Irrigation, droughts – and strange weather … HOT, DRY SUMMER TURF TIPS from Red Hen Turf Farm

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On 6/15/20, a few updates were made to this Blog originally published on 8/2/18.

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The last few months we’ve been hearing, “This sure is a strange season.”   It certainly was an unusual start to the 2018 year.  We had floods in February, snowstorms in March and in April we never thought we’d see the trees turn green.  But are we really having especially strange weather, or are we just hoping for normal weather to let mother nature do all the work for us?

Let’s look at the weather facts from this year, gathered from our main weather source: NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).  In February 2018, we hit a record-breaking 8 inches of precipitation.  Rain, coupled with a huge snow storm, melted snowpacks and led to extreme flooding, causing cresting of local rivers. I think we all remember this event and some are still feeling the effects. Click: here for an article about this historic flooding.

This picture was taken on February 27, 2018, showing one of Red Hen Turf Farm’s many flooded fields.

In March, everyone was trying to recoup from the February floods. We received snow showers for the first half of the month.  It was a pretty cold month with temps averaging around 34 degrees.  Typically, around this time, we are all looking forward to spring and the green up of trees and grass.  But nature didn’t green up like it did the prior year and it remained pretty cold.  In fact, it seemed like “greening up” took 3-4 weeks longer compared to last year.  The strange weather had its effect on us at the sod farm as well.  Flooding and extremely cold temperatures prevented us from harvesting sod until April. Whereas last year, we were harvesting sod on February 14 (an especially early time compared to most years), in 2018 we did not harvest our first order of sod until April 9th – WHAT A DIFFERENCE!

April 9, 2018, Red Hen Turf Farm’s first sod harvest of the season. Snow and all!

As summer began to set in, throughout July our customers started feeling the effects of extreme heat and drought. Lawns started turning brown and sprinklers were constantly running.

One of the frequently asked questions we received during this hot, try time of the season was “why is my grass brown if I have my sprinklers on timers?”  Sure, auto-timers may seem like a dream. Set it and forget it, right?  Unfortunately, this is a common misconception, especially when the temperatures are above normal and/or if we haven’t had significant rain in weeks.  Sprinklers are a good supplement for water, but can never do as good of a job as Mother Nature when it rains.

In order to understand why your grass may be turning brown, you need to first consider how much water is needed to sustain a healthy, green appearance.

According to a fantastic, easy to read publication from Purdue, Irrigation Practices for Homelawns, most ESTABLISHED Indiana lawns need 1 to 1-1/2 inches of irrigation per week.  But what if you are in the midst of a drought?  You can do 1 of 2 things for established lawns.

CHOICE 1:  Allow your established lawn to go dormant.  Irrigate 1/2 inch every 2 weeks just to maintain hydration to the plant crowns.  This amount of water will not green up the lawn, but it will increase survival chances during long drought periods.   However, newly installed sod will require daily irrigation 1-2 times per day for at least a week.  After a few mows, deep and infrequent watering should be practiced.

LEFT: Turf has been irrigated during a drought. RIGHT: Turf turning dormant.

CHOICE 2:  If you decide against dormancy, keep your established lawn green by watering it DEEPLY 2-3 times per week.  Soak it deeply, morning hours are best to water, but if your only chance to water is at a different time, go for it but keep a few things in mind that we’ll talk about next…

 

Contrary to some tales, watering your lawn in the afternoon will not burn it.  It is not the ideal time to water but if it is the only time you have to water, it may just take extra time due to more wind and evaporation. Avoid watering in the evening hours.  Watering in the evening can make turf more susceptible to mold and diseases by providing the moisture needed by fungus and bacteria. Even with proper watering techniques, turf can still get heat stressed and get some brown spots. Depending on the species of turf, green up times vary.  Kentucky bluegrass may take 2-3 weeks to recoup and start turning green again.  On the other hand, tall fescue will tend to bounce back quicker from a droughty period.   

