Cranky Man’s Lawn Diary ’14 – Beetlejuiced

Not those Beatles ...

Not those Beatles …

The Fourth of July is behind us, and if you haven’t seen them yet, you haven’t been paying attention.  The beetles are back!

Japanese beetles live very short life spans in which to fit their two favorite - and only – activities: Eating holes in your lawn and Making hundreds of little baby beetles, a.k.a. grubs.  The grubs do the lawn eating until they’re big enough to move on to lawn orgies and maintaining the eat and spawn cycle.

Life as a summer beetle ain’t all that complicated.

Neither is the solution for your lawn.

Don’t be like me last year.  At some point I decided not to do anything about the annually anticipated Dance of the Beetles.  I hadn’t noticed much beetle “dancing” is the two previous seasons, so I thought, “What the heck? What’s the worst that can happen?”  Then I decided to complicate the problem by not reacting when we observed larger-than-normal beetles frolicking in what was certainly a form of promiscuous insect shenanigans right on the front lawn!

Well, they didn’t look like your run-of-the-mill Japanese beetles.

Yes, sometimes I need to be roused with a hard swat about the head with heavy bag of You’re-Such-An-Idiot!

That hard swat came in the form of serious dead spots and chunks of lawn you could rollup like a dead body in your aunt’s heirloom Persian rug.  It was not a good September, lawn-wise or for the body.

Is it Frolic Time already???

They said, “Try the milky spore. You’ll love it!”

After a lot of work to fix what beetles had wrought, I decided to go all microbiological warfare, consisting of a tedious application of the dreaded milky spore!  Dreaded by humans for it’s pain-in-the-nether-regions application process.  Dreaded by the beetles because … well, it’s not a nice way to depart the lawn-eating, baby-beetle-making circle-of-life.

You can read about it in the linked post; but trust me I wouldn’t want to be the beetle larvae that eats from the wrong grass root.  But effective it supposedly is, offering up to ten years of grub protection as the spore grows and multiplies.  No worries to you, the kids, your dog, or that body in auntie’s Persian rug.  The milky spore is harmless to all other species!

At this point however, I’m playing a coy waiting game.  I should have years of protection, but the milky spore needs to grow and multiply through the – ahem – judicious use of fresh and living beetle larvae.  (The icky body in the Persian rug part.)

Anyways, I figure a year or two before I’m home free and no longer in need of expensive grub treatments, often the most expensive lawn treatment for which you will normally pay.  My plan was to apply the usual grub treatment, that is until struck with the thought that I need healthy grub “hosts” to make the milky spore effective.

Such a conundrum!  Forego the recommended grub treatment to allow healthy grubs to feast on my lawn so to initiate their untimely and horrific death.

Now where did I put that carpet …???

For those of you not opting for the hideous milky spore solution to control your bug issues, make sure you purchase and apply your grub treatment this weekend. Once you see beetles cavorting on your lawn, it’s probably too late.

As for my lawn beetles …

You can run; but you can’t hide!

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Cranky Man’s Lawn Diary ’14 – Severe growth and handling Summer’s heat

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Severe growth, Cranky Man style!

Pilots have a term for describing the best visibility conditions in which to fly.  They call it Severe Clear.

If you have been following the Cranky Man Lawn Program program, you spend your weekly mowings have mutated into a slog of high, heavy, and perpetually wet grass; and you have started second-guessing your OCD affliction for The Perfect Lawn.  The combination of Spring fertilizing, typically wet weather, and moderate temperatures results in what we Lawn Gurus refer to as Severe Growth!

And right about now you might be frantically searching for a heavy garden implement to chuck in my general direction.

That’s OK … It will all be fine.  Soon the Summer temps will kick in; your beautiful, thick lawn, which has been drawing rave reviews from jealous Lawn Lazies, will be growing more slowly and thinning appreciably; and you will spend little time cutting the lawn you currently curse for its density.

Nature is the Great Equalizer …

Until that happens stick to these tips for mowing that jungle you begat through all that hard work and tender loving care:

  • Bag your lawn clippings no matter how difficult or time-consuming.
    • Leaving lawn clippings – especially from a very thick lawn – lying on the grass can be both unsightly and unhealthy to the underlying plants.
    • Mulching your lawn is always good, but mulching an extremely thick lawn over and over runs the risk of too thick a layer of mulched grass that could block fertilizer and nutrients and allow water to run off too quickly to be absorbed.
    • Once your lawn thins a bit with the increasing heat of Summer, you can resume mulching your lawn clippings.
  • Take smaller cutting widths with your mower, even if it means you are using less than half your mower’s width.
    • When the lawn is especially thick, you must give the mower a chance to chew through what it’s being fed.
    • Whether mulching or bagging, it’s a good idea to cut smaller swaths, especially if you don’t want to be raking up excess clippings that choke the outlet and end up in a few days as a brown stripe of dead grass across your lawn.
    • Then again, you could just buy a more powerful machine.  Your call ..
  •  Slow your pace in cutting the grass.
    • Grass in Spring conditions, especially when well-fertilized will be thicker, wetter, and heavier as a result.
    • Depending on how think the lawn is and how powerful a mower you are using, slowing your pace and taking a smaller cut swath will help the mower keep up.
Burn, baby, burn

Burn, baby, burn

As you sweat from the added mower work and the annoyance of bending, lifting, and dumping a seemingly endless string of heavy bags of clippings, keep in mind all those wonderful lawn compliments and the realization that in August your neighbor could be using his lawn as an airport runway.

Comfort yourself with the thought that as soon as the Summer heat ratchets up, you will no longer need your clippings bag and your mowing workload will be cut in half!

You just need to remember these tips to help your lawn survive another long, hot Summer.

  • Water early and regularly.  Do not wait until you notice browning patches of grass!  Even when temperatures are mild, lawn watering should be performed every 2-3 days without appreciable rain.  Err on the side of caution, especially when the forecast calls for intermittent thunderstorms as opposed to reliable day-long rains.
    • Or your can install an irrigation system.  I don’t have one.  Again, your call …
  • Allow your lawn to grow longer with higher temps!  A big mistake by many lawn owners is cutting the grass way too short because they like the look of a golf course fairway.  Longer grass helps to shade the underlying soil and roots, allowing better retention of water.  Raise the cutting height of your mower deck with rising air temps.
    • Remember Cranky Man’s creed:  “A fairway in June is a runway in August!” (patent pending)
  • Mulch your clippings whenever lawn conditions allow.  Once the Summer heat hits, your lawn should thin out a bit, which makes mulching while mowing easier to accomplish.  Mulching will add an extra protective layer around the base and roots of your grass plants and helps the soil retain moisture longer during hot, sun-filled days.

Last but not least, take the time to enjoy your lawn whenever you can.  Take the opportunity to walk your lawn sans shoes and socks!  Nothing feels better than the cool softness of a thick, green lawn.  A lawn junkie’s reward …

Walking barefoot in the grass – your grass – can be oddly relaxing, a great way to shed the stress of the day and a fitting reward to those who work so hard to keep their little slice of Life green and lush!

Happy mowing!

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Cranky Man’s Lawn Diary ’14 – Getting the Crabs out

obligatory Forsynthia shot

obligatory Forsynthia shot

It’s April … Everything’s growing. Green is everywhere. You can grow a thick, lush lawn on your driveway if you so choose.

And it’s oh so easy to fall into complacency.

Don’t take your full green lawn for anything incredible in the middle of April! The long, hot summer is right around the corner. So stick to the program and get your Spring fertilization done.

The forsynthia, whose blooming signal warming soil temperatures, have been in bloom for at least a week. If not done already, you should apply crabgrass pre-emergent SOON!

If, however, your lawn is already showing signs of dandelion and other weeds, your lawn might best be served by applying a weed ‘n feed now and treating crabgrass later (post-emergent).

Cranky Man’s lawn received its pre-emergent treatment last week. This week was spent filling in (with soil) and seeding some damaged lawn areas. This puts us on schedule for a regular weed ‘n feed in three weeks (four weeks from pre-emergent).

The key here is to heed the mantra of a well-respected lawn aficionado, “Everyone’s lawn looks good in April!” No matter how good your lawn looks today, what you do now will get your lawn through the dangerous Summer months!

Cranky Man’s Lawn Diary ’14: Poking holes in the patient

How core aerator works

How core aerator works

Some will say aerating should be done in the Spring, some in the Fall.  Some will even do both!

Personally, I prefer the Spring for aerating as it ensures soft, receptive soil (here in southeastern Pennsylvania) from months of rain and slow melting snows.  Waiting until the Fall is much riskier – Success wise – because of the possibility of long periods of dry, rain-free weather.  No rain means hard ground and limited penetration.

Last weekend I aerated my lawn; so I am now ready for some serious lawn treatments (currently pre-emergents for crabgrass) and a few patching jobs on some damaged areas.

