Thursday, November 30, 2017

Waiting for Goldilocks

With a 2017 lawn season that was mainly too wet and too cool, to the year before which was too hot and too dry, I wonder when we're going to get a year that is just right?

With global warming perhaps those days are over and the age of unpredictability is here? Yet, the Farmers Almanac predicted what we got in 2017...more or, not so unpredictable.

Even with the cooler temperatures and all the rain at the top of the season, we still ran into chinch bug problems in July and the usual outbreak of crabgrass. These are infestations, I believe, are only going to get worse for the average lawn since the tool box in Ontario is scarce of any adequate controls.

So what to do?

Lawn care has always been a team effort, between us, the home owner and the weather. Yet, now it seems the weather has gone rogue, which makes it even more important to concentrate on the health of the lawn to hold back the invasion of weeds and insects.

If a homeowner is not prepared to make sure their grass is cut properly and watered adequately...well, in the long term, it's not going to matter what we do and you are going to be disappointed with the results.

Just remember, that porridge isn't going to make itself and Goldilocks will pass by your property until she finds a lawn where the conditions are just right.
See you again in 2018.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Rust never sleeps

As summer slowly yields to fall and everything slowly takes on an orange hue; the trees, your pumpkin spice latte, your lawn...wait a minute...your lawn?

That's right. There has been an unusual abundance of rust turf disease on lawns this year. The formation of the spores often occurs when there are cool nights with heavy dew and frequent rainfall. Warm cloudy, humid conditions followed by bright hot sun also favor the formation of the spores. 

Basically, anytime the grass is not allowed to dry out after a period of 6 to 8 hours, rust on grass begins to form. Grass rust problems also appear more frequently when thatch in lawns is too thick or mowing is infrequent.

But don't panic. This is a problem that is easily fixed. In fact, most grass rust problems can usually be resolved with good maintenance and healthy practices. A shot of nitrogen fertilizer and removing the clippings when you do you next cut to keep the spores from spreading is an excellent place to start Watering early morning so the grass can dry evenly will also help prevent further issue.

Let the orange stay when it belongs at this time of the year...on a pumpkin, not on your lawn.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Late to the party

But here regardless. The chinch bugs and the crabgrass have arrived.

With all the cooler, wet weather we've experienced this year, I was beginning to wonder if either would make an appearance. Yet, here we are, the end of July and crabgrass has been with us now a few weeks while chinch nymphs are starting to show visible signs of damage as of last week.

So what to do about these two annoyances when your tool box is devoid of essential controls.

In the case of crabgrass, you can pull it out since the root system isn't very deep, although many of you are probably beyond that point with the ubiquitous spread of this weed. The other solution is to wait for this light-green grass to simply die when fall arrives and seed the affected area.

Chinch bug, on the other hand can be more invasive and their damage more evident. The brown areas can spread fast as the weather remains hot and your lawn begins to dry out.

Keeping the affected areas drenched can help limit the spread as this insect is not fond of water and even less if you add dish soap like Sunlight, or Palmolive to the mix. You can also rake the affected section of lawn and shop-vac them out, or place a plastic sheet over the area, irrigate it and remove them when they attach themselves to it.

Still the best way to attack both of these elements is simply create a healthier lawn by cutting (3 inches high), and watering properly, ( 1 inch weekly at least). Annual core aeration, not over-fertilizing and annual fall over-seeding are also essential.

At least in the future, if they do crash your party, the clean-up afterward will be minimal.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

What seeds may come...

Weather, demand, production all affect the price of seed. With the year we had in 2016 the demand for seed was at an all-time high to fix the damage caused by the heat and insects. As a result you may find yourself hunting for the bargains, but before you do consider the myths about grass seed.

Myth #1: Spring is the best time to seed- Yeah, not so much.
Fix some bare areas if you must, but annually seeding in the fall is a much better proposition for the following reasons. There is not the competition in the soil as there is in the spring with weeds. The nights are cooler the days are warm creating a perfect environment for germination and a happier you.

Myth #2: Cheap seed saves you money- A cheap seed may be due to an older cultivar. Generally these seeds will require more water, fertilizer and may not germinate at all. When they do, the new grass will be more susceptible to turf disease and other concerns. Less expensive seeds  have a higher concentration of weed seeds in them which will work against your cause. Starting with a product that states, "99% weed-free," on the bag is a good place to begin. Remember, you get what you pay for.

Myth #3: All fescue and perennial rye grasses perform the same. It is true fