Grounds Care

januaryIt’s January. Yeah, that January. The month where it’s cold, there’s very little green outside, and you dream of summer days. Don’t despair though. There are actually things you can be doing for your yard and landscape, and there are plants that do bloom.

DSC_0067Believe it or not, you can enjoy winter blooming perennials such as hellebores, rosemary and camellias. Yes, there are plants that bloom during the colder season. While trees may be bare, and leaves brown, you still can find color in your landscape. If you don’t have blooming plants, you may have plants with berries, and the red ones really pop against the brown of the season.

The cooler weather is also a good time to prune most plants/trees/shrubs. Do not prune azalea, dogwood, forsythia, redbud and rhododendron as they should be pruned after they bloom, since they set blooms in the fall. (White spirea should also be pruned right after it blooms in the spring, and even now you may see some blooms on the plant.) Almost anything that blooms after June 1, with the exception of oakleaf hydrangea and late-flowering azalea cultivars, can be pruned safely now.

Big TreeDid you know that January is a good time to plant new shrubs and trees? In fact, the winter months when trees are dormant are excellent times to plant. You will need to be careful that you do not plant them too deep or with too much soil amendment. It’s a great time for you to take a look and evaluate your landscape. Remove unattractive plants and replace them with others that you prefer. You should also browse garden catalogs for the coming season to make plans for future outdoor projects.

If you are planning on planting new bulbs, trees, and shrubs in the spring, or even laying sod, you should get a head start by getting your soil tested through the NC Extension Service. Results take a few weeks so the sooner you submit the sample, the sooner you get the results. This way you will be ready come spring, preventing delay of your new plant installations.

Winter grassCool season turf, such as fescue, is active during the winter months. However, grasses such as Bermuda and other warm season turf, is dormant. This doesn’t mean you can’t run a mower over it. In fact, a dry winter day is a good time to mow a dormant, warm-season lawn (if there is no frost, of course). Besides this grooming the lawn and removing fallen leaves and pine needles, it also allows you to inspect your yard for winter weeds. It’s best to control these weeds by spraying when the weather warms in spring.

You can and should still water your outdoor plants. Make sure to do so just before a cold snap to help plants survive bitter temperatures. For your indoor plants, many of them are in a semi-dormant state. This means you should not fertilize them and they require less watering.

Replacing, adding, or refreshing mulch is a perfect project for the winter. It helps keep your plants warm and makes your landscape look clean, especially now that there is less foliage to create a screen.

cardinalIf you love watching wildlife, you should keep your bird feeder well stocked with seed and your suet fresh. There are also other treats you can put outside to attract and feed local birds, including peanuts. Just make sure your feeder isn’t easy access for squirrels.

autumn landscape mainIt’s mid Fall and there is still much you can be doing for your yard. Just because it’s colder and leaves are falling doesn’t mean it’s time to ignore your landscape. By keeping up on your yard maintenance, and planning ahead for next year, your outdoor space will continue to look good year-round.

bulbsNovember is an especially good time to plant your spring bulbs. While these plants are referred to as spring-blooming, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, and crocuses can actually start blooming as early as January. The plants do best where they do not get mid-day sun, making them a great plant for around the base of trees.

If you are planning a flower bed for spring, you will want to do a soil test first. It’s not an immediate turn-around, so the sooner you do it, the sooner you get the results and can prep your soil for planting.

AppleDo you have any fruit trees on your property? If you do, remove any mummified fruits then rake up and dispose of any leaves and branches. They can harbor disease over winter.

Fescue and other cool-season grass lawns should receive their third application of fertilizer. As the name indicates, cool-season grasses do the majority of their growing in the cooler weather, generally between September and June. This is why you should fertilize in the fall and winter and not in the summer. DO NOT fertilize warm-season grasses this late in the season. You can actually harm it by stimulating it to break its dormancy during a warm spell then causing it damage when the temps drop again.

PHOTO/Becky Griffin

PHOTO/Becky Griffin

If you do have warm-season grass and you noticed a fluffy, dandelion-like weed in your lawn during the spring to fall, you may need to treat your turf for trampweed. It’s a common weed in South Carolina, but it is starting to make appearances here in North Carolina according to the NC State Cooperative Extension. You can contact your local extension for advice and a plan of attack. Fescue and cool-season lawns should be treated for this weed in February.

