Landscape Faux Pas (foh pahz, for plural)

STUPID MYTHS

Pruning sealer (aka pruning paint) is bad news, but some folks still use it. Worse yet, some places still sell it! Arborists starting warning against this practice at LEAST 25 years ago. The black tar is especially problematic when it’s used on the sunny side of the tree trunk, which would be the south to west exposures. That’s because on cold winter days with puffy cumulus clouds, the tar overheats the wounded area when then sun is out, but the clouds cause a constant “heat/freeze” cycle. This cycle KILLS the phloem in the area, exacerbating the wound and often causing the bark to blast off the tree trunk.

Trees heal themselves from the “inside out”. They only need you to make a proper pruing cut. They literally plug their own vascular system after the wound event occurs. If the pruning cut is made properly, the tree “seals over” that wound. The sooner the tree seals the wound, the better!

So when you see pruning sealer on the shelf on any lawn and garden outlet, tell management to shoot me a note and I’ll set them straight!

 

COME ON, MAN! HAVE SOME PRIDE!

The photo on the left shows are really hideous sidewalk where the turf has encroached upon the sidewalk. The blue line shows the neighbor doing the right thing and keeping a nice crisp edge. The red line shows up 4 to 6 inches of crappy grass and weeds over-running the sidewalk. This really looks trashy.

Now check out that photo on the right–showing a gorgeous edge on a fabulous sward of turf-type fescue. It’s a literal horticultural erection! That’s how you do it, folks!

Lest you judge me as harsh for my criticism of the crappy sidewalk, it’s possible that the homeowners are old and of poor health. If this is the case, I apologize to them. Not you, them.

 

CRAPPY SHRUBS

Nurserymen are always looking for new and improved plants. But the old, crappy ones still exist in our landscapes, and even the retail nurseries. Below we have a photo of an “old-fashioned” pyramidal arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Pyramidalis’). Because it has multiple leaders, a negative growth feature, the plant is prone to literally falling apart here in the Lou, where we suffer from heavy wet snows or freezing rain. Note how the plant has split into 3 parts, because it has three leaders, not just one. The plant has splayed apart.

This shrub is probably at least 15 years old and it’s too late to “fix it”. It should be removed and replaced. There a tons of new evergreens available now with a strong, central leader. There are at least 5 different colors that I can think of (blue, gray, light green, dark green, yellow), from the spruces, pines, juniper, false cypress, and even the arborvitae family. Shop at good nurseries and avoid the big box stores when you want good plants.

Split Arborvitae

That’s it for this blog. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, please do me a favor and tell your friends and family about my blog. Have them sign up for the updates!

Send me your questions! Send me your comments! Dare to disagree!  Let’s roll around in the dirt and sling some mud!

Best to all of you,

Trav

Spring Re-seeding (usually doesn’t work!)

Hey There, Turf-heads! It’s been a while!

Early in the month, a faithful follower, BigD, wrote:

Trav,
What are your thoughts on a routine for a spring overseeding of a lawn and a pre emergent application? I overseeded (fescue) in the fall and I never see the fall growth like I want and over the winter I get concerned that I won’t see my bare spots fill in like I expect in the spring. I’m always tempted to reseed in the spring but my experience has shown that it is necessary to apply a PE soon after the last frost. I understand that the use of PEs affect grass seeds as well as weeds. What would you think of an application of grass seeds followed by an application of a PE? I assume there needs to be a certain amount of time to allow the new seedlings to sprout and become strong enough to withstand whatever the PE would do to hinder their growth. How much would a spring reseeding allow the new grass to outcompete potential weeds for nutrients in my lawn? I guess my questions are how long are PE effective (I use them regularly every spring and still have some weeds appear in summer & I know you advocate for a 2nd application) and when is it ok to apply a PE to a reseeded lawn?
BigD
PS. I’d love to see a post about moss, its effect on a lawn and causes/treatment
BigD asks a LOT of questions here, and brings up quite a few valid issues for spring reseeding. Here’s the short answer…grass seed sown in the spring seldom makes it past August. But if you’re looking at ugly bare spots, then spring seeding is worth it. And spring seeding makes weed control very challenging.

Moss control…

I’ll dispense with the moss question right away. If you’ve got moss, it’s a symptom of acidic, shady and wet soils, and usually, thin turf. A thick turf won’t let the moss grow. Test the soil for pH and apply lime accordingly. Are you overwatering? Can you limb up the trees causing the shade? Can you remove crappy trees to open up the area? Have you deadwooded the trees and thinned the crown recently? Have you tried to overseed grass species that are better adapted for shade, such as creeping red fescue, sheep’s fescue and meadow fescue? Turf in shady areas can be mowed lower than turf in full sun, so try mowing those areas at 2 inches instead of 3.5 to 4 inches. If it’s shady, that means there are trees, which means there are tree roots competing for nutrients and moisture. In addition to your regular fertilization program I’d recommend that you apply Milorganite lightly at least twice in the summer, say June 1 and July 15th, at a low rate of only 0.3 lbs of nitrogen per 1,000 sq ft. A 40 lb retail bag would treat 7,000 sq ft of turf. A 50 lb commercial bag of Milorganite would treat 9,000 sq ft. There’s no need to overdo it.