IN GENERAL, WHEN IT COMES TO IRRIGATION SYSTEMS, avoid the set-it and forget-it approach. Rather, adjust your irrigation timers according to your turf’s needs, not yours.  Some things to consider when you’re evaluating your turf’s needs are:

  • Paying close attention to the weather will help you figure out if you need to water more or less.
  • Finding out how much water your lawn needs depends on a few factors such as species of turf, if it’s in the shade, if it’s at the bottom of a slope, and whether your grass is newly established.
  • Grass in the shade and at the bottom of a slope tends to need LESS water overall.
  • Keep in mind that NEW SOD and GRASS GROWN FROM SEED tends to need more weather overall FOR THE FIRST YEAR OR SO while it’s becoming fully established – but again, if it’s in the shade or at the bottom of a slope, adjust accordingly.
  • Yes, you read that right … Sodded and Seeded Lawns should be considered newly established / establishing for about a year or so.  Some of the calls we had this summer were about sod that was laid last fall, where the amount of irrigation was not adjusted accordingly, and they were effectively under-watering which led to yellowing or browning of the grass that was still establishing, as compared to the established parts of their yards.
  • You also may want to pay attention to the length of the lawn surrounding your sprinkler heads.
  • If the grass is too long, the water spray will be deflected and not get to where it needs to go.  Keep grass trimmed around sprinkler heads.

If you are unsure how much water your irrigation system is putting out or if it’s putting out the same amount all over, simply put empty tuna cans or rain gauges in grid like zones.  If they are not holding the same amount of water for each zone, adjustments may be needed.  You will also have to adjust timers on hills,  slopes and shaded areas as they all require different amounts of irrigation.  Set timers on hills and slopes just enough time until the water begins to run off, then stopping until it is absorbed, repeating until the desired amount is applied is recommended.   Hilltops dry out faster than lower areas so they should be irrigated differently.  Shaded areas also need less water.

Click here to read more on a blog we recently published on proper watering techniques.

Let’s recap and build on a few main points…

  • The best time to water is 4am-8am.
  • The next best time is 8am-noon.
  • Watering every day, in light/shallow waterings should be avoided and can produce unwanted crabgrass, diseases and other weeds that thrive in that environment.
  • Deep, infrequent watering is the best for established lawns.
  • Newly established lawns and lawns that are establishing over about a year or so tend to need more water overall – but again, slopes and shade can make a difference.
  • Oh, and Fertilizing and mowing should also be avoided during extremely hot and dry periods.

When the Temperatures are HIGH, RED HEN TURF FARM RECOMMENDS that you hold off on fertilizing and mowing, and plan on doing some extra watering if you want to keep your lawn from going dormant, especially with Recently Laid Sod

So whether you have underground irrigation on timers or a good old fashion sprinkler and hose, some adjustments and work still have to go into keeping your lawn green during droughts.

Questions?  Give us a call at 574-232-6811

 

 

A FEW UPDATES to this BLOG MADE on 6/15/20 – A HOT DRY JUNE!  

Even with types of grasses like our Rhizomatous Tall Fescue Sod that are technically more “drought tolerant” as compared some other turfgrasses, it’s becoming quite the “HOT TOPIC” here at Red Hen.

For more on this topic, Check out Purdue’s article, “Home lawn during drought: To water … or not?” HERE, and Purdue’s article, “THE HEAT IS ON!” HERE is another good one to read.

You might also check out Red Hen’s BLOG, “Where did the rain go? And what do I do about my thirsty lawn?” HERE. Purdue’s guide on “Irrigation Practices for Homeowners” is another great resource, HERE.

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Red Hen’s 2 Choices for an INSTANT LAWN: Kentucky Bluegrass Sod vs. Rhizomatous Tall Fescue Sod

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Red Hen’s Kentucky Bluegrass

Did you know that Red Hen Turf Farm produces and sells 2 kinds of sod? 

In 2018, we carry both our flagship 100% Kentucky Bluegrass Sod, and more recently our Rhizomatous Tall Fescue Sod (also referred to as “RTF Sod” or simply “Tall Fescue Sod”).

 

Of these 2 choices, our Kentucky Bluegrass Sod is a more popular cool-season turf grass that is specific to our Midwest region.

By far, the majority of sod we sell is our Kentucky Bluegrass Sod. 

So what are the main differences between Red Hen’s two types of Sod, and why might you choose one over the other?  We get this question a lot.

Let’s start by focusing on KENTUCKY BLUEGRASS SOD …

Kentucky Bluegrass is by far (in our opinion) the more beautiful of the two turf grasses.  It has a deep, emerald blue-green color with boat shaped blades and spreads quickly via rhizomes, (which are basically underground roots) to form a dense “knitted” type sod.

Kentucky Bluegrass does best in full sun but needs at least 4 hours or more of DIRECT sunlight per day to thrive. Kentucky bluegrass requires regular maintenance.  Routine fertilization is key to maintaining this beautiful, lush turf.