Another lawn weed to treat for is wild garlic and onion. If your number of weeds is low, you can always pull this grass so long as you make sure to remove the bulbs and bublets, otherwise they will regrow. You can also use a trowel and hand dig them out of the turf. Regular mowing won’t kill the weed off, but can prevent it from seeding. There are no preemergence herbicides, only postemergence, and even those will need multiple applications to get the weed under control.

hansen irrig clockHave an irrigation system? Now is the time to winterize it and shut it down before the first freeze. Water will need to be drained from the pump and any water in the system will need to be removed, usually done by pumping compressed air to force all remaining water out. This is very important as any remaining water can freeze in the system causing a crack in the pump casing. Rainfall is usually plentiful for your turf’s needs this time of year, and if you water your lawn, you risk freezing it and that will cause it damage.

leavesDon’t slack on the leaf removal. There are many options for you when it comes to where to put those leaves. You can compost them, mulch them, till them into your plant beds, place them in the woody area behind your house, or bag them. Removing the leaves is crucial for your turf’s health as it deprives it from much needed sunlight, air, water, and nutrients. The leaves also become a breeding ground for fungi and insects. If you plan to mulch the leaves, don’t let the carpet of leaves become too thick or they won’t be shredded evenly.

There is no reason why your turf can’t be happy and healthy during the fall and winter as long as you take proper care of it.

Halloween logo 2014With trick-or-treaters gearing up for the big day, there are things you should do besides making sure you have enough candy to give. We’ve created a short checklist for you to help make sure your yard is safe for the ghoulish visitors. Take a quick look, it only takes a few minutes to make your home Halloween safe.

  • Make sure all outdoor lighting is working and areas are well lit.
  • Clear the walkway of any plant growth or branches that could trip someone up.
  • Make sure your decorations won’t hinder easy access to your front door.
  • If you have an irrigation system, make sure no heads are stuck up creating a tripping hazard.
  • Make sure all hoses and any gardening tools are properly put away.
  • Keep pets safely indoors and away from strange and curious little hands.
  • Give your property a once-over to make sure the trick-or-treaters will be safe.

If you complete this checklist, all the princesses, cowboys, witches, ninja turtles, robots, heroines, and other costumed kids will enjoy a happy and injury-free Halloween when visiting your house.

One other quick hint: if you are not giving out candy, or plan to have a small stash of candy alternatives for those with food allergies, put a teal pumpkin outside your door to help families recognize that you are the perfect house to visit if they have children with allergies.


mumsOctober is all about autumn and the change of the season from summer to fall. The cooler weather is not only easy on the electric bill, it’s also easier on your planting. Believe it or not, now is the perfect time to plant trees and shrubs. It’s also a good time to plant your spring-flowering bulbs. That’s right, they may bloom in spring, but you should plant them in the fall. Why? The soil is still warm, the rain plentiful, and the roots have a great chance to establish without worry of drought or snow.

If you haven’t already, you should take note of what worked and what didn’t in your garden before planting your new bulbs. Make sure you don’t plant shade-loving plants in full sun and vice-versa. You may want to do a soil test to make sure your soil isn’t too acidic or need any lime added to adjust the pH. You will need to till the lime into your soil, and since the results of soil tests can take a few days, the sooner you get it done, the better! If you are also doing vegetables, keep track of where you planted. That way, next year you can rotate where you plant in order to prevent disease.

BerkelyIf you are looking to add color to your cooler-weather garden, there are plants that are autumn bloomers. Winter pansies make a great splash of color while hardy mums bring that feel of fall to the landscape. Aster is another flower that will add a pop of color to your garden as well as your indoors. Russian sage can add a contrast to the autumnal colors while smelling great. The tough sedum is almost a must for autumn gardens. It survives summer heat and drought to burst alive with blooms in the fall.

Even though it is autumn, there are still many things you can and should be doing for your lawn. Watch out for white grubs. They not only destroy the turf by feeding on the roots, but they also attract moles and voles who will feed on them. You will find that the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis helps get rid of them, but it does take a little time to build up in the soil. Warm season turf may be fertilized, but do not fertilize cool season (fescue) if it has been overseeded. If you want to establish a cool season lawn, the best window to do so is September 15-October 15. Warm season grasses should be established next spring.



There are two turf weeds you should keep your eyes open for. Henbit is a sparsely hairy winter annual with greenish to purplish, tender, square stems. This weed reproduces by seed that germinate in the fall or winter and grows during any period of warm weather that occurs during the cold season. It can quickly invade thin turf areas where there is good soil moisture or shade. Dense, healthy turf is the greatest defense against the weed, but chemical control can be used as well. another annoying and difficult weed is nutsedge or nutgrass. The best time to eradicate this aggressive and persistent weed is during its growing period. First identify what type of nutsedge you have before using an herbicide.

Start dialing back your irrigation use. The weather is cooler and therefore the plants and lawn less thirsty. In fact, you may want to get your system repaired if there are any issues. Since the lawn doesn’t need constant watering, it gives you more of a window to get someone in to fix it. You will also find an irrigation specialist’s availability more open now rather than the beginning of next season when everyone’s irrigation system is started up.

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If you have an outdoor landscape lighting system, now would be a good time to ensure all lights are working, especially those lighting paths or entranceways. It’s starting to get darker sooner, making it important for the safety of everyone, that walkways, paths, and anywhere someone might walk, are lit up to prevent tripping and injury. If your lights are on a timer, some adjustment may need to be made (though once daylight savings ends in November, you will definitely need to fix the schedule on your timer).

leavesBesides the leaves on trees turning beautiful colors, they are also falling to the ground. There are many things you can do with those leaves. You can compost them. You can bag them. You can blow them to the woody back area of your property. You can use them for plant protection from the cold in your garden beds. You can till them into fallow garden beds too. Whatever your desire, make sure your landscaping service (or whichever family member is assigned that chore) knows what you would like done with them.

By taking these simple steps to maintain your landscape in the fall, you will end up with a stunning spring and summer outdoors.

ugly lawn pic logoEven though summer is winding down, it doesn’t mean it’s time to neglect your landscape. In fact, there are still many things you need to be doing to help keep your outdoors looking its best.

test tubesLet’s start with the flowers. Most of the blooming will be done for your spring and summer plants, so take note of what worked in your garden and purchase more for next spring. Store them in a cool, dry place until the weather gets cooler, then plant away! But, before you plant, you need to do a soil pH test. You may want to also test your vegetable garden if you don’t plan on fertilizing for any late crops. You should also divide your spring and summer blooming perennials.

brown patchIf you happen to have warm season grass, you can still be dealing with lawn disease such as brown patch and dollar spot, so keep your eyes open and treat accordingly. White grubs can also be present in your soil, and while the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis does a nice job on them, it does take some time for it to build up. Warm season lawns along with hollies can also be afflicted with spittlebugs.

????????????????????????????????????????????Different lawn types are going to require different treatments. Fescue (cool season) turf should be fertilized, aerated, and overseeded. Do not fertilize warm season grass! The planting of cool season lawns is best done between September 15-October 15. It’s best to hold off until next spring for warm season grasses. Henbit and nutsedge (nutgrass) may become a problem. Both can be controlled through herbicide, though nutsedge is a bit more difficult. Irrigation clocks may need to be adjusted as less water is going to be required.

web wormPecan trees may see webworms who should have started appearing in late August. There are both natural and pesticide controllers for this problem. Natural remedies include removing the affected branch and throwing away to handpicking the webworms off and drowning them in soapy water. For pesticide use, Carbaryl (Sevin, etc.) is a good product to rid the lower parts of the tree of webworm (please don’t try to reach the very tops!) The trees can also be afflicted with pecan weevils–little critters that make holes in the pecans.

plantsAnd finally, while we’re on trees, your may see leaves starting to fall. You can compost the leaves, till them into any fallow beds or vegetable garden, or have them blown and removed. Any trees and shrubs that you may want to plant should be planned for now, especially if you don’t want to miss out on them. There are plenty of nurseries around, but their supply is not endless.


Besides regular watering and mowing, one of the best things you can do to keep a healthy lawn is to aerate it. There are many benefits to this turf task, from allowing oxygen and nutrients to reach the roots, to reducing soil compaction and water runoff. If you’re wondering how to aerate, when, and why, we’re going to break it down for you.

There are a few ways to aerate a lawn, from simple spikes (we know you’ve seen those crazy shoes!) to using a machine that pulls out plugs of soil. While both work, they are not equal in how effective they are. The shoe, hand, push, drum, towing, and mowing spiked aerators are cheaper, but you will need to aerate more often because the holes close up faster than the plugs and could actually compact the soil more.

spike shoes

Aerators that remove small plugs of soil are known as core aerators. By removing the soil, more air, water, and nutrients get to the roots and there is more room for the roots to expand. The holes are also a great place for seed to go and be protected when overseeding a lawn or for fertilizer to get closer to the roots. There’s less risk of the seeds and fertilizer being washed or blown away.

Aerate illustration

Some reasons to aerate have already been mentioned, but let’s really be thorough here in listing ALL of the benefits.
1. By allowing oxygen, water, and nutrients to reach the roots, it encourages them to grow deeper and thicker.

2. More water is absorbed by the soil, reducing runoff.

3. Deeper and thicker roots means thicker turf.

4. Healthier turf and better water absorbability means less watering.

5. Your lawn will become more durable and resistant to foot traffic.

6. Thatch is reduced.

7. It makes it easier for the lawn to breathe.

8. It helps prevent grubs from harming your lawn.

9. Growth is stimulated.

10. Deeper roots means better access to water, making the turf more drought resistant.

11. A healthy, thick lawn produces more oxygen.

12. Reduction in lawn disease due to unabsorbed water sitting on top.


So now you know the why and how in regards to aerating a lawn, but you need to know the when. It all depends on the type of grass, your soil, and other conditions. It seems to be a general consensus that aerating should be done once a year unless your turf has issues from being located on a hill or trampled on by pets and children. If you find that your turf has slow or stunted growth, even after fertilizing it, chances are the soil is too hard and compacted, preventing root growth. Your lawn needs to be aerated. If you find water just running off or pooling and not being absorbed, and you have clay soil, you should get an aeration done. Lawns that get a lot of traffic, have a lot of thatch, or are growing in very hard soil, should be aerated to alleviate the problems and encourage deeper root growth for thicker turf.

Unless you have any of the listed problems we just mentioned, you should find that aerating your warm season grass in the spring, around May, and cool season in the fall, around September, should be enough to maintain healthy growth year round.

August here in North Carolina is still a very hot month. But this doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can and should be doing for your landscape. Below we break down what kinds of things you will need to do or have your landscape company do.


Water your container plants

container plantThis really should be a no-brainer, but people tend to forget their container plants. If the plants are hanging, or kept on your deck, chances are your sprinkler or irrigation system is not getting them. Take a few minutes out of your day to give these poor guys a little attention. They’ll reward you with colorful flowers or delicious veggies.


Deadhead your plants

dead roseNo, this is not some Greatful Dead reference. When the flowers have finished blooming, pinch them off to allow new ones to bloom. It’s an extremely easy way to keep your landscape colorful longer.


Get rid of spent veggie plants

garden toolsIf your vegetable plants have finished producing, as most will be soon, then remove them from your garden in order to prevent them from attracting insects and bringing disease to plants still producing. An ounce of prevention…


Propagate your roses

rose bushWant more rose plants next year? You don’t need to buy any; you can make new plants from your existing ones. The way to do this is to remove two thorns near the top of a flexible stem. Use a clean, sharp knife to do this. Bend the stem toward the ground and make a couple of small cuts in the stem in the area between the removed thorns. Now cover the “wounded” part of the stem with soil as it’s being held down by landscape pins. Keep the growing tip uncovered. (You can use brick or stone to keep the covered “wound” in place.) Come next spring, you should see new growth. When you see new leaves on the rooted stem, remove the entire stem (carefully!) from the main plant. Recut the stem just beneath the new root mass and plant your new rose bush!


Save your pines from pests

redhead sawflyThe Pine Sawfly larvae feed on your pines, mostly damaging them, but in worst cases, can kill them. These caterpillar-looking larvae can start their voracious feast as early as June, but will still be found snacking on pine needles through August. An easy home remedy to this problem is picking the larvae off and dropping them into a bucket of soapy water.


Plan ahead for next year

bulbsNow is the perfect time to think about next year’s landscape. If you know what you would like to plant, preorder your bulbs immediately. This way you won’t miss out when planting season comes, especially if you are looking for a unique and unusual flower. You will find supplies generous and ripe for the picking!


Cut flowers

zinnia-flower_45If you seeded plants in July, seed more again. Enjoy their blooms in your garden as well as in your house. Cut away, give to neighbors, bring to work, and bring a smile to someone’s face.


Fertilize the right plants

fertIf you would like your tomato, eggplant, and pepper plants to continue to produce, give them some fertilizer. Your summer vegetables will like it and benefit from it. Your fall veggies as well as fall-blooming perennials and annuals should be fertilized too. Don’t forget your cannas, chrysanthemums, and dahlias, while reblooming irises could use a light fertilizer application. If your lawn is a warm season grass, now is a good time to fertilize it. Make sure the roots get the needed nutrients from the fertilizer by watering any application.

You don’t want to disturb bud formations on your azaleas, camellias, and summer-flowering shrubs, so do not fertilize them.


Cut your grass at the right height

mowingGenerally during the summer, cool season grasses are cut higher in order to prevent stress and unhealthy turf, while warm season grasses are cut lower. If late July into August is wet and a little cooler, you can lower your warm season grass’ cutting height. Don’t lower it too much though, it’s still hot at times!


Water is not only important for human survival, but also for plant survival. Most people remember to water their plants indoors, but what about outdoors? Sure, the rain takes care of a lot of the watering, however, if it’s a dryer than normal season, you’re going to need to step in.

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As a kid I am sure many of you remember running through the traditional sprinkler. Perhaps it was the kind that goes up and down. Or maybe it was the kind that spun? And then there was the kind that the dance move was named after. (If you don’t know what I am talking about, you need to watch this!) Of course, there’s always the other dance that accompanies the use of the sprinkler: the trying-to-get-it-placed-in-the-right-spot-without-getting-soaked dance. That’s always repeated several times as the sprinkler is moved around the yard to water everything.

If you’re not a dancer, then you should consider an irrigation system instead. There will be no need to move the watering system around the yard, no dance moves trying to stay dry, and no need to hook anything up and remember to turn it on and off. The irrigation system is on a timer allowing you to enjoy your summer without the constant worry of making sure you’ve watered your lawn. You may also notice a reduction in the amount of weeds appearing in your landscape.

hansen irrig clock

An irrigation timer turns the system on and off, letting the homeowner’s mind be on other things.

Now, if you are a sprinkler person, keep this fact in mind: a high arcing spray emitted from a sprinkler may blow away or partially evaporate before it hits the ground. That means you are losing water! It also means you will need to run the water longer, but that can oversaturate the areas that are getting water. Depending on your soil, you may end up with a lot of run-off. That again means you are losing water. An irrigation system will give you better control of your soil’s moisture.

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Another bonus of an irrigation system is the fact that is great for your home’s value. It keeps your lawn and landscape looking like a million bucks (and with the amount of money you probably invested in it, you need to keep it looking that way!) creating curb appeal. While it’s a cliché, you could be the envy of your neighborhood!

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Summer is an excellent time to have the system installed. This way the installers can see which areas will need more watering, which areas are shadier, and adjust your system accordingly. Your system will need to be shut off for the winter and started back up in the spring. Periodic inspection of the system is a good idea throughout the season in order to make sure everything is working right. A broken head or line will prevent your plants and lawn from getting the water it needs. Catching the problem sooner than later will save them.

sprinkler head
While a homeowner could install an irrigation system him/herself, it can’t be done in a weekend and requires proper adjustments of the system. A professional can install it and adjust it a lot quicker as they know what to look for and have the experience needed.

