Sunday, October 18, 2015

A tale of two seasons

As we approach the end of another lawn care season I'm reminded of this year and the duality it represented.

Lawns looked fantastic to about the middle of July. In fact, many of our customers commented, it was the best their lawns had ever looked under our care. Then things took a turn.

With the heat and drought conditions, crabgrass exploded over night, chinch bugs marched forth in wave after wave with voracious hunger and white moth/ sod webworm made their presence known in bled, softball-sized pockets of brown, dead grass that lasted into mid September.

Not all lawns were affected, but enough were to keep us jumping through the summer months. This is why it is so important to make sure your lawn gets at least one deep watering a week during periods of high heat and it is cut properly- 3 inches high with no more than a third of the blade removed when mowing.

With the fall. most lawns have recovered nicely, as they usually do, but with grubs on the increase the raccoon damage north of the city has me worried for next season . Since we are entering a period where summer heat will be consistent over the next several years, I expect insect and weed issues to remain on the high to severe side - a sequel I'm not looking forward to.

Character development, conflict and eventual resolution might be great reading, but when it comes to your lawn...not so much.

If you want excellent curb appeal, stay away from the bargain-bin, dime-store novel and keep your lawn on the best-seller list.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Triple threat

At this time of the year it can be hard to tell what is affecting your lawn.
If you are not watering, or you haven't been cutting properly, the issues may be many.
In some cases you may not know until the fall, when lawns begin to recover from the summer heat and your grass does not, what the cause is. But here are the big three in terms of summer grass problems.

Drought stress, summer patch and brown patch are the most common. Simply, if it's not raining and you're not watering, the lawn will begin to enter into a state of dormancy. If it does, it is best to just let it run its course and revive it come September when cooler temperatures return. Turf diseases like brown patch, on the other hand, show up with shifts in humidity and affect mostly Kentucky Blue, bent and some fescue grass types. To avoid all turf diseases, it is best to water the lawn early morning instead of evening, wait for the affected area to grow out and bag clippings when cutting, which should be, every other week at this point.

Chinch bugs are top feeding insects that love it hot and love it dry. They have been active for about a month and can destroy a lawn in short order if not dealt with. Again, if your lawn is predominately  a non-endophytic grass-type like Kentucky Blue grass, or you're cutting your lawn too short you are susceptible. Although, I have seen this insect take out fescue lawns in recent years. Your best defence is to douse the affected areas with soapy water, avoid those who preach nematodes for control and call a professional if the damage continues. Every fall make sure you over-seed with endophytic grass cultivars.

Sod webworm, white grub are root feeding insects. If your lawn is infected- and by that I mean ten grubs per square foot, or six per with webworm, damage will soon be evident as we are entering a new cycle of larvae hatching.

With webworm, look for baseball-sized, circular, brown patches you may have mistaken for pet urine burns. The webworms tunnels may also be evident as is their green pellet excrement known as "frass".

With white grub those circular patches will snake outward and the grass will come up easily like a carpet. You may also see signs of predator digging (raccoons, skunks)

The most widely used treatments are nematodes, (SC for webworm, HB for grubs). You need  to know what insect you are dealing with, but both strains of nematode must be applied in ideal conditions, kept refrigerated until use and they have an expiration date. It is of the utmost importance that you follow directions if you choose this method of control. Even then studies range between 50%- 70% control which might be ok when playing roulette, but do you really want to gamble with your lawn?

Remember, this is Mother Nature's top of the batting order and if you want to make the post season with healthy turf, you'll need to prepare your defence for anything that is thrown at you.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Wynne- lose

Usually I post tips and advise about lawns, but today I'm going to take another road.

Last week I was privileged to speak at an OSEB success night. OSEB is an acronym for Ontario Self Employment Benefit. It is an awesome program that taught me every aspect of running a business when I had no idea.  It is a 42 week guidance initiative, with seven weeks of class room, financial assistance, monthly business coaching and the creation of a top notch business plan suitable for any bank. As a result, eight years later, I was asked back to speak with a new class of entrepreneurs about what has made me successful and pass on advise to these new businesses.