Kentucky Bluegrass has a shallower rooting system than Tall Fescue Sod.  Because of its shallow rooting system, Kentucky Bluegrass has lower tolerances for heat and drought.  This is why it is important to follow good watering habits, especially in the heat of the summer.

Every spring, we have a handful of our new Kentucky Bluegrass sod customers call us early in the spring and ask us why their sod is still brown when their neighbors’ lawns are already greening up.  Kentucky Bluegrass takes a few extra weeks to “green up” than fescues and rye grasses. This is absolutely normal for this type of grass, so it’s nothing to worry about.  You can read more about this issue in our previous blog post,Straight from our FAQ VAULT … It’s Spring, but why is my Kentucky Bluegrass Sod not GREEN yet?”

One of the best things about Kentucky bluegrass is, once it’s established – it has the ability to repair, spread and recuperate quickly from damages.

IN SUMMARY:  Kentucky Bluegrass Sod Maintenance Level Medium to High Follow watering instructions, mow “right”, and fertilize regularly for best results. To keep pests and diseases at a minimum, promote a thick, dense turf by regularly fertilizing.


Now, let’s switch over to focusing on TALL FESCUE SOD …

At this point, Red Hen’s Rhizomatous Tall Fescue Sod is grown in limited quantities, and for this reason, we require a minimum of 2,000 sq. ft. order and a 2-3 day lead time for pickup or delivery.

Red Hen’s Rhizomatous Tall Fescue Sod is slightly lighter in green color compared to Kentucky bluegrass.  It is a deep-rooted, cool-season turf grass that adapts well to a wide variety of soil types.  The deep root system allows Tall Fescue to tolerate drought conditions better than Kentucky bluegrass.

Many of our customers ask if we have “shade grass.”  Our response is, “no grass likes shade.” However, our tall fescue is a great heat and drought tolerant grass that tends to do well in less irrigated areas.

Typically, tall fescue grasses have a “bunch-style” growth habit without the ability to spread like Kentucky bluegrass’s rhizomatous root system.  However, with the advent of this past decade’s turf technology, Rhizomatous Tall Fescue is the only tall fescue variety with true rhizomes, which help its roots knit together, repair and spread better than regular fescue.  This helps with installation and makes for quick establishment.  Re-seeding is still necessary in damaged areas, as the turf can tend to be “clumpy” versus the tightly knit Kentucky bluegrass.

Red Hen’s Tall Fescue (in the fall season)

Since less water is needed for Tall Fescue, it is a common choice for those who do not have access to irrigation and desire a lower maintenance lawn.

IN SUMMARY:  Rhizomautous Tall Fescue Sod Maintenance Level:  Low-Moderate: Less irrigation and less fertilizer is needed – once established.  Avoid fertilizing in the late spring and summer (warmer) months.

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Ready to Learn More?  Looking for a Quote? Call us at 574-232-6811 or visit us our PDF library.

Or, as always, Purdue offers a wide range of free educational, research-based articles about home lawn care in our part of the country – HERE’s THE LINK

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True or False – Sodding vs. Seeding

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Having a hard time deciding whether to sod or seed? Here are some tips to help you decide.

True or False: It takes more water to establish sod.

False.

Typically, in the hotter months, a large amount of water is needed to install sod, but once sod has established a root system, less water is needed. Rooting for new sod takes about 2-3 weeks. New seeding requires multiple daily applications of water to maintain adequate moisture to prevent the seed from drying out. Germination can take 3 days to 3 weeks depending on the type of grass and the quality of the seed, but more water is needed during this establishment time frame. It takes 12-18 months to fully establish a lawn from seed so more watering is needed overall for seeding.

New seeding requires 12-18 months of intensive nurturing to establish into a lawn.

True or False: Sod requires more fertilizer and herbicides.

False.

Compared to seed, sod is professionally grown, healthy and mature. Properly grown sod has minimal (if any) weeds and pests therefore, there is no need to apply herbicides. All you need to do is feed it a few times a year with a standard fertilizer to keep it green, thick and healthy. As long as it’s thick and healthy, chances of getting weeds or pests are slim. Seeding will need multiple treatments of herbicides and starter fertilizers throughout it’s establishment. Not to mention young seedlings are more susceptible to disease causing bacteria and fungus than mature turf grass.

Grass seedlings.

True or False: Sodding is more expensive than seeding.

Trick question – you decide!