So when will you be aerating?

Cranky Man’s Lawn Diary ’14: The Promise of Spring

What will yours look like in Spring '14?

What will our lawns look like this year?

Spring is coming!

It’s right around the corner, or so I’m told.  Just around the corner … in the neighborhood … over the horizon …

It has to come this year, right?!?  Eventually …?

Now assuming Spring does get here, you should be prepared for a few things you haven’t seen or felt in the last 6 months or so … Like the warmth of the sun, fresh air that doesn’t cause freezer burn, and green stuff growing all over the place.

I still expect these things to happen, recent weather aside.  So we must be lawn-prepared for when – if – Winter decides to head towards the southern hemisphere as it usually does this time every year.

Pay attention to your Lawn and Garden equipment

Now’s a good time to drag the lawn mower out from behind the snow blower, shovels, sleds, winter storm clothing, generator, your snow shoes and the Snowcat.  I wouldn’t dream of putting the Winter gear into storage just yet; but let’s be overly optimistic and assume at some point we may need a functioning lawn mower.

If you use your mower a lot (i.e. You are not a godless purveyor of lawn cutting contractors.) and value its reliability, get your machine into a reputable repair shop (or DIY it) for a tune-up and service.  Regular maintenance for your mower should extend its usable life.

In my case, I will be looking for a new mower this Spring, having gotten somewhere between 7-9 seasons out of my current Toro!  No doubt it could last another year or two if the power drive hadn’t started balking last year, making it more difficult to handle during lawn cutting.  I cannot see the point in replacing the powerdrive on a seven year-old mower.  So a new machine it will be!

Just don’t mention it to the spousal unit yet.  Such a plan must be carefully prepped and sold like Obamacare.  (OK … That was a painfully poor analogy …)

doctor-obamacareMake sure you also check and test grass trimmers, edgers, leaf blowers, etc. for possible maintenance issues.

What’s your Lawn Plan, Kenneth?

You should have a treatment plan in mind for your lawn each season to address known weaknesses, damage, or simply to build on efforts from the previous year.  In my case, I have all three.

After a particularly bad September, where I discovered some nasty grub damage and had a disastrous encounter with a large man-eating spider, I have several areas of lawn damage to repair.  I caught the grub damage early enough to make significant recovery before the seasons changed from Fall to UnEarthly Cold  & Stormy Winter.  On the other hand, the damage caused by the carnivorous web spinner was akin to an EPA Superfund site, requiring months and months just to disperse the chemical fallout.

One good thing about all that snow!

A good snow cover slowly soaks the soil as it melts dragging that winter feeding you applied (You did this, right?  Right?!?) down to the roots where it is stored for the onset of WhereTheHeckIs Spring!  In addition the snow pack will also protect the grass plants from drying out in the extreme cold and wind of NeverEnding Winter.

Long story short, I’ll be spending a lot of time nursing a man-hole cover-sized spot right in front of the house that is currently deader than Francisco Franco!

A smaller issue was minor construction on one side of the house requiring some decent grading and grass seeding.  The construction resulted from the installation of an egress system for the basement, into which my father-in-law moved over the EndlessDeath Winter.

Ejector_seat_test_at_China_Lake_with_F-4B_cockpit_1967

Maybe one of these for me …

Unfortunately the escape hatch wasn’t for my use.  I must rely on the time-tested method of tied-together sheets tossed out the bedroom window.  But I digress …

In short, I have more repair work to perform on Cranky Man’s lawn (the REAL lawn, not the blog) than in any other recent year.  But the best time to address problem areas is certainly the Spring growing season.  Given the normally expected level of sun, rain, and decent weather, you have to be damned with a Black Thumb if unable to make grass grow.

The key is being prepared and acting early enough in the season to wring every drop of growth from your lawn before the heat and humidity (mid-Atlantic climate here, remember) starts to retard lawn growth.  The problem is not knowing when that heat and humidity will appear in sufficient strength to make growing anything a challenge.

The secret?  Start E-A-R-L-Y!

If you wait until May it could be too late, unless we have a late Spring like last year.  Don’t bet on that if you’re serious about making progress.

Early-to-mid April is the time to start, weather permitting.  And the only weather that should stop you is a lot of rain.

Lazy lawn bioterrorist

Lazy lawn bioterrorist

Part Two of my plan for 2014 is the continuance of my bio-warfare campaign against the grubs.  Seems I got cocky and ended up with a nasty surprise.  So I decided to go all milky spore on the little bastards!