I was sad to learn on my visit, the OSEB program will be shut down in 2016 by the Ontario Liberals.
I guess they need the revenue for some other venture, another gas power plant perhaps? That's right the people have a long memory Kathleen/ Dalton.
No one should be surprised. After all, this is the same government that says it is ok to eat produce treated with pesticides, you just can't walk it...well, unless you're playing golf, or sodding the lawn. That is permitted.

All I know is, this program was one of the few bright lights to come out of any governing body. It was able to transition people from welfare to creating jobs and add to the small business engine that helps run our economy.

Most of my alliances are graduates of the OSEB program and exceptional people who do outstanding work. It is unfortunate the level of consistency and passion will end if we stand by and do nothing.

If you want to add your voice to those who wish this program to continue, go here. Hopefully the roar of discontent will be loud enough to alter this program's fate.

Yet, if the decision, like the one to cancel OSEB, becomes final, there's another acronym the Ontario Liberals should get used to from the small business community- GFY!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Here comes the crabgrass...

Every year at this time we start to field calls about crabgrass.

Crabgrass loves the heat, especially around pavement, interlocking and anywhere the sun exposure is at a maximum on your lawn. Smooth crabgrass is light green in colour and can ruin the uniform appearance of your turf almost over night.

I wish I had better news for you concerning this weed, but I don't. There is no post-emergent crabgrass control on the market in Ontario.
What about pre-emergent?
You can waste your money on corn gluten every April/May if you want, but after giving it the old college try for a few years when the by-law was implemented, I would not be one of those people.
Corn gluten is expensive, must go down at 20lbs per 1,000 square feet, only works for about six weeks until you get crabgrass no.
We already give the best instruction to our customers at the beginning of every season when we advise raising the mower height to two and a half inches and by June to three inches. This helps keep the soil temperature cooler and the spread of this weed less likely.
For the most part, the lawns we see with crabgrass are, generally, cut too short.
Still, there are no guarantees and unless you want to pull relentlessly until this annual weed dies-off in the fall, there aren't any alternatives.

That is why mowing height is so important along with over-seeding every fall. Create a strong and healthy root system able to withstand the crabgrass invasion and you'll be much happier when Mother Nature brings the heat.

Monday, June 8, 2015

I spy...

...with my little eye, something that is yellow.

Really, there's no need to guess. I'll tell you it's Birdsfoot Trefoil.

"So what", you might say, "Big deal!"

It actually is a big deal. This is a weed that is nature's calling card for something more devious and devastating --- Chinch bug, and yes I am starting to see signs of feeding on some lawns.

Remember the last post about watering your grass? Here is another example why it is so important to keep your turf hydrated. Chinch bug don't like water. They like it hot and dry. When these conditions prevail and you don't water, your lawn is ripe for attack. If the past two years are any indication, we could be in for another rough ride in the summer of 2015.

Make no mistake, this insect's appetite is voracious and it can move PDQ though most lawns.  The damage usually occurs around garden areas, or sidewalks and paved areas. Any area of heat really. With only organic controls available, there's not much one can do to combat this foe. They hide in the thatch layer of your lawn and can be difficult to reach.

Watering I mentioned, but soapy, water-flushes to the damaged area is even better. Sunlight, or Palmolive dish soap mixed with water should do the trick. Some people prefer to cover the affected area with a tarp after watering and wait for the Chinch to cling to the surface of it before removal. However, if you find the area of affliction is of considerable size, this might not be an option.

Please don't waste your money on nematodes, or Met 52 to control Chinch bug as the results will be far from satisfactory. Especially with nematodes, I have not seen one study where these microscopic worms did any damage at all.

Ultimately, over-seeding every fall with endophytic perennial rye grass and fescue is the slowest course of action, but the most effective. Endophytes are a naturally occurring fungus in the seed that help prevent devastation from insects like Chinch bug.

Also, annual aeration to break up the thatch layer is beneficial and should be part of any lawn regimen.  