Now for the the long answer of the RESEEDING aspects…

By far, the best time to reestablish a new lawn here in St. Louis and the rest of the transition zone, is September to October. When I was with THE Turf Plan in Ellisville MO, we’d stop our overseeding efforts by October 15th to third week in October, because we couldn’t guarantee success after that. Success in this case means having a fabulous new lawn the following May.
If you have as few as 4 tiny seedling sprigs of grass per square inch in early November, I’d bet you’ll have a thick and lush new lawn in May. Grass seedlings thicken up by tillering–meaning new shoots. One tiny seedling in the fall can have hundreds of leaves by the following spring.
This past fall, I got bit in the ass when I attempted to reseed my front lawn, a mere 1,500 patch of grass, because I was forced to start late in October. I lost a massive pin oak and the stump wasn’t ground out until mid-October.  It took me a 3 days to cart off a yard and a half of sawdust and soil, another few days to add new topsoil and lay the new sod. I reseeded immediately upon completion of my sod job, but recall that last October was a cold, cloudy and wet–dreadful conditions for starting new seedlings. Without exageration, I didn’t see ANY new seedlings last fall.
So what should BigD and I do now? Duh! We’ll reseed! But my advice differs quite a bit from the guys you’ll hear on the weekend radio shows. Some will tell you that you’ll be just fine by starting in May. I call bull sheet to this! I’m going to start ASAP, as soon as we get a week or so of 55+ degree weather. The soil surface needs to be slightly moist to dry. I’ll reseed my turf-type fescue blend on the heavy side–at least 5 lbs/1,000 sq ft in thin turf, and 10 lbs/1,000 sq ft in the bare spots. I intend to use a garden rake to scratch groves into the soil first, and I’ll topdress with 1/4 inch of bagged compost or cow manure. I recommend dark colored soil because it’ll warm up fast and stimulate rapid germination. By starting in February or March those new seedlings have a better chance to get a decent root system developed before the hot summer.
I wish I could find a classic research study conducted back in the late 1990’s by a good turf program–Iowa State University, me thinks. They reseeded on the first of every month (as best as they could) and then evaluated the resultant turf stand in June for quality, disease and thickness. Far and away, the best establishment dates were September and October! Turf that was reseeded in April and May was thin to dead in August, necessitating another round of reseeding (Sept and Oct). Turf seeded in March does better but tender turf seedlings won’t survive the summer if not irrigated. Fungicides greatly aid in new turf survival, too.
Thus, I’ll reseed very soon, and I’ll plan on aerating and overseeding the same turf again in September!

Tell me about crabgrass control…

Another reason we professionals reseed in the fall is because reseeding in the spring complicates the crap out of our crabgrass management programs! Remember, your best defense against crabgrass is a thick, healthy sward, but that’s obviously not the case if you’re asking about spring seeding. The best crabgrass prevention strategies utilize preemergent herbicides (aka PRE or PE) that are impregnated onto fertilizer granules. These are also the most economical products. You cannot apply a PRE crabgrass fertilizer in the spring and then try to sow grass seed after that. Rather than throw your money away, send it to me, so that I can keep writing these outstanding garden columns!
If you reseed as recommended above you CAN apply PRE herbicides in mid April, provided your new turf is at least 3 inches tall. After you’ve mowed your new 3 times you can use the same products, even if it’s earlier than mid-April.
There are several NEW herbicides that can be safely applied postemergence (POST) to kill crabgrass in seedling turf, which makes weed control a lot easier. One is Drive(R) (quinclorac) and the other is Tenacity(R) (mesotrione). Tenacity provides better weed control than Drive, so that’s the one I’d recommend. It’s safe for use on baby turf but only for Kentucky bluegrass, turf-type fescue and perennial ryegrass. It will cause thinning of the fine shade fescues like creeping red fescue but won’t kill it. It’s not safe on zoysiagrass and bermudagrass, thus it’s useful to keep these two species weakened with repeated use!
Both are relatively expensive, and they come in concentrated form. Both require a quality nonionic surfactant for best weed control, so don’t skimp on that! Be sure the surfactant bottle literally says these words–nonionic surfactant. Don’t use Dawn detergent no matter what those other dumb shits tell you! The use rate for Tenacity is ONLY 1 teaspoon per 1,000 sq ft! Store this product in a cool basement rather than your hot garage. The consumer-sized bottle is 8 oz, so you may want to supply the entire neighborhood! Learn more about Tenacity here: label
My fingers are tired, so I think I’ll stop here. I hope you enjoyed the detail and minutia! If you didn’t, to bad. Don’t ask for a refund!
Let’s hope for a NORMAL spring, not an abnormally warm one! I can’t handle frost damage…
Best to you all,
Trav

Miscellaneous Matters & Important Advice About Trees

State of STL Cool Season Turf

Today, 18-November-2018 we find ourselves thawing from a great snowfall. This, along with the October rains has provided our area with very good soil moisture status. Going into late fall and winter with adequate moisture is great for our landscapes. But those damned leaves are complicating clean up efforts! The maples, ashes and hickories have shed their leaves but the pears and oaks are still hanging on. I have the misfortune of living on a side street with dozens of huge 40-year-old pin oaks. The dang things meter out their spent leaves, requiring weekly cleanups all the way through January. I hate pin oaks (more about that later). I spent several hours yesterday literally raking sloppy wet leaves off the street. I shoveled piles onto a tarp with a snow shovel! Plus I used my commercial leaf blower to clean up the leaves underneath a light crust of snow. Turf pros know that you can’t let your winter leaves pile up on cool season grass, lest you kill it 100% next spring! It’s going to be a nice, sunny week with normal temperatures. So get off your ass and get those leaves cleaned up. Mow your yard a few more times, too.

Trees in the Wrong Spot

It annoys the hell out of me when I see redbuds (Cercis canadensis) and dogwoods (Cornus florida) used in hot parking lots. The redbud is certainly more heat tolerant than our native white flowering dogwood, but neither are suited for the desert like conditions in an asphalt parking lot. Its tree abuse! Call the authorities! Redbuds and dogwoods are shade tolerant trees and as such, they are adapted to the understory of our forests, or along the edges of our woods. A good nursery will tell you to avoid planting these small flowering trees on the SW and W sides of your home, where hot afternoon sun causes tremendous stress. Planting on the S side of the house may be OK as long as the site is shaded after 2 PM.

Check out this photo from a local grocery store. These redbuds will be short-lived because of the heat load and the lack of supplemental irrigation. While I enjoy multi-stemmed versions of the redbud, it’s not really appropriate for a parking lot because low hanging branches present an eye-injury hazard to customers. This is dumb all around. The landscape architect that planned this job should be tarred and feathered. Dumb ass!

Redbud in hot parking lot.jpg

You might wonder what a better alternative would be in this hell hole. Believe it or not, the ginkgo (Gingko biloba) would be an excellent choice because they’re great street trees. An upright or pyramidal selection would be outstanding. Because of limited soil volume a slow-growing tree would fair better than a rapidly growing tree. The European beech (Carpinus betulus) would also be great here.

