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  1. It's cold, but you can set the tone for the growing season this month It’s January. It’s 24 degrees outside right now. What could you possibly have to do with your landscape this month? True, it is bitterly cold outside today. But it won’t be so every day in January. And its to those days that we’ll speak to in this month’s column. Believe it or not, the key to the whole growing season is what you do in January. Specifically late January. It is at that time that we like to aerate our lawns, followed by a topdressing of compost and also a round of pre-emergent. The results that you’ll see through the growing season are outstanding. By aerating your lawn prior to the growing season, you’re getting important oxygen circulation in the soil. These holes will also allow for your compost topdressing to integrate into the soil, giving you a healthier soil that puts nutrients in the root zone right at the time when the grass is beginning to emerge from dormancy. “But Mark, the snow, the ice!” Snow, ice, sleet – none of that will have an affect on this procedure. In fact, one of the most successful aeration-topdressing years we’ve ever seen came about when 5 inches of snow fell the day after we completed our aeration/topdressings. It stayed relatively cold for a week and thus gave us a slow melting that took several days. The result was very little runoff and the products were merged with the soil much faster and more effectively. Here’s a step-by-step on the process: 1. Aeration. This is where it starts, and before you start, lets go over what should be done first. Mark your sprinkler heads with small flags so that you can avoid hitting the heads during the aeration. If you have drip irrigation in your lawn, YOU CANNOT DO THIS PROCEDURE without suffering extensive damage to your drip lines. Unfortunately, you would need to know where your drip lines run and then perform a manual aeration. Once the heads are flagged, mark any other features that should be avoided such as other lines that are narrowly buried due to time/erosion. Run your aerator throughout the lawn. It is good to make several passes in areas where there is more foot traffic or even pet traffic. Those locations are where the soil will be more compacted. Stay a good distance away from tree trunks. Once finished, remove the flags you marked heads with earlier. 2. Topdressing. Before I get into this one, let me explain just exactly what a topdressing is. A lot of folks aren’t familiar with them. A topdressing is where we take a compost and spread it over the lawn. It is not a complete coverage of the lawn that hides the turf. Instead, it is more like tossed and scattered, then raked in to create a thin layer of compost that sinks into the turf within a week or two. What compost to use? There are many varieties of compost out there available and most all of them are good and nutritious. But with a topdressing, we’ll wanting a compost that is finely ground so that it will sink into the turf/soil faster. Dairy cow manure compost is a great choice because dairy cows are given high nutrition diets and its composted manure is powdery when dry. Our preference, however, is cotton burr compost. Cotton burr compost is a highly nutritious compost with excellent trace minerals. It is made completely of waste from a cotton plant. It is also helpful in correcting soil pH issues and soften our black Texas clay which allows for easier root growth. The response from turf to CBC is phenomenal and sets the tone for the whole growing season. You will want to buy in bulk, if possible, as the bulk version is ground finer than the bagged version. In areas where you know you have poor soil performance, top dress it heavier there and perhaps again in early March (just in those areas). You may also want to spread some CBC in your landscape beds and give your bedding plants a nice lift for spring. 3. Pre-Emergent. Finish the process by applying pre emergent to your lawn. We do this last because we want everything to be treated, including the compost topdressing that was just laid down on the lawn. Weeds are relentless and can root out in only a small amount of soil, rock and yes, compost. We would normally apply pre emergent early anyway because most spring weeds will begin germinating in mid-February. So applying pre-emergent at this time will insure your lawn is protected in February. Pre-emergent typically lasts three months. The more pre emergent you apply, the more protected your lawn will be. Once you have the pre-emergent applied, flip on the sprinkler system to get it dispersed into the soil/turf. Don’t let it sit on the turf too long. I recommend Dithiopyr (Dimension) pre-emergent for the spring application because it works better on the broadleaf weeds. We’ll change that to prodiamine for the August application. As always, if you don’t feel comfortable or confident in doing this yourself, call your landscaper. You can always watch as they do it so you can see exactly how it should be done. Landscape planning should start now If you’re in the market to change, create new or enlarge your landscape this spring, now is the time to get that ball moving. The thing we want to keep in mind here is the window of time we have on the calendar between the installation and the hottest part of summer. The larger we can make that window, the better off the landscape plants will be as they will have time to acclimate themselves to some extent before the stress of hot weather arrives. Start by finding a reputable landscape service which features the ability to design landscapes. You may want to find more than one in order to compare bids. Arrange to meet with them at your home so that they can see the area to be landscaped in person. I do not recommend using a contractor-finder service as that simply introduces another hand to put money into when its not necessary and not really effective. The best way to find good landscape service providers is to talk with your friends and neighbors. Who has the best looking landscape on the block? Talk to them. Have them pass on their landscape contact information to you and schedule an appointment. Landscape drawings should be offered at no charge. Some landscape companies charge and thats their business. But a good landscape design does not need to be a part of the costs of the landscape itself. Buy the vision when you’ve decided you like it. Not before its created. It is not out of line to make changes to a landscape design once its been submitted to you. The designer is simply trying to get as close to a final version as possible and its your tastes he’s trying to capture. Add, change or reduce as you see fit. Some homeowners may want to give the landscaper a budget to stay within. Let him know your number up front so he can design to that number. More Cold Ahead Weather bloggers are forecasting a continuation of the late December trend of cold waves. There is also a lot of chatter about a blast of cold arctic air that is expected to move down from Canada around Jan. 13-15 and on. If that happens, several regions of Texas will see snow and ice which will be supported by temperatures colder than what we’re seeing now. You will want to check your outdoor preparations to make sure everything is still as it should be, ahead of this system. Spigot covers can sometimes become loose. Mulch gets blown or washed out of place, etc. Stay tuned for weather updates on this. At one point, Dallas was predicted to have -2 for a low on the 14th. That should modify as we approach that date, but geez, thats bitterly cold. (Mark Lyon’s landscape column is sponsored each month by Stagecoach Trailers, Naples, Texas.)