They may seem like small things to do, but if you do them, chances are far greater you won't have to deal with these small insects in the future.

As for Birdsfoot Trefoil?

So what....big deal!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Rain, rain

As I write this, we have had one of the driest Mays I can remember. Last year I couldn't buy a sunny day to apply weed control and those cutting lawns were way behind schedule.

There was so much rain I could toss a handful of fertilizer out the window as I drove by and the lawn would still look great.

This year some lawns look like they are already in the middle of August, which just goes to show you, Mother Nature is a fickle beast marching to the beat of her own drum.

When I see one of our lawns lush and green and another right next door that is dry and stressed, it is a tale of two clients, one who waters religiously and one who does not. It might also have to do with proper mowing, with one property raising their mowing height to keep the grass drought tolerant and the other scalping like a putting green.

I could go into the three legged stool analogy again, but when the weather refuses to co-operate and the home owner doesn't hold up their end, there's only so much I can do....there's only so much any lawn service can do.
Water is the fuel that feeds the lawn. Without it...well just look at some of the lawns in the neighborhood.
So far this season, with few exceptions, everyone has had exactly the same applications of fertilizer and weed control, so when there is such a drastic difference between some of them, common sense can lead you to the simple solution.

If you go away, please have someone maintain the lawn for you so you don't come back to a toasty pile of hay....

...or if you simply are too lazy and don't care, don't throw your money away. You certainly don't need me or anyone else attaching their company name to a property that looks like crap. Just get out the fiddle and watch your lawn burn Nero.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Ready or not....

Here they come...actually, some were out last week aerating the hell out of your ice mounds and every time I see them out this early pushing their Ryans and Bluebirds up and down the street, I can't help but think, this is our version of a slave-labour sweat shop.

Seems I'm always preaching patience at this time of the year to no avail. Mainly because it's hard to sit by while your neighbour is having an aeration and you are not. But know this: an aeration prior to the last week of April can be potentially damaging to your lawn. If it's too soggy you have tire tracks and ripped turf. If it's still frozen, how deep of a core do you expect to get?

The whole process is meant to help your lawn by alleviating compaction, opening up the soil to nutrients, breaking up thatch and creating a stronger root system, not the opposite for the sake of saving a few bucks.

Another excellent reason to hold off is the weed seed factor. If your lawn has been a troubled weed-infested breeding ground in recent years, perhaps you should wait until the fall to have that aeration. Hundreds of the weedy little buggers inhabit each square foot of lawn in dormancy and are waiting for ideal conditions. So then you have the lawn aerated pulling up cores with those weed properties in them and expose them to the elements, wondering why the lawn gets so weedy in May.

Yet many still have it done this early in the year and continue year after year.

Now some may think I am spouting off to create more aerations for myself when the time comes, or deny some student the ability to make a buck. That's not the case. I am simply giving you the 411 so you can make a more informed decision on the proper healthy care for your lawn. You can always tell whoever, you want the aeration, but at a later date. If they want the job, they'll come back.
The next time, resist the urge and wait it out. You will find the grass is greener, on your side of the fence for a change.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Someone's knocking at the door

 Surely the last thing on anyone's mind is their lawn as we trudge across frozen tundra, yet the calls , emails, flyers and yes, door knocking have been going on for a few months now. One company was out knocking before Christmas if you can believe it?

No matter how you've been contacted your focus should remain the same, if lawn care is something you are considering when the grass is finally visible, do your homework!

With Google at your finger tips it isn't hard these days to find information on anything, if you do a little digging. Sites like Homestars who collect customer comments on many service industry businesses make it even easier. But be aware if you use this site  when checking out a company, especially when you have too many polarized comments,. I would trust a company with consistent 7 and 8's over one that yoyos from 0 to 10 constantly.

For some, price may be an issue, but you need to ask yourself if that, "too good to be true" price is going to lead to a barrage of calls to upsell you extra applications like aeration, grub control and other services to crack the piggy bank. Many times companies use scare tactics like, "you could lose your lawn if you don't get this application," and it works. If you are unsure, ask for a service call and a technician who can show you the issue before you sign on the dotted.