No Planting Under Red Maples

Lots of folks like to plant directly underneath their shade trees. It certainly won’t hurt the tree, but there are factors to consider. The first factor contributing to success or failure is the tree species. Shallow rooted trees like the river birch, silver maple or red maple will limit your long-term success. Take a look at the roots under this red maple.

Maple Roots Desert.jpg

Even if you chopped holes with a mattock or ax, whatever you plant beneath this won’t be able to compete with those roots for water and nutrients. You’re best just to apply a light coat of mulch. 2 inches of mulch is MORE than enough.

Here’s a shot of some sickly daffodil bulbs that were planted several years ago. They’re alive but they can’t produce enough energy to make a flower.

Bad Idea

They were probably OK the very first spring, but started to decline right after that. The moral of the story is to avoid planting underneath shallow rooted trees, including but not limited to red maples, silver maples, Japanese maples, sweetgums and river birches.

Please shoot your questions or comments to me about these issues. Feel free to disagree!

Trav

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s the big deal about core aeration?

Core Aeration is Great for the Lawn

Every fall we see a flurry of activity at the rental stores, with folks loading up core aerators. We see signs all over the place, especially those placed illegally at intersections, promoting, “Core Aeration Special–$40!” And we see the professional LCO’s running their machines on our neighbor’s lawns. So, what’s it all about, Alfie?

The vast majority of soils in St. Louis are considered to be “clay loams”. West and southwest communities have rocky clay loams! These soils are productive, but they are very fine in their texture. Our subsoils are often pure clay. Fine textured soils are considered to be “tight” in the agronomic world—which means limited water penetration/percolation and oxygen exchange. A tight soil restricts root growth, limiting absorption of water and nutrients. Roots need oxygen to grow and thrive. The more large pores, the more oxygen. The more large pores, the better the water percolation. The more large pores, the better the nutrient penetration. The more large pores, the better the root growth. The better the root growth, the healthier the plant. Healthy turf tolerates stress better and has fewer disease issues.

In addition to our tight clay loam soils, our lawn mowers and even regular foot traffic increases compaction! Areas where the kids play, or the dogs run, become heavily compacted. This further exacerbates the situation. As tough as it is to grow plants in our “regular clay loam soils,” grass trying to grow in compacted areas lack vigor, thins out, or flat out dies.

The smart folks in the crowd are wondering when I’m going to talk about how core aeration helps to decrease thatch. Am I right? Pat yourself on the back if you’ve wandered there. Indeed, another huge benefit of core aeration is that the soil plugs deposited upon the soil surface contains millions upon millions of beneficial microbes. Maybe billions, I’m not sure. As that soil core breaks down the microbes help to break down the thatch layer. The issue of thatch management is something deserving its own newsletter. But know that fescue lawns DON’T develop thatch. Grasses that spread laterally do so with rhizomes (below ground shoots) and stolons (above ground shoots), which are more resistant to decomposition than leaf tissue. Zoysiagrass is notorious for developing thick thatch layers. Bluegrass will also develop thatch. Up to 3/8-inch thatch is usually OK! More than ½ inch of thatch is not good. Thatch actually gets to a point that it repels water. If you have more than ½ inch of thatch you should consider renting a “dethatcher”, properly called a vertical rake. Don’t rely on the core aerator for thick thatch situations. Dethatch cool season lawns in September to October. Dethatch zoysiagrass in June or early July.

Jeez, I’m really rambling. The best way to increase water, nutrient and oxygen exchange, reduce compaction, decrease thatch, and increase root growth of turf is to core aerate. Sidebar here, folks:  it’s pronounced “AIR-ate”. Not “AIR-e-ate” (definitely hoosier!) A core aerator removes plugs of soil out of the ground, 3/8th inch to ½ inch in diameter. For the millennials in the crowd, the ones that NEVER helped their parents do chores (except occasionally vacuuming the crumbs off the couch in the basement) the soil plugs look like dog poop. Thousands upon thousands of dog turds! Maybe hundreds of thousands. Not chihuahua-sized, not retriever-sized, but more like Pomeranian-sized. You want those holes to be 1.5 inch to 3 inches deep. The deeper the better, but the deeper the plugs are pulled, the greater the risk of puncturing irrigation lines, piercing electric dog lines and for sure, the damn cable company lines! Call 1-800-DIG-RITE and give them a minimum of 3 days’ notice, but know that they prefer 10 days’ notice. Dig-Rite won’t mark electric dog fences—so call your vendor for that. For the dullards in the crowd, you shouldn’t waste your money aerating bone dry soil! I’ve seen neighbors pay good money to pull ½ inch to ¾ inch cores—what a waste of money!

Cores.jpg

If you’ve conducted a soil test in the past few years, it’s likely the results indicated a need for lime (calcium, to raise pH), magnesium (Mg), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K). The only nutrient in the aforementioned list that will percolate (move deeper) is potassium. But it’s still a helluva lot less mobile than nitrogen (N), which literally moves with the water. Calcium, magnesium and phosphorous are IMMOBILE nutrients, meaning if you apply them on the soil surface, it’ll take a 2-3 years to move ¼ inch deep. We want these nutrients to be available to the roots for uptake. So, here’s the answer to the $64,000 question. Or is it the $69,000 question? Where’s Yogi when you need him?  Core aeration is an essential element for adjusting our soil pH, and to provide the turf with the amount of P and K that it needs for optimum growth!

Are you a “recreational limer?” That’s what the PROS call you goof balls that lime every year, without the benefit of a soil test. The optimum soil pH for turf is 6.2 to 6.8. That’s considered to be slightly acidic. Liming atop the soil surface is moronic.  And most of you don’t know that the FILLER in the 50 lb bag of fertilizer is coarsely ground limestone—big grits. A bag of 18-0-4 fertilizer has 18% nitrogen, 4% potassium and 78% large grit limestone. It’s literally a small rock. It’s essentially useless for adjusting soil pH. Re-read that last paragraph, if you’re confused.