Initially you may think sodding is more expensive than seeding. However, add all the herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, watering’s, wash outs, dirty pets and kids tracking in mud, and the time and labor it takes to carefully crop your seedlings into mature turf grass for 18 months, you may think twice. You must decide the trade off and if 18 months of your time and labor is worth it. In the end, do you have a quality product even close to what is grown on a turf farm? In the long run, we feel sodding and seeding costs are fairly equal. There is also soil quality to think about. Seeding on less than desirable soils leave you with questionable results. You may have to add top soil into your current soil to get better nutrients to grow grass from seed, which adds to your expenses. Sod can survive and thrive on all types of soils.

Red Hen’s Kentucky Bluegrass field.

If you aren’t that picky about the quality of your lawn, like to watch plants grow, or have the time to nurture and learn about growing turf from seed, then seeding may be for you. If you want instant gratification, no washouts, no weeds or fungus, clean floors and the desire to have a great quality lawn (100% Kentucky Bluegrass or Rhizomatous Tall Fescue (aka RTF) sod) then choose to sod your lawn.

Let’s not forget one important factor in seeding. There is a small window of time to plant grass seed whereas sodding can be done anytime (as long as we are harvesting). Click here to find out when the best time to seed is: Establishing Turfgrass Areas from Seed: Purdue

Some customers are quite successful at seeding. Here’s an example of before and after photos from a customer who over-seeded his lawn using a slit seeder.

Photo Cred: David Losh
Photo Cred: David Losh
Photo Cred: David Losh

We hear it a lot from those who have seeded and failed, “I wish I would have sodded my lawn.” Seeding is not for everyone. Never fear, we are always here to help with questions whether you decide to seed or sod your lawn. Measure up your area, call us and we’ll give you pricing on both sod and seed, fertilizers, herbicides and more. We don’t do installations, but can recommend a good landscaper in your area if you aren’t interested in D-I-Y projects.

Until next time,

– Michelle & The Red Hen Crew!

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My Sod is Installed, Now What Do I Do With My Pallets?

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Red Hen does not make a special trip to return to your site to pick pallets up, so the question often arises about how to deal with our custom-made pallets after your sod delivery. Here are a few suggestions for our Retail Customers:

  1. You might try your hand at “up-cycling” them or reusing them in some home-improvement / garden projects. Pinterest has so many fun, creative ideas you can check out at THIS LINK.
  2.  If you are in the South Bend area, you can contact Michiana Pallet Recycle to make an appointment to drop them by.  It is our understanding that Michiana Pallet Recycle may also consider picking up pallets for businesses or in large quantities.  Their phone number is  574-232-8566, and they are located at 55022 Pear Rd, South Bend, IN 46628 (GOOGLE MAP LINK). 
  3. If you’re not in the South Bend area, try searching Google for “Pallet recycling near me” and calling around. Even if the first few calls you make don’t pan out, it’s worth asking them if they can refer you to somewhere you can recycle them.
  4. If your Red Hen pallets are in good, re-usable condition, you can call us at 574-232-6811 and arrange for possibly bringing them to our farm and we will re-purpose them.  Only return our pallets, which are custom-made. We cannot accept returns on any other pallets.
  5. If you are planning to have more sod delivered, and your Red Hen pallets are in good, re-usable condition, here’s another possible option. When you place your next order, be sure to let us know you’d like us to pick them up, and we can usually make arrangements to do so when we deliver your next order of sod. If you are considering this option, please keep the following in mind:
    • Please do not send pallets with any loose boards.
    • Please have the pallets neatly stacked. The picture below is a great example of how we’d like them stacked.
    • Only return our pallets, which are custom-made. Other pallets cannot be picked up.
Here is a great example of well-stacked Red Hen Turf Farm Pallets!
Here is a great example of well-stacked Red Hen Turf Farm Pallets!
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Too late for a Fall Grass Seeding? Tips for a Winter (Dormant) Seeding – It’s a great option that few know about!

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Did you miss the optimum time for seeding this fall?  If you are wondering when that was, typically in our region (Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan) the number 1 very best time to plant grass seed is between August 15 and September 15.

Today, as we write this article, it’s October 23rd and we are still getting daily customer questions about seeding at this time of year and it’s really too late and would be a waste of time and money. Mother Nature is not going to let your seed grow enough to make it through a frost and our soon-to-come harsh cold temperatures.

Any grass seed planting after September in our region can be risky due to freezing ground temperatures.  Once the seed germinates in anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks (more on germination can be read HERE), it will need a couple more weeks to mature enough to withstand the freezing and often unpredictable Indiana temperatures so planting too late may not be successful.  

TOO LATE AND NOT FEELING GREAT ABOUT WAITING UNTIL SPRING? THERE’S A SOLUTION!

