Archive for July, 2011

After a brutal summer, core aeration should be on your fall “to do list”.

2 commercial grade aerators at a job site

 

Core aeration or aeration is a physical process that utilizes a heavy machine called an aerator.  Similar to a garden rototiller, the aeration machine has a central shaft with 4 or 5 discs where the actual aeration tines are attached.  There are several types of aerators: some utilize solid tines while others are hollow, allowing the machine to extract plugs as it drives over your lawn.  These tines are designed to penetrate your lawn like using a cutter for cookies.  Most aeration cores will vary between ½” and 1” in diameter and will be left on the surface of your lawn.  The depth of a good core aeration job should vary between two and three inches.  Core length is dependent on soil moisture, the weight of the machine and its ability to push down versus roll over compacted soil, as well as the age or length of the tines.  Older tines become worn and must be replaced as they do not have the capacity to penetrate the soil with a blunt or worn tip.  If you are considering a rental aerator, be sure to check the tips of the tines – the more pointed they are, the better.  A blunt tine or one with a worn down tips will simply not pull a decent plug, although you may enjoy the exercise!

Aeration cores & holes

An aeration machine’s effectiveness is also dependent upon the weight of the unit and the speed at which is it used over the lawn.  The faster the aeration job, the less likely the machine’s weight can push down, forcing the tines into the soil.  In addition, most rentals are smaller, older units, enabling the average home owner to utilize the machine on a given weekend.  Although these rental units may do an adequate job in terms of maneuvering given their shorter width, a commercial grade aerator weighs hundreds of pounds more and is strapped with not only weights, but also with a drum full of water.  Basic physics dictates that using the right tool for the job, in this case a commercial aerator, will provide superior results.

 Aeration can be done any time of the year, but typically it is done in the spring or fall when soil moisture is greatest to ensure good plugs.  In addition, fall is the best time of year to over seed a lawn due to warm temperatures and more importantly, the absence of annual weeds like crabgrass that often interferes and reduces results.  Overseeding introduces superior grass varieties after an aeration job.  The seed germinates primarily in the aeration holes just like doing a hair transplant.  Overseeding is not meant to fill in damaged lawns with large patches or bare areas: this would be more in line with topdressing and seeding that could be done in conjunction with an aeration job.  Topdressing adds soil or compost in a thin layer allowing germination to take place in bare sections.  Overseeding adds new grass to an existing lawn area and small bare spots, and helps thicken up an existing lawn or thin areas.  Aeration and overseeding is not meant to establish a lawn or repair significant damage without the use of topdressing or lawn restoration.  Aeration is a great process and should be done annually to help maintain good soil health while minimizing compaction.

What are the benefits of Aeration?

-      Increased moisture penetration since the holes open up space for rain to reach the root system below.  The surface of the soil is hardened from high heat and summer drought, and a lack of rain makes the surface of the lawn much harder to loosen up due to the baking action of summer heat. 

-      Increased oxygen exchange (important for healthy roots) especially in compacted and dry soils.  Punching holes in the lawn will physically allow air to reach into the surrounding root systems, even as the hole begins to break down and fill back in with soil next spring.

-      Reduces soil compaction (especially soils high in clay) caused by those summer parties or high use.  Compacted soil does not promote healthy roots in grass or trees for that matter.

-      Increases penetration of fertilizers and other lawn products due to the holes being made.  The pellets or flakes simply roll into the plug and dissolve for faster results.

-      Increases rate of thatch decomposition due to micro-organisms being brought up to the surface in the plug itself.  There is no need to rake aeration plugs off a home lawn as they breakdown on their own in a short period of time.

-      Increases root development due to the vacant space created by the aerator tine.  The turf roots can expand outward and beyond in search of water, air, and nutrients in the soil.

If you don’t have aeration scheduled this year, give us a call and we can give you a proposal on aeration, as well as overseeding.  If topdressing is necessary, we can also give you recommendations on this procedure.  Aeration typically begins in mid to late August and runs right into October.  If you are interested or have questions on this important process, be sure to give us a call or e-mail anytime.  It will be back to school time before you know it!  Be sure to watch our aeration video posted on Flickr located on the home page of this blog.

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July & August can bring out the worst in a home lawn

Classic mid summer crabgrass outbreak

Midsummer weather can put even a great looking lawn into a slow dive of despair without careful attention.  As the heat kicks into high gear, soil temperatures reach their smoking point and crabgrass seeds begin germinating in earnest, popping like corn in a microwave.  Limey green crabgrass plants appear virtually overnight exposing vulnerable areas along driveways, patios, walkways, mailboxes among others.  Where did they come from?  How can they grow so fast?  Ah, the games have just begun!

