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Posts Tagged ‘Lawns’

Hosting the family picnic seemed like a good idea months ago, but looking over the struggling lawn, are you wondering what possessed you to say “yes” to this event?  With cousins bringing footballs and aunties croquet mallets, what should be a cause for celebration is now a source of panic. 

If the date is looming while the yard is dying, get it in shape with coaching from an all-pro turf master.  With no room for error before your relatives arrive, here are a few tips from one who knows how to handle the punishment a wild bunch delivers to a lawn. 

“Give it four to six weeks and you can have a pretty good lawn,” says Ross Kurcab, Turf Manager for the Denver Broncos, who keeps Invesco Field at Mile High ready for play.  “It won’t take a lot of traffic but it will get you through the event, after which you can plant for recovery of it.”

Kurcab shared tricks turf managers use to jump start fields for the big show.  His quick fix suggestions aren’t for everyday lawn renovation; instead they’re designed to make you the hero without big league spending.

Identify areas needing to bulk up, making sure spots of bare soil, dead grass or weeds are prepped before over seeding.  “Don’t plant into a patch of weeds.  Dig them out, rototill them up, or use a weed killer before you seed.”  If using a weed killer, check the label to make sure you can seed grass after it’s applied.

 Remove thick mats of grass or weeds before you plant, then run a core aerator several times across the area, poking a lot of holes into the soil.  Rake up the area to rough it before planting.

Under a time crunch, choose your grass wisely; not all germinate and establish quickly.  Perennial rye is the go-to grass of choice for the pros, since it can be coaxed to germinate in a week if temperatures are ideal.

For fast results, pre-germinate the seed by soaking it in water for 24 hours.  “We put a mesh bag of it into a big trash can of water, soaking it to pop the seed coat. It’ll give you a two day head start on getting the seed out of the ground,” he said.  Once soaked the seed is perishable, so drain the seed after 24 hours, fluff it up and sow it within two days.   

How you plant is the difference between rookie and pro, says Kurcab, so err on the side of aggression.  “People think you just throw it on the ground and it grows, but grass seed needs planting.  Get the seed into the soil by spreading it thickly – about five or six per square inch – then sprinkle a half-inch of soil over the top.  Seed is cheap, don’t go too light with it; though this is three times the recommended rate for new lawns, we’re doing a quick fix to get you through the picnic.” 

Rake the area to get the seed into the core aeration holes and break up the cores.  Then lightly roll the area to press the seed against the soil (rental firms may have rollers available). 

Once your seeds are in, water them thoroughly for the first two days, keeping the area slightly squishy.  Then water the area three times daily for 5 minutes for two weeks to keep the top half-inch moist.  After the seedlings are up, slowly wean the water away until you’re watering it along with the rest of the lawn.

Fertilize it when the seedlings get a half-inch tall with regular strength fertilizer.  You’ll need to mow more often to keep fast-growing seedlings even with the mature grass, but no pain, no gain.  And it’s a small price to pay for a winning picnic.

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Spring brings out an odd assortment of turf problems, with persistent Necrotic Ring Spot and mites headlining the show.  But this year I got called out to a lawn where something special is going on – I had the rare treat of seeing greenbugs in action.

Greenbugs (Schizaphis graminum) are aphids that suck the sap out of lawns, turning the grass a rusty orange color.  Like many outbreaks of aphids, this one is accompanied by Ladybug larvae doing their best to eat them.  Upon seeing the hundreds of ladybugs on thousands of aphids crawling across the lawn, the only thing I could utter was “cool!”

If only the homeowner was as thrilled as I was.

You see, the scene playing itself out in his front yard is better than any reality show drama; there was birth, death, hunting and foraging, all accessorized by a backdrop of translucent orange grass that glows in angled light.  When you don’t see this often, it’s nifty.

  But the homeowner wanted a solution to this problem, after all, these greenbugs were killing the lawn.  The largest spot was nestled under a large pine tree, with a few smaller spots under the Ash.  This is common here, with trees providing some type of buffer that lets the greenbugs survive some winters.  In all, the orange greenbug spot was 10 feet long by five feet wide, and I could understand why this was disturbing the homeowner.

Fortunately the cavalry had arrived, and the ladybugs were doing a good job of cleanup; my main challenge was helping the homeowner to accept that, if given time, those ladybugs would clean up the mess.  Armies of insects duking it out on the lawn isn’t everyone’s suburban dream show.

He was very positive about the process and willing to let nature take it’s course, once he crouched down to see the ladybugs in action.  There’s nothing like watching the black-with-orange spotted, spiky creatures wind around grassblades to chomp an unsuspecting aphid.

In other areas of the country, greenbugs are a much bigger issue, but in Colorado, they’re more of a novelty.  Our winters are usually too cold for them, and this colony probably won’t survive another year.  So the homeowner has agreed to wait it out, and reseed in a few weeks when the dust settles out there.

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Aaahhh, summer.  The lazy days spent clipping the lawn, neatly trimming the edges and grass so that the carpet rolls along in one, smooth swath of green.  Nothing more satisfying than gathering up the tools and locking them away, turning to view the glory that is….

 …a dandelion, popping up like a summer festival tent smack in the center of the turf.  Soon it has friends and family surrounding it, while bindweed and black medic nestle in the turf, and kochia accents the edge.  Henbit

 If you’re struggling with weeds invading your lawn, before you reach for the super-nuclear chemistry, stop and consider: those weeds tell you what the grass can’t about conditions in the yard. 

Stressed lawns have groups of weeds that flourish together under similar conditions.  Some like hot, lean soil; others prefer cool shady spots.   Growing together in the yard, they’re known as indicator weeds, and they help homeowners sort out problem lawn spots.

Before yanking them out, make a list of them to see what type of care your lawn needs.  Here’s a primer on indicator weeds and what they can tell you:

 – Hot, dry soils sport black medic, bindweed, dandelions, kochia, stink grass and yarrow.  If the grass seems thin in spots with these weeds, increase the water to this area, or check the sprinkler heads for coverage.

 – Over watered yards have plenty of weeds.  Annual bluegrass, common chickweed, crabgrass, violets and ground ivy plague chronically wet lawns.  Sprinklers may be running too often or for long periods.

 –  Compacted soil is a favorite of mouse-ear and common chickweeds, goose grass, knotweed, annual bluegrass and prostrate spurge.  Core aeration several times per season over two or three years helps break up compaction.  Common mallow

– Lawns mowed too low have crabgrass, yellow wood sorrel, and white clover.  Increase the height on the mower to keep grass at two to three inches tall.

 – Not fertilizing enough, but over watering?  You’ll see black medic with plantains and white clover.  Cut back on the water, and feed the lawn.

– Over fertilizing?  Curled dock, henbit, yellow wood sorrel and annual bluegrass will pop up.  Fertilize lawns in May, September and November, and calibrate your spreader to drop only what the grass needs.

Recognizing turf weeds takes practice. Two websites can help you discover what’s invading your lawn, the North Carolina State University’s turf files or Michigan State University’s turf weeds.net.  They’ll take you step by step through a key to identifying what weed you have.  Then jump back onto the Colorado State University turf website to check for control tips that work in our area.

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