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Do you live in the Triangle, NC area? Do your neighbors cringe when they look out their window at your yard? Are you embarrassed to have anyone over during the warm weather because your landscape is so horrendous? Well then, have we got a contest for you!

Fontaine Landscaping is looking for a few good bad yards. Send us your ugly, your barren, your muddy, your plain old eyesore. Well, don’t actually send them to us, just submit their picture through our facebook contest page. Garner yourself the most votes and be crowned the proud owner of the Triangle’s Ugliest Yard!

What will you get in return for such humiliation? How about a free landscape make-over by Kevin Fontaine or a landscape design? Yes, our expert in landscape can get your yard from a dud to a *cat-call*. (Note fine print here—he cannot make over people or animals; that is entirely someone else’s job. Sorry!)

Submit your photo today by clicking here. Get your friends, family, neighbors, and strangers you meet while out shopping, to vote for your yard. At the end of the day on August 1, 2014, we will close the voting. The picture with the most OMG-I-just-screamed-in-terror-at-the-sight-of-your-yard votes will win!


A lush, beautiful green lawn is the envy of the neighborhood. Not only does it require proper maintenance, but also the right kind of grass. By planting the wrong kind in a shady area, or an area that gets complete sun all day, your lawn can end up looking pretty bad. Since your house is an investment, it’s best to make it look good both on the inside as well as the outside. Hey, a well maintained, good-looking lawn can increase your home’s value by 15-20%! So why not properly care for it?

If you are at the point where you need to install a new lawn, there are few things you need to do. First, you need to do a soil test. This test will let you know what the soil pH is, a factor that can make or break the fertility of your lawn. North Carolina is known for having low soil pH (acidic soil). The way to solve this problem is to apply agricultural grade limestone. You can apply lime to the lawn surface at any time, though best results will be achieved if the recommended lime and fertilizer are thoroughly mixed into the soil prior to planting.


Now it’s time to choose the right type of grass. There’s cool season and warm season grass. Let’s start with cool-season grass. These grasses grow primarily during the spring and fall of the year and become dormant during the hottest portion of the summer and during the coldest part of the winter. You’ll find that cool-season grasses generally maintain some green color year round except under extreme heat and cold. The grasses included in the category of cool-season are tall fescue, bluegrass, turf type fescue, perennial ryegrass and mixtures of any of these grasses. If you live in the western region of North Carolina, bluegrass, bluegrass-fescue mixtures or tall fescue are the most common cool-season grasses. In the piedmont area, you’ll find bluegrass-fescue blends or tall fescue are the dominate cool-season varieties. Tall fescue is the only cool-season grass that should be considered as a permanent lawn for eastern North Carolina.

Planting a mixture of grasses increases the chance of survival from turf diseases since mixtures have varying levels of resistance to different diseases. Mixtures of grasses are also more adaptable to varying growing conditions such as shade, soil moisture and temperature. It’s best to seed here in North Carolina from mid-August to mid-October, depending on the location in the state. Do not cut cool-season grasses lower than three inches.


So what’s warm-season grass? These grasses are green in the summer and become brown and dormant in the winter (don’t we all?). This group includes common and hybrid bermuda, centipede, zoysia and St. Augustine. Warm-season grasses are adapted to the sandy soils of the North Carolina coastal plain and most of the piedmont area. What’s great about these grasses is that they tolerate the high temperatures and summer droughts in North Carolina better than cool-season grasses.

Whether the grass is established with sprigs, sod or by planting seed, the best time to start is March. If you’re going with springs or sod, the time-frame is shorter–March through July–while seeds can be planted from March through September. You should begin mowing the grass as soon as it is tall enough to be cut. A reel mower is preferred for cutting zoysia, hybrid bermuda and centipede. Warm-season grasses can develop a thatch layer. When the thatch layer is half an inch thick, the lawn should be dethatched or raked.


Of course no matter what grass you choose, watering and proper cutting also play a factor in how good your lawn looks. We offer irrigation services, sodding, and lawn maintenance packages to keep your property looking its best.


Things to keep in mind when choosing grass:

1. How much sun and shade there is.

2. How much traffic the grass will see.

3. How long you want to see green.

4. What kind of soil you have.

5. How much money you want to spend.


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