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The easiest way to describe proper watering is to visualize layers; turfgrass, thatch, roots/topsoil, lower topsoil (6-8″ depth), subsoil.
To develop a deep root system, make sure there is moisture that moves past the root system into the lower topsoil to the subsoil. Soil dries from the top down so this drives the roots deeper as they follow the available moisture. Keeping the topsoil constantly moist prevents root growth and the turf becomes weak and vulnerable. Shallow rooted turf happens when watering is too frequent. Shallow rooted turf will be vulnerable to all types of pressure, particularly drought/heat stress. It is best to water it heavily (deeply) then allow it to dry for a couple days and repeat.
The next variable is the subsoil. Subsoil moisture is much harder to manage because we cannot see it. Adding difficulty, subsoil moisture levels change so much due to soil type, topography, and seasonal changes in climate conditions. In the spring, the subsoil is usually moist, but moisture levels vary from year to year depending on climate conditions experienced in the previous season(s). The subsoil is your buffer or insulation. If the subsoil is moist there is insulation protecting the topsoil. However, if the subsoil is dry it will be near impossible to get enough water to porous soil like sand when enduring 90 to 100 temps for more than a couple of days. When speaking of sand, subsoil moisture provides important insulation in terms of temperature. Dry sand gets extremely hot and is the reason why drought stress to sandy soil presents as if someone poured gasoline on the turfgrass, in fact, the root system literally gets scorched from this excessive heat. Unless one understands these intricacies, this condition is almost always associated with a chemical burn.
Lawns become problematic in the summer season when the subsoil begins to dry. In new lawns (less than 20 years established) it is extremely important to water the turfgrass before it shows stress. Watering should begin in a supplemental fashion as soon as the summer weather patterns begin. If you wait for the turfgrass to show stress before irrigating, it’s already too late! It is extremely important to maintain health and vigor throughout the season, once problems are realized it is often too late for easy correction. Once the subsoil dries it takes so much more water to bring it back that the saturated ground often causes fungal disease as this phenomenon usually coincides with high temperatures both day and night.
“Environmentally Responsible” and “Sustainability” are common taglines used to sell many things, not just within the green industry. Many use these adjectives in marketing but fail to practice what they preach because it is expensive. It’s (not) funny how most people are idealistic until their beliefs cost more. If you eat at McDonald’s or shop at Wal-Mart, it is likely that your idealism is being traded for a dollar menu or rolled back prices. You get what you pay for… if it sounds too good to be true… etc. My perception is that “cheap” simply means that someone or something else has been taxed allowing your “savings”.
Bees are responsible for pollinating nearly 85% of crops directly for human consumption. Dozens of species of solitary bees have evolved to pollinate a single type of plant and coexist in unison with the lifespan of that plant. Without that specific species’ devotion to that plant, the plant would cease to reproduce and become extinct. Although we could all stand to lose a few pounds, running out of food will probably not bode well for us in the end.
It’s no secret that honeybee populations have been in decline worldwide. A large percentage of bee species die off each year resulting from a variety of factors including disease, parasites, pesticides and destruction of natural habitats and food sources. As more bee species die, we will lose more crops and eventually certain species of plants will become extinct. While it’s understood that the actions of one person or one company will not singularly make a huge impact on a global problem, it does not sway my efforts to educate and adopt practices that will make a difference here, in my house. One of these changes, widespread throughout our service program, will be the use of an insecticide that has been specifically developed to reduce its impact on bees and their role as pollinators.
The most common use of insecticides in the lawn care industry is for the control of annual white grubs. While management of our lawn programs is centered around integrated pest management and the knowledge that a lawn’s best defense (against everything) is to maintain good health and vigor, grub control begins with prevention. Grub Control is recommended as a preventative treatment vs a curative treatment, applied only after noticed turf damage that requires costly repair. By nature, this treatment is made before the threat of grub activity and in some cases the use of insecticides is a way to prevent a problem that may occur but does not always. This treatment is widely used and because of its preventative control method, I feel strongly that the pesticide used should be in the safest form possible. The insecticide we use poses minimal impact on beneficial arthropods and has extremely low toxicity to non-target animals including birds, fish, and bees. Our grub control has the lowest application rates and no re-entry restrictions following its application. Having said that, this responsibility comes at a higher price than products we have used in the past and it is important to note the reasons why as you review the Lawn Care Program. Please let me know of any questions/comments.
