Garden Detective: Dog-friendly grasses
DEAR JESSICA: Our dogs constantly tear up our lawn when they play, so we need a really strong type of grass. Any recommendations?-- Richard Dannenberg, Baldwin
DEAR RICHARD: The type of grass you should plant depends on the sun exposure in the area. If the lawn gets full sun, then bluegrasses are the way to go. They hold up to traffic quite well but don't tolerate any more than very light shade. It's always best to use a mixture of seeds on the lawn, so go with a Kentucky bluegrass blend, and mix in 10-15 percent perennial ryegrass and the remainder fine fescue. (Use 3-4 pounds of seeds per 1,000 square feet.)
If the lawn is shaded, however, then go with a combination of fine and tall fescues. Fine fescue thrives in shady areas but doesn't hold up well to foot (or dog) traffic. Coupling it with tall fescue, which can tolerate a good amount of traffic, will ensure all your bases are covered.
You don't say which breed of dogs you have, and that's important, too: I don't know of any grass that will hold up to, say, German shepherds or bull mastiffs running over it and kicking it up on a daily basis, but if you have a couple of beagles, then these recommendations should help.
DEAR JESSICA: My husband brought a bamboo shoot plant back from Florida years ago. It has grown to 5 feet tall with new leaves sprouting constantly. We keep it in our large bathroom, as it gets sunlight and humidity from the showers. I've noticed recently that a swarm of tiny black flies inundate the bathroom about once a month. They are everywhere. Some are dead, some are dying, but they are literally the size of dot. They are not fleas, and through some detective work of my own, I realized they are coming from the soil from the bamboo plant. I'm afraid to use any bug spray or chemicals on the soil as I don't want to harm my plant, but these bug infestations are driving us crazy! Any suggestions?-- Lois Boccio, Manorville
DEAR LOIS: I know you said you traced the insects to the plant, but because the plant is in the bathroom, I can't completely discount the possibility that what you might be seeing are actually drain flies. Just to be sure, remove the drain cover from your bath/shower drain and clean out the debris in there. Drain flies can easily be mistaken for fungus gnats.
But assuming they are, in fact, fungus gnats, the best way to eliminate them would be to remove the plant from its pot, rinse it completely from tip to roots (rinsing off all the soil as well) and wash and disinfect the pot with bleach. Rinse and replant using fresh, sterile potting mix. That should do it.
DEAR JESSICA: I have a small space on the side of my house, close to my neighbor, where things seem to grow, mostly things I don't want to grow there. Is there any liquid or other treatment I could put down to eliminate the growth that won't be bad for the environment?-- Dennis Brennan, Bethpage
DEAR DENNIS: You don't say what exactly is growing in that area, but I'm assuming we're talking about weeds. For a nonchemical solution, which I always recommend, you have two options: a barrier or a natural herbicide. Both depend on whether anything desirable is growing in the area or if it's just a strip of soil along a fence line that you'd like to keep clear or maybe mulch.
If you want to keep the area free of any vegetation, your best bet would be to lay down landscaping fabric, thick piles of newspaper or cardboard and cover it with mulch. The barrier will prevent weeds from receiving sunlight, and they'll eventually die. If any new weed seeds take root in the mulch atop the fabric, you'll be able to pluck them out with very little effort. If there are other plants growing among the undesirables, then you'll need to target each weed individually. Ideally, pulling them up by their roots would do the trick, but since you've written, I'm guessing you're past that. Use a spray bottle filled with white vinegar (preferably containing more than 5 percent acetic acid) to drench each weed individually. Take care not to allow the vinegar to come into contact with other plants, as it is "nonselective," which means it will kill all plants it touches, including grass. For this reason, don't apply on a windy day, and be sure to target the plant from close range. You might cover nearby plants with plastic before beginning.
If you can find vinegar with a high acetic acid content, the application might be a one-shot deal. If you use ordinary kitchen vinegar, however, you'll likely need to reapply a few times before attaining complete control. It's worth noting that after effectively killing all the weeds, others will take their places unless you plant some sort of ground cover. As the saying goes, "If you don't plant something in a patch of dirt, God will."