This year I want to buy the milky spore some time to develop and multiply.  The spore has to be ingested by the grub, which it then devours from within and explodes with millions of additional spores that spread across the area.

Yeah, that might be too much information.  Hope you’re not a grub reading this.  Scary stuff … if you’re a grub …

So I’ll buy time this year by applying an anti-grub treatment in early July (along with my other routine fertilization) even though in theory the application of the milky spore should render such applications unnecessary.  Since I applied the spore powder to the front yard only, I will consider the merits of sporing up the back yard as well.

So that’s my plan.  What’s yours?

Cranky Man’s Lawn ’13 – Winter feeding time

What will yours look like in Spring '14?

What will yours look like in Spring ’14?

Just a reminder …

If you haven’t done so yet, the next week or so will your last opportunity to apply a winter feeding to your lawn.  It’s important for this to be done before the first freeze and the lawn goes dormant for the Winter.

Winter feedings are stored in the lawn’s root system, and will provide a spurt of growth in the early Spring that sets the stage for your 2014 lawn.

Got my application done yesterday.  What are you waiting for?!?

Cranky Man’s Lawn ’13 – Let’s play Micro Biological Warfare …

Micro biological warfare's scary side

Micro biological warfare’s scary side

The transformation has been remarkable!  In the span of three weeks, I have gone from complete apathy towards destructive lawn insect species to full on merciless biological annihilation.

After a few years of a devil-may-care approach to the potential for an occurrence of a GrubLapalooza on my lawn, the recent damage found after ignoring the telltale signs in Summer has thrown me completely over to the opposite extreme.

So I broke the glass and pulled out the launch codes for some medieval microbiological warfare.

I called out the Legions of the Milky Spore!

(Yes, kiddies, this is what a high-end computer game looked like in the 1980s!)

In past deliberations on whether to spend $200 to cover by lawn in a protective layer of anti-grub chemicals or let Nature take its course, I have run across recommendations of the milky spore bacteria.  But its application looked weird and more time-consuming than dragging out the root-spreader.  Add in the mistaken conclusion that grubs were not that big a problem, and the suggestion never took root … so to speak.

After reading up on the milky spore’s process though, it’s a scary little microbe that appears to be damn effective in protecting lawns from the blight of the grub.

Unknown-1The product is not cheap at roughly $30 for a 10 ounce bag of a white powdery substance similar in appearance to powdered sugar.  But if it does provide years of protection, it’s well worth the cost and the aggravation of its rather archaic application process.

Death by milky spore is a nasty way to go.  (Milky spore is not harmful to beneficial insects, pets, wildlife – except for the grubbies – or humans.)  So let’s not alert the good folks at PETIL (People for the Ethical Treatment of Insect Larvae).

Milky spore is a rod-shaped bacteria that lives naturally in the soil.  As grubs feed on the roots of grass plants, they incidentally ingest any number of organisms residing in the soil and on the roots themselves.  The milky spore however, begins to reproduce once ingested, and slowly begins to feed on the grub from the inside.

Yeah ... I actually did this every 3-4 feet

Yeah … I actually did this
every 3-4 feet

This of course results in the larvae’s death, but not until the grub turns a milky white, hence the name.  Then when the dead grub decomposes it release BILLIONS of additional milky spores!

Yikes … if you’re a grub larvae.

The endless cycle produces more and more milky spore generations, which obviously can stretch the protective factor of the milky spore treatment.

And I’m beginning to like saying “milky spore”!

Now the application process sounds really weird, but really wasn’t all that drawn out for the half of my Green 1/4 Acre.

Milky spore is applied by the TEASPOON … one teaspoon every 4 feet in an alternating “checkerboard pattern”.  Each level teaspoon is applied in a circle between 3-6 inches in diameter.  Then you run the lawn sprinkler (or – if you’re lucky – an immediate rain) to water the white powder into the soil.

Now you tell me ...

Now you tell me …

I held true to the process and pattern, except where I knew or suspected that I had a grub presence where I made sure to place one of my “powder circles”.  It didn’t take as long as you might expect. and I intend to treat the rest of the lawn next year.

Now doing this in October is not the recommended time of the year, since the grubs tend to retreat deeper in the soil when the temperatures start to drop, and are not then actively eating.  My bet is that the spore I applied this weekend will still be present in the soil when the grubs pop back up closer to the surface with next Spring’s warmth.

I’ll keep you apprised of the results.

Lazy lawn bioterrorist

Lazy lawn bio-warfare specialist