Top Gardening Tips from Aaron Steil

Aaron Steil, host of Gardening with Steil, was the presenter at our latest Ask the Expert virtual series hosted by Friends of Iowa PBS. During the presentation, Aaron answered several questions regarding keeping our lawn, trees and garden looking their best. Here are some of his favorites:

How do I grow grass in the shade?

Aarons' short answer is that you don't. Turf grass needs full sun and where you don't get that the grass tends to be thinner and more likely to get weeds.
Aaron suggests:

  • Create more sun by limbing up the tree if possible
  • Try a more shade tolerant turf species like creeping fescue, chewings fescue or hard fescue
  • Establish something other than turf grass like bugleweed, sweet woodruff, spotted deadnettle, foam flower or vinca 

How do I reduce disease and insect issues in my vegetable garden?

  • Make sure your garden is in full sun
  • Make sure you do a good fall clean up so you're getting rid of old plant material
  • Try crop rotation - don't plant the same plant family in the same spot for 3-4 years
  • Create raised beds and utilize containers
  • Create pocket vegetable plantings within your landscape (as long as it's in full sun)
  • Coordinate with family and friends to have each household plant one family of plants and then switch what is planted an an annual basis. This way your garden can have many different varieties of a vegetable instead of one.


Why is my tree dying?

According to Aaron, trees are an investment in time and money and can be really sentimental so when something's wrong it's concerning. There are many reasons why a tree may be dying - some easy to see like mower or trimmer damage or rot and decay, while others are harder to visualize.
Has the tree been planted too deeply? The base of the tree should flare out on your lawn, not look like a telephone pole in the ground.
Is the variety of tree the correct selection for your region? Have you changed the grade of the area around the tree by adding too much soil or mulch at the base of the tree?  More than 3 inches can harm the tree's root system. You also need to keep mulch away from the trunk of the tree.

How do I keep deer out of my garden?

A good fence is the best but most expensive option. It should be at least 6 feet tall because deer browse from about 6 feet and down.
Try making a chicken wire cage tall enough to cover the top of your garden and/or flowers. The closed top will make it harder for deer to munch on your veggies.

Should I try a clover or pollinator lawn instead of a turf lawn?

Clover and turf grass work well together so you can try overseeding your turf lawn with clover grass. Micro clover creates a nice texture. Make sure you overseed your lawn in the spring.

When's the best time to prune my trees?

The best time is when trees are in their dormant period from December-February. Make sure you make appropriate pruning cuts. If you have to prune outside of winter, seal the pruned limb with latex paint to allow the limb to breath.

Got more questions? Aaron recommends these local online resources: