Posts tagged lawn care

All about lawns

   It’s spring and attention is turning to lawns. Two things today about lawn care. The first is from Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith and the second came to me from Dustin Vande Hoef, communications director for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey sent the message to remind homeowners that spring is an ideal time to improve soil quality in our yards and that restoration of the soil can help retain water, prevent erosion and protect water quality.

 

This is from Claire Smith:

 

   Are you ready for some mowing?  Depending on the weather, your summer lawn mowing and maintenance can begin anytime in April.

Did you service the mower last fall?  If you didn’t have time then, you should take time now.  Beg or bribe your favorite spouse or relative to change the oil, kick the tires, replace the spark plug and air filter, and be certain the blades are sharp and not bent. 

If the ground temperature is 55-60’ you can commence any necessary re-seeding and repairs. Lawn repair kits that will contain seed and mulch can be purchased.  But remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is so do not succumb to terrific sounding no maintenance grasses and groundcover.   Apply the patch after you have removed the dead turf and loosened and amended the soil.

   Pizza or ice cream treats may create some enthusiasm to have the kids or grandkids help you rake and remove clumps of leaves and other debris left over from winter ice and snow. Initiate a game of pickup sticks (branches). Tamp down runways created by winter vole activity and fill in holes. 

  Hose off lawn areas along walks, drives and roadways that have been exposed to deicing compounds or your grass may not reappear.  Keep newly seeded and sodded areas moist to reduce stress on young and developing root systems.   Watering an established lawn is not necessary now.  Wait until May to fertilize.  Over watering and over fertilizing does more harm than good on your lawn:  strike a happy medium.  Excessive use of insecticides may reduce nature’s aerating machines, the earthworm. Monitor your lawn for any insect damage prior to spraying. 

   Proper mowing is a real key to a healthy lawn.  The suggested mowing height is 3-3 ½” Taller grass forms a deeper root system.  Stronger plants are more likely to fend off insects, disease and weeds.  Remove only 1/3 of the total height of the grass and leave the clippings on the lawn to decompose. Clippings add nitrogen, moisture and organic matter to the soil.  Varying the direction and pattern of mowing will reduce the wear and tear on the lawn.

   So, are you ready for some mowing?  Grab a bottle of lemonade and your hat and sunscreen. Hop on the mower and enjoy the spring weather and the start of a beautiful lawn.

 

From Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship:

 

    Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey today encouraged homeowners to consider incorporating soil quality restoration efforts into their annual spring yard work.

   Often in urban areas, especially new developments, the topsoil has been removed and what is left is compacted.  Restoring soil quality helps yards and green spaces absorb and infiltrate rainfall, which reduces the homeowners need to water their yard while protecting water quality and preventing runoff.

   “Iowa is known for it’s great soil, and rightfully so, but we need to make sure we are taking care of that soil so that it is healthy,” Northey said.  “What made our soil so productive was the high organic matter content and porosity that absorbed rain and allowed roots to grow deep.  Soil quality restoration helps recreate those conditions that allow plants to thrive.”

   If you are establishing a new lawn, perform deep tillage (8-12 inches deep) before seeding or sodding to breaks up compacted soils.  Add compost to increase organic matter.  It is recommended that soils have 5 percent or more organic matter before sodding or seeding, which can be achieved by incorporating 1 to 3 inches of compost.

   If you have an existing lawn, consider aerating the soil and then apply a blanket of compost in the spring or fall.  An application of one-quarter to three-quarters of an inch of compost following aeration will help fill the holes with organic matter to amend the soil and allow existing turf to grow through the compost amendment. If your turf is patchy, add seed to the compost application to thicken up the vegetation.

   “Improving the soil quality in your yard will make your lawn healthier, require less water and reduce the need for fertilizer and pesticide applications,” Northey added.  “A better looking lawn and improved water quality in the state are possible when we better manage runoff through soil quality restoration and other measures that allow water to infiltrate.”

   There are a number of other lawn care tips to help care for your soil and promote infiltration of water and prevent runoff.

