Last year was a terrible year for lawns. So now is the time to get outside and make 2018 a great year for your lawn!
My post today is about something most have been ignoring for some time - that nasty layer of thatch buildup in your lawn. Thatch is a layer of living and dead material accumulating in your turf which prevents water and lawn treatments from getting to the “root” zone.
Composed of stems, dead crowns, fibers, surface roots and most importantly-LIGNIN. Lignin is an organic polymer contained in the cell walls of most plants which allows them to stand upright instead of laying flat to the ground.
It’s highly resistant to normal decay channels (via microorganisms) and can build up rapidly due to poor lawn care habits like frequent light irrigation or too much quick release nitrogen fertilizer.
Thatch is detrimental if the layer is greater than ½ inch thick. When less than ½ inch it provides insulation from cold, provides protection from foot traffic cushions impacts on sports fields and keeps weeds from gaining a foothold in lawns.
At thicknesses greater than ½ inch problems can arise. Insect activity, blocking of lawn treatments from getting into the soil, knotting up turf roots near the surface and triggering lawn “scalping” due to mower wheels sinking into the thatch’s spongy layer.
Choosing correct grass varieties keeps thatch minimized. Common turf like Kentucky Blue Grass and Creeping Fescues are prone to faster thatch buildup than Perennial Ryes and Tall Fescues.
Similarly to poor irrigation habits and too much nitrogen is the pH of the soil being too acid for turf (below 5.5), lack of microbial presence from excessive pesticide applications, compacted soils and low earthworm activity also contribute to thatch.
A proper turf management program aims to limit thatch accumulation. This includes mowing only 1/3 of the grass height each cut and mulching clippings. A common misconception is that grass clippings add to the thatch layer-they don’t if the layer is less than ½ inch. If the layer is already too thick then it’s maybe an issue as microbial activity necessary to break down the clippings would be compromised.
So, you have a thatch problem-what do you do? The best thing is to reduce it mechanically via dethatching and/or aerating. Plan on early Spring or late Summer/early Fall when there is at least six weeks of growing time ahead. Dethatching can be done by hand or with a thatching machine:
Aeration is less damaging to the turf crowns and is the best go to solution:
It breaks the thatch layer allowing oxygen, water, fertilizers and weed pre-emergent treatments to reach the soil layer. A thatcher will not do this.
So your path is clear - go with the aeration. And don’t forget to over seed with a good Tall Fescue and stay away from that Kentucky Blue Grass!
1. If you haven’t already pruned back your deciduous trees and shrubs get out there NOW. Time is important especially for barberries, spireas and small ornamentals. Trees can wait a little longer but not too much.
2. The same goes for your woody evergreen ornamentals-now is the time to dig in deep and cut them down to size. You will be amazed at the rejuvenating effect aggressive pruning in late Winter/early Spring has on older plants that you though had outlived their usefulness. Spread some compost around the base to get new growth moving fast and enjoy the results. Keep those tools sharp!
3. Don’t wait too much longer to apply pre-emergent treatments to lawns. Soil temps are getting warmer earlier these past few years and weeds (in particular crabgrass) are much more difficult to control after they sprout. If you are planning on seeding follow directions regarding time periods between applying a pre-emergent and laying seed. Germination may suffer.
4. Do not cut your lawn shorter than normal even if it is only for “the first time”. You may be exposing the turf crowns to a sudden freezing event that could injure them at precisely the wrong time of year.
Good luck to all this Spring-many challenges are ahead. Let me close with this piece of advice-hire the very best lawn care company you can find and build a personal relationship with the crew and foreman. You will benefit in so many ways.
Just a few reasons…
Enjoy the turf everyone! I know this little guy will…and his big buddy!
Unlike the past two Summers, every 5 to 10 days it seems as if the skies open up and soak our landscapes just as they are beginning to dry out.
While this is a welcome change from the extended dry periods we endured in 2015 and 2016 there is something that bothers me-how much water is wasted when homeowners (and some commercial properties) irrigate during or immediately following very heavy rainfall amounts.
I see numerous irrigation systems running in the morning and for several days after these events when a simple Rain Sensor shutoff device would save this water for future use. Though these devices are 1980s tech they still do serve as an important component in the water conservation efforts we should all strive to implement.
