Doing a Simple “Tuna Can” Sprinkler Audit … IS THE WAY TO GO!

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So, when was the last time you made sure that your lawn sprinkler system is programmed and watering as accurately as you think it is?

… Especially if you’re seeing brown grass in your lawn?

In this article, we’ll go more in-depth, beyond our previous blog article, “Irrigation, droughts – and strange weather … HOT, DRY SUMMER TURF TIPS from Red Hen Turf Farm“, so be sure to check that one out, too! This previous article explains, for one thing, that an established cool season grass lawn in our part of the country (northwest Indiana / midwest) will need 1 to 1.5 inches of irrigation each week depending on weather, soil type, slope, etc.

But how can you really know that you’re sprinkler system is programmed with this goal in mind?

TIP: If you’re reading this and you’re NOT in the Northwest Indiana area, check with your local Cooperative Extension Service office for precise weekly watering recommendations.

Here’s something many people find surprising… When rains are not part of that irrigation, you’re never going to get as good results as Mother Nature. Natural rainfall reduces the need for SUPPLEMENTAL IRRIGATION, but irrigation is always just that – SUPPLEMENTAL. When considering how long to run your sprinklers, you’ll want to adjust to account for rainfall. A good old-fashioned rain gauge will come in handy for this. To figure out how long to water your lawn during a week when it rains, subtract the number of inches of rainfall from the weekly watering need to get your new weekly watering figure and do the rest of the calculations we’ll be describing below normally.

In “Irrigation, droughts – and strange weather … HOT, DRY SUMMER TURF TIPS from Red Hen Turf Farm“, we went into in a good amount of detail on how you have a few options on how to approach watering your lawn during a hot, dry, doughty period, and how it makes a difference whether you’re dealing with a fully established lawn or sod / seed that is new or has been in your yard for less for than a year. We’d also recommend checking out the experts at Purdue’s excellent guide, “Irrigation Practices for Homelawns,” HERE

Beyond the information to come below, both Red Hen’s article and Purdue’s Irrigation Guide discuss how the time of day you’re watering, slopes, soil compaction, new seedings / new sod, the choice of letting your lawn go dormant, and more should also be considered.

It’s near the end of August of 2020 now, and here in northwest Indiana, we’ve had a very hot and dry summer, which is stressful on any fully established yard, but when it comes to newly laid sod, it can be quite the task to do all you can to water your sod when it’s trying to re-establish it’s root system in its new home.

Based on the calls, texts, and photos we have been receiving during the hottest, driest, parts of the summer from concerned customers, probably 90-95% of the lawn problems and brown / yellow spots are caused by lack of water, and so often it comes down to a sprinkler system / irrigation issue.

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

Though you might water for the amount of time your sprinkler system has been programmed for… say it’s 30-40 minutes, and you feel it should be “enough,” maybe you’re seeing brown or yellow spots. If this is happening, do you know how many inches of water each individual sprinkler head is putting down?

In other words, have you checked your sprinkler system and/or performed a “Sprinkler Audit” or “Irrigation Audit” or what we sometimes call the “Tuna Can Test”?

Surprisingly (and frustratingly) even a new sprinkler system can have heads that are not operating as you’d want them to!

The thing is… it’s impossible to determine the distribution of water by looking at your sprinkler system while it’s running. It will look fine unless you test it out more methodically.

That’s where a simple Irrigation / Sprinkler Audit can help bring any issues to light.

OUR PREDICTED MAIN TAKEAWAY once you complete your Sprinkler Audit: After following the steps to do an Irrigation Audit, you’re likely to discover that the areas that are browning are probably being skipped by irrigation, or not getting enough water. Adjustments you make will likely take 2-3 weeks to make an observable difference in your lawn, especially with Kentucky Bluegrass. Red Hen’s Rhizomatous Tall Fescue Sod will likely bounce back quicker than our Bluegrass Sod (HERE’s MORE on the main differences between our 2 types of sod)

Here are the basic steps for a Simple Sprinkler Audit / Tuna Can Test:

