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?

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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

Cranky Man’s Lawn ’13 – Grubs, a Cheap Skate, and Self-inflicted Wounds

I share this somewhat shameful chain of events as illustration that no one, least of all Cranky Man, is anywhere near perfect … 

Bane of my existence ... (www.maine.gov)

Bane of my existence …
(www.maine.gov)

Once upon a time there was a self-professed Lawn Guru, who proudly touted the Technicolor Green Coat that gently swaddled his little slice of surburban heaven.  He was a prolific font of turf grass knowledge and theory; yet he held a certain disdain for the clamoring Merchants of Lawn Care, eschewing their advice whenever he determined they were simply out to make a buck off his highly developed fear of Potential Lawn Disaster.

So, when the Lawn Care Merchants came to him with their dire warnings of bugs, grubs, and certain death of large swaths of his carefully tended turf, he poo-pooed their pricey solution; boldly straddled his lush green lawn carpet; and declared all within his sight, “Good and Green and snug as a bug … “

It was a poor choice of words.

Three months later the Lawn Guru emerged from the Other Side of Summer; placed both hands to his head; and screamed “What the …!!”

The Grubeths hath cometh.

Let’s recap …

  1. I’m definitely a tad overconfident when it comes to what I know and what I think I know.
  2. I’m cheap.
  3. I’m stubborn.

So it’s no real surprise that I look for those ways I might be trapped into putting out money I don’t necessarily have to spend.  This goes for my lawn like anything else.  So I tend to research what the real lawn experts suggest when it comes to the practical care and treatment of my Pride ‘n Joy (Non-Human Category).

Front lawn damage

Front lawn area
after removal and treatment

You try to be pragmatic by realizing no lawn damage could be so traumatic or tragic that a little recovery work couldn’t solve whatever problems you might cause by being a little cheap and a lot stubborn.

And certainly all of the above applies to this situation.

Some well-respected turf authorities suggest that unless you have a grub population on average of 12 per square foot of lawn, you do not have a serious grub problem.

So … cheap lawn guy that I am … I checked a few areas of my lawn over a few recent seasons and determined that my grub-per-square-foot population appeared well below the Problem Benchmark.  I had them, but they weren’t a big problem.  As a result, I have saved myself a few bucks in the recent past on what I felt were unnecessary grub treatments!

Still those nasty grubs can damage your lawn.  But at what point is that line where a little damage becomes too much damage?

The Answer:  When a) it makes the rest of the lawn look like crap, and b) I should have known better.

The REAL problem … actually I did know better.

Side yard damage

Side yard damage

It was in mid-June when I noticed quite a few very large green beetles (not your garden-variety Japanese beetles) cavorting wildly on and about the front yard.  I made a mental note to consider the benefits of applying a grub treatment.  Unfortunately, like many of my mental notes, the thought never re-appeared.

At least that’s my story.  And I’m sticking to it!  It’s a self-inflicted wound nonetheless …

The rest – as they say - is history.

Detection and Treatment:

Under normal conditions, you would treat for grubs in the weeks between Memorial Day and the 4th of July, when the beetles are getting a bit randy in their seasonal way.  But if you’re the cheap knucklehead like me, and wait until the damage is done …

Look for unexpected brown spots in your lawn.  These I found, and they bothered me because we had a fairly good Summer for lawns in our area.  Plenty of rain, cooler than normal temperatures, few long periods of intense summer heat …

Using a rake, see how much of the dead grass comes up easily.  If you can pull the grass up like a poorly installed carpet, you got problems … like I did.  Once a healthy grub population gets established, they eat your lawn’s root system.  Soon there will be nothing attaching said grass to Mother Earth aside from gravity, hence the hair hat effect.

One good tug and “Hello, baldy!”

Now in my case, I’m talking two areas of grass, roughly 9-foot and 16-foot square, where roughly half the area was affected, and a few much smaller spots here and there.  Not a huge problem, but one section was right out in front of the house and very, very noticeable.  So it would be a bit much to leave there untreated.

After peeling away the dead grass and removing the grubs, I threw down some seed and covered it with soil.  I’m hoping to take advantage of warmer-than-normal temperatures this week to generate a little growth before the grass goes dormant for Winter.