If you have not watered and your lawn is cut short, now is when your thin lawn becomes choked out with crabgrass plants the size of small cars.  During hot, humid weather, cool season grasses will stop growing, sitting idle while crabgrass seemingly grows an inch an hour, basking in the searing July heat.  A weak or thin lawn, or those lacking a pre-emergent crabgrass barrier, are now at high risk for a crabgrass invasion that will only cease when school reopens.  While post-emergent sprays do exist, spraying at this stage is like using a garden hose on a house fire: it’s best just to let nature take its course.  Measures should be taken in the fall such as aeration, overseeding, lime, and turf thickening fertilizers to help prepare the lawn for the following spring.  A healthy lawn resists this invasion, and although areas may see some crabgrass, it will not be to the point where one could harvest the greenery for salads.

Damaged lawn

A casual glance toward the interior of your lawn may reveal disturbing patches and blotches of varying sizes and colors ranging from brown to white.  How can this be?  What went wrong?  Like a good CSI episode, it is time for the facts to speak and rule out the guessing.  These issues generally fall under environmental stress such as heat, sun scald, or some other non-pathogenic source.  Ruling out diseases can be very tricky depending upon the weather, timing, and location of injury.  This summer has seen a significant upswing in disease-related damage ranging from pits and scars, to unusual patches.  Preventative measures can be taken to help clean up your lawn with either traditional or organic treatments.  Insects are perhaps the easiest to detect given their predicable nature and timing during the season.  Now is a perfect time to treat for grubs, sod webworm, and chinch bugs using either organic or traditional materials.

Doing some simple things properly for your lawn during the next 6 weeks can reduce unsettling issues arising from disease, insects, and environmental stress.  Summer is generally not the best time to spray for difficult to control broadleaf weeds like ground ivy and violets since high heat and low soil moisture content reduce product effectiveness.    If you think you have an invasion at your house, get it checked out and maybe there is a solution to either stop the problem or slow the damage.  Don’t let your lawn scare the neighborhood children – plan ahead and keep it clean and green!

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July lawn tips, what to do when you take a vacation

A few easy steps can save your lawn during summer vacation

July is a month where your home lawn can be easily neglected due to many New Englanders seeking out the beach or mountain lakes on summer vacation.  There is a short checklist that can prevent some issues and provide peace of mind while you are away enjoying those early morning beach walks.

Before you depart, make sure your lawn is cut the day before you leave if possible.  If you have a mowing service, the task of mowing is not really an issue.  If you mow yourself, a cut the day before will normally give you a solid 7 to 10 day time frame in which to return without the lawn having grown too long.  In fact, during a hot July period, it is better to go 2 weeks without mowing if the air temperature is in the 80’s and rainfall is absent.  If you return and your grass is really tall, such as over 6”, removal of your clippings is recommended or be sure to rake up the rows of cut grass.

Have your lawn inspected for insect activity; left unchecked, under ideal weather conditions you can lose a lawn in days without curative action.  I have seen a number of lawns with sod webworm damage with the characteristic tan moth taking flight as you walk near.  These small patches are fist size in nature and can coalesce into larger stripes or patches if not treated during the summer months.

Although this season has been on the humid and warm side, promoting diseases over insect activity, a professional lawn evaluation is worth the peace of mind.  If your lawn has confirmed disease issues, it may well be worth a fungicide application to “clean things up” during the July/August period where serious injury can occur.  Summer diseases can easily appear to be drought or insect activity.  Hot weather and warm nights can bring on blotches and spots in mere hours without you realizing the culprit.  You may awake and look out the kitchen window only to ask “Those patches were not there yesterday, were they?”  Thatchy lawns are particularly prone to summer patch diseases, manifesting as scars and pits when placed under stress.

Irrigation or lawn watering is helpful during dry periods but is not necessary during a standard summer vacation.  If you have a sprinkler system or a friend to water, be sure to water in the am or day versus late afternoon, thus minimizing disease issues.  As always, infrequent deep watering is preferred over frequent light watering to promote deeper root systems and minimize disease.  A 1hr watering every other day is generally preferred over a daily 15 minute watering.  Don’t let your lawn stop you from enjoying a great July summer vacation.

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