If you haven’t already started thinking about your lawn, it’s that time of year here in Massachusetts. There are many factors to consider when taking care of your lawn. The first factor to consider is the surrounding environment. I could begin to explain necessary products to apply, but without knowing your turf quality, I would like you to make that assessment. Let’s answer a few questions first, and I’ll explain the pros and cons to each question.
Is your lawn surrounded by trees? If yes, what kind of trees?
Trees can sometimes be turf’s worst enemy. Think about the size of a tree and its root structure compared to a grass plant. The tree will out-compete the grass plant every time for water, food, and nutrients. Now, I am not saying to cut down all of your trees, but assess the parts of your lawn that are most desirable and compare them with the parts that are struggling. You may consider taking down a tree or two to help promote sunlight and room for the roots of your lawn to grow. Pines are typically enemies in the winter because they never shed all of their needles. This may result in blocking the sun from melting snow and ice in the late winter months. Large deciduous trees, such as oaks and maples become more of an enemy during the turf growing season, which ends up being April to late October. These trees have such large, full canopies, they block sunlight from the turf not allowing it to make its full food source. First, we must understand what varieties in your lawn survive under shade and what varieties need the sun. Different turf types are going to thrive under shady conditions versus full sun conditions. Fine fescue is one of those turf types. It is a fine-leaf, narrow blade turf type that enjoys acidic soils and full shade. It withstands traffic well, it does not require very much fertilizer or water. It is one of the most natural grass types that we use in our home lawns today. Another shade loving turf variety can be Kentucky bluegrass.
Although Kentucky bluegrass also loves sun, it is a very adaptable grass variety and can survive in many different atmospheric conditions. Kentucky bluegrass is a very prominent turf variety in your lawn. If you inspect the leaf blade closely, you’ll see a tip that is boat-shaped rather than pointed like perennial ryegrass. Kentucky bluegrass also has a prominent mid-rib down the middle of the leaf blade that if you tried to fold the blade you could split it exactly in half. Kentucky bluegrass can be a very thriving variety for you if it maintained properly. Mowing with sharp blades, regular fertilization, and regular watering will help this variety really love its environment. Although prominent, it is not the star of the yard. Perennial ryegrass has a shiny, waxy cuticle that allows it really show off its green color in good conditions.
Perennial ryegrass is third most common turf variety found in home lawns. It loves full sun, a lot of fertilizer, and warmer temperatures than the first two varieties. It has the fastest germination period, and if the conditions are right, it can go from seed to leaf blade in 3 – 7 days. Although it is fast growing, it does not like a lot of traffic or frosty weather. Perennial ryegrass will be the first grass to go into dormancy in the fall season.
I have mentioned these three varieties because they are the most common and popular varieties found in a home lawn. These turf types are cool-season grasses and can survive in temperatures from 35F – 90F. Optimal temperature is 60F soil temperatures and 72F air temperatures. If it became any cooler or warmer, the plant my go into dormancy. It also wouldn’t be wise to only have one type of turf in your lawn due to survival reasons. As I have pointed out each variety is going to love different conditions helping to keep your lawn full and healthy throughout the entire growing season.
Does it receive full sun all day?
Even though sun is helpful for turf growth, it also has other side effects to consider. Sun and warmer temperatures can promote many other organisms to begin. Weeds will always be turf’s toughest competitor other than trees. Most weeds can be classified as warm-season plants and will thrive in conditions that your lawn turf will not. Having another carbon-fixing pathway, weeds such as crabgrass will usually win the battle on bare soil during the growing season. This is why it is very important to keep that lawn thick and healthy. Grubs and other root-loving insects is another factor to consider if your lawn is in full sun. You can prevent the crabgrass and weeds from growing by applying a pre-emergent. Scotts provides a great pre-emergent known as Turf Builder with Halts Crabgrass Preventer, active ingredient Pendimethalin. This product crabgrass from maturing into an adult plant and over-populating your lawn. Full sun promotes a healthier root structure; however, with healthier roots brings more insects to feed on those roots. Grubs are the most dangerous. They are actually the larval (baby) stage of the adult beetle, such as the Japanese beetle, Oriental beetle, or the Asiatic Garden beetle. The grub starts out as a larva in the soil sometime in late April to mid May. It will feed on your turf roots until it becomes large to enough to begin to mature into a beetle sometime in mid June. Most beetles will undergo two life cycles in one year, and some will have three. Animals such as crows and skunks love digging for these little critters in your lawn at night. They can cause massive damage. One of the best preventatives to these insects is applying an insecticide such as Scotts GrubEx, active ingredient Imidacloprid.