My personal take is that I do not install Rain Sensors on any new irrigation systems-I install Climate Control systems that go way beyond what a simple Rain Sensor will do. Climate Controls will vary your watering based on weather that occurs on your property (unlike internet based irrigation controls which can easily miss your
particular weather or Rain Sensors that only interrupt a fixed program).
Since you are already in my website go to “Water Saving Smart Irrigation Products” under the Services Menu and check out ways to conserve water and still provide your landscape with its needed moisture. You’ll be glad you did.
This Thursday August 10th I will be teaching two 4 credit continuing education courses for the Irrigation Association of NJ at Storr Tractor on Rt. 22 in Branchburg NJ. The course titles are “Scheduling for Water Conservation - Past, Present and into the Future” from 8 AM to 12 PM and “Dripline Installation Design -Considerations and Methods for Various Situations” from 1 PM to 5 PM.
At the same location, the NJ Landscape Contractors Association will be holding their monthly meeting from 6 PM to 9 PM sponsored by the Affinity Federal Credit Union. This meeting is approved for (2) National Association of Landscape Professionals Certified CEUs.
Contact Candi Calderone at the IANJ to attend either of my courses at 973-850-3366.
Contact Gail Woolcott or Maria Albuquerque at 201-703-3600 to attend the evening NJLCA meeting.
If I’ve heard this once I’ve heard it thousands of times-
“Those rain sensors don’t work-I’ve seen sprinklers running while it’s raining!”
Well let me put that notion to bed once and for all-THE FACT THAT IT IS RAINING HAS NO BEARING ON WHETHER A RAIN SENSOR WORKS (or not).
The device does not actually “sense” rain-it measures it. After a preset amount (be it 1/8, ¼, ½ of an inch or more) it will react and shut down a system or prevent it from activating until the sensor dries out. The device saves an amazing amount of water if set properly-just let it do its job without judgement.
That being said remember that Rain Sensors are 1980stechnology-they will not adjust your irrigation program.
For that you will need a Climate Control system witheither an onsite weather station or an internet based controller. I recommend both but prefer the onsite model for accuracy. For more info check out my “Water Saving Smart Irrigation” page and click on the Climate Logic video-your path to saving water is a phone call away!
This blog is for all my friends in the Landscaping trades.
If you're not Attending Trade Shows, Taking Classes or Watching Webinars YOU ARE FALLING BEHIND!
“Learning is not attained by chance. It must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence”.
Abigail Adams (1744-1818) First Lady of the United States.
“The secret in education lies in respecting the student.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) U.S. poet, essayist and lecturer.
The quotes above are as true today as they were in times past. It applies to our industry today with a renewed emphasis due to the changing demographics of the client, new products and the instituting of never ending regulations. Now more than ever we all better arm ourselves with the one substance that will keep us ahead of the pack-KNOWLEDGE! Teaching adults is different from children-we tend to possess deeper base knowledge and thus concepts are understood quickly. We learn better with short burst instruction. When we see-do-think it allows us to remember-understand-learn.
We retain knowledge better when we are presented with instructional steps that are linked to our senses. Seeing and Hearing will only take us so far - Saying and Doing brings us full circle.
Thankfully most all educational offerings in the landscape field be they short presentations at trade shows, association meetings or webinars are geared to adult learning.
The catch? You must make an effort to seek them out and open your mind to learning. When attending classes or other venues ask yourself these three questions: “How would I apply this concept, product, design or method in the field?” “Why would I want to do this?” and most importantly “How can I improve my company and my bottom line?” Answer these questions honestly and you will find a desire to open your mind to other educational opportunities as they arise.
The end result of seeking knowledge is that it makes you THINK. Thinking leads to new ideas. New ideas can make your company (and you) more efficient, profitable and respected by your peers.
Educational opportunities abound in the landscape industry and the topics are as varied as the services we offer. If you haven’t attended the numerous venues available to you than it is time to get on that horse and ride into a better future. Look forward not backward.
John Raffiani has been in the industry since the late 1950’s when he started to work at his grandfather’s shrub farm and greenhouses. Since 1965 he has installed numerous landscape, lighting, drainage and irrigation systems throughout the U.S. He also teaches irrigation, soil amendments and business courses for the Irrigation Association of NJ and others.