Most lawns benefit from annual core aeration, best done in the fall. After you do this, you MUST water because you’ve opened up tremendous surface area for the roots, making it more susceptible to drought for the first 2 to 3 weeks. WATER! Those teaser adds for the $40 aeration are for single passes, usually with old machines. And the seed those guys use is pure crap—usually called “contractor mix” meaning a lot of annual ryegrass (crap) and weeds. New machines like that used by the Turf Guys at THE Turf Plan® have at least 35% more hollow core tines than the walk behind units. That equates to more plugs per pass. It’s best to at least do a “double pass” on your trouble spots. The more passes, the better in your thin or weak areas.

Any questions?

Now get to work! Get it done by mid-October, for the highest probability of success.

Trav

 

 

Stupid Effing Neighbors

They’re everywhere!

Isn’t it disgusting how many folks whine about wanting a good lawn, yet they go out and scalp it week after week after week? EVERYBODY says mow high–EVERYBODY! Local newspapers, suburban mailings, all the idiots on the airwaves, and yes, even national magazines!

I think these dumb butts don’t realize that their lawn mowers actually have adjustable wheels! I’m serious. I have to drive by this dolt once or twice a day. I try not to look, but I just can’t help it. It’s like a doctor tellin’ you not to pop your pimples.

I know these folks want a good lawn–they apply fertilizers a few times a year. They clean the leaves up in the fall. They water in droughts. In addition to scalping their lawn the other huge mistake they make is using a very popular, heavily advertised, nationally well known retail product–that contains the weakest of all crabgrass herbicides–pendimethalin. I saw the bag sitting on the driveway this past spring when Mr. Idiot was applying it. “Pendy,” as it’s affectionately known in the industry, must be used twice in the spring to get a half-way decent level of crabgrass control. For more information on crabgrass herbicides, go read my older blog You Shouldn’t Have Crabgrass!

It was a WET and WARM spring and summer, which put extra pressure on the crappy herbicides. Scalping the lawn exacerbates the problem, because is supports constant weed germination. There’s a HUGE difference in shade between even a 2 inch mowing height and a 3 inch mowing height. Shaded soil will suppress weed growth much better than sunny soil. Cooler soils (high mowing) will suppress weed seed germination much better than hot soils (scalped lawns).

Here’s another nit-wit. It’s hilarious that these folks are actually WATERING THEIR WEEDS! I’ve labeled the crabgrass seed heads and yellow nutsedge seed heads as a teaching tool.

Scalped lawn weeds.jpg

And finally, I can’t resist taking another swipe at a crappy lawn care company. This lawn has a south facing blend of cool season grass–mostly bluegrass with some turf-type fescue. It’s not mowed as low as the first dolt, but this guy hires a guy with a professional walk behind mower. Because it’s a south facing slope this lawn should be mowed at 4 inches, not the 2.5 inches. This poor guy has a crappy lawncare company and a moron for a mower.

Trugreen

It’s not hard to have a great lawn, folks! Hire a local chain, not the big national ones. Better yet, just do it yourself! Sure, hire someone to mow your lawn it but make sure you read my blog, so that they mow right and edge right!

 

NOW (SEPTEMBER) IS THE TIME FOR TURF REPAIR!

In the world of turf, September is for winners!

It’s really annoying how we’ve been trained by the big manufacturers and retailers that our first springtime application of crabgrass preemergent is STEP 1.

STEP 1 should be in sync with the growth cycle of our cool season turf, which would be our first fall application of nitrogen.

NOW is the time to prepare for turfgrass renovation. Print this document off. Read it twice.

If you’re going to RENOVATE, which is starting from scratch, late August and September is the time to do it, because you need to kill off your existing lawn and weeds with Roundup®.  It’s best if you start early enough to make two applications of Roundup, 3 to 4 weeks apart. If you’re going to OVERSEED, you want to be done by mid-October.  Basically, you overseed decent turf, and you renovate crappy turf.

Typically, we start re-seeding in early to mid-September, because grass seed will germinate rapidly with warm soils. Cool nights help keep the soil uniformly moist. The fall weather will have a profound influence on success. You want to take advantage cool weather (85F day / <60F night) and moisture. But if it gets hot and humid after the turf germinates, apply propiconazole fungicide to protect those tender seedlings. You will need to irrigate lightly and often for the first 3 weeks, so don’t plan a vacation after you do this.

Why RENOVATE?  If your lawn “sucks”, then it’s better to kill it off and start over. If you can see the soil on over 40% of the surface, your lawn sucks. Time to do something drastic. If your yard is mostly weeds…your lawn sucks. Kill it and start over. Or, at least spray Roundup on the weedy patches. Solid patches of turf that have survived need not be destroyed! That’s tough turf!

Why OVERSEED?  Adding new and improved varieties into an existing turf sward will allow you to improve your turf, more slowly than renovation, but it’s less destructive. Coupled with core aeration, renovation can enhance quality tremendously. Core aeration literally pokes hundreds of thousands of holes in your soil. Those holes increase the oxygen supply to the roots, which is critical because of our heavy clay soils. In addition, the cores that are left on the soil surface actually dissolve down on top of “thatch.” That soil is loaded with a microbial population that is hungry for thatch. AND, the soil cores will actually crumble/smash down atop the seed that you’re spreading, helping that seed emerge faster. Covered seed comes up much faster than exposed seed.

Can you use a “dethatching machine”?  You can use a “dethatcher” to work your lawn over. This is an old-fashioned machine that basically just beats the hell out of the turf. You need to set the spinning metal tines so that the only cut 1/8” deep groves in the soil. It works best if you scalp the grass first. CAUTION! Don’t scalp your turf in one pass—mow it successively shorter 2 to 3 days in a row. If you can set your mower at 1.5 inches, that’s scalping!  Especially if you’ve been cutting at 3.0 to 3.5 inches all summer. Clean up the mess before you spread grass seed. Rake it and get rid of all that organic trash.

WARNING:  this method is labor intensive (but usually worth it). Zoysiagrass swards benefit from this every 3 to 4 years or so but DO NOT AERATE OR DETHATCH ZOYSIA AFTER AUGUST! That’s best done in June or July. I recommend that you core aerate, versus using the dethatcher.  Read on.