And next year I promise a grub treatment, cost be damned!

The Self-Inflicted Wound

Of course, once you think things are bad enough, you do something really stupid.  In my defense, the thing was freakin’ huge!

I don’t like spiders.  Actually what I really don’t like is cobwebs.  The spiders don’t bother me, so I don’t bother them … usually.  This was the exception.

One aspect of approaching Fall, I have found I really hate … Spider Season!  There’s nothing quite so disgusting as walking out the door in the morning, after a nice hot shower and dressed in freshly pressed cloths, right into a face full of cobweb.  Has to be the ickiest feeling known to Man.

My attacker (actual size)

My attacker (actual size)

Of course those dinner plate-sized marvels of filament engineering come with spiders the size of half-dollars!

Hence my problem that day.

The kicker?  I was pushing a hopper full of lawn weed ‘n feed!

You can imagine where this is going.

Head down, I’m plowing mindlessly along (Well, how else would I be doing this?) pushing 15-20 lbs. of weed killer and fertilizer across the lawn, right in front of the garden.  Suddenly I feel cobweb across my face and over my ear.

What’s worse is the tarantula still hanging on said web just in the periphery of my vision.  Not sure where he ended up, but he probably clung to my wildly spinning, thrashing body until his laughter caused him to lose his grip.

Little bastard …

Anyways, once I got every conceivable molecule of web off me, I turned back to find the hopper of weed ‘n feed on its side.  Half its cargo – at least – was sitting in a pile on the lawn.

Not good … No, not good at all.

It’s been a bad lawn week.

photo

Suburban tragedy

Cranky Man’s Lawn ’13 – Mushroom blooms and the Big Mo

Front lawn, where usually grass goes to die each Summer

Front lawn, where usually grass goes to die each Summer

Lawn aficionados in this part of the country are ecstatic.  A long wet Spring, a reasonable Summer with plenty of rain have left the well-cared-for lawn in probably the best shape they have ever been in any Mid-Atlantic state in August.

If you have been feeding your lawn properly – including regular mulching cuts that deposit clippings to decompose and provide valuable nutrients, you should be seeing a few lawn mushrooms bloomin’ among your Leaves of Grass.

Fear not the ‘shrooms!

They portend Good Health and Cheer among your grassy fiefdom!  And yet even better lawn conditions can be found from a pleasant Indian Summer and those first hints of impending Fall.

For those with weak lawns, this is a good time to prepare yourself to take advantage of the second-best grass-growing season of the year.  With a little TLC and a plan, you care begin to turn your lawn around well ahead of Spring 2014.

Evaluate the overall condition and health of your lawn, and consider the potential benefits of detaching, re-seeding, and fertilizing.  With cooperative weather conditions (Can our luck hold?), the middle of September through Thanksgiving can be almost as good for lawn growth as Spring!

Dethatching (Picture from safe lawns.org)

Dethatching
(Picture from safe lawns.org)

(Consider closely the “potential benefits” of detaching …” because – Trust me – it’s a LOT of work.  But if needed and done correctly at the right time, it can offer huge improvement!)

For those of us with established lawns, another application of weed ‘n feed is a Cranky Man recommendation.  And taking advantage of Big Mo (as in Mo-mentum) now will continue to promote favorable lawn conditions; building with good growth and – hopefully – even better lawn conditions heading out of Summer and into Fall!

Carpe grassem!

Of course if for one reason or another your lawn is still a bit thin, another option could be the application of a good starter fertilizer.  Every year I struggle to keep several parts of the yard thick and green.  These are generally around the south side and front (east) of the house.  On a whim, which should have been an obvious “Duh …” moment, I decided to throw down a regular starter fertilizer along those areas in April, after a good aerating and over-seeding.

If it works on the corn ... (Picture from mississippi-crops.com)

If it works on the corn …
(Picture from mississippi-crops.com)

The results were impressive for both the new seeding and the older, established grasses, although I’m sure the favorable weather was also a significant contributing factor.  The grass in those areas in the greenest and thickest it’s been in quite a while, minus the thin brown spots that always show up when the temperatures heat up.