To amend or not to amend - that’s not even a question. If the soil is tired and depleted of essential organic matter, the pH is incorrect for your plant material, compacted, leans towards all sand or all clay then the answer is always “yes”!
Soil amendments can be organic or inorganic and are utilized for improving water holding (or drainage), salt leaching, deeper root systems and nutrient enhancement. A soil test from njaes.rutgers.edu/soiltestinglab will give you a definitive answer of what is needed (Their slogan-“Don’t guess-soil test!”). In lieu of a soil test you can do your own pH and soil texture tests and amend accordingly so let me be product specific in this limited venue.
For the maximum effect the best time to add the following products is after aeration.
FOR HEAVY CLAY AND COMPACTED SOILS:
|Black Gypsum DG from The Andersons company. It is fast dissolving, loosens clay, increases calcium and sulphur without pH change, reduces soil salinity, improves soil structure and reduces thatch.|
FOR SANDY SOILS WITH LOW ORGANIC MATTER:
Humic DG from The Andersons. Also fast dissolving it stimulates beneficial organisms, stabilizes pH, improves soil structure and enhances air, nutrient and water movement.
To add organic matter regular HUMUS works well but should be tilled or raked in. Don’t overdo it-too much is as bad as too little. Another product I like for adding organic matter is a pelletized compose - it dissolves fast, works topically and one that is derived from leaf and yard trimmings-no manure.
In closing one final product I like is BIOCHAR. The following says it all:
Happy amending to all and have a great season.
On March 8, 2017, the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association will be presenting its 40th Annual Trade Show and Conference at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, NJ.
I will be hosting two events that day. The first between 7:00 am and 8:00 am is a group round table discussion on the subject of protecting yourself with your contract. The contract, clauses and insurance discussion is topically different from my second presentation between 10:10 am and 10:55 am. At the later event I will be discussing in detail what you may be either ignoring or be unaware of pertaining to your contracts and requirements from a Home Improvement Contractor Registration Act standpoint.
The information presented may be eye opening to many of you when you actually see how vulnerable you are to a world of trouble while simply plying your trade. And I found something potentially unsettling in a recent law that adds one more level of regulation we really don’t want or need.
Remember when you register for the Trade Show to also PRE-REGISTER for the 7:00 am round table discussion as seating is limited to the first 10 to sign up.
Join us on at the Trade Show March 8th by registering at: njlandscapeshow.com
See you all there!
I will be teaching two Water Conservation courses at the Borgata Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City December 7, 2016 for the New Jersey Irrigation Association at the NJ Turf Associations Annual Green Expo. The first one is “Plant, Soil and Turf Types and the Implications for Irrigation Contracting”. This multi-level course covers the basics of soil science, plant selection and the associated influence on irrigation programming.
Upon completion attendees will gain the ability to diagnose turf and plant issues and share the resulting information with their clients. We all know that a little bit of knowledge can go a long way to building the trust between a contractor and their customer as well as closing the initial sale.
The second course is “Scheduling for Water Conservation -Now and for the Future”.
It begins with conventional scheduling concepts then moves into plant/soil based, weather adjusting, moisture sensors, ET and concludes with Internet enabled/assisted programming.
Attendees will become familiar with the multiple methods available to not only reduce water use but to also stand out in their client’s eyes.
To register for these courses, contact the Irrigation Association of NJ at 973-850-3366 or online at ianj.com.
Also, consider attending the Green Expo show at the Borgata December 6-8, 2016. There are numerous courses available over the three days that will inform and educate those of us in the green industry so that we can improve our knowledge of all things plant and turf (plus add to our bottom lines).
To attend the Green Expo, contact the NJ Turf Association at 973-812-6467 or online at njturfgrass.org.
Hopefully you don’t due to the fact that O.M. is extremely detrimental to your shrubs, flowers and perennial plants. So what is it? It’s OVER MULCHING! Since mulching is one of the simplest and most beneficial practices you can use in the garden one would assume that more is better-WRONG! Mulch is simply a protective layer of a material that is spread on top of the soil.
It should be no more than 2-3 inches thick to allow water to easily penetrate to the soil below. It helps to minimize weed growth and maintain soil moisture. When a layer of mulch is more than 3 inches thick the benefits of mulching rapidly decline. See examples below:
This is called a “mulch volcano” for obvious reasons. Note the plants root flare is suffocated which stunts the plants ability to be healthy and thrive.
Your plants don’t stand a chance unless you relieve the O.M. Allowing the root flare to be exposed to the air is important for plant health.
Mulch has many benefits other than moisture retention not the least of which is decoration. A properly mulched planting bed gives a finished look to any landscape:
So don’t O.M.-your plants will thank you by showing off their full potential.
The past two months may have been the perfect combination of weather for our lawns to thrive but there is a major consequence-WEEDS! Thankfully the thick spring turf grasses have for the most part choked out turf weeds but our planting beds, sidewalk cracks and driveway edges have not been as fortunate.
Here in the North East we were much warmer than normal from October 2015 thru mid-April 2016. And the weeds came along for the ride thus insuring a plentiful crop for the rest of 2016 unless controls are employed. See images below:
No need to name them-we’ve all seen them and numerous others. Do your best to get a handle on them before they take over your yard. Manual weeding is best for the environment but if not feasible then herbicides may be employed.
Think about hiring a licensed pesticide contractor to apply a pre-emergent next year that will stop them before they start.
The warm weather the North East received this past March and early April with periodic rains were followed by a cooler period with more damp conditions. This climate pattern produced something that will benefit our lawns going into the summer heat-Deep Roots!
The resulting root growth stands in stark contrast to the past two Springs when our turf grasses remained frozen until late March. The thaw was followed by too much rain at the wrong time and warmer than average temperatures that inhibited root development. And then came the Summer...
From my observations 2015 produced some of the worst lawns I’ve seen outside of the drought years (1985—1995—1999—2002). Nothing seemed to work. The few really good looking lawns were most likely over fertilized. This year is different for the above mentioned reasons and the fact that grasses were infrequently mowed (and allowed to grow tall). See image below:
Add in aeration and our turf is now ready to outperform this season.
May your pasture be lush and green!
Sometimes those nasty yellow dead patches on your lawn are not due to disease or fungal infection but rather it is caused by the application of a chemical or fertilizer in sufficient amounts to kill the crown part of the turf.The source of these chemicals can be road salt, animal urine, herbicides or simple fertilizers. See below:
What a cutie! But deadly to your lawn!
What to do? First test the pH of the area-it should read 6.5 to 7.0. In my experience most of these spots are too acidic for most turf grasses (4.8 to 5.9). Correct this by first thoroughly soaking the area with your garden hose and then grinding up a small amount of pelletized limestone. Mix it with water and pour onto the affected area. Wait a few days then remove dead turf and sod or use top soil and seed.
If the pH is good then the turf took another hit from some type of chemical or fertilizer. Again-flush the area with water-repeatedly if needed. After a few days remove 2 to 3 inches of soil and turf. Add in new top soil then seed or sod.
Try to find out what caused the spill and take steps to prevent it in the future.
I recently received a phone call from a client regarding his watering of the new landscaping in front of his home. The client explained that even though he was watering everyday (as instructed by his landscaper) his shrubs were looking stressed. The more he watered the worse the shrubs appeared. He wanted me to direct him on how to water even more.
I was floored. I told him (while he was on his cell) to go outside and pull the mulch away from the shrub and feel the soil. He replied that it was soaking wet and muddy. After washing his hands I explained what the problem was.
His first mistake was listening to his landscapers’ erroneous instructions. I was familiar with the area-most properties had heavy red clay as their base soil. Watering every day in clay would fill up the planting hole and suffocate the plant.
He needed to immediately cease all watering and purchase a simple moisture meter. I told him to not water again until the plants perked up and the moisture meter (placed in the same spot he put his hand) read more towards dry than moist. He followed my directions and his plants did indeed recover. I told him to check several areas periodically with the moisture meter and only water when the meter says to.
Long story short he almost lost all his new plants due to poor information. When deciding how often to irrigate, even with new landscaping, ALWAYS CHECK THE SOIL TO SEE IF WATERING IS NEEDED.
If this clients’ soil were more towards sand I could see the more frequent watering needs. Soil type is the most important factor when determining watering duration and frequency.