 

COMPLETE RENOVATION TIPS (For crappy lawns!):

1)Kill the lawn section with Roundup ASAP. Don’t mow before spraying! Roundup will work better with all the fresh, succulent tissues to absorb and translocate more herbicide to the roots. Don’t be a tight wad with the Roundup. Buy the concentrate and use 5 oz/gallon. Be sure you buy “plain” Roundup.  Don’t use the “extended” control, “fast-acting” or poison ivy variants! Use a hose-end sprayer and be careful that you don’t create a lot of mist, which will float to your favorite ornamentals. Or your neighbor’s lawn—they’ll be pissed.

2)After four to seven days scalp the lawn with a mower. Call 811. It’s free and they want 3 days advance notice. You really want to cut the cable lines, especially your neighbors’ cable. Mark your own hazards, too, like irrigation heads and underground doggie-shock lines. Dog lines are usually deep enough to avoid damage, but that damn cable company usually only buries their cable one inch deep. If by chance your machinery cuts a cable line, don’t let them bully you into paying for repairs. They are supposed to put their cables ~6 inches deep…RIGHT!

3)     WHAT TYPE OF GRASS SHOULD YOU USE?  For non-irrigated, sunny swards, turf-type fescue is the best type of seed to use.  About 35% of the swards in the transition zone will do best with this type of seed, especially for new subdivisions, lacking large shade trees. It is by far the best of the cool season species for full sun without irrigation. But, the best turf for deep shade is a blend of three very shade tolerant, fine-bladed fescues:  meadow fescue, sheep’s fescue and creeping red fescue. If you haven’t had much luck growing turf-type fescue in non-irrigated shade, try a 3-way fine fescue mix. Another great blend of seed is a blend of turf-type fescue and a medium-green colored bluegrass. Bluegrass spreads laterally by rhizomes, thus it will help fill in the divots and holes caused by disease and moles. A pure bluegrass sward is a thing of beauty…but bluegrass is pretty tough to grow for most folks. If you don’t have an irrigation system, don’t even try it. Bluegrass doesn’t like FULL sun, and it doesn’t like deep shade, either. If you’ve got a yard that has 20 to 40 year old shade trees that provide up to 6 hours of shade in each “ecosystem,” you can probably grow bluegrass. The newer varieties are a hellofa lot tougher than they were just 15 years ago. If you’re not sure, go with Winning Colors Plus blend…turf-type PLUS bluegrass. The bluegrass will grow where it’s happy, and the turf-type fescue varieties will grow where they’re happiest.  Talk about a win-win!

5) Get a soil test if you’re having problems growing grass in the shade! The proper pH (soil acidity), phosphorous and potassium levels may help you out…and most shady soils have acidic soil and low fertility. Those tree roots are competing for more than sun and water. Tree roots will scavenge all the P and K in the topsoil, causing low fertility.

6) After you scalp the lawn look and see how many new weeds have emerged within a week. More than likely you’re going to see how inept you were on your first pass at nuking the lawn – retreat with Roundup. If you see tiny weeds sprouting and green tissue all around, retreat the entire area. Trust me, it’s worth the extra time, energy and money spent to start with a weed free area.

7)Five days after the second application of Roundup, rent a “verti-slicer” or “slicer-seeder”. This machine cuts a grove into the soil, and then drops seed into the grove. Having good seed-to-soil contact will dramatically enhance germination and establishment. There is no need to set the blades any deeper than 1/8th inch deep!

8)If you can tend to all these tasks, and have the seed in the ground by mid-September, you will be rewarded with a fabulous lawn. It will be green and thin this fall, but lush and full by next May –- a real “award winning” situation. Try to be DONE by October 1st. You’ve get a 95% chance of success if you’re complete by this date.  After October 15ththe odds of success diminish, depending upon the growing conditions in November. If turf can get established to the point that you have to mow weekly in November, you’re in great shape.

9) For OVERSEEDING use 4-5 lbs of turf-type fescue per 1,000 sq ft, 5 lbs of shade fescue blend, and 1.0 to 1.5 lbs/M of bluegrass.

 

OVERSEEDING TIPS (WHAT MOST OF YOU NEED TO DO):

1)New turf varieties are more disease and heat tolerant than older varieties. That’s why you should overseed every couple of years.

2)Cut your lawn successively lower from 3.5 inches down to 2 inches. Don’t do it all it once folks, because the resultant hay will interfere with your seeding.  If you can bag, we recommend that you cut it every day, lowering the deck on the mower over 2 to 3 cuttings.

3)Rent a core aerator, which pulls a plug of soil, approximately ½” wide by 2 to 3” deep.

4)Get your BROADCAST SPREADER out of the garage (if you’re still using that rusted-out, nasty-ass old drop spreader, get rid of it), set the opening around ½ to 5/8th inches for turf type fescue, ¼ inch for bluegrass. Spread 25% of your total seed on the turf BEFORE you make your first pass with the aerator. You read that right—BEFORE your first pass. You want the cores to cover the seed more than you want the seed to drop into the holes. Concentrate on the really barren areas with the first pass of seed.

5)Make 1-2 passes with the aerator.

6)Spread another 25% of your seed.

7)Make another two passes with the aerator, perpendicular or diagonally to the first pass. All the plugs that you pull out of the ground are valuable!  They’re covering up seed, in addition to providing more air to the grass roots.

8)Spread the last 50% of your seed.  If you followed directions, you made at least two passes in good turf, and as many as 4 to 5 passes in your problem areas.  All the seed that falls into the bored holes, and all the seed that ends up under a “melted” core, will germinate rapidly.

10)Leave the soil cores where they are – the microbes in the soil help break down the thatch. The bored holes enhance water penetration into your soil.

11) This method is the BEST, but if you’re short on time and labor, just aerate the crap out of the yard (as many times as you can), and follow it up with no less than 4 lbs/M of turf-type fescue seed.  This method is perfectly suitable, and will save you a lot of time.

12) Crucial to your success is seeding at the right rate. For NEW SEEDING or RENOVATION with turf-type fescue and shade fescue use 10 lbs of seed per 1,000 sq ft, and 3 lbs bluegrass.