Both of these products will be most effective if they are applied now and then again at the end of May. For spreader calibration questions or application questions I am available by email.
Do you have a narrow lawn with a lot of traffic?
Traffic can be one of the most damaging factors to a home lawn. Increased traffic such as backyard sports can cause compaction. Now obviously children are going to play in the nicely manicured lawn. But, their increased foot traffic is binding the soil particles in the soil causing compaction. Compaction will, over time, choke the turf roots not allowing necessary root growth or nutrient delivery. An easy way to assure your lawn does not become too compact is to aerate your lawn each fall season. This process removes soil cores from your lawn allowing oxygen and nutrient delivery to increase. It also allows your turf roots to spread out and grow.
Do you have pets?
Although it is a very minor problem, pet waste can provide the right ingredients for dead spots in your lawn. Urine, especially in female dogs, is a concentrated form or urea. This urea can be very phytotoxic to your turf causing it to burn and die in any isolated spot. Designating a spot for your dog in the yard or taking your dog for walks would be a good preventative solution. If you have some of these spots, first, start by edging out the spot and removing about 2-3 inches of the soil. Then, replace the soil with clean material and seed. Keep the seed moist until you see germination. At this time, a starter fertilizer will help and regulating water intervals will help produce maximum results. For starting a lawn from seed, please sign up for email subscription, as I will continue to provide helpful tips.
Are you set close to the road?
How close are you to the road? Do you see the town plow truck driving by at 30 mph every time it snows? How about that sanding truck. He just throws his mixture of sand and salt everywhere to help promote safe driving conditions during the snow storm. Well, I bet not many of you are thinking about your turf during these types of conditions. Snow and ice pack is another topic for discussion, but sand and salt from the road can make it especially difficult to grow good grass in your front yard. Sand and particularly salt increase the salinity in the soil. The excess salt in the soil absorbs all moisture, drying out the existing turf, and sucks out all nutrients and water. A quick solution is to provide a barrier between your lawn and the road. A rock or mulch border makes a nice barrier. Fertilizer also has a high salt index; therefore, if you spill fertilizer in your lawn, it may result in a large dead spot because the salt is just too much for the turf to handle. Well, it’s no longer winter so let’s not worry about that sand and salt from that plow truck. Another factor that being close to road brings is increased soil temperatures along the asphalt. These edges can sometimes be the most difficult to care for because they have warmer climates, increased debris and higher compaction. Barriers along all asphalt edges may be an easy solution for you.
As you can see, there are many factors on your property that may contribute to the health or death of your lawn. Providing your lawn with the right amounts of water, fertilizer and regular mowing patterns will help maximize the results you may achieve. Although grass may seem like a vigorous plant, it is only as vigorous as you allow it to be. With a few simple steps and a little extra care, your lawn can look like most of the rough at the golf course.
Again, I would like to take this time to make suggestions to apply a crabgrass pre-emergent and grub control this week. Applying a balanced fertilizer, organic or synthetic, at a rate of 1 lb. of nitrogen per 1000 square feet of lawn this week is also necessary. Also make sure you water these products in, as water is a perfect nutrient delivery system to help the plant break down the fertilizer. I hope these tips help you look at your lawn a little differently. Please sign up on the right, as I will post suggested applications for your lawn. I will also explain the purpose of each application.
As always, thanks for your continued support at Stow Acres. See you on the course!
-Jason VanBuskirk, Superintendent