbors some good laughs at my expense.

Then two summers ago, I found a solution. I decided to attack a 10 x 10 foot section by digging down as far as I could into the clay. I got about eight to 12 inches below the surface, but knew from my past attempts (and your previous Question of the Week on this subject and comments about the weed on the show), that you need to get every 'nut' and blade of 'grass' out of there or it will all just grow right back. So here comes my 'secret sauce': I got out my shop vac and vacuumed this 10 x 10 foot section to where you could eat dinner out of the clay bed. (More comic material for my neighbors!)

I refilled the area with a mix of good quality screened topsoil and some of my own homemade leaf based compost and reseeded it with a rye and fescue mix late that August—the time you recommend as best for sowing cool season lawns.

A full year has gone by with no nutgrass, which I credit to the shop vac and the fact that the new lawn has a solid six to 12 inches of good soil to grow in. It was a lot of work, but it seems to have solved the problem without exception. So I thought I'd share the story with you! Thanks,

    ---Andrew in Robbinsville, New Jersey (Central NJ)
A. Thank you for a great story, Andrew! You're a sterling example of how well American lawns respond to good soil and correct planting times. I'm glad the last laugh was BY you, not on you!

We now move on to the #1 complaint we receive: deer. Although our listener's problem wasn't with them being in a garden, her 'solution' is considered by experts to be one of the best ways of preventing deer dining at your domicile:

Q. Hi Mike: It's been a while since I originally contacted you about my problem—a relative who insisted on hunting deer from a tree stand he erected at the back of our property. I didn't like the idea of anyone shooting that close to our house and begged him to move somewhere else. But he was adamant about staying, and no one in the family would intervene. So I wrote you asking what I might be able to do to keep the deer away to begin with.

Someone had suggested I use coyote urine, but you told me there was no proof that these 'predator urines' are effective, and that the collection was extremely cruel to the animal. You added that the only sure ways to prevent deer from coming into a large area (as opposed to keeping them away from specific plants) were to enclose the area with an eight-foot high fence or to have dogs roaming.

Well, I thought you might be interested to know that I won 'the battle of the tree stand' without having to draw swords. The stand came down last week due to lack of deer traffic, and I suspect our two new puppies were the reason. They're a tracking hound breed, and they bark and howl like crazy when they've caught a scent.

I have to say that at first I wasn't very happy about having two new puppies (it was strictly my husband's idea, not an intentional following of your advice). But now that I can see that deer won't even come near our corner of the woods because of them, I've decided they can stay for good. I'm so glad to have resolved this without another argument! Hippies: 1, Yuppies: 0!

Thank you again for your kind attention to my problem, and I continue to enjoy your radio show.

    ---Name withheld to prevent further family fights
A. Ha—thank YOU, "withheld!" Years ago, I learned that researchers testing deer fencing strategies were stymied when no deer would come near the fences because a graduate assistant kept bringing his dog to work. That added 'dogs' to the short list of reliable deer prevention strategies, namely:
  • Eight-foot high fences,
  • Electric fences,
  • And deer repellant sprayed heavily on plants at the 'browsing height' of 28 inches off the ground.

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