  1. Put out 10 to 12 containers of the same size in a zone, placing them in both in the green areas and the brown/dying areas. Tuna cans or plastic cups work great!
  2. Run your irrigation system for a set period of time. For instance, 10 minutes, or 1/6th of an hour, would be a good amount of time for this Sprinkler Audit.
  3. At the set period of time, promptly turn the heads off, and take some time to get down and really look at your sprinkler heads…
    • Is each one popping up out of the ground, perpendicular to the ground?
    • Is each head functioning properly?
    • Any heads that are not popping up fully or are tilted will lead to non-uniform distribution of water.
    • If you’re watering around curves, it is probably going to take some adjusting so that all areas are covered.
  4. Now, look at how much water is in each of the cups.
    • Are there any vast differences of the amount of water collected in the cups? If so, go back to that area with the sprinkler heads and take another close look.
    • Are you noticing a correlation between a head that is not functioning properly and the limited water output?
  5. Now measure how many inches of water the cups are showing that you’re putting out during this time period.
    • Let’s say for this test, you have applied 1/4 inch of water in 10 minutes. Based on this output, if you were to run your system for 30 minutes), then 1/4 inch X 3 (since 10 minutes X 3 = 30 minutes) means you’d be putting down .75 inch of water per each 30 minutes of running your sprinkler system. To get 1.5 inches per week, for this example, you’d need to run it twice a week for 30 minutes.
    • As stated above, right now, between rain water and irrigation, most lawns will need about 1 to 1.5 inches of water/week if you want to keep it greened up (versus letting it go dormant).
    • Even if you choose to let your lawn to dormant, you’d need 1/2 inch of water every two weeks just to maintain hydration to the grass plants’ crowns. (Again, refer to THIS RED HEN ARTICLE for more details on different approaches to watering during hot, dry periods)
  6. Start again with step 1 for any other zones you have that you’d like to test out.
  7. REPEAT OFTEN???!!!! It’s a good idea to do this type of Sprinkler Audit at least once a year, and more often if you’re noticing possible issues such as mysterious brown / dying areas. Even if you’re sprinkler system is new, it’s a good idea to test it out.
Sprinkler Audit Math Example

Remember that this Sprinkler Audit is showing you the results of one single application of water. If your cups are not equally – or uniformly – filled, this means that over a period of months or years, some parts of your lawn may be getting twice as much (or three times as much) water as others. This can add up to 10 inches annually versus 20 inches, or 10 inches versus 30 inches. A difference as small as 1/4 inch during each irrigation cycle can add up to dozens of inches per year.

Even if you’re running your sprinkler system twice per week for … say… 30 minutes because that’s what you feel should be right, it may not be enough water. Take into account that the type of your sprinkler head affects how much water is being put out during your 30 minute rounds. Generally, rotor heads will take a longer time to put irrigation out, so depending how how much water your Sprinkler Audit shows you’re putting out, you may have to run these for three times per week to achieve the desired inches of watering per cycle.

Besides determining how uniform your sprinkler system heads are putting out water, and the output levels, other factors to consider when facing browning grass in the midst of an especially hot, dry summer include, but are not limited to:

  1. Areas of your lawn in full sun versus shade tend to need more watering
  2. Areas exposed to extra heat coming from nearby sidewalks, concrete, stonework, or perhaps even a white or light-colored fence that is reflecting sunlight / radiant heat onto your grass can make a bigger difference that you’d think, so if you’re seeing browning in these areas, you’ll need to adjust for more water.
  3. Hilltops tend to dry out faster than lower areas, so they will need more water.

When comparing Red Hen’s 2 types of sod, 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.

If any questions come to mind after reading this article and the links we’ve included, let us know!

To chat by phone with one of Red Hen Turf Farm’s knowledgeable customer service team members, the number to call is 574-232-6811. (Our Business Hours are HERE)

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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.

UPDATE on 8/28/20 – After a hot, dry summer pretty much for months, we have written a companion article, “Doing a Simple “Tuna Can” Sprinkler Audit … IS THE WAY TO GO!” that explains why setting it and forgetting it is not a good idea when it comes to irrigation / sprinkler systems – especially if you’re dealing with brown grass and not sure why. Check it out HERE.

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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 (Red Hen 100% Kentucky Bluegrass Sod or Red Hen Tall Fescue Sod aka Fescue Sod or Tall Fescue 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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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.

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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

Holy Mole-y!

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One of the problems a lot of homeowners face this time of year (approaching fall) is moles. The worst part about finding moles in your yard is the damage it does to your turf. I noticed a few soft spots in my front yard and upon further investigation, realized we had a mole issue. A few days later, after trying to locate the mole trap, the runs had gotten much worse. My yard was starting to look like a war zone. And mowing after you’ve experienced moles in your yard? I wouldn’t recommend it until you’ve rolled the areas first otherwise you will be mowing mounds of dirt.

After a few discussions with the husband about where to put the trap, he won the argument and by the next day he finally got his mole. He was quite proud of himself and made sure he sent me a picture of the set trap. It’s not a pretty scene, and the trap does kill the mole. It’s not something I want to see, so I leave the disposal to my husband. He decided to leave the little guy in the ground as a “warning” to his other friends. (Insert eye roll here).

