Thatch Problem? or Not a Thatch Problem? … IS THAT THE QUESTION???

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by Lisa Courtney, Customer Support, Red Hen Turf Farm

At certain points throughout the year, we start getting calls asking, “Do I need to be thatching my yard? It looks like I’ve got a LOT of thatch.”

So, what is thatch?

First of all, healthy grass can have a small amount thatch. Some is good, more is not. Most lawns do have thatch, and in small amounts it’s kind of like the padding under a carpet, providing a resilient, springy surface to walk on. It is thick EXCESSIVE THATCH that gives this normal aspect of lawns a bad name.

Thatch is a layer under the growing grass you see, comprised of an intermingled layer of lawn clippings and other living and dead plant stems, leaves, and root matter that gather at the base of the grass, between the soil and green vegetation.

Thatch does not necessarily mean you will have issues – it’s more about HOW MUCH thatch is present. You only have a “thatch problem” if the thatch layer gets so thick so that water and air have trouble getting to grass roots.

EXCESSIVE THATCH comes about from practices that make the grass grow faster that soil organisms can break it down, or that reduce beneficial soil organisms such as earthworms, insects, and microscopic species. The practices that cause the type of overly-rapid growth that can lead to EXCESSIVE THATCH include over-fertilizing, over-watering, and/or causing soil compaction.

EXCESSIVE THATCH may:

  • Prevent water, air, and nutrients from reaching the soil and grass plant’s root zone,
  • Reduce tolerance to drought and temperature extremes
  • Provide a protective environment for insect pests like webworm larvae, chinch bugs, and billbugs
  • Provide an environment that encourages fungus disease
  • Prevent some insecticides and herbicides from penetrating the soil, which makes them ineffective
  • Obstruct overseeding

A thin ¼-½ inch layer of thatch actually can provide benefits like surface cushioning, greater tolerance to wear and tear, and better temperature moderation.

EXCESSIVE THATCH of 1 inch or more can, however, cause a host of lawn problems. Grass varieties that tend to produce thatch more slowly are fescues and perennial ryegrass, whereas grasses like zoysia, Bermuda, and bluegrass tend to produce more thatch.


The GOOD NEWS is that in most cases, people really don’t have an EXCESSIVE THATCH PROBLEM at all. How can you tell?

  • If you mow frequently enough so as not to remove more than 1/3 of the leaf blade at a single mowing where you’re cutting less than 1 inch of the leaf blade, the clipping will disperse and and decompose with sunlight and moisture quite quickly …. LONG BEFORE they can accumulate and become “excessive thatch”
  • If, on the other hand, you are not mowing regularly and end up cutting more than about 1 inch of the blade, it takes longer for these clippings to decompose and they can suffocate your lawn.
  • Get a little hands on! Whenever you mow, take a minute to scout things out, like a Farmer does for their crops. Use your finger to dig down around the base of your grass plants. If all you find is bare dirt, then you do not have an excessive thatch problem. Check again a couple of days after you mow. The clippings you leave should be barely noticeable.
  • If you wanted to measure the thickness of thatch (and again, healthy grass has thatch!), poke around the grass until you find the brown layer near the bottom of the grass blade. With your finger or a stick, poke a hole through the brown layer to the top of the soil, and measure the thickness of the thatch. If your thach layer is less than 1/2? thick, it’s not a problem, and you can leave the grass alone.

If you’re still a little skeptical about leaving your clippings on your lawn after mowing, Regional Turfgrass Experts at Purdue University explain:

Clipping removal is generally not recommended on most turfgrass areas. Clippings do not contribute to thatch because they are primarily water and break down quickly. Furthermore, returning clippings will recycle valuable nutrients to the soil thereby reducing fertilizer requirements. Clippings are not harmful if your mower spreads them evenly and if they are not thick enough to shade the grass below. Mulching mowers are recommended, but research suggests that mulching mowers increase clipping breakdown only slightly faster than conventional side-discharge mowers when used on cool-season turfgrasses. Catching clippings is labor and time intensive and should only be done if the clippings are used for mulch or compost.

~ via Purdue University Turf Science Department of Agronomy Publication Ay-8-W, “Mowing, Dethatching, Aerifying Mowing, Dethatching, Aerifying and Rolling Turf and Rolling Turf”

Purdue’s experts also offer this advice:

Yard waste materials such as grass clippings, leaves, and yard trimmings make up approximately 10% (by volume) of the municipal waste stream, according to Indiana’s Department of Environmental Management. Yard waste can account for 50% or more of residential solid waste during the active growing season. Although this waste is biodegradable, landfills do not get the oxygen and water needed for breakdown. Landfills are constructed to prevent movement of air and moisture in order to protect the surrounding environment. These materials can be better put to use enhancing our gardens and landscapes.

***

Leaving grass clippings on the lawn rather than bagging for disposal is an excellent way to dramatically reduce yard waste. The amount of grass clippings generated from a given lawn varies, depending on the grass species, weather, fertilization program, and yard size. One estimate indicates that 5,000 square feet of lawn generates about 1 ton of clippings per year! Grass clippings left on the lawn are not harmful to the turf if it is mowed at the proper height and frequency. In fact, the clippings will return some nutrients back to the soil, reducing fertilizer requirements. Contrary to popular belief, grass clippings do not contribute to thatch buildup because they break down quite rapidly. Thatch is composed of dead, decomposing roots, and underground stems.

~ via Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, West Lafayette, IN, Publication ID-182-W, “Managing Yard Wastes: Clippings and Compost”

So, the RIGHT QUESTION to ask is, “Do I have an EXCESSIVE THATCH problem?” and the answer is often No, but proper assessment is the only way to tell for sure.

You can LEARN MORE, including how to DETHATCH if you need to, by clicking on the links blow


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More Adventures in Installing Sod – Part 2

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By Michelle Sadowski, Customer Service Specialist, Red Hen Turf Farm

In Part 1 of this story, I shared my experiences as I planned for, prepared for, and installed my new Tall Fescue sod, and then worked to keep it watered enough for the very hot and dry July we had in 2018.

If you missed Part 1, which we shared this past May 2019, HERE’S THE LINK.  Now, in late August 2019, as things are slowing down a bit this week, I wanted to take advantage of a little extra time and share Part 2.

It was getting closer and closer to my big party last year in August 2018, when I decided it was a good time to boost with another round of starter fertilizer to really bring out the best my Tall Fescue sod had to offer my guests.

So on a nice cool afternoon, after a few glasses of wine, I started my fertilization.  Right away I knew something wasn’t right … too much fertilizer was coming out of my spreader! I accidentally dumped the starter fertilizer all over the place – and before I could catch it it was too late.

My first instinct was to get the shop vac. But instead I tried watering it down.  I should have chosen the shop vac because watering only made it worse.

I sat back and did the only thing I could do at the moment. I had another glass of wine. How could I have dumped all that fertilizer out? What was going to happen?  Actually, since I work at Red Hen, I knew what was going to happen.

And it happened in a matter of days, just like that. I burned my lawn only a couple weeks before the big party.

Fertilizing and wine do not mix! Be careful to check your spreader for the right setting, too!

The party came and went and no one even really cared about the chemical burn on my newly installed lawn.  It was already starting to repair itself. I was so impressed and amazed at its repairing ability.  Still, I didn’t have high expectations after the chemical burn, and figured I’d seed the bare spots at the end of August (the ideal time to seed in the midwest is typically August 15 – September 15).  But as September rolled around, my turf had nearly repaired itself completely without any assistance.  There were several small spots I had to remove dead grass and re-seed but I was very happy to see the sod had repaired itself so well.

Critters.

By mid to late August, the turf looked great.  In September, just as it was repairing from the chemical burn, I was inspecting my new turf like I did often when walking on it.  Suddenly, the ground beneath my feet sunk through the turf into runs of tunnels left by critters.   After some investigating and attempts to trap what we thought were moles, we found the culprits to be ground squirrels or chipmunks – there is a difference but we couldn’t figure out which ones were creating the damage.  We had at least a dozen or more all over the yard … under the decks, in the mulch, in the garage, everywhere.

Of course, I did some internet searching that included the word “Purdue” since – because I work at Red Hen – I know that Purdue University Extension provides a huge amount of FREE, REGIONAL and SCIENCE-BASED information on all sorts of topics including lawn care and wildlife management, and Googling the terms Purdue Chipmunk Squirrel led me to THIS GUIDE and THIS GUIDE to find out how to get rid of these rascals.

After doing some reading, the very first thing we did was take away their food source.  Eventually with some other trapping methods, we were able to eliminate most of the critters. We also LIGHTLY rolled the turf daily until we felt the problem was eliminated.

By the end of September 2018, the Tall Fescue Sod was improving, but the damages were evident.  I was hoping for another round of amazing self-repair.

Our turf at the end of September repairing itself after underground critters wreaked havoc.

By the end of October 2018, my new sod had filled in again!  I couldn’t believe it.  It was so green.  Sure, there were a few bare spots, but after everything this turf had gone through, it bounced right back.

One thing I didn’t get a chance to do was to get a fall/winter fertilizer treatment down. In general, Tall Fescue sod needs less fertilizer than Kentucky Bluegrass sod to maintain it’s best condition, and especially since mine is in a shady area, it would need even less fertilizer. I was confident that a good spring fertilizer would do wonders, and as I write this in August of 2019, I can happily say that I was right.

Because we have critters, oaks and other problematic trees in this particular part of the yard, we’re always going to have some issues and cleanup to do.  But in the end, we’ve got a gorgeous backyard we can enjoy.

And as long as I continued to follow Jeremy’s advice, “Mow right, water right and fertilize right,” I think I’ve got this.

This was a great learning experience for me, and with the help from my co-workers I will continue to learn more and more.

It also makes it easier to tell our customers, I’ve been there, done that – and here’s what I did to correct it.

Sometimes you just have to wait to see what happens.

Grass is funny like that.

It takes time to grow.

October 30 – our tall fescue turf is looks amazing!

Hopefully you have learned a little bit from my experiences and maybe you can relate to (or laugh at) some of my failures.

Either way, don’t let it get to you.  It’s just grass.

Until next time,

~Michelle & The Red Hen Crew!Facebookpinterestlinkedinmail

MID to LATE-SUMMER CRABGRASS CONTROL TIPS (from the Red Hen FAQ Vault – The 2019 Update)

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Crabgrass Photo by Michigan State University Extension

Crabgrass Photo by Michigan State University Extension

Getting right to crabgrass … it’s looking to be bad this year! From site visits and talking to quite a few landscapers and customers, with the sporadic weather / precipitation patterns this year, I believe that non-irrigated lawns are seeing the most dramatic turf-decline this year, and on a related note, the brunt of crabgrass germination. We have definitely seen a lot of customer photos this year of grass-type weeds in general.

The best way to control crabgrass is to maintain a dense, healthy turf. That way, your grass is more likely to out-compete crabgrass (and other weeds), preventing weeds from establishing. On the other hand, crabgrass tends to have rigorous survival and reproductive capabilities.

So, for lawns, it may be unrealistic to expect a crabgrass-free lawn (BUT YOU CAN TRY!)

It may be that, in the end, you will have to accept a few crabgrass plants.

Are you dealing with crabgrass at this point in the year?

Do you want to get this weed under control?