  • Begin mowing after the first of May and end near Labor Day.
  • Set the mower at three inches high. The higher the grass shoots the deeper the grass roots, making it better able to survive dry periods.
  • Use the mulch setting on your mower to leave the grass clippings on the yard. Don’t lower organic matter content by removing clippings.
  • Consider using native plants for accent in planting beds or in rain gardens to minimize the amount of turf grass.
  • Seed your lawn to a native turf mixture that has deep roots and thrives in Iowa’s weather conditions without extra care.

   More information about urban conservation, rain gardens and a soil quality brochure are available on the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s website at www.IowaAgriculture.gov

 

 

               

               

 

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Master lawn care

The following comes from Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith:

 

                Did you remember to stop the mail and newspapers and let the neighbors know you’d be gone when you went on vacation this summer?  What did you do about your lawn?  If you planned to be gone for more than a week, did you have someone mow it for you?  How about watering it?  Vacationing during hot and dry July and August might mean you will need someone to water for you.

                During these hot days, sustaining your lawn is important. If you choose to continue watering, clay soils should get a good soaking weekly; sandy soils should be watered at least, ½” twice per week and growing lawns need one inch per week.  Watering early in the day saves water lost to evaporation and reduces disease problems.  Actually, you could just let the lawn go dormant for the rest of the season.  It will turn brown during this stressful period, but once the weather cools and fall rains commence, it should green up again.  There is still time to lay sod if you have a new lawn but it will require extra care.  Be certain the soil surface stays moist until the sod roots into the soil below.  Once rooted it will still need thorough although less frequent watering. 

                Do not fertilize dormant or non-irrigated lawns now.  Fertilization can cause damage and may even kill the grass. 

                Crabgrass may be starting to appear.   Now would be a great time to pinpoint its location on your lawn map making it easier to target pesticide application as crabgrass is usually eradiated in early spring.

                Mow grass at 3-3 ½” tall. Taller grass is more drought tolerant and better able to compete with pests.  A plus to warmer dryer weather is that you can mow less often.  Leave grass clippings where they fall.  They impart organic matter, nitrogen and earthworm food.

                Rules of thumb:  mow high, keep pests under control and choose proper watering patterns.

 

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White grub watch

The following information is from Donald Lewis, Iowa State University Extension entomologist. For more information from Lewis on grubs, as well as insects,  see the Feb 3 “Lightning bugs eat WHAT??” blog post.

 

Spring is here and the grass looks as good as it is going to look all summer. Since you want to keep it that way you have probably been considering treating for white grubs, either because you have experienced white grub damage in the past, or your friends and neighbors have complained about white grub damage, or a lawn care salesperson’s pitch got you a little excited if not a little scared. Put the insecticide down and step away from the sprayer. We need to talk.

 

Biology and Habits

The white grubs that routinely damage lawns in Iowa are called annual white grubs. These root-eating, underground June beetle larvae have one generation per year and take one year to complete their life cycle of egg, larva, pupa and adult. The adult beetles of our annual white grubs are specific kinds of June beetles called masked chafers. They are tan or straw brown in color and as the name implies, they have a black stripe across the eyes and face. The masked chafers begin flying in late June and lay eggs in the turf during July.

 

The eggs hatch in two to three weeks and tiny white grub larvae begin to eat the grass roots. The grubs grow rapidly and are fully grown at one inch in length by late August or September. White grubs are pudgy, off-white except for the brown head and typically bent in the shape of the letter “C.”  Feeding by the grubs prunes the roots from the plants and causes the grass to wilt and fade. 

 

Extreme feeding by populations of 10 or more annual white grubs per square foot will cause the grass to die. White grubs move several inches deep in the soil to spend the winter. They move back near the surface in the spring time but cause little additional damage as they wait to pupate in June, emerge as adults and start the cycle over.

 

Management Options 

White grub populations and damage to lawns vary greatly from year to year and place to place, even varying from spot to spot within the same lawn due to variations in beetle numbers, weather, turfgrass vigor, soil conditions and other factors. There is no method that predicts if and where grubs will occur or how severe the damage will be. What happens in your lawn this summer is a random event and not directly tied to previous experience. Therefore, decisions concerning white grub management are difficult; there is no one right answer for everyone.

 

There are three basic approaches to grub management in the home lawn, depending on your tolerance for damage, comfort with pesticides and willingness to spend the cash. White grub insecticide treatments are not only expensive but hard to justify from an environmental standpoint.