My plan for the rest of the year:

  1. Potentially, hitting the other half of the lawn with a Starter fertilizer this week since it worked so well on the first half of the lawn.
  2. Another round of Weed ‘n Feed in mid September, making sure I leave 4-6 weeks between this and 1. above.
  3. Application of the Winter feed anytime between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Seize the Lawn!

See you next year!

Cranky Man’s Lawn ’13: Following up on a good Spring

photo 2

When the plan comes together just right, the payoff can be very rewarding.  If you have performed all the recommended treatments, your lawn might look like mine … The Best it has looked in years!

All the Spring lawn projects have been completed, including a long overdue aerating and a seed ‘n feed in one troublesome area in the backyard.  Mother Nature has cooperated with a run of cool, sunny weather and just enough rain to keep the momentum on the growing.  The lawn is quite remarkably absent of any weeds.  The turf is thick, long and a healthy dark green.

Enjoy it while you can before the heat of Summer begins its attack!

The one promise you can always count on when it comes to lawn care is that there is always something else to do … especially in Spring … especially when Summer is right around the corner.

If you have visited Cranky Man’s Lawn in the past, you might recall tirades of mine about a good lawn in the Spring is only half the battle.  My buddy, Bob, still gives me grief about a post a few years ago by reminding me – when I speak loftily about my Spring turf – that “Everyone’s lawn looks good in April!

True that is, even for May!

I won’t belabor all the points made previously.  You can indulge yourself here  or here …

What I can do is summarize a few keys points …

  • Let your lawn grow longer BEFORE it gets hotter.  Pay attention to the heat index and act accordingly.
  • If you have a contractor cutting your grass, tell him to cut the grass higher.  They will cut it as short as they can in case they miss a week due to inclement weather.

Remember what my grandpappy used to say …

“A fairway in May, will be a runway in August!”

  • If you don’t have an in-ground irrigation system, buy a decent lawn sprinkler and use it.  Watering every 2-3 days, if rain is not in the forecast, can make a world of difference.
  • Don’t discourage over browning grass.  If you let the grass grow sufficiently, the grass-roots will be protected enough – most times – under excessive heat and dryness even if the grass itself looks like death.
  • Pray for rainy days or moderate thunderstorms during the Dog Days.
I call this picture  "Shadow of a Cranky Man"

I call this picture
“Shadow of a Cranky Man”

Finally, about now in the my neck of Southeast Pennsylvania, more than a few lawn owners in the Obsessive-Compulsive category are bemoaning the need to bag lawn clippings for their thick, luxurious, rain-fed lawns.  The Solution?  Cut it more often!

OK, probably not The Answer you wanted to hear.

But cutting your lawn every three days, instead once a week, will eliminate the need to bag your clippings (if you have a decent mulching mower and the lawn is not too wet).  It may not sound like much, but it’s a nice change of pace to all that bending, lifting, dumping, moving …

And if you’re working something like the Lose It! app for weight loss …

Hey, 640 calories for an hour-and-a-half of pushing the grass eater!

Cranky Man’s Lawn ’13: Getting a Spring-loaded Start

images-6It won’t be long now.  Warmer temps … Green things popping out from the ground … Spring rains … Trees beginning to bud …

And all that %@#&*?! yard work!

So now’s the perfect time to plan your Spring and Summer lawn program; to consider what changes you might need to make; and to plan the timing of your fertilizing lawn treatments.

If you are forward-thinking, you recognized the need to review your lawns condition last September and October, when the problems would still be fresh on your mind.  If not, just hope your memory didn’t go as soggy as your yard over the Winter!

There were several issues I identified last year with my lawn that I plan to work on this Spring.

Early Spring aerating and over-seeding

One of the problems I noticed was bare spots in the backyard and the usual areas out front that burn to a crisp every year in the Summer sun.  And I must admit, I have neglected to aerate the past several seasons, so I’m overdue for an good aeration and over-seeding.

How core aerator works

How core aerator works

Plan to pick a weekend in March or early April when the weather is warm and the ground is still soggy, which makes working with a core plug aerator easier and more effective.  You can aerate in the rain, if it’s relatively warm.  Aerating when it’s cold and raining is not fun.

Pick up a bag of lawn seed, a rye and fescue mix is what I prefer.  Rent, borrow or buy a drop spreader which is more efficient for putting down seed.  Spread the seed after aerating (over-seeding).  But try to avoid dropping seed if it’s very wet.

Don’t forget to water new seedings if we do not get appreciable Spring rains locally.  That would be unusual.  The point is to always monitor rainfalls, especially if you spent the money to throw down seed!

It’s important to note that all advice provided here is the product of an underutilized mind residing in the head of an AMATEUR lawn aficionado.  The tips you are reading are not the result of training, collegiate study, or professional experience.  They are simply the learnings via the trial-and-error method and ad hoc research of a homeowner – located in Southeast Pennsylvania – who is too cheap to pay someone for an effort he was all too willing and able to do himself.  

With those caveats in mind, take what you read here for what it’s worth.  You can always get similar – if not better – advice from your local lawn product supplier.  It just wouldn’t be so full of charm and humor!  

Fertilizing strategy

Drop spreader

Use drop spreader for seed

For the sake of review, I prefer fertilizing at least five times a season:

  • March – crabgrass pre-emergent (optional)
  • April – Spring weed ‘n feed
  • June – crabgrass post-emergent (optional)
  • early July - grub control (optional)
  • September – Fall weed ‘n feed
  • November – Winter feed

Of the six treatments listed I’ll always go with the two weed ‘n feeds and the Winter feeding as a minimum, then pick and choose from the other “optional” treatments.  It’s been a few seasons since I have felt a grub control treatment was necessary.

Watch the timing of your fertilizer treatments, always giving at least 4 weeks – preferably 6 – between applications.

Lately, my recurring issue has been crabgrass, refugees from a bordering lawn, where apparently no value is placed on lush, green lawn-scapes, free of brownish-yellow weeds and assorted alien species.

It’s just one of the crosses I bear every year.

Rotary spreader, best for fertilizing

Rotary spreader, best for fertilizing

The Plan?  Go whole hog on the crabgrass treatments, both pre and post-emergent, to knock down the crabgrass.  This is probably going to be the routine from here on out, unless the neighbors reach a stage of Enlightenment and figure out how to use a rotary spreader!

I’m betting that once again we won’t need the grub treatment; but that’s something that can be decided by observation in May and early June.  You simply look for the Japanese beetles, which have been not been present in sizable numbers in this area (eastern Montgomery County, PA) for several years.

Crabgrass Pre-emergent: Watching the Soil Thermometer

Edited to add:  A casual reader reminded me that applying a pre-emergent after a seeding would retard the germination of the grass seed as much as it would the crabgrass.  

I will take it one step further and caution that any treatment that prevents germination (pre-emergent or a weed n’ feed) should not be applied for at least six weeks after a seeding!

As for my Spring strategies, I will not be applying crabgrass pre-emergent to the same areas I plan to over-seed after aerating.

mature crabgrass plant

mature crabgrass plant

OK, whatever you do, don’t run out of the house to buy a soil thermometer!  Yes, they do have them.  But it’s not likely you would use it but once a year, unless you’re really obsessive about keeping the carrots in your garden at a toasty temp.

Anyways, it’s not like pre-emergent temps are a Magical Moment.  You can be off a day or two and the Universe will not implode.  So put the car keys down and keep reading!

Anyways, the issue with applying a crabgrass pre-emergent is the soil temperature during the early Spring when a pre-emergent is best applied.  Soil temps must be over 55°-60° for crabgrass seed to germinate; and since germination is what you want to prevent, you must wait for said seed to be in the process of germination for a pre-emergent to work most effectively.

Poa annua

Poa annua

Pre-emergent, which will also prevent the growth of poa annua, retards root growth by forming a chemical barrier in the soil.  (And no, I had no idea what poa annua is until I looked it up … just now!)

Personally speaking, I simply wait until we get at least 3-5 days of air temps above 70°, since the ground takes longer to warm up than the air above it.  You can also watch for the blooming of the forsythia, since that has been traditionally linked to warming ground temps.