If so, we recommend following of these 2 Options to hopefully put you in a better position by next spring:

Option 1. Let the crabgrass go for now, and wait until fall and let Mother Nature kill it off. After mid-July, crabgrass plants are usually too large to control effectively. Crabgrass begins flowering and setting seed in July and will die out with the first major frost. It will take a while for these plants to decay, but at least you won’t see any in the spring. That is, unless you have allowed the crabgrass to go to seed this year, in which case you will be dealing with those seeds germinating next spring.

Option 2. As Purdue Extension points out, “Proper fertility, mowing, and irrigation is essential for crabgrass control; consider herbicidal control only if necessary.” If you are not able to tolerate the crabgrass in your lawn, we specifically recommend using a product that we carry called Q4 (CLICK HERE to read the label). Here at Red Hen Turf Farm, we really like a product called Q4 because it covers all 3 major types of undesirable weeds all in one bottle — grassy weeds, broadleaf weeds, and sedges. If there was only one herbicide product that I could use on my lawn, it would be Q4.

For better crabgrass and broadleaf weed control next year, you’d really need to do some strategizing over the next few months.

For example, by adding 25-0-10 fertilizer to your lawn two times from now until winter, this should make your lawn much less weedy going into the 2020 growing season.

WHY IS THIS? The thicker and stronger your grass is grass is, the better your grass can out-compete weeds. Regular fertilizing is one of the important steps towards making that happen.

Have you ever wondered why is it that we don’t see a lot of fertilizer commercials in the fall, like we do in the spring?

My guess is that the marketing teams for the big name brands do not use turf science, but are instead driven by the purchasing habits of homeowners (for better or worse).

Our job at Red Hen Turf Farm is always to strive to save our customers time, money, and/or both. So, let’s use some turf science and feed your lawn when it needs it the most.

If you told me that you only wanted to fertilize 1 or 2 times each year, you might expect I’d recommend doing it in the spring, but actually that’s not the case.

In fact, you would get the most bang for your buck by fertilizing in September and then again in November. Are you surprised? We wrote a blog about this very topic that you might want to check out by CLICKING HERE. We have also written quite a bit about crabgrass in the past, which you can read by CLICKING HERE.

And guess what? It’s all based on turf science, with Purdue Extension as a major source that we consult, and we always recommend that our customers do the same.Facebookpinterestlinkedinmail

Adventures in Installing Sod for the First Time – Part 1

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By Michelle Sadowski, Customer Service Specialist, Red Hen Turf Farms

In the summer of 2018, I took on a D-I-Y project to sod my back yard.  Now that several months have passed, I can share my funny moments, achievements, and failures with all of you. It’s easy to give advice when you read from a script or manual on a daily basis,  but when you actually experience the complete prepare, install and care of sod, you get a better understanding what customers are going through first hand.

If I may start out by giving a bit of advice … if you have a smaller project like mine (1,800 Sq. Ft.), it’s manageable for the D-I-Y’er. If you’re working on a larger job, consider hiring a landscaper.  Landscapers have the equipment and manpower to get the job done easier and more efficiently. If you need a few leads on hiring a landscaper, just call Red Hen Turf Farm – 574-232-6811

I have a slight advantage over the typical residential homeowner.  I’ve been working for Red Hen Turf Farm for 2 seasons now, and I have been equipped with the knowledge of preparing, installing and caring for the sod day in and day out.  And if I really want advice or an answer I cannot find in my trusted sources (Purdue & Michigan State), I can easily just ask Jeremy, our Turf Operations Manager.  Although I am still very much learning the ropes, he knows pretty much everything there is to know about the turf industry, as well as other off topics I don’t need to know (but he tells me anyway).

When I expressed an interest in sodding my back yard, I wanted to make sure I chose the right type of (two) turf varieties Red Hen grows, harvests and sells, which are Kentucky Bluegrass sod and Rhizomatous Tall Fescue sod (also referred to as “RTF Sod” or simply “Tall Fescue Sod”). You can read a more in-depth article about our two turf varieties HERE – Red Hen’s 2 Choices for an INSTANT LAWN: Kentucky Bluegrass Sod vs. Rhizomatous Tall Fescue Sod.