 

FERTILIZATION:  If you know your ACTUAL SWARD SIZE, and you have a decent spreader, you can safely apply “regular” fertilizer, at a maximum of 1.0 lb of actual nitrogen per 1,000 sq ft. It need NOT be “starter fertilizer.” Starter formulations have lower nitrogen and higher phosphorous. Most of us have HIGH soil phosphorous anyway, thus any nitrogen is OK. If you can’t start till late September I recommend you still apply nitrogen to the lawn in late August to early September.

BAD SPOTS ALONG PAVED SURFACES:  Seed won’t grow well if it’s just scattered atop the soil.  For the really bad spots, we suggest you cover the seed with either PennMulch® or bagged topsoil. Avoid straw except for very large areas. Straw introduces a lot of weeds.

WATERING TIPS:  Use frequent irrigation to get the seed up. The first couple of days after seeding you can water with your normal irrigation cycles. As soon as the seed comes up, though, you’ve got to sprinkle the turf babies with frequent, shallow irrigation. It’s critical that the top ½ inch of soil NOT dry out extensively. If you own an irrigation system, just run it 3X day with about 2 to 3 minutes per station. I can’t tell you exactly what to do for your own yard! You need to be observant. Don’t water so much that you turn the yard into a swamp, either. As the new grass gets taller, you go back to watering more deeply and less frequently. Within 3 weeks after the turf is up, you should be able to water every other day.

MOWING:  Stay off the new grass while it is short and fuzzy. But when it gets to be about 2.5 inches tall, run the mower over it, cutting it around 2.0 to 2.5 inches. The turf can handle the foot traffic, but don’t rip it out of the soil with your mower tires. Slow and steady!

DON’T LET LEAVES PILE UP:  Don’t let falling leaves cover up your newly seeded areas. While established turf can handle a once-per-week mowing, new turf should be leaf free most of the time. This is where a blower works wonders.

FUNGICIDE:  When the new seedlings are one inch tall, apply propiconazole fungicide to provide a “health boost”. It will protect the seedlings from the key diseases that harm turf, especially if it’s hot and humid.

 

 

August is all about the Z-Grass!

Zoysiagrass needs TLC in August

In direct contrast with cool season lawns, which shouldn’t be fertilized with high nitrogen in the sultry months of July and August, zoysiagrass, and it’s hooiser cousin, bermudagrass, LOVE nitrogen and heat! Zoysiagrass and bermudagrass are WARM season grass species. For those of you that vacation in the south, they have additional varieties like paspalum, St. Augustine and centipedegrass, all of which have broad leaf blades. The latter three species can’t handle the cold weather. Zoysiagrass is more cold tolerant than bermudagrass.

A great program for zoysiagrass in the transition zone follows:

  1. A thick and healthy zoysiagrass lawn may not even require a preemergence application for crabgrass! If you have a weaker lawn, or one you’re trying to establish, apply a crabgrass preventer in mid-April on a fertilizer with at least 18% nitrogen. Apply the crabgrass product as late as possible, when the soil temps approach 50 F. You really don’t want to put this down on dormant zoysiagrass. Our local meteorologists on Fox 2 in STL give soil temperatures in the early spring, so pay attention to their forecasts!
  2. Systemic Insect Control on a High Nitrogen fertilizer should be applied in mid-June. Zoysiagrass has more problems with billbugs than grubs, and the systemic products control both. Professional bags are 50 lbs and will treat 12,500 sq ft to 14,400 sq ft. This bag will last 2 years no problem. If you can’t find a professional supplier you can purchase a systemic insecticide at Home Depot or Valley Park Elevator. Your z-grass needs 0.75 to 1.0 lb of actual nitrogen per 1,000 sq ft. To calculate how much nitrogen is in the bag, multiple the weight of the bag times the % nitrogen (first number) in the bag. For example, a 36 lb bag of 24-8-12 has 8.6 lbs of nitrogen (36 X 0.24). Round down to either 8 or up to 9 without worry.
  3. One last shot of nitrogen between July 24 and August 15. Again, 0.75 to 1.0 lb of actual nitrogen.
  4. NO MORE NITROGEN THE REST OF THE FALL!

MOWING RECOMMENDATION:  Zoysia does better when it’s mowed low. As low as freakin’ possible! If you mow it high, it won’t spread very aggressively. When you mow it low, it’ll spread very nicely for you. Z-grass has a tough leaf blade so keep the blade razor sharp. Don’t mow more than 8 times without sharpening or changing your blade for best results. A lawn mower engine won’t last as long mowing Z-grass as it does a cool season species. If you’ve got a small lot in the city, get one of those new, lightweight “reel-type” mowers. Those are kick-ass for zoysia because the cutting action is “scissors-like”.

WATERING RECOMMENDATION:  Z-grass really only needs an inch a week to grow well, because it is adapted to hot weather. We have to water the crap out of our bluegrass and fescue lawns to keep them from going dormant! Stop watering zoysiagrass after September! Let it start to go dormant in October.

AERATION AND DETHATCHING:  You should NOT aerate or dethatch zoysiagrass unless it’s 100% green and growing. Do this in early June when the temps are tolerable for you to clean up the mess. Water and fertilize when you’re done. Mow low and watch that sward develop!

Many of the lawns in St. Louis are blends of both cool season lawns and zoysiagrass lawns. Bermudagrass is a weedy invader via bird poop, but zoysiagrass doesn’t become established the same way. If you don’t want the warm season grass to expand, then be sure to AVOID passing through these areas when you aerate, because you’ll “spread the sprigs” in the cores! If you desire more zoysiagrass in your cool season sward, then aerate around mid-August. Be sure to water to allow the small pieces of stolons and rhizomes to become established.

FUNGICIDE IS OCCASIONALLY BENEFICIAL:  Zoysiagrass in St. Louis was plagued with a disease called zoysia patch during the summers of 2013 to 2016. It was devastating to many lawns, especially for those of you that followed the cultural recommendations for cool season lawns. Factors that exacerbate zoysia patch are aerating/dethatching before June or after September, watering all fall and fertilizing after September.