Unlike your other weed ‘n’ feeds, crabgrass treatments must be watered into the soil to be effective.  Suggest you watch the forecast and try to apply said treatment prior to a decent rainfall.  If no rainfall occurs after 3-4 days, you should water the lawn to activate the pre-emergent.

obligatory Forsynthia shot

obligatory Forsythia shot

Miscellaneous tips and preps

  • Now is a good time to get your lawn equipment in top working condition.  Start looking into qualified lawn mower repair and maintenance businesses. Compare prices and get your mower in for its seasonal tune up now.  (Or just go to Sears as I usually do.  Sears will usually run a pre-season maintainance special for mowers.)  If you are a dedicated mower or you did not have your mower serviced last year, make sure the service person replaces the mower’s cutting blade.
  • Read up on aeratingfertilizingdethatching, and other lawn-health related topics.  Only you have the best, closest perspective on what your lawn needs.
  • A great source for turfgrass information is the Penn State Center for Turfgrass Science.  These people are THE Professionals!
  • With that in mind, pick a good weather day and complete a walk-around survey of your lawn.  Note bad spots where thinning or bare areas exist. Look for spots where thick dead growth lies just beneath or even blocks out underlying grass plants that might need dethatching.

In short, get ready for another lawn season.  The time you spend and planning today will ensure the biggest dividends from your lawn work all season; and it will give your lawn the best shot at surviving the hottest stretches of the upcoming summer.

One last tip:  If you are on the down slope of Hill 50, consider using this time before Spring to work on your body’s core muscle groups.  Nothing will put you behind your Lawn Schedule like a balky back!

Cranky Man’s Lawn Epistles ’12: tick tock … tick tock … tick tock …

It’s almost Winter … yippee …

Soon the frost will be on the pumpkin; the snow will be on the roof; the chestnuts will be roasting; and I’ll be moaning and groaning.  I like this time of year; I hate this time of year.

Yes, I’m certain that makes sense.

In any case, here be your last Lawn Epistle for 2012!

If you have been a loyal reader and pay attention to my long-winded rants on lawn care, you are more than familiar with my oft cranky, frantic pleadings of  … Fertilize! Fertilize! For the love of God … Fertilize!

I do get a bit exuberant about it.

Another season is coming to a close.  But as with many aspects of Life on this Big Blue Marble upon which we live, the end of one cycle signals the beginning of another.  And as any true Lawn Junkie will tell you, the Seeds of Success for the coming Spring – no matter how miserable I might be while waiting out Winter - are sown in the barren chill of transitional Fall.

My point??  Fertilize … Fertilize … Ferti …

Sorry.

The point is you – Dear Lawn Buddy – have ONE MORE treatment left before you can look forward to the next three months of Leisure, like a 1st grade school teacher at the end of May!  Let’s review …

It’s too late when it looks like this …

Winterfeed  (from an earlier Epistle) 

The last step for the Fall, is a Winter feeding that should be applied no later than mid-November.  The Winter feed goes right to the grass’ roots and is stored there over the Winter.  Once Spring arrives, the root-stored nutrients will give your lawn a growth boost to start the season off right,

Yes, that says “mid-November!  And no, I haven’t done mine yet.  But it’s at the top of the chore list for this weekend!

The important thing to remember is that the Winter feeding has to be accomplished before the grass goes dormant for the Winter.  If you have treated your lawn nicely, you are also still mowing … just less frequently … as your grass should continue to grow until the first REAL frost sets in.

Now, time is a wastin’!  We are at the very latest point for putting down the last feeding of the year.  So get to it … and enjoy your Winter downtime!

… if this Spring you want it to look like this!

Cranky Man’s Lawn Epistles ’12: Getting ready for the Fall growing season

Happy Lawn Days are here again!

Wet, humid conditions in our Southeast corner of Pennsylvania have resurrected our Summer-baked lawns with damp air and plentiful rains.  A quick look around your neighborhood will reveal lawns much greener than should be expected for mid-August, especially if you followed the rules for helping your lawn beat the heat.  Those of us, who value the work and money spent on keeping our lawns green and vibrant, appreciate what a bit of Summer rain and the prospects for cooler temperatures will bring.