 

In places such as golf courses and some lawns, the risk of any white grub damage is so intolerable that preventive insecticides are applied to every part of the lawn, every year. When this approach is chosen, the proper time of application is between early June and Aug. 15. A compromise modification of the golf course approach is to treat only those areas that have been previously damaged. Beetles tend to return to the same areas in successive years, so it is logical to treat the areas where the grubs were last year or the year before.

 

The second approach is the wait-and-see approach. Watch the lawn carefully for early signs of damage (wilting, turning brown) during August to early September when grubs could be feeding. Apply a curative insecticide only where and when needed. The risk is that you might still lose some sod, especially if summer rainfall or irrigation keeps the grass growing and vigorous through July and August. Damage symptoms may not appear until after it is too late for effective treatment (late September through late October).

 

Unfortunately, raccoons and skunks are much better at locating grub populations than we are and the first symptom of a grub problem in your turf is likely to be that your lawn was “plowed” by varmints overnight.

 

The final alternative is to do nothing. This may be easier to do if you count up how many years you DID NOT have grub damage. Divide the cost of replaced sod by that number of years. If the yearly-averaged cost is less than the price of insecticide, do nothing and take your lumps in the occasional year when damage occurs. This approach is much easier to follow if you believe “it’s just grass, anyway.”

 

White grub management decisions are difficult and frustrating. Many homeowners are frightened into applying grub controls because of advertisements on TV, in plant centers or because of horror stories they have heard about grub damage. Studies at Cornell University have shown that more than 70 percent of all grub control treatments were applied needlessly because there were no grubs in the lawn.

 

If you do choose to apply insecticides, read the application directions carefully before buying. Some grub treatments are preventive and must be applied before mid-August. Others are curative and work only if the grubs are present. Know which you are getting before you buy. Apply carefully according to label directions and thoroughly water in the insecticide. Watering accomplishes two things: it moves the insecticide into the soil where the grubs reside, and it removes the active ingredient from the surface and greatly reduces the hazard of insecticide exposure to people, pets and wildlife walking on treated turf.  Irrigate the treated area with at least one-half inch of water.

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Why aren’t you outside??

 

Another cold weekend has come and gone, but this week holds promise of spring warmth (finally!) 

The following information from Horticulturist Richard Jauron of Iowa State University Extension offers tips on spring gardening chores, now that the weather might finally cooperate:

It’s hard to beat springtime in the Midwest.  Soon the browns and grays of winter will be replaced by the greens, reds and yellows of spring. While spring is an enjoyable time, there are a number of outdoor chores that need to be done to enhance our yards and gardens. Important springtime chores include applying preemergence herbicides to lawns, dividing perennials, removing mulch from strawberries, pruning roses and many others. 

Applying Preemergence Herbicide to Lawn
The key to successful control of crabgrass in lawns is the correct timing of the preemergence herbicide application. Crabgrass seeds begin to germinate when soil temperatures reach 55 to 60 F and continue to germinate over several weeks from spring into summer. If the material is applied too early, crabgrass seeds that germinate late in the season will not be controlled. Normally, preemergence herbicides should be applied in early to mid-April in southern Iowa, mid-April to May 1 in central Iowa and late April to early May in the northern portion of the state.  The timing of the preemergence herbicide application will vary somewhat from year to year because of weather conditions. However, events in nature generally occur in a natural sequence. Preemergence herbicides should be applied when the forsythia blossoms start dropping or when redbud trees reach full bloom. Crabgrass seed germination typically begins after these events. 

Dividing Perennials
Early spring is an excellent time to divide asters, mums, hostas, daylilies, garden phlox and many other perennials. Dig up the perennials in early spring just as new growth begins to appear. Divide each plant clump into sections with a sharp knife. Each division should contain several shoots and a portion of the root system. Replant the divisions immediately. Keep the newly divided perennials well watered through spring and summer. Most newly divided perennials do not bloom well until their second growing season. 

Removing Mulch from Strawberries
To reduce the chances of frost or freeze damage, leave the mulch on as long as possible. Removing the mulch in March may encourage the plants to bloom before the danger of frost is past. Temperatures of 32 F or lower may severely damage or destroy open flowers. Since the first flowers produce the largest berries, a late spring frost or freeze can drastically reduce yields.