Jeremy helped me choose the type of sod best suited for my project by asking me a few simple questions. These are some of the same questions we ask our customers to make sure their sod projects are successful, and include things like:

  1. Do you have irrigation in the area you are sodding? This is important because although both types need enough water to get established, fescue is drought tolerant and will bounce back better after a drought than Kentucky Bluegrass.
  2. What type of soil do you have? Is it closer to beach sand or hard clay? Again, this is important for the capacity to hold nutrients properly.  Sandy & clay soils need to be watered and fertilized a little differently as well. For more on SOILS, check out FROM THE RED HEN FAQ VAULT: Soils for Lawn – Considerations for Seeding and Sodding
  3. How many hours of direct sunlight does the area you want to sod actually get? Our fescue sod is not a “shade grass” like some people think.  Both turf grasses need direct sunlight to thrive.
  4. How much time and money do you realistically want to spend on maintenance?  Kentucky Bluegrass is a higher maintenance turf than fescue.  Fescue will need less water and fertilizer once it’s established than Kentucky Bluegrass.
Red Hen Turf Farm grows, harvests and sells 100% Kentucky Bluegrass AND Rhizomatous Tall Fescue. Kentucky Bluegrass makes up most of our sales, but the Fescue is another option for homeowners with little or no irrigation and/or want less maintenance.

The “BEFORE PHOTO” … We had a lot of work ahead of us including removing a fire-pit and walkway.

CHOOSING THE BEST-SUITED TURF TYPE

I knew that my backyard was not going to be the best fit for the Kentucky Bluegrass sod. There’s no in-ground irrigation, it’s got some shade and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time or money maintaining it.    I didn’t mind having an “imperfect” lawn, especially with our pesky squirrels and moles.  So I chose Rhizomatous Tall Fescue for the project. It was end of June when I decided it was time for my project to begin since I was planning a huge birthday party in August and I was on a time crunch.

Keep in mind that our Tall Fescue sod is not a shade grass – no grass likes shade.  However, in theory our Tall Fescue sod MAY do better in shaded areas than our KYB sod.

Ultimately, if your grass is thinning out due to shade, there are things you can do to improve your growing chances such as trim trees and create more airflow. Here’s a great link for those wondering about growing grass in shaded areas:  Red Hen’s Grass In Shade

INSPECTING THE SITE

I first wanted to make sure the soil was going to be fertile enough for my turf but I knew it would be fine because there was already grass growing in the area I was planning on sodding. The initial reason I wanted to sod is because I had large dirt patches everywhere. Seeding could have been an option but I am impatient. I didn’t want to wait a year to pass a “sock test” and who doesn’t want an beautiful, instant lawn?

We found out later (after closer inspection) the reason grass didn’t grow in certain areas was due to compaction and rocks under the soil. Grass doesn’t grow well on rocks or in compacted soils.  To learn how to correct compaction issues, Purdue has a great link here:  Mowing, Dethatching, Aerifying and Rolling Turf.

Rocks made grass impossible to grow next to our old driveway. It was a tough and long job to remove them to make way for turf.

My soil was on the sandy side, so I considered mixing topsoil in.  However, from what I have learned while working at Red Hen, I knew it was not necessary because I had success growing grass in that area before. Additionally, I knew our sod grew well in many types of soil as long as it was taken care of properly. I also learned that having sandy soil meant you may just have to water more frequently and in smaller amounts. Here’s a great Purdue article on sandy soils: Maintaining Lawns on Sandy Soil

When homeowners tell us they have new construction, we often suggest to mix topsoil in – just because (typically) with new construction the top layer of soil  (where a lot of the nutrients are) is often stripped out to make way for concrete, garages, homes and roads.  If you are unsure, always get a soil test before you seed or sod.
MEASURING

We recommend using a measuring wheel or other measuring tool designed for this purpose.  We have found that house plans/prints are not reliable enough when deciding how much sod to order.