One common use of insecticides in the turf industry is for the control of Annual White Grubs. Grubs are the larvae of Japanese Beetles and Southern Masked Chafer/June bugs and their numbers vary from year to year as their populations are influenced by climate conditions. Larvae over winter in the soil and a deep frost is mother nature’s control method. Turf damage is the result of activity below the surface and is often overlooked until major damage is apparent. For this reason, most people default to grub “prevention” to manage the risk. My concern is that too many pesticides are needlessly used in the name of convenience and/or to increase the seller’s bottom line.
This all starts with an egg and that’s also where control should begin. Adults beetles have wings and fly to the next food source, feed, mate, and lay eggs in the soil before the die. Given the life cycle, a practical form of control would be to make applications “if/when adult beetles are noticed within a property.
This link may also be helpful https://www.extension.iastate.edu/smallfarms/white-grubs-lawn
Moles are difficult to control…. I’m sure you know by now. With any nuisance pest it is important to first eliminate their food source. Ants in the kitchen… clean up crumbs, mice in the garage… put the dog food in a sealed bin, adult children that will not leave the house, put a lock on the refrigerator…. This method holds true to moles however, the biggest misconception in lawn care is that insecticide use will influence mole populations. Insecticide use would only be warranted when there is a noted grub problem, having more than 5-8 grub worms near the surface per square foot causing threat to turfgrass health. With food so plentiful, you will also notice other mammals, like skunks and racoons as they peel back the sod to forage for the grub worms under the surface. Grub damage like this is rare and usually, it is noticed and treated before conditions require extensive repair. Severe damage occurs when people ignore the early signs of stress or how the turf feels different, spongier under foot.
In my experience, earthworms are the most common food source for moles. This also helps to explain the patterns to where and when you see activity. Moles will be found in areas of southern exposure in the spring, even late winter. Here, the soil is warm and while other areas of soil may still be frozen, worms can be found in these microclimates. As the soil warms mole activity will spread as they search over widespread areas looking for “honey holes”. As the summer heat sets in, mole activity will condense again and they will favor shaded areas, along shaded edges of tree lines, under shade trees and mulched areas on the North side of structures. These areas are cooler and stay moist longer, the perfect habitat for worms. Usually, you will notice straight runs (tunnels) where the moles travel from habitat to feeding ground (even through sunny/dry soil). This tunnel is where you want to place your trap.
I have also noticed a relationship between nice lawns and moles. Two neighbors can have similar layouts; only one lawn is kept nice while the other is thin, weedy, and unkept. Moles will be present in one over the other, it is usually the “nice” lawn that gets all the attention. The thick, healthy turfgrass is insulation. The soil is protected from fluctuations in climate conditions and worms are plentiful. Worms are beneficial to the soil and help to alleviate soil compaction and by adding organic material most needed for most lawns. Unfortunately, this marriage also brings predators as the other half of nature’s balance. Trapping is still the most effective best practice for controlling moles in the home lawn.
Trapping is relatively easy but will require your attention, it is not a “set it and forget it” situation. Moles are active in the morning and they move through areas where food is plentiful. Like dolphins feeding on a family of sardines, moles will zig and zag in a random pattern as they feed until the whole area appears “boiled up”. It is important to identify the “feeding grounds” so that you can locate the runs or tunnels that lead to them as the place to set traps. While feeding tunnels are random, it is almost impossible to successfully trap in the chaos. Locate the main run, leading from a den or protected area to popular feeding area and set your trap here. The main run offers a singular place where the target passes two to four times per day. Set your trap in the straightest portion of this run for best results. If correctly placed, the trap will likely be tripped twice per day and is why monitoring is important. Sometimes the traps will be tripped without success, don’t be discouraged. If the trap was tripped it means you have the right spot. Additionally, not having a mole harpooned at the end of a trap does not mean you failed. An injured mole will usually bleed out because their blood does not clot to seal up the wound. You may have lost the battle, but the war remains. Reset the trap and try again.