A harpoon trap after a mole had triggered it. RIP Mole

By the time we finally trapped the mole, the damage was evident. Rolling and re-seeding were in my immediate future. And lucky me, I know just where to get my seed! But when is the best time to seed? It’s now. (typically between August 15 & September 15). Read more about 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!

Rolling turf after mole damage is necessary. Areas also may need to be re-seeded or sodded.

For now, we’ll have to keep an eye on the yard to see if any new holes pop up. We’re also moving around the trap just in case there are others still lurking underneath.

Using a harpoon trap is a common method of mole control. You can see the damage the moles runs have made in my yard.

When customers come in and ask advice about getting rid of moles the first thing they say is they need to buy grub herbicide. There was a time I believed that too. But I was wrong. I got the facts and read the real, science-based, regional facts from Purdue’s publication here: Moles

Moles’ diet consists mostly of earthworms, so if you believe they are after the grubs, you may think applying a grub herbicide seems like the logical thing to do, but it’s not. There are other things you can try before you go purchasing an expensive product that you may not even need.

Grubs are a whole other topic – read about them here: Red Hen Blog/Grubs!

As Purdue’s publication states, trapping is the most reliable method of mole control. All the other urban myths you may have heard such as pouring Listerine down the holes or using ultrasonic devices are all just a waste of money. Here is a great read from Timothy Gibb-Purdue’s entomologist: Moles, myths, and misconceptions.

Locating the main runways in which to set your trap is key. Purdue’s publication goes into detail about which runs are best. Patience and perseverance are important during the trapping process. The only other source of control that we suggest is Tom Cat poison worms that mimic earthworms, which is the moles’ main diet. I have not tried that because I have pets but both the trap and poison can be purchased at hardware stores or Amazon.

~Michelle Sadowski, Customer Service Specialist

Call us if you have questions about moles, grubs, seeding and more! 574-232-6811

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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.

8/29/20 UPDATE:  You might also give Tenacity a shot (as long as the crabgrass is at the earlier smaller stage of no more than 3-4 tillers), and can read more about that option HERE.

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

Children’s Books with a RED HEN Theme – A List by Red Hen Turf Farm

FacebookpinterestlinkedinmailSo, today I was reminded about how we’re often asked if there are Hens or Chickens or any animals at all at Red Hen Turf Farm, and that’s a fair question!

Alas, there are no Red Hens running around our farm.

The Red Hen we’re named after is from the folk tale, The Little Red Hen.  You know … the one where none of the other farm animals want to help the Little Red Hen grow wheat from some grains she finds, then harvest it, thresh it, mill it into flour, and then bake the flour into a yummy bread.

The animals want someone else to do the hard work, but they want to enjoy the fruits of the Little Red Hen’s labors.  Red Hen ultimately tells the other animals they cannot eat the bread since they did not do any of the work, but MAYBE if they had enough money or goods to make it worth her time, it would have been another story.

It was back in the 1950’s when the original owners of our Farm, Ron and Victor Keigley and Harold Hetler, started growing turfgrass sod for themselves, but then their neighbors saw the beautiful results and wanted some, too.

As a twist on the old folk tale, at Red Hen Turf Farm, we are GROWING FOR OTHERS who want a beautiful instant lawn when it takes nearly 2 years of hard work for us to grow grass from seed into a thick turf that can be harvested into rolls.

Do you remember the story of The Little Red Hen?  Did you have a favorite book version? There are LOTS!

I’m especially fond of the Golden Book version by Diane Muldrow and JP Miller (first published in 1954) since this is the one I first grew up with.

Paul Galdone’s The Little Red Hen (1973) is another classic version of this tale.

More recently, there’s Jerry Pinkney’s The Little Red Hen (2006), which has especially wonderful watercolor illustrations.

There are MANY more versions of The Little Red Hen tale, but let’s switch focus onto a few spin-offs off this story.

Barbara Barbieri McGrath and illustrator Martha Alexander’s The Little Green Witch (2006) retells the story when a little green witch cannot get her lazy monster friends to help her make a pumpkin pie.

In The Little Red Pen by Janet Stevens and illustrated by Susan Stevens Crummel (2011), there’s a mountain of homework and Little Red Pen tries to get her fellow school supplies to help her out.

In Candace Fleming’s and illustrator, Sally Anne Lambert’s Gator Gumbo: A Spicy Hot Tale (2004), Monsieur Gator is getting so old that he can only catch leaves, moss, and roots. He is teased by the other animals day after day, and finally decides to whip up a pot of gumbo.  None of the animals will help him so he does it all by himself.  Of course, when the gumbo’s done, the other animals want some, but instead Monsieur Gator teaches them a lesson.