Make sure you measure more than once and allow for any trimming.

Red Hen makes it easy to measure – just go here:  Measuring Tips  I measured a few times with a measuring wheel and after I got the same number twice, found 1,800 sq. ft. was the magic number.

You can also try using a website called Lawncrack to help you figure out the size of the area.  You simply type in your address into the Lawncrack Area Calculator, and an aerial view of your property pops up for you to draw the area you want to sod, while it calculates your square footage.  there are lots of trees on your property, it might not provide you a good enough aerial view.

You can use a measuring wheel like this for small projects, or a larger wheel for larger projects.

PREPPING THE SITE

We were finally ready to break ground.  I would suggest reading our instructions on Preparing, Patching and Installing sod.  It was end of June and it was very hot (90’s)  Jeremy did warn me about heat stresses on sod during these temps but I pushed forward with the project anyway.  I was able to hire a friend to scalp the remaining sod off the site. Using a sod cutter, it didn’t take any time for him to remove the upper layer of the lawn to get it down to bare dirt.  We removed the fire-pit and stone walkway, then we were ready for the tilling. Some landscapers suggest to use grass killer herbicide and till it up afterwards.  If you decide to go this route, ensure you pick a herbicide that allows you to replant grass or seed within the time frame you want to seed or sod.  (always read the label/instructions).  I had pets so I didn’t want to risk any harmful chemicals around them.

Renting a sod cutter is one way you can prepare your site for new sod.

Once the old grass was removed it was time for tilling and grading.  My husband rented a tiller and tilled the soil deep to about 4-6 inches.  We then took metal rakes and leveled the area into a smooth surface.

The final grade.

DELIVERY & INSTALLING

I made sure I planned ahead to order my sod, ensuring at least 4-5 days for scheduling.  It was July 5th.  My sod and enough starter fertilizer (12-12-12) to cover my area was set to arrive after lunch.

With a bit of planning and communication to the Red Hen Team about where the delivery semi would be parking and placing the pallets of sod, (HERE’s an article we recently wrote on that topic), our awesome Red Hen driver Bob, arrived promptly and set the pallets exactly where we needed them.

We were ready to start installing.

I fertilized the graded ground with starter fertilizer (12-12-12) at 8 pounds per 1,000 sq. ft so I used just about 15 pounds total for my 1,800 sq. ft. area.

An easy way to calculate how much fertilizer you need:  Take your total square footage divide it by 1,000 (sq.ft) then multiply it by the rate of the fertilizer.  IE: 1,800 sq. ft divided by 1,000 = 1.8 multiplied by the rate of the starter fert of 8 lbs per thousand sq. ft  equals 14.4 lbs needed for the entire area.

Not sure if your spreader is set to the right setting?  Click HERE for Red Hen’s Guide, Fer tilizing Tips & How to Calibrate that Darn Spreader.    I always tell our customers if you are unsure on the amount of fertilizer to use, go lighter to start.  Don’t go too heavy … you will see why in Part 2 of my story … 

And the work begins…

With help from a wheelbarrow, we hauled our sod to the opposite side of the yard to start our first long straight line of sod.  I made sure as the sod was put down, it was constantly soaked with water using my hose and sprinklers.

Since neither of us had installed sod before, it took us about 2 hours to install each of our three 600 Sq. Ft. pallets, whereas the average professional landscaper could probably do it in half of the time.    My husband hauled the sod and set each piece down, while I firmed up the seams and made sure each piece was deeply soaked with water, just like it says in Red Hen’s Early and Long-Term Care Guide.

We laid the sod making sure each seam was tight with the next until we had a completely installed lawn.   I was extra proud of the fact that I ended up being spot on with the measurements!  It took us about 7 hours total for the entire installation.  This included a few much needed water breaks. We were racing against a thunderstorm that was heading our way and we just made it in time for mother nature to help us with some watering.