The pathogen that causes zoysia patch is Rhizoctonia solani, but a slightly different sub-species than the one that causes brown patch in cool season turf! Fungicide applications are really only useful when daytime temps are near 70 F. Apply Headway G fungicide in the fall and again in the spring. If you can’t find Headway G combine the two products you can buy at Home Depot–azoxystrobin and propiconazole. It is very important to time the application to 70 degrees! This is because of the infection cycle for the pathogen.

Here are a few shots of zoysiagrass, mowed at three inches, which is very common in St. Louis. The photo on the left is all zoysiagrass, while the photo on the right is the interface between zoysiagrass and the cool season species.

A new variety of zoysiagrass has a slightly darker green color than ‘Meyer’, the long-dominant variety in our area–called ‘Zenith’.  Emerald View Sod Farms in Columbia IL and O’Fallon MO carry this variety. Call them and ask if you can get it here in town. Or, just go there.

 

 

 

Mid-June is Grub Control Time

Apply Insecticides Now to Kill Baby Grubs

Mid-June in the Transition Zone is the right time to kill the newest batch of grubs that feed on grass roots. There at nearly a dozen different species, but the dominant beetles that make grubs in STL are the chafers and the Japanese beetles. The B-52 sized June bug is less common, but when you come across a June bug grub, it’s freaky huge! You’ll scream like a sissy. If you’re unsure what a grub worm looks like, just Google it. [Are you shittin’ me? Don’t know what one looks like? Oh wait, I forgot that most millennials spent all their time in the basement playing video games!]

Eggs hatch and the larvae will eat the roots of turf. Egg hatch in STL is usually complete for all the species in early to mid-August. Grubworms go through a series of instar stages (molts) getting larger with each molt. Insecticides applied right now do a better job of killing the little babies while they’re small. We apply our systemic insecticides in mid-June so that the turfgrass has plenty of time to absorb and translocate the insecticide throughout the plant. Grub bites root—grub gets upset tummy—grub dies! Contact insecticides area applied in mid-August—because they don’t need to be taken up by the turf roots. Mr. Grub just digs and eats—insecticide washes over the poor baby—grub baby dies!

I will tell you now that the systemic products are more effective than the contact products for killing grubs. In dry years when the grubs are deeper in the soil, the contact products can be diluted in soil profile, and thus, less effective overall. They work great when the grubs are closer to the soil surface. On the other hand, contact products also kill fleas, ticks, spiders, crane flies, crickets, and a host of other bugs.

Grub damage tends to be patchy. Even when grubs are heavy in area, there will be individual clumps of surviving fescue plants—think “hair plugs for men!” This picture below captures the essence of a fescue lawn with grub damage. Note the relatively large patch of mostly dead grass. But note that there are several hundred individual clumps of grass (mostly fescue) that have survived! Some grasses contain an “endophyte” fungus that lives in the roots of infected plants. Grubs don’t like the alkaloids (natural insecticide) that the endophyte produces. Therefore we get this type of response–very clumpy. Kinda like “hair plugs for men!” Grubs don’t destroy 100% of the turf in the patches they infest.

Grub Damage

Healthy, irrigated turf in STL can usually handle 10 or so grubs per sq ft, but crappy turf can’t. Weak turf might only tolerate 3 to 5 grubs/sq ft. When grub populations are extreme you can literally pick up turf like a throw carpet! I’ve seen this only once in my career, and the grubs were massive June bug grubs!

Below are photos of the 4 most dominant products sold for grub control. Be careful to use the right dose for grubs! While the bag may state, “Treats up to 12,500 sq ft” that’s for the surface-feeding insects. I’ll discuss their active ingredients, pros and cons, and cost  from my local Home Depot (Lowe’s sucks, by the way).

Spectracide Triazicide Insect Killer:  Contact Insecticide (cyhalothrin). Apply early to mid-August for grubs, but anytime for fleas and ticks. A 20 lb bag costs $13 and treats 16,600 sq ft. $0.78 per 1,000 sq ft.

Roundup Bug Destroyer: Systemic Insecticide plus Contact Insecticide (chlorantraniliprole plus bifenthrin). Apply early to mid-June. A 10 lb bag costs $17 and treats 2,500 sq ft. $6.80 per 1,000 sq ft.

Scott’s Grub Ex: Systemic Insecticide (chlorantraniliprole). Apply early to mid-June. A 14.5 lb bag costs $21 and treats 5,000 sq ft. $4.20 per 1,000 sq ft.

Bio Advanced Grub Killer Plus:  Contact Insecticide (trichlorfon). Apply to mid-August. A 10 lb bag costs $19 and treats 5,000 sq ft. $3.80 per 1,00 sq ft.

Ortho Bug Be Gone:  picture not shown. Bifenthrin contact insecticide. Special sale–10 lb bag for only $7.00. Treats 2,500 sq ft. $2.80 per 1,000 sq ft.

Professional Blends on Fertilizer Granules:  Many professional LCO’s use non-nitrogen fertilizers with systemic insecticides (typically imidacloprid or acelepryn) at the recommended application time

If I were hosting a garden party, I’d purchase Triazicide and apply it a week ahead of time, to cleanse the area of surface pests. But for grubs, I recommend the systemic insecticides.

No get off your arse and apply your insecticide now!

Trav

 

 

 

Brown Patch: the big nasty turf spoiler

Rhizoctonia solani…

Brown patch is caused by the ubiquitous pathogen, Rhizoctonia solani, and it infects virtually every species of turf in the US. Tall fescue and turf-type fescue is far more susceptible than Kentucky bluegrass, but the latter gets it, too. In zoysiagrass this same organism causes zoysia patch disease. For you golfers, blame those ugly summer greens on brown patch! Seedling turf is extremely susceptible to brown patch, which is why most experts discourage spring seeding.

The fungi lives on decaying organic matter in our lawns, at the interface of organic matter and the soil surface. It rears its pathogenic side during prolonged periods of hot and humid weather, especially during dry spells. You can bet your bum that when the dew points and the night time lows are in the 70’s, we’ll have an outbreak. For photos, just Google “brown patch in fescue turf” for more pics than you can handle. I’ll tell you right now that 95% of disease in Midwestern transition zone turf is brown patch.

