Archive for January, 2012

Do it yourself versus the turf care professional Reason #1: The Environment

Published by JKeefe on January 17th, 2012 - in Lawn Care Companies
Lawn on a lake

Turf next to water needs special consideration

50 million Americans care for their own lawns, covering an estimated 31 million of acres of grass.  This amount of lawn area could cover all of New England with 80% of this grass residing in home lawns [Ref 1].  Even with these older figures, we can draw a few basic conclusions including home owner’s account for a significantly larger figure than those who have their grass professionally maintained.  We can also surmise that this is a lot grass area to care for over the growing season with potential ramifications.  Furthermore, the volume of products applied by novice, well-intentioned Americans far outweighs that of licensed and insured turf care professionals.  So what’s really at stake here?  What’s the big deal?

There are a few important factors that should be taken into consideration when comparing the perceived financial savings as opposed to hiring a professional turf care company.  First and foremost, you have the environment.  With so many “do it themselves” (who I will call DITs), one can imagine a larger  impact to waterways when material is unintentionally applied too close to rivers, streams, lakes, or storm drains in cities .  Even though the same rules apply within a state, who is going to notice or inspect the DITs?  No one I suspect would be the simple truth.  Well intentioned or not, without training, field experience, and education, this huge amount of DITs simply don’t have the tools necessary to make proper decisions and apply treatments to turf with the desired results. 

This is a unique problem as it relates to other fields as well such as with a plumber or electrician.  A home owner can do his or her own work, with the final inspection being done by a certified, licensed agent in many cases as a final proof of quality.  After all, there is an inherent safety issue with electrical work to those living within the building.  Codes must be upheld and followed for reasons of safety.  What would happen if this same concept applied to the turf industry?  Imagine requiring a final certification or a site visit prior to applying a weed and feed to your lawn, either near a waterway or even in a city.  Regardless of location, products including fertilizers can find their way into a water system when applied incorrectly, at the wrong rate or analysis.  While this might seem extreme, I propose that most DIT’s do not know the majority of Federal or State legislation governing the applications of lawncare products such as herbicides, insecticides and simple fertilizers.

There is a common saying in many professions that they ‘rely on their tools in their tool box’ to get the job done right. These tools can be diversified and help each professional complete a job, whether a mechanic, physician, or lawn care company.  Each business has varying degrees of education, on the job experience, and certification or licensing to attain each level of competency.  I have been in the green industry for 25 years now and have seen the mistakes made by DITs, as well as by those in the industry with a lack of proper training and education.  It seems like common sense that insuring a quality job is done right, with the right tools would be a top priority in any business, including the turf care industry.

I propose that regardless of what is being applied to turf to make it healthier, or to benefit the home owner’s quality of life, the treatment itself must be done to specifications and within the guidelines set forth by each body of legislature to insure our environment is kept safe for generations to come. 

I find it unsettling that so many DITs have access of some of the same professional products I use in formulations readily available at their local hardware store yet without the guidance and licensing required of our business.  In the end, it all comes down to numbers as cited in the opening paragraph of this blog post: the millions outweigh the professionals.  This information is certainly food for thought as you prepare this winter for the upcoming spring thaw and the inevitable flurry of activity outside on your own lawn.  Perhaps this is the year to explore different options, such as choosing a path that makes both your lawn green, and keeps green in your wallet, while obtaining the results you demand in a safe and eco-friendly way.


[1] The Lawn Institute, 1855-A Hicks Road, Rolling Meadows, IL 60008.


Three reasons your lawn looks bad every year

You don't have to suffer with a bad lawn in 2012

Face it, your lawn is ugly and you know it.  You can pretend the front lawn looks lush and green as your lawn tractor mows and creates a dust bowl similar to that of the great depression.  Unless of course your lawn is made up of more crabgrass than real grass?  The crabgrass will take a while to flourish, so this spring there will be more open prairie than visible lawn.  If that’s the case, at least you’ll have weeds to cut by late July. When did things go wrong?  Some lawns can die from catastrophic insect infestations and others a more gradual and slow decline. The most likely causes would be mowing abuse, poor soil care and a host of other circumstances.  So, let’s dig deeper.

Even if you had a lawn at one time, chances are you mow it to short.  I call this syndrome the “military style” mowing tactic. Short, clean, and improper.  With the mower deck only centimeters above the soil, the blade catches chunks of sod, soil and debris discarding the plume of devastation into the air or mower bag.  Like helicopters flying above the enemy, nothing survives and what is left resembles a parking lot in New York City left vacant for years.  Mowing to short heats up the soil causing weed seeds like crabgrass and spurge to germinate.  Mowing short places tremendous drought stress on the grass itself as water loss evaporates from the cut leaf blade.  Mowing short creates a short leaf blade that means less surface area for the lawn to capture sunlight and manufacture food for survival.  Would you prefer all of your teeth or only the front two for eating?  Mow your grass between 2.5 and 3 inches most of the year and you will minimize most of the aforementioned issues.

Removal of grass clippings is another mowing related issue that deprives your lawn of valuable nutrients over time.  Mulching or discarding clippings directly back onto the lawn is a desired practice as opposed to removal while mowing.  Consider your lawn a crop. Each time you remove organic matter (clippings), you deny the soil and turf (your crop) a piece of the food it needs to flourish.  Like recycling, returning that energy and sunlight in the form of clippings is a very good practice and should be encouraged all year long.  That is not to say that on occasion after returning home from a vacation or a heavy lawn growth in the spring that clippings could not be removed to facilitate a better cut.

Neglected soil is perhaps one of the greatest mysteries to a home owner. It’s almost as mysterious as the creation of the great pyramids in Egypt.  You cannot see it; you walk over it, mow over it, and wonder why your lawn looks so horrible.  Unfortunately, soil should support healthy lawn growth or other landscape plants but cannot when there are poor conditions.  While some folks may understand that their soil is sandy or full of clay, what to do about it is another story altogether.  The good news is that changing your soil from unhealthy to healthy is possible with dedicated and diligent effort.  Good soil is like a nice cake or bread mix, it needs the right ingredients in the right amounts.  For instance, organic matter is highly desired in a soil setting as it supports a wide array of micro-organisms which in turn help create a wonderful relationship with turf roots and available nutrient uptake.  Organic content, along with fine clay particles also help retain moisture needed to get through dry periods.  On the other hand, too much clay in the soil can become compacted with smaller air pockets unable to support healthy root growth.  Too much sand in your soil means little water holding capacity but great drainage- ideal for septic systems or wet areas.

The corrective measures required to improve your soil could include annual liming with either calcium or magnesium, topdressing with organic matter in the spring or fall, adding compost tea to enhance microbial life, or even the introduction of mycorrihizae by coating grass seed.  Of course, mulching your clippings, proper mowing height, raking and watering will make a big impact long term.


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