It’s tall fescue, A hearty turfgrass that is widely used in seed mixes for vegetative cover in waterways, roadways and in housing developments prior to new home construction.
Tall fescue is a deep rooted, hearty turfgrass that thrives in poor soil and hot weather. Bluegrass (most local sod is bluegrass) is a cool season grass that does poorly in inorganic soil without irrigation. When Bluegrass struggles and/or goes dormant, the underlying tall fescue will push through. If the site is not fertilized heavily from the start, tall fescue will spread. When the bluegrass growth slows or dormancy begins with warmer and dryer weather in summer, tall fescue will become more apparent because there is no competition from the weaker plant. Because tall fescue does well in these conditions it will continue to spread as the bluegrass struggles and declines.
As a turfgrass, there really isn’t a good solution for eradication once it has been introduced and allowed to spread. Selective control requires many follow-ups and has varying results, ineffective when considering the environmental impact and expense. If this scenario goes unchecked it may be necessary to kill it off and start over. For this reason, we suggest that all existing vegetation be chemically killed prior to installing a non-native lawn.
We learn of evolution but we have evolved ourselves away from common sense. A seedling can grow in harsh conditions and will adapt to its surroundings becoming stronger with each generation.
Lawns are rarely started from seed and the plant’s natural ability to adapt is lost. Most new lawns are sodded instead of seeded although seeded lawns tend to be heartier and more resistant to disease.
Sodded lawns are a transplant, grass grown from seed in perfect conditions then moved to the finished construction site. It is unreasonable to expect this process to be flawless even when dealing with excellent soil. When the soil is sterile the plant cannot survive and the turfgrass will show stress and gradually fade out making way to opportunistic weeds. Fertilization provides much needed “life support” and the plant can grow. With fertilizer stimulating growth, the lawn thickens and roots go deeper.
A thicker lawn prevents the infiltration of weeds as competing turfgrasses leave no room for weeds to grow. A deep root system, the base, will reach moisture when dry and will stay cool in the hot summer months preventing scorch and injury from disease.
Fungicides can be used to treat common fungal diseases in turfgrass however, secondary to best management practices. Cultural practices like core aeration do better to stave off fungal disease. Proper management of irrigation, mowing, core aeration and fertilization are the most economical ways to prevent fungal disease.
The benefits from core aeration is multi-layered and is the best singular thing you can do to protect your turfgrass from the many uncontrolled variables that put the lawn at risk. The largest, singular variable we cannot control is the climate. After all is said and done and no matter what time and money has been spent to improve turfgrass, climate conditions will always be the final factor that determines the level of success. A common problem that affects bluegrass sod is pressure from fungal diseases and the best natural defense against this is aeration. In addition are the more obvious benefits of core aeration such as increased oxygen and nutrients to the root system, promoting deeper root development making the turf stronger, controlling thatch by composting the soil plugs and building more organics in the soil. Often discounted are the secondary benefits to being a responsible land steward. For instance, the best way to keep our water clean is to utilize the natural filtering characteristics of the soil. Aerated soil allows water to percolate through. Not only do the plants benefit from the water as it moves past but run off is reduced protecting our waterways. There are many low-tech remedies for our new world problems too often we over-complicate things and lose focus of the bigger picture.