Our project was coming along nicely!

WATERING, WATERING, WATERING

We kept the freshly installed sod deeply soaked for the first 5 days, then continued to monitor it everyday for any additional waterings.  As you might remember, July 2018 was extremely hot and dry, and during basically doughty weather, you will need to water your freshly installed sod more often so it does not dry out.

I made sure I watered early in the morning – between 4-6am because according to Purdue’s Irrigation Practices for Homelawns – “at this time water pressure
is usually the highest, there is little distortion of the watering pattern by wind, and the
amount of water lost to evaporation is negligible.”  On the other hand, if I was unable to water early in the day, I knew that watering at a less-ideal time was much better than skipping it altogether.

Although my new yard was Tall Fescue sod and, once fully established in a year or so, will be drought tolerant, all new sod (until it’s established) will need to be soaked with water for the first week to root properly, and even more so in the hotter temperatures like we were dealing with.  If you are unsure if your sod is getting enough water, lift up on a corner, see if the soil underneath is getting soaked through.  If it is not, water more. Here’s a great link on properly watering your lawn from Purdue: Irrigating Home Lawns

The finished project!

Throughout the hot month of July with no rain for several weeks,  it seemed no matter how much I watered, it just wasn’t enough. After all, my hose and sprinklers did not put out as much water compared to in-ground irrigation.  I was determined to keep my new sod green, but it had been a few weeks and the sod hadn’t even rooted in places. I started seeing a few brown spots so I took some pictures and showed Jeremy.  Just as I suspected, I still was not putting down enough water.  I had my watering cut out for me!

A few heat stressed areas were visible after a few weeks.

In the meantime,  at The Red Hen Office we were getting calls from customers who were having similar issues, even with irrigation systems on timers, we we knew it was the perfect time to write our blog, Irrigation, droughts – and strange weather … HOT, DRY SUMMER TURF TIPS from Red Hen Turf Farm.

It was difficult watching my sod turn brown during the hot weather. But just when I was losing hope, in early August cooler weather came around and Mother Nature graced us with some much needed rain, and guess what?  My fescue started repairing itself.  I was relieved and excited to see it come back to life.  I decided it was a good time to boost it with another round of starter fertilizer before my August party … and THAT’S WHERE MY NEXT ADVENTURE BEGINS in Part 2, which you can read HERE.

Until next time,

~Michelle & The Red Hen Crew!Facebookpinterestlinkedinmail

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

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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

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What is “proper lawn watering” anyhow? THE SUPER HOT SUMMER EDITION

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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

All year, we receive lots of calls about how to water your lawn correctly.

Even if you’re fortunate enough to have a sprinkler system, unfortunately, it’s not a “set it and forget it” thing.

Need more information on PROPER WATERING TECHNIQUES in various conditions?

Check out the LINKS below for several Science-Based / Regionally-Applicable resources to help guide you.

  • Purdue’s Irrigation Practices for Home Lawns GUIDE – A great resource for general information on WATERING PROPERLY – CLICK HERE 
  • Purdue’s 2012 Article, “My Lawn is Brown and Crunchy… Is it Dead? What do I do now?” …  While now in early July 2018 we’re not officially in a drought necessarily, the information relates to high summer temps and the need to adjust irrigation accordingly – CLICK HERE
  • Michigan State University’s Article, “Helping your turf during dry and hot weather”CLICK HERE
  • Red Hen Turf Farm’s Early and Long-term Sod Care Guide – CLICK HERE
    • This is our official GENERAL GUIDE on caring for your new sod, now, and in the long term.  If you’re wondering about any of the topics covered and need more information, feel free to call at 574-232-6811, but perhaps first check out Purdue’s extensive list of easy to follow guides for homeowner lawn care at THIS LINK

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