In Armadilly Chili by Helen Ketterman and illustrated by Will Terry (2004), Miss Billie Armadilly wants to make some chili, but as we would expect in this Texas prairie spin-off of The Little Red Hen, all of her animal friends are too busy to help.  She decides to eat it by herself one cold night, but the smell brings her friends one by one to her door, bringing dishes of their own to share.

And finally, while I could keep going with this list for quite a long time, I’ll end with Help Yourself, Little Red Hen! (Another Point of View) by Alvin Granowsky and illustrated by Wendy Edelson (1995).   This version is told by the pig, and tells how the true backstory of this classic folktale is that Little Red Hen never does anything for herself and that the other animals do all of the work for her.  When Little Red Hen finds the grain of wheat that leads her to plant it and eventually bake it up into something yummy, the other animals decide it’s time for her to learn to help herself.

Happy Reading!

– Lisa, and the Crew at Red Hen Turf FarmFacebookpinterestlinkedinmail

Top 5 Reasons Why Your Fertilizer Isn’t Performing Like You Think It Should – the 2019 Update

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1. Quality.
To save money, the big mass merchandisers have diluted their products so much they no longer deliver the essential nutrients grass plants in the Michiana area need. Because of these watered down “programs”, we have been getting more and more calls about lawn programs that can be traced back to these insufficient products.  At Red Hen Turf Farm, we believe we can offer customers better fertilizing products at better prices than they are paying at big box stores.

2. Over-Measuring or Under-Measuring the Area of Your Lawn.
So, your fertilizer bag label or your soil test results tell you to apply a certain amount of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet and you’re confused about what to do next. The questions run through your head … “How large is 1,000 square feet? How much fertilizer do I need to buy? How do I know if my spreader is putting on the correct amount?”  The first step is to determine the area or square footage of your lawn or garden space. You could use good old-fashioned math problems to calculate the area (REMEMBER GEOMETRY CLASS?), or you could use Red Hen’s Sod Calculator via our website – but that would mean you’d have to take some measurements.

Even easier, and probably “accurate enough” is a Website and App called Lawn Crack Area CalculatorSimply type in your address, find your lawn on the map, and click around the edges and Lawn Crack calculates the area for you.  It probably won’t be 100% accurate, but we’ve been using this tool for a few months and are pleased with how close it usually is.

3. Spreader Calibration.
So, back to the question of “How do I know if my spreader is putting on the correct amount?”  There are so many brands of spreaders, and each one seems to have it’s own settings.  You could try checking the website of the company that manufactured your spreader for the right spreader settings. But even then, how do you really know if the settings are accurate?  Spreaders must be properly calibrated if they are to deliver granular fertilizers and pesticides to turf at correct rates. As spreaders become older and worn, re-calibration ensures you obtain the best results.  Visit Red Hen’s PDF Library and read our whitepaper, “Fertilizer Tips & How to Calibrate that Darn Spreader” to learn more.

4. Soil Testing
You should only apply the nutrients that your lawn needs, but how do you really KNOW what nutrients your lawn needs?  The answers are in the chemistry of the soil, and every lawn has a unique chemical history.  The only way to really know what nutrients your lawn needs is by SOIL TESTING. A soil test of your lawn is a key step, especially if you are particular about your lawn or have grass problems. We recommend that you do a soil test every 3 years.  If you use our soil testing procedures, we’ll provide you with a kit that you’ll mail to a certified lab.  The postage and payment to the lab will end up costing you under $15 for a single sample. The results are sent to us and we will translate them into layman’s terms, using this information as an important piece of the puzzle for us to create a Customized Fertilizer Program, designed just for you.  Once we’ve designed your fertilizer program, we can even give you reminders by phone or email for when it’s time for your next application.

5. Timing.
In so many different ways, TIMING plays an important role when fertilizing you lawn.  For some fertilizer products, the instructions tell you to apply on dry grass – so if rain is in the forecast, timing could be especially critical.  Some products may even instruct you to water-in the fertilizer, so timing your application around rain could save you from having to use your sprinkler.  Fertilizers with added Herbicides or Pesticides work when applied around a specific point in the life cycle of the pest you are trying to eliminate – so again TIMING is important.  For example, you can read our previous Blog to learn more about how time is of the essence when it comes to treating potential white grub infestations.  Timing is also important when it comes to the seasonal life-cycle of your grass since you want to fertilize when the roots are actively growing (which is NOT year-round).

NEED SOME ADVICE?
Give us a call today – 574-232-6811Facebookpinterestlinkedinmail