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

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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: 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 tips for Southeast Pennsylvania

Dude … It’s February!  Even I’m not THAT obsessive.

But I’ll throw my faithful followers a few bones …

  • February 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.  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 aerating, fertilizing, dethatching, and other lawn-health related topics.  Only you have the best, closest perspective on what your lawn needs.
  • 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 (dethatching). 
  • Consider the amount of traffic your lawn saw last year from children, pets, equipment (like your mower), activities (parties, sports, play) and consider the benefits of aerating your lawn during the early, wet Spring.

In short, get ready for another lawn season.  The time you spend and planning you do today can help your lawn tomorrow, and 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 Care: An Idiots Guide; Chapter 2 – Aerating

Pre-Brief:  Really, really wanted to aerate this weekend, but without snorkeling gear it would prove difficult.  (Had tix for tonight’s Phils game, also a washout.) Since you need to plan an aerating operation (i.e. equipment rental/reservation), here is Cranky Man’s Lawn Care chapter on lawn aeration to get you off your rider.  Good news is that wet weather makes for favorable aerating conditions.

Aerating:  Spring is  the best time of the year for aerating your lawn.  Aeration helps to loosen the top most layer of soil, which allows for fuller lawn growth.  Aerating – especially for high-traffic lawns – allows much-needed oxygen, nutrients and water to reach grass roots.

Soil compaction can prevent adequate root growth and development.  Since compaction is the problem you’re trying to treat by aerating, it’s important that you use hollow-core aeration equipment as opposed to a machine using solid spikes that actually compact the soil further.  A core aerator will deposit many, many little plugs of soil and grass on top of your lawn.  These plugs will deteriorate quickly and will not harm the grass.

Many lawn devotees will aerate TWICE a year – in Spring and in Fall.  I’m not that ambitious or obsessive so once a year in the spring suffices; sometimes even skipping a year with no concerns.  But my lawn does not have a high level of traffic in most areas.  The higher the traffic, the greater benefit aerating will have.  Aerating in the Spring – after melting snows and typical Spring rains – ensures deep core penetration and maximum benefit.  Too often aerating in Fall follows hot, dry summers and results in harder soil that will resist adequate penetration.

I would suggest going over very high traffic areas several times, overlapping as you go.

Many lawn owners will accompany aerating with overseeding.  I’m not a big believer in overseeding (assuming you are observing other Healthy Lawn Behaviors), but overseeding can benefit struggling lawns.

Next segment:  Fertilizing

Cranky’s Lawn Care: An Idiot’s Guide, Chapter 1: Clean & Green

When I decided to create this blog, for some reason working “lawn” into the title seemed to be a natural choice.  I take much pride, a few compliments, and much abuse for my Obsessive-Compulsive lawn tendencies.  Many a friend and neighbor, upon marveling at the fluffy greenness of my 1/4 acre “spread” say to me, “Mike, what do I need to do to get my lawn looking so incredible?!?”  But after listening to me yammering on and on about fertilizers, aerating, mowing, dethatching, edging, raking, etc., they usually pick up the phone and call a landscaper.    

So, in keeping with my nature, I will blog a bit about lawn care.  But as to not overwhelm the uninitiated; scare off the slackers; or offend the laissez faire “What lawn?!?” set, I will present my completely untrained, common sensical approach in a series of posts as I go about performing my own lawn care activities!

So without further ado …

 Clean & Green: (Yes, I am well aware this is backward from the blog title subtext of Green & Clean, Venting My Spleen; but you cannot get “green” unless you “clean” first!)

I love Spring.  I hate Spring.  I love the warming weather.  I hate the Winter cleanup.  It’s a love-hate Spring thing.

But cleanup is the first task we face when it comes time to prepare the lawn for the approaching growing season.  I despise the annual spring lawn clean-up.  I’m a minimal effort for maximum effect kind of guy. It’s my personal house & home mantra.  

I like a nice green lawn; but I hate the first step in getting there … Cleaning up the debris left over from Winter.  I consider this a necessary evil, from the minimal effort/maximum effect point of view.  There is nothing minimal about this effort.  And I absolutely hate to rake.

It’s important to get up all of Winter’s debris – mostly in the form of dead leaves – off the lawn.  Leaves tend to accumulate anywhere the lawn or soil is depressed (physically, not emotionally).  It’s important to give your lawn every opportunity to awaken from its slumber, and reach its tiny, groggy awakening blades towards the warming sun and nourishing spring rains.

Yeah, I know … That was a bit weird.

But dead leaves will suffocate existing grass, and will prevent new growth from developing under those wet, spongy remnants from last fall. 

I recommend using a good mower with a bagging attachment to keep raking to an absolute minimum.  (I hate to rake.)  Given that however, you simply can’t avoid doing SOME raking if you intend to properly clean it up.  To make it easier to handle, I suggest mowing in small sections; raking up whatever debris the mower misses; then picking up the dead rakings with the mower.  (Did I mention that I hate to rake?)

In the end, you’ll have the cleanest lawn in the ‘hood, and one that will be ready to take full advantage of the growing cycle.  And if you’re lucky, no more raking until Fall!

Next episode:  Aerating

Die, Winter, die!!

Wonderful … Had ice on top of snow Tuesday. We’ve had at least 3-4 annoyance level snows already, some before it was even officially Winter. And tomorrow we’re supposed to get 2-4 more inches.

So I’m ready to strangle Winter until it is lying limp and lifeless at the feet of Spring. As a result, I will no doubt have to spend the Autumn of my life in a hell much much hotter than any Summer. But at least I’ll be warm!