Mowing plays a huge role in a successful lawn management program. Time and money spent to fertilize and improve a site can be quickly erased by mowing it incorrectly. Mowing will actually stimulate growth in turfgrass and if done properly, mowing helps to create a thicker, more dense stand of grass. Conversely, mowing can cause damage to even healthy turfgrass. Even on flat surfaces, every movement, start, stop, turn, etc. causes damage and this increases exponentially when on any incline. If you think your mower might be too big, it is. Mowing should be done often enough so as not to remove ⅓ of the total leaf surface; this is known as the “one third rule”. Removing more than ⅓ of the leaf surface causes the root system to die back. As a result, the turf will come under stress and will likely succumb to fungal diseases, insect damage and heat stress to name a few. When combined with sterile soil these issues cause serious problems that can take years to recover from. Many discount the damage that occurs with normal mowing. Healthy lawns, growing vigorously can effectively heal from this damage before it’s noticed however, lawns that are under stress will not be able to regenerate and heal. The best example to this would be areas that are shaded. When shaded areas are mowed at the same frequency as sunny areas, it won’t be long before you are overseeding. Hoping this new seed will grow (in the shade) so that you can get back on the mower and do it all over again….wrong. It’s better to recognize that these areas do not need to be cut in the first place. Respect that nature offers us microclimates in every landscape and it’s best that we react to each one accordingly. Accept the natural process and quit fighting what is inevitable.
You can be environmentally responsible and yet still enjoy a property that’s inviting and not as…colorful. Too often it seems that people want to place themselves firmly to one end of the spectrum or the other with little thought given to the 98% that remains in between. Sometimes our ideals conflict with common sense and ultimately we run off track. This about-face creates a situation where we need more of something we previously vowed to never use again. In turf management, more pesticides are used to rectify problems stemming from neglect than what would have been needed for common sense management during that same period…. the whole “ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure” thing.
Weeds will grow anywhere that sunlight reaches bare soil. Areas of grass that are thin and lifeless will quickly fill in with weeds. Weeds thrive in the same conditions that cause turfgrass to decline so you can see how a bad problem gets steadily worse. When one relies on herbicides for weed control the battle is lost. Weed control should be established by keeping thick, vigorously growing turfgrass. Healthy turfgrass provides a solid ground cover that prevents the establishment of weeds. This can be achieved with the use of natural elements within fertilizer, annual aeration and mowing. If a weed seed blows in from the neighbor or from across town, it can be spot sprayed as one, singular plant before the need arises to blanket the entire area with pesticides.
This is where practical experience and knowledge of the natural process come into play. Providing nutrients, natural elements found in our fertilizers, we promote turfgrass to do exactly what it wants to do…become a groundcover. Once this occurs the reliance upon chemical pesticides is reduced significantly and you have a beautiful and functional landscape that if kept healthy, will perform well year in and year out. Nature’s way of protecting soil is to cover it. When nutrients are not available to promote vigor in desired turfgrass, the cover is obtained by emerging weeds. Soil is full of life….more precisely, weed seeds. All soil contains weed seeds that when given warmth, water and sun, weeds will grow. This is nature’s protection against erosion and a natural way to keep waterways clean from silt and pollutants. The best way to stabilize soil is to keep a healthy cover of turfgrass. A deeply rooted turfgrass will prevent erosion while at the same time acting as a diffuser to allow water to percolate into the soil. Thick turfgrass is also an excellent filter that collects pollutants where they can break down before they enter our water sources.
Fertilizer gets a bad rap but one must remember there is a big difference between the agricultural use of fertilizers and pesticides when compared to the responsible use within the green industry. Although some of the active ingredients are the same, the use is entirely different. In agriculture, specifically row crops, fertilizers are applied directly to bare soil! Opposite turfgrass management, these situations offer no vegetative filter and everything flows downhill to lowest water source. Hog confinements and other Meat Factories are huge contributors to the nitrate problem. Written in the Des Moines Register September 15th, 2017 “Iowa has about 5,000 more pig confinements and cattle lots across the state than originally believed, a report to the federal government last month shows. That’s nearly 50 percent more animal feeding operations than the state initially inventoried.”. At that time, a 1000 head hog confinement could go unregulated and did not need to comply with state manure licensure. It is situations like these that cause nitrate problems not lawn fertilizers.
If you want to save the planet, EAT MORE PLANTS.
Successful weed control begins with fertilizer and building better turfgrass. We can spray the weeds and they will die however, unless we improve the turfgrass the weeds will come right back. This creates a situation where the continuous use of pesticides are required. Alternatively, if the turfgrass is improved, using natural elements in our fertilizer, core aeration and proper mowing techniques we can increase the vigor in the turfgrass and the competition prevents weeds without having to blanket the site with pesticides time and time again.