There are numerous cultural practices that you should employ in an attempt to minimize the impact of brown patch on your lawn, but to really control this disease, you’ll need the help of fungicides. First, let’s talk about those things you can manage from a cultural perspective.

  1. Keep the blade sharp:  No, I’m not talking about the 7 habits bull crap. Literally. Keep. The. Blade. Sharp. (My daughters tell me this infers extreme emphasis…does it?) Come mid-May, you should be sure to have a brand-new sharpening job on that blade. Buy an extra and always have a sharp one handy.  Don’t go more than 3 months without sharpening your blade (average homeowner).
  2. Keep the deck high:  Mow cool season turf in full sun at maximum height on your mower. 4 inches is better than 3 inches! For cool season turf in good shade, you can mow lower, say 2.5 inches, because you don’t want turf to stay wet from dew, irrigation or rainfall excessively long. If you’re serious about being the beast of turf in your neighborhood, you should have a reasonably new mower, capably of 3.5 or 4 inch mowing heights.
  3. Water in the morning:  All diseases need moisture for the spores to germinate and grow. Watering at night keeps the grass covered in a film of moisture all night long. Thus, more disease.
  4. Bag your clippings in the dog days of summer:  Bagging the diseased-laden grass when the outbreak is bad has been shown to reduce the spread of the disease. When you’re miserable outside so is your turf. I like to tell folks when the heat index is above 90F, your turf isn’t happy. When the heat index is above 100F, your turf is pissed at you…for watering it, fertilizing it, and doing all those things to keep it from going dormant.
  5. Avoid excessive nitrogen in June, July and August:  Points 1 to 4 are important, but my experience shows that 90% of you with terrible brown patch used the wrong fertilizer at the wrong time. Anybody putting traditional, synthetic fertilizer formulations down after mid-May is begging for the disease. You don’t want soft and succulent turf around when the conditions are right. The biggest national brand sells stuff so high in nitrogen it should only be used on zoysiagrass in the summer. Weed-and-Feed formulations are terribly high in nitrogen. They suck! Both for killing weeds and too much N…I’ll save this rant for later this summer. Seriously, cool season turf in St. Louis and the rest of the transition zone should get 75% of its nitrogen in the fall, to support the plant’s natural growth cycle. Using high nitrogen fertilizers in the early spring isn’t a death knell, but your crabgrass product is best with 12% or less nitrogen. Retail stuff sucks, with 24% or more nitrogen in the bag. And retail stuff has a crappy herbicide, too. Your grass will green up wonderfully in the spring if you do most of your fertilizing in the fall. The astute reader is now asking herself, “Well then, what the hell SHOULD I use in the summer?” I love organic nitrogen in the summer, but ONLY for irrigated lawns. I especially like Milorganite (and the knock offs) for irrigated turf, because it has low nitrogen content, all slow release, and a lot of iron. If you’re not irrigating, don’t fertilize after your crabgrass product goes down. Reread that–if you’re NOT irrigating in the summer–DO NOT fertilize in the summer!

Fungicides

It’s important to use the right product for control of brown patch, which is azoxystrobin (I pronounce it “a-ZOX-e-stroh-bin”, but I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed!). A disease program MUST contain this active ingredient, proven by universities to be the best single fungicide for brown patch. However, it should not be used alone! The best companion product is propiconazole (pro-PEE-con-a-zole).

Fungicides aren’t cheap. Actually, they are very expensive, especially considering you need to apply them every 3 to 4 weeks during the dog days. No matter the product you use, read the label and follow the coverage recommendation for brown patch. If you stretch it too far you’re wasting your time and money. Just burn those bills on the BBQ…or better yet, send them to me!

There’s a commercial product available at professional turf outlets called Headway G.  A 30 lb bag covers 10,000 sq ft on a preventative basis, but only 5,000 sq ft on a curative basis. If you’re just now reading this (mid-June-2018), your first application is in the CURATIVE dose rate. When I was in the business we’d instruct our Sward Masters to make their first preventative application a full week ahead of the prolonged 90 F degree weather forecast.  If we get a wonderful clearing cold front that drops our temps and humidity, stretch it to the 4 week interval.

The photos below show the Scott’s product containing azoxystrobin (DiseaseEX) and the Bayer product with propiconazole. I’d recommend you buy both for your first shot. Apply them both, individually of course, if your lawn is suffering terribly. Each bag covers 5,000 sq ft. Used alone, the manufacturers suggest applying every 2 weeks in miserable weather, every 4 weeks otherwise. But that’s used alone.

After application water well, in the AM. Then in 3 weeks apply azoxystrobin again. Three weeks later apply propiconazole. Repeat until the cool weather arrives (crap, that’ll be October!). And oh, by the way, don’t count on 100% control! Ain’t gonna happen. Be happy with 80% control.

Let me know if you give these products a go!

Stay Cool!

Trav

 

How Large is Your Sward?

Hey folks, when it comes to taking care of the yard, aka “the sward”, the absolute very first thing a do-it-yourself (DIY) lawn tender MUST know is how many thousand square feet of actual TURF one has. Back to the sward comment…a crappy yard is not a sward! Only a beautiful yard, one that creates envy, can be called a sward!

This is a serious matter, because success or failure in your lawn care practice is based upon the PROPER DOSE. It’s important for fungicides, herbicides, insecticides and especially fertilizers. Think about it for a second. If you apply a bag of insecticide designed for 5,000 sq ft over your 12,000 sq ft lawn, do you think it’ll work properly? Hell no! And when you apply a 50 lb bag of fertilizer with a 24-8-12 formulation over a 5,000 sq ft lawn, would you expect success? The aforementioned bag of fertilizer has 12 lbs of actual nitrogen in it (50 lbs x 0.24 = 12), and thus would cover 12,000 sq ft of turf in the fall. Put that much nitrogen on a tiny yard and you’ll have a dead lawn after about a month of summer heat.

Back in 2012 when  I was with THE Turf Plan, I penned a nice blog about this. Rather than regurgitate it, I’ll recycle it! Go to this link on THE Turf Plan website and read up:  How Large is Your Sward.

You needed get carried away but get within 10% accuracy. Don’t be a dumb ass! Figure it out.

Success will follow!

Trav