To determine when to remove the mulch, periodically examine the strawberry plants in spring. Remove the mulch from the strawberry planting when approximately 25 percent of the plants are producing new growth. New growth will be white or yellow in color. (If possible, the winter mulch on strawberries should remain until mid-April in central Iowa.) When removing the mulch, rake the material to the aisles between rows. If there is a threat of a frost or freeze later in spring during bloom, lightly rake the mulch over the strawberry plants.

Pruning Roses
The upper portions of modern roses, such as hybrid teas, floribundas and grandilfloras, typically winterkill due to exposure to low winter temperatures and drastic temperature changes. When the winter protection is removed from these roses in early to mid-April, gardeners should prune out the dead wood. 

Pruning roses is relatively easy. Live wood is green and has plump, healthy buds. When pruned, the center of the stem (pith) should be white. Dead wood is brown, has no live buds and has a brown or gray pith. When pruning roses, make the cuts at least 1 inch below the dead, brown-colored areas. Make slanting cuts about 1/4 inch above healthy, plump, outward facing buds; the slant being in the same direction as the bud. Remove the entire cane if there is no sign of life.  Also, remove any diseased wood. 

Because of our severe winter weather, modern roses often suffer a great deal of winter injury. Normally, the primary objective is to remove all dead and diseased wood and to save as much of the live tissue as possible. If the roses overwinter well, gardeners can prune out weak, spindly canes in the center. 

After a seemingly endless winter of shoveling snow and removing ice from sidewalks and driveways, working in the garden over the next several weeks is going to be a lot of fun.

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Home lawn care

      The following is from Master Gardener Claire Smith: 

 Remember a few years ago when the TV helicopter pilot upon seeing a tornado shouted, “I see it!  I see it!”?  That’s how I felt today when I finally saw my lawn.  While all of the snow did provide a great deal of insulation and protection for our plants, I’m so glad it has finally melted.  Robins are searching for worms and squirrels are scavenging for any unburied nuts. And, on St. Patrick’s Day, I did see a bit-o-the-green peeking through.

     Oh! How I want to get to work on the lawn right now.  My goal this year is a strong turfgrass stand.  An ISU bulletin titled Home Lawn Care:  Weed Control indicates that weeds in a lawn are often a sign of a thin turfgrass stand.  (FYI, Turfgrass is defined as a spreading or stoloniferous [a horizontal branch from the base of a plant that produces new plants from buds at its tip, called a runner] grass as opposed to a tufted grass.)  Maintaining a dense turfgrass stand prevents weed infestations so: 

  • Choose the correct species of turfgrass. Kentucky bluegrass grows best in full sun.  A mixture containing fine fescues is suitable for shady areas.
  • Routine mowing will eliminate weeds with an upright growth habit.
  • Mow at a 3-3 ½” height
  • Inadequate or too frequent irrigation damages turfgrass
  • Identify weeds to determine method of removal.  A visit with your weed sample in hand to your Extension Office (in Marion at 3279 7th Ave. Ste 140, in the professional building in the strip mall next to the farm store) will provide not only an identification of the plant, but a suggested eradication plan as well.

          Weeds can be mechanically removed by pulling or digging. Chemical weed control may be your choice using an application of pre and/or postemergence herbicides.  Most herbicides selectively kill certain weeds.  A second application 7-10 days later may be necessary.  Apply preemergence herbicides in Southern Iowa around April 10th and around May 15th in the North.  A guide for crabgrass control is application of the chemical by the time the forsythia blossoms begin to drop or when the redbud trees are in full bloom. Optimum control of broadleaf weeds occurs when postemergence products are applied during the plants’ early bloom stage.  2-4-D and DSMA will control certain weeds without injuring the turf grass. Early spring applications are safer as some products vaporize and drift under high temperatures and humidity potentially damaging flowers and shrubs.       Apply when air is calm and rain is not expected for 24 hours.Use proper caution when mixing or handling any pesticide.  Most products available consist of a prepackaged mixture of two to three chemicals.  I’m off to pick up branches that are no longer frozen to the ground and watch the critters that are enjoying the advent of nicer weather as much as I am.  Happy Spring!! 

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