Why not step out of your comfort zone and opt for what is often referred to as a “dormant seeding“? Using the method of “dormant seeding” also happens to typically be the 2nd best option timing-wise to plant grass seed in our region.  

“Dormant seeding” simply refers to the fact that if you put the seed down once the ground is frozen for the season, the seed will lie dormant or inactive until soil temperatures are warm enough to germinate in the EARLY spring and give you a head-start compared to doing the seeding in the spring.  

You can use any seed you want to use for this method of seeding.  Unsure what seed to choose?  Pick a high-quality seed for best results.  Here are a few options we sell in our store:

100% Kentucky Bluegrass Seed … 

This sod-quality seed will match our most current variety of Kentucky Bluegrass sod in production. This seed takes 21 days to germinate and will be very slow to fill in. This seed will require some extra attention to establish, but it exhibits the same deep green color and disease resistance that Red Hen’s sod does.  AVAILABLE PRICED BY THE POUND. Rates: NEW SEEDING: 4 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft /// OVER-SEEDING: 2 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft

Rhizomatous Tall Fescue (RTF) Seed … 

This seed will match our No Net Rhizomatous Tall Fescue sod in production. This seed takes 7-14 days to germinate.  AVAILABLE PRICED BY THE POUND. Rates: NEW SEEDING: 6-8 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft; over seed 3-4 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft.

Greenskeeper Custom Mix Seed … 

OUR MOST POPULAR SEED!  Works well in full sun and light amounts of shade.  This variety contains 3 types of grass seeds and each type will germinate at a different time.  AVAILABLE PRICED BY THE POUND. Rates: NEW SEEDING: 4-6 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft /// OVER-SEEDING: 2-3 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft.

Greenskeeper Premium Shade Mix Seed …

While no grass loves shade, this blend has varieties that exhibit better growth habits in partially shaded areas. AVAILABLE PRICED BY THE POUND. Rates: NEW SEEDING: 4-6 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft /// OVER-SEEDING: 2-3 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft.

Greenskeeper Super Shady Seed …

NEWER PRODUCT we started carrying in 2018! If you have less than 2 hours of direct sunlight and have tried to other shady mixes with little luck, this may be the grass seed for you!  This mix contains includes 5% Poa Supina bluegrass seed – some of the highest tech shad grass seed on the market.  AVAILABLE PRICED BY THE POUND. Rate: NEW SEEDING: 4-6 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft /// OVER-SEEDING: 2-3 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft.

For good timing on a dormant seeding, we typically suggest waiting until December and getting it done prior to March, but it all depends on ground and air temps.

You will need to make sure your site is prepared for seeding prior to snow fall, as you would a typical spring or fall seeding.  

Starter fertilizer is not needed, since the grass is not actively growing, but be sure to get some fertilizer (without crabgrass or broadleaf herbicides!!!) down after the ground thaws to help give the new seedlings a good spring boost.

Simply broadcast the seed at the rates recommended, sit back (enjoy a hot chocolate) and wait for spring.   

Sound strange? How does it work? When the ground freezes and thaws during the winter months, the earth heaves and cracks, eventually making room for seed to fall into the soil where it will wait in a DORMANT STATE for warmer weather to germinate in the spring.  

Some challenges to consider with dormant seeding (overall, less challenges than spring though!): 

  • Birds love seed and since food is scarce in the winter you may get some visitors. You might try seeding in the later winter months (February or early March) for better results.
  • If we get an early sprig warm-up followed by winter settling back in again, there is potential for snow or freezing AFTER the seed has started to germinate.   
  • You won’t be able to use certain herbicides — such as pre-emergent crabgrass herbicides — until after the new grass’s roots system has grown enough to have been mowed at least 2-3 times.  

Unsure about trying a dormant seeding? Try sodding instead.

We harvest sod well into November and sometimes as late as December. The cooler months give off just the right amount of hydration so little water is needed during this time. As long as the site is prepared, you can lay it on frozen ground, the sod will go dormant, and it will “wake up” and finish rooting in the spring. (Surprising, huh?) 

Read more on seeding here: Late July / Early August UPDATE – The Window of Time for Fall Grass Seed Planting Will Be Here and Gone Before You Know It!

FROM THE RED HEN FAQ VAULT: Soils for Lawn – Considerations for Seeding and Sodding

Red Hen’s Grass Seeding Quiz

Until next time, Michelle & The Red Hen Crew!

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