Now is the time to set up your lawn for the Fall growing season!

The biggest advantage September will bring are cooler nights.  Even when temps hit the 90s during Indian Summer, the cooler nights allow for substantial dew falls that effectively water your lawn ever so slightly every day.  This combination of warm days and cool, dewy nights are perfect conditions for grass growth.

Here are several things you can do to get the maximum benefit out the September to mid-November growing season:

Dethatching rake

1. Clear dead matted grass where it exists in large patches.

For this I recommend a good dethatching rake; although if you have significant dead grass issues, you may want to look into renting a dethatching machine (a.k.a. lawn comb).  Using the dethatching rake, look for those areas where the dead grass is thick and covering the ground.  Then use your mower to mulch the dead growth into the soil.  Removing dead grass will provide a good bed for dropping seed and will allow existing grass plants to spread and fill in bare spots.

2. Aerate

Most home owners probably aerate in the Spring, many in the Fall.  Some aerate twice a year.  Aerating is an important step in

How core aerator works

lawn health by reducing soil compaction caused by foot traffic and normal settling.  Aerating allows air and nutrients to penetrate the soil, helping roots grow deeper and healthier.

Use a core aerator as opposed to a spike aerator.  The core aerator removes a plug of soil each time it penetrates, whereas a solid spike aerator simply compresses the soil even further, defeating the purpose of aerating.  For maximum effectiveness wait for wet weather to soften up the ground.  Plugs that result from aerating will naturally decay and provide additional food for the lawn.

Personally, I will aerate only once every other year, since my lawn no longer gets the foot traffic (i.e. kids) it used to.  I never got around to doing it in this past Spring, when the wet weather makes aerating easier.  Hopefully, I’ll get to it weather-permitting this Fall.

3. To “Weed & Feed” or “Seed and Fertilize”?

Do one or the other, not both!

If you experience a lot of brown or bare spots that need attention, overseeding after you clear out dead growth and applying a Starter fertilizer would be the way to go.  Make sure you this happen no later than mid-September (Labor Day weekend is ideal.) to take maximum advantage of favorable Fall weather.  If you decide to put down new seed, DO NOT apply a Weed & Feed product.  The weed portion of the weed & feed treatment will prevent new grass seed from germinating.

Weed & Feed is the way to go however, if you decide not to overseed.  Even if you applied a Weed & Feed in the Spring, another application in the Fall will give your lawn a boost in growth, and provides weed-free momentum to your lawn that will help keep weeds away next Spring!

4.  Water

Man's other Best Friend

Man’s other Best Friend

Yes, the weather has been delightfully wet recently.  But all we need is a stretch of 7-10 days of dry, hot days and all our work could be undone, especially if you decided to put seed down.  So keep an eye on the forecast; be mindful of your lawn’s condition; and drag out the hose and sprinkler, if you’re not fortunate enough to have an in-ground irrigation system.

5. When the leaves start falling

Make sure you get excess leaves and debris off your grass as much as is practicable.  Ensure your lawn isn’t covered by a choking layer of dead leaves when the weather turns cold.  Dead leaves left to blanket your grass – especially once the snow starts falling - can destroy what grass plants are there underneath.

I have several large trees on neighboring properties, but only a small one in my front yard.  I have learned my lesson from Falls past, and worry about removing dead leaves only after most – if not all – the trees have lost their leaves.  Otherwise, you will be out there all Fall long.  Work smart, not hard!

6.  Winterfeed

The last step for the Fall, is a Winter feeding that should be applied no later than mid-November.  The Winter feed goes right to the grass roots and is stored there over the Winter.  Once Spring arrives, the root-stored nutrients will give your lawn a growth boost to start the season off right.

Now get to work; and Good Luck out there!

(Cautionary Tale: These tips are based on my experience alone.  I offer no illusions of formal turf training or professional experience.  This is solely what seems to work for me and my Southeast Pennsylvania lawn.  Always proceed with caution and be mindful of conditions in your specific region.)