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How We Got Here...

Welcome to Tompkins Lawn Care! With a different approach to lawn care, our process places focus on soil quality, plant health, and understanding how we got here. Knowing how we got here is the first step in making positive changes. It’s important to understand, we humans are the variable. Climate conditions and weather patterns play a significant role but are not nearly as impactful as human influence regarding housing developments and the landscapes therein.

We all recognize the Midwest, especially Iowa, to be a place where things grow well. While our fields are fertile and help to feed the world, the average home lawn is uniquely different. Most housing developments in the corridor replace agricultural fields however, by the time a new home’s lawn is installed, the conditions are much different than they started out. One of the first steps in “development” is to scrape off the topsoil, preventing it from being buried or mixed with subsoils or construction debris. The topsoil is typically piled off to the side, some of it is sold and hauled away and some of it is placed back, on-site, with final grading before sod is installed…. more on that later.

Water, sewer, streets and utilities are next. This infrastructure is dug, plowed, and laid over the land followed by a cover crop of hearty, native grasses that are sown to cover the soil, establishing roots and preventing erosion. Modern construction involves heavy equipment and motorized lifts replacing ladders or scaffolds. Houses are built quickly, and the soil is heavily compacted at the surface while many areas below have not settled and will create all those holes and cracked sidewalks, sure to greet the homeowner in years three through fifteen.

With a building completed, the lawn is graded in advance of sod. Low areas are filled in and some topsoil is spread across the lawn to aid in grading. Sometimes, many inches of topsoil can be spread about but most times the added topsoil is at best, a thin, skim layer to help smooth the future lawn (It’s important to note, even in those rare cases where multiple inches of topsoil are added, “inches” will not effectively replace the many feet of original topsoil that successfully grew crops in the location). The high spots are shaved down, and the remaining vegetation is scraped off before sod is laid, usually when it’s hot and dry. The type of sod used locally is a blend of Kentucky bluegrass. Bluegrass is a cool-season turfgrass that typically does well in a cool spring weather but suffers during our hot, dry summers. Adding to climate pressures are compacted, nearly sterile soils, and the absence of cultural practices and aftercare that help to determine the fate of a lawn.

Viewed as an “instant lawn”, sod seldom receives the immediate care it needs. Sod is grown under ideal conditions in order to produce a product to sell. Typically, homeowners are surprised by a lawn’s decline following the first season and it’s important to understand why this happens. Just like corn or beans, sod is grown in a field where there are multiple feet of undisturbed topsoil. In addition to excellent soil, seedlings are heavily fertilized, irrigated, and cut with mowers at a frequency and height intended to promote good health, quickly bringing the plants to maturity. All of these “extras” follow the sod from the field to the lawn but, things are much different in this new home. Growing conditions went from the best to the worst, usually on a day when it’s 90 degrees, sunny and dry. Most sodded lawns will “hang on” for the remainder of the first season, living off the remaining nutrients carried from the sod farm. Following the first winter, they look much different, brown and lifeless.

Most people associate the poor spring color to an excess of thatch however, the poor color is due to the lack of new growth. Blades of grass are brown following dormancy, winter or summer. These (dead) blades of grass do not turn green again but are replaced by new shoots that grow from the protected root system. The plant needs the energy to promote growth and with compromised soil, additional stimulation is needed from fertilizer. Without fertilizer to stimulate growth, new growth is absent and the declining turfgrass will thin, allowing weeds to fill in. Without competition from actively growing (spreading) turfgrass, weeds will begin to spread. A common issue in new lawns is the spread of tall fescue. Tall fescue (sometimes confused with crabgrass) is part of the “cover crop” that existed before the sod. Unless the site is sterilized, killing existing vegetation before the sod, hearty, deep-rooted grasses like tall fescue will blow through declining, malnourished sod. This situation can be seen in almost every neighborhood and quickly identifies which lawns did not receive proper care early on.

Successful management is only achieved by being proactive. Nature has a plan and purpose; we need to pay attention and recognize what’s missing. I think we all get caught up in modern conveniences and while we have access to almost anything with Prime delivery, nature requires a bit of forethought. We can’t expect nature to succeed in unnatural environments nor can we expect to quickly pull back what has already unraveled. If we pay attention to the things we already know, we can do well to prevent many problems and expensive remedies.

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Tompkins Lawn Care, Inc 
3956 – 120th St NE
Solon, IA 52333 

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OFFICE: (319) 331-9357

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