Marianne Binetti — Shorter days and cooler nights

The third week of September is when the shorter days and cooler nights awaken any summer dormant lawn. If you allowed your lawn to “go golden” or lie dormant without extra water this summer, it’s time to celebrate your lower water bill with a good long drink — for the grass. After a few days of heavy rain, invest in a greener future and fertilize the lawn with a slow-release fall and winter lawn food. If you aerate the lawn before you fertilize you’ll be encouraging deeper roots and a more drought resistant lawn next summer.

If you really want to save water and save money when it comes to lawn care, make this this fall you add topsoil on top of the old lawn, raking water-holding compost and topsoil mix into the holes left from a core aerator. Improving the soil can be done without tilling up the turf — but you must remove plugs of old soil so the new soil can get down to those roots. No need to rake up the ugly plugs left over from lawn aeration. They will break down over the winter and add to the soil.

September and early October is also a good month to overseed right on top of your old lawn. Spreading new grass seed works best if you first aerate then add new topsoil then use a high quality grass seed blend mixed for the Pacific Northwest. Now just watch the rains return and you’ll have a fresh start with your old lawn.

Q. I have a burning bush that starting turning yellow then brown this summer. The shrub looks like it is dying. Up close I can see webbing on some of the leaves — very fine webs. Should I dig out my burning bush? I do love the brilliant red color of the leaves every autumn but this year my burning bush just went from yellow to brown. P.C., Enumclaw

A. Sounds like your burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is being consumed by spider mites. The fine webs you observed is one hot tip towards answering your burning question and solving this case but don’t prepare to remove the body just yet. Winter is coming and sometimes a few months in the deep freeze can mean a fresh start for victims of insect invasions. To foil the tiny culprits be sure to collect and remove all the fallen leaves and then clean up around the base of the burning bush and layer on a few inches of bark chips, moo doo or compost to cover the soil and seal in any mite eggs. In January you may want to consider spraying your leaf less shrub with a dormant oil spray to get rid of mites hiding in the corky bark. Give your infested burning bush another year to shake off the past before passing judgment and throwing in the trowel.

Q. I have a hellebore plant that has grown too large. Can I divide it? What time of year is best for dividing up hellebores? G.M. Email

A. Bad news for the heavenly hellebore. These tough perennials aren’t so tough once you get down to their roots — they hate to be divided. If you must downsize this winter blooming plant, remove the entire clump in August or September (this week would be perfect) and hose off the roots. Then use a sharp knife or spade to separate the thick root clusters leaving at least a few leaves attached to each division. Replant immediately into soft soil that has been amended with compost. Put any left over divisions into containers to give away. Hellebores do not need a lot of fertilizer but they really appreciate a lot of compost. Remember the middle of the plant is the old, weak section so you can’t just slice off a side section and hope the mother plant will go on to do great things. Get down and dirty and lift the entire clump out of the ground so you can be sure that each new division gets a bit of the mother plant along with the young growth around the edge.

Q. What are the beautiful trees full of red and orange berries that I see in some neighborhoods? The foliage is rather blue-gray in color and ferny. The berries are just beautiful in the fall. P., Email

A. Mountain Ash or Sorbus are large streets sometimes used as street trees with spectacular berries. There are many varieties, some with the gray and ferny foliage you describe. You’ll need fertile soil with good drainage and full sun to grow this tree plus lots of elbow room. This is a great month to visit a local nursery and check out the berry color on Mt. Ash and some of the other berry rich trees and shrubs. Elderberry, holly, cotoneaster, kinninick, beauty berry and Oregon grape are other bird-friendly, berry clinging, and easy-growing plants that add fall and winter color in Western Washington gardens.

Marianne Binetti is a syndicated columnist.