Read between the lines. A lush beautiful lawn for $6 dollars a week may sound nice until you realize that is averaged over 52 weeks and not a 7 month lawn season.

Also an initial price may only include a couple of Fiesta weed controls and if you need more than two sprays the charges will start.

Read the fine print! Is the company you are signing with a continuous service company. In other words, are they going to keep coming year after year until you tell them "no". In some cases that won't be enough and you'll have to jump through hoops to get a cancellation number. Sadly this is how some of the dinosaurs still operate.

Understand, a bigger company will likely have a greater share of unlicensed and novice technicians who will be learning their trade on your lawn. Mistakes are made by the best, but I've also seen some real bone-head applications by technicians who didn't know any better.

Most importantly, use your gut. If you have a good feeling about who you are going to use, take the plunge. After all, the reason you are considering this is to take the stress off of having to do timely applications yourself. If the company you hire is adding to your stress level, close the door and go a different direction.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Promises, promises

Monday's IPM symposium at the Congress Centre had it's usual highs and disappointing lows. On the high note, Michael "Pinball" Clemons was fantastic as the keynote speaker touting teamwork, self motivation and a never quit attitude. By far, the highlight reel of the day, or as Pinball would have probably preferred, "the sweeeeeet-spot."

Yet with all the fanfare and the rays of hope of last year's 2014 symposium
not word one was said about the, "next great weed control" Phoma macrostoma, or crabgrass pre-emergent Opportune and barely a passing sentence on Phyllom grub control.

Most of the time was spent on endophytic grass studies, changing weather patterns and the relation of grubs and chinch bug infestations. So was there any new information on how to deal?
Surprise, surprise....not a hell of a lot. Most of the information passed along you can already find in past posts, right here on this blog--- application timing, ideal conditions, proper mowing height etc.

There was even a fact or fiction panel, who for the most of the time, danced around the issues with a sly smile. Questions about nematode true effectiveness, or lack there of, possible amendment to the, glyphosate vs 2-4-D for the sake of public health and to treat dangerous weed infestations.
At times the panel seemed fidgety and uncomfortable with what they were being asked. After all, those in attendance have lost a stadium worth of clientele between them due to a five-year-old bylaw that has yet to show and significant decline in chemical use.

The only useful information came from one of my suppliers after the presentations. They informed me, a new crabgrass pre-emergent had been approved by the PMRA for testing but was still two years away from going to market.

So, fact, or fiction? Were the products of last year just smoke and mirrors to appease the angry natives? The Big Foot and Loch Ness Monster of the lawn care world?
I don't know? No one answered those questions.

Either way it looks like we've a few years to go until we experience the "sweeeeet spot", and I, like many others, am not impressed.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy anniversary to us

As we prepare to embark on our eighth season in the lawn care industry I'm reminded of the New Year's morning 2008 when I woke up to a law suit courtesy of my former employer.
It seemed they didn't take too kindly to me leaving them to start my own business on the opposite side of the GTA.

Looking back, I see how frivolous and asinine the legal action actually was--- nothing more than a scare tactic of a small child throwing a temper tantrum. There was never any documentation to support a "non-compete," or any of the other erroneous claims they were making. Yet, it wasn't how I perceived it at the time and I still had to seek legal help to defend my position.

It seems we spend much of our time complaining about the negative we have thrust upon us, but it is exactly these moments we should be grateful for. It shaped who I am and how I treat others now. It gave me the resolve and determination to push forward from the corner I had been backed into.

Without that hurdle I don't believe I would have had the focus to start the business, or been as passionate about it. In fact, I probably would have gone to work for...egad!...Weedman.

So, it is with glass raised, I toast that moment in my life and celebrate the journey. Without the flaming bags of excrement on our doorstep once in a while our voices are monotone, the sweet moments are less colorful and the victories less resounding.

A happy and healthy new year to you all.