Written by Mike Hamilton, CCA & President of Turf Dietitian
Most likely, it has been a stressful summer on your lawn due to the unusual weather patterns this year.
If your lawn has come through this summer in good condition, you should declare yourself or your lawn care company an expert. Most properties will have struggled, so prepare to make a solid agronomical plan for how to beat Mother Nature next year. Managing any plant through stressful environmental conditions starts at the end of the stressful period. Luck is rarely on our side when growing a healthy lawn. Instead, focus on preparation.
Most professional athletes train through the off-season, and homeowners can prepare their lawns similarly. We can now introduce the plants to these techniques in the offseason to perform best during crunch time. Turf Dietitian is the trainer who can get your lawn in tip-top shape come the dry season.
This newsletter will emphasize opportunities to improve conditions to help your lawn perform even in the worst environmental conditions.
Lower your mower
Demand your lawn care company mow your turf at the correct heights of cut!
Most lawn care companies mow every lawn at the same height all year, even though it only takes a few minutes to change this setting on their mowers. If they aren’t willing to adjust the height of the cut to do what’s best for your yard, you might want to reconsider finding another company that doesn’t “mow and go.”Warm-season grass requires a unique plan for mowing heights to produce deeper, stronger roots that can sustain the plant better during periods of stress. Each turf variety requires different heights of cut. Depending on what climate zone you are in will determine when to change your seasonal height.
Winter setting should start in the fall (Oct-Nov) at the onset of low temperatures reaching 55 degrees.
Summer setting should start in the spring (Mar-Apr) at the onset of high temperatures reaching 80 degrees.
Scalping turf two times per year is an essential practice to drive roots deeper. The two scalping periods are a one-time lowering of the mower. As soon as the scalp gets performed, raise the mower back to its seasonal height. After scalping, the turf will turn an off-color for one to two weeks but will come back healthier and with a deeper root mass.
During winter, the cut on warm-season turf should be higher due to the reduction in the sun’s photoperiod. More leaf material will enable more photosynthesis. Summer cuts are low to help control thatch build-up.
Below are the recommended heights for each of the most popular species of turfgrasses used on southern lawns:
Aerate Compacted Soils – Oxygen is the key to healthy grass!
Aerating removes plugs and creates oxygen channels in the ground for a few months. Adding sand to the holes caused by the plug removal will enhance the longevity of the oxygen space in the soil. More oxygen increases the population of microbial activity, which will assist the plant in developing more roots for air, water, and nutrient uptake.
Early spring and fall are the best time to complete aeration techniques. However, the more times you can afford to aerate throughout the year, the healthier the turf will be.
Thatch is the decaying layer of plant material between the soil and your plant. Your turfgrass will benefit from removing this layer by having more access to moisture and providing more nutrients from decomposing organic materials.
A thatch layer that gets too thick can suffocate the plant. Less flow of air, water, and nutrients will cause your plant to experience extreme stress, making it susceptible to pests and harsh environmental conditions. A healthy plant can fight off problems like pests with less supplemental use of pesticides.
Know when and what fertilizer to apply
Plants, like animals, eat food every day to stay healthy. Knowing what to feed the plant, when to feed the plant, and how to feed the plant will give your turf the most beneficial outcome. Only through testing will we know exactly what is in the soil and what the plant is eating from it.
Knowing what nutrients and supplements a plant needs and how to supply those needs to the plant is an art form based on exact science. Unfortunately, teaching you the science involved would require much more time and practical experience. However, applying manufactured fertilizer twice a year just because is irresponsible and potentially damaging to the plant and environment.
Turf Dietitian provides full consultations, including tests and recommendations to solve the plant health puzzle. Implementing a system to feed your plants through your irrigation system based on your plant’s needs is not only responsible but affordable.
Start spending your money on plant health instead of plant illness.
We believe that prescription without diagnosis is malpractice.
Practices like aerification and dethatching should be a part of any healthy lawn program. But the equipment needed to perform cultural practices and the labor may make them impractical for you. If aerification and dethatching aren’t affordable, we recommend frequent topdressing as a viable substitute.
We recommend a minimum of two heavy top dressings a year, but like with other cultural practices – the more, the better. With St. Augustine, a ½ inch of sand over the top during spring and fall will create much oxygen space and help dilute much of the thatch accumulation.
For all other turf species, a ¼ inch of sand in April, June, Aug, and Oct will achieve most of the cultural requirements.
Pro Tip: When selecting sand, use only coarse sand (minimum of 1mm to 2 mm particle size), and use the same sand source every time. Switching particle size can cause severe soil structure problems.
Just like feeding the plant, applying supplemental water to the soil for plant use should be based on needs derived from scientific data.
If you want to save money on your water bill, buy a quality moisture meter. Quality isn’t the best buy on Amazon for less than $20. Quality means at least $200 and a good rating with the consumer guide.
Map your lawn by taking a reading every 10 square feet. Take measurements for several weeks in the spring, fall, winter, and summer. Try to measure moisture after weather extremes. After you’ve learned how the water flows in and out of the soil, you will only occasionally need to use the meter if you suspect something has changed.
Try to keep the moisture levels between 15% and 25%. When the levels drop below 15%, apply a determined amount of water. Start with 10 minutes and recheck the percentage in one hour. If the rate goes up over 25%, you have used too much water. Repeat the process when the moisture drops below 15% and increase the time on the sprinklers. Keep repeating the process until the level goes up to over 25%.
Pro Tip: When it’s hot and dry, the time intervals and amount of water you will apply will be much different than in the winter when it’s cold and dry. Other factors affecting moisture levels are rainfall, humidity, and wind speed. Also, know that when it rains many days in a row, it may take weeks for the percentage of moisture to drop.
Suppose you have wet and dry areas within the same irrigation zone. In that case, it will be necessary to customize the nozzle with different gallonage-rated nozzles.
Homeowners will learn about their property and its unique factors and behaviors throughout the year. No two neighbors should have the same lawn care routine. They might need similar techniques, but every lawncare company should treat each lawn individually. Suppose your lawn care provider refuses to cooperate with your needs. In that case, we can help steer you to companies with an understanding of precision lawn care.
Remediation should cater to the needs and problems specific to the area, designed to solve the problem rather than mask it. We can help you assess each site, from front lawns and vegetable gardens to ornamental management, to determine the most appropriate care needed.
Turf Dietitian makes it a point to ask what your end goals are!
If you want the lushest yard in your neighborhood and it currently isn’t, then time, money, and proper technics will be required to achieve your goal. If not, plenty of lawn care companies will compete to meet those basic needs if you only want a yard cut and edged.
Your lawn care provider should be collaborating with you to achieve your goal, not making recommendations based on assumptions or what has worked in the past for other customers. A quick fix will always be a band-aid if the issues at their core do not get addressed.
We hope to continue educating homeowners on the complexities of plant health. Many opinions exist regarding lawn care, but the most educated get based on scientific data like Turf Dietitian can produce. More and more industries are turning to technology to help advance their cause, and homeowners should know that data-driven resources are readily accessible.
Take the guesswork out of your lawn care and call Turf Dietitian today to get started!
Written by Mike Hamilton, CCA & President of Turf Dietitian
Edited and submitted by Tyler Sherwood, Accounts & Marketing Director