Posts tagged turf

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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In search of grubs, and how to treat crabgrass and arborvitae

Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith, wrote the following about three of the most frequently asked questions to the Linn County Master Gardener Horticulture Hotline. The HortLine is available to answer questions from 9 am.. to noon and 1-4 p.m. Monday through Thursday  and  9 a.m. to noon on Fridays at (319)447-0647.

 

    One of the commonly asked questions in the spring concerns when to apply pre-emergent crabgrass killer.  Master Gardener Susan Long has this response:  Typically, the blooming of the forsythia or the redbud is a good indicator of when to apply pre-emergent crabgrass herbicide.  Pre-emergents must be applied before the crabgrass germinates. Ground temperatures must be a minimum of 50 degrees. If the material is applied too early, crabgrass seeds that germinate late in the season will not be controlled.  If applied too late, some crabgrass will have already germinated.  In central Iowa, this is usually mid-April to May 1.  However, if the weather warms up early or stays cool longer, then adjustments must be made based on the conditions.  Having a thick, healthy lawn that is fertilized, watered and mowed certainly discourages the growth of crabgrass. 

    Susan also answered a question about arborvitae having brown leaves due to winter burn and whether it will recover and/or should be pruned:  Avoid pruning browned, burned areas from evergreen trees and shrubs in the early spring since these branches may still have viable buds that will produce new foliage when growth resumes.  The brown will eventually fall off.  If the buds did not survive, then prune dead branches back to living tissue.  The affected trees and shrubs should look much better by late June or July.  There is no need to fertilize affected evergreens.  However, if the weather this spring is dry, periodically water evergreens to encourage new growth and speed their recovery.

    Another caller wondered what causes a lawn to be torn up at night.  Lawns that have grubs attract raccoons, skunks, and crows which turn over large patches of turf in search of the grubs.  The best time to treat is early in the summer when insecticides have the best changes of working.  The entire lawn may not need to be treated, rather treat grub “hot spots” determined by observation or sampling.  Presently trichlorfor (Dylox or Bayer 24-Hour Grub Control) and Sevin are the fastest-acting, most effective homeowner insecticides for curative grub control.  These must be watered in completely after application.  In many cases it may be preferable to repair the damage through seeding or sodding without treating.  If the old, loose sod is still green it may reattach with adequate watering.

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Overseeding lawns

Richard Jauron, Horticulture Specialist at Iowa State University Extension, offers the following on overseeding lawns:

Healthy, well maintained lawns are attractive landscape additions.  Lawns in poor condition, however, are somewhat unsightly.  The poor condition of a lawn may be due to poor management, heat, drought, diseases, insects or other factors.  In severe cases, the existing lawn may have to be destroyed and a new one established on the site.  Lawns that contain over 50 percent desirable grasses can often be improved by overseeding.  

Overseeding is the sowing of grass seed into an existing lawn.  In Iowa, the best time to overseed a lawn is late summer (late August to mid-September).

Site Preparation

Good site preparation is necessary for successful overseeding.  If possible, identify and correct the problems causing the lawn to decline.  Overseeding may only be a temporary solution if these problems are not corrected. 

To reduce the competition from the established turfgrass, mow the lawn at a height of 1-1/2 to 2 inches.  Successful overseeding also requires good seed-to-soil contact.  Simply throwing or broadcasting seed over the lawn typically results in poor seed germination as much of the seed is resting on the thatch layer or soil surface.  Rakes, core aerators, vertical mowers, and slit seeders can be used to ensure good seed-to-soil contact. 

Overseeding Small Areas

Small areas can be prepared by gently raking the thin spots.  When raking, it’s necessary to break the soil surface without pulling out the existing turfgrass.  After raking, sow the seed by hand.  Then, work the seed into the soil by gently raking the areas a second time. 

Overseeding Large Areas

Large areas can be prepared by using a core aerator.  Core aerators are machines with hollow metal tubes or tines.  They remove plugs of soil when run over the lawn.  To prepare the site, go over the lawn three or four times with the core aerator.  When finished, there should be 20 to 40 holes per square foot.  Apply the seed with a drop seeder.  Afterward, drag the area with a piece of chain link fence or drag mat to break up the soil cores and mix the seed into the soil. 

It’s also possible to prepare the site with a vertical mower.  When run over the lawn, the knife-like blades of the vertical mower slice through the thatch and penetrate into the upper 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil.  One or two passes should be sufficient.  Afterwards, remove any dislodged debris from the lawn.  Sow grass seed over the lawn with a drop seeder.  Work the seed into the soil by again going over the site with the vertical mower. 

Large areas also can be overseeded with a slit seeder.  A slit seeder makes small grooves in the soil and deposits the seed directly into the slits. 

Core aerators, vertical mowers and slit seeders can be rented at many garden centers and rental agencies.  If you would rather not do the work yourself, many professional lawn care companies can overseed your lawn. 

Post Seeding Care

Keep the seedbed moist with frequent, light applications of water.  It’s usually necessary to water at least once or twice a day.  Continue to mow the lawn at a height of 1-1/2 to 2 inches.  Mow the lawn frequently to reduce the competition from the established turfgrass.  When the new seedlings reach a height of 1-1/2 to 2 inches, gradually increase the mowing height over the next several weeks.  The final mowing height should be 2-1/2 to 3 inches.  Approximately six weeks after germination, fertilize the lawn by applying 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.  

When properly overseeded, a thin, scruffy-looking lawn can be turned into a thick, lush lawn in just a few weeks. 

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Mowing tips

   The amount of rainfall we’ve received in Eastern Iowa this weekend alone has been incredible. For homeowners who like a green lawn, it’s a boon. Personally, I don’t mind letting my lawn go dormant to save on the weekly chore of mowing, but it doesn’t look like that will happen anytime soon.

 

   Richard Jauron, of Iowa State University’s Department of Horticulture, offers the following tips for those of us who will once again be getting the mowers out this week:

 

   Sound mowing practices are important during the summer months. Kentucky bluegrass lawns should be mowed at a height of 3 to 3.5 inches during the summer months. (During cool weather in spring and fall, bluegrass lawns should be mowed at a height of 2.5 to 3 inches.) The additional leaf area during summer shades and cools the crowns of the turfgrass plants. Extremely high temperatures at crown level can kill the turfgrass.

When mowing the lawn, never remove more than one-third of the total leaf area at any one time. Accordingly, a lawn being mowed at a height of 3 inches should be cut when it reaches a height of 4.5 inches. Removing more than one-third of the leaf area weakens the turfgrass and reduces its ability to withstand additional environmental stresses. Weakened turf is also more likely to be invaded by weeds.

If possible, mow in the cool of the morning or evening. Mowing at midday may place additional stress on the turf. Also, make sure the mower blade is sharp. Dull blades tear and bruise the leaf tips.

Dormant lawns (those that have turned brown) should not be mowed. Pedestrian and mower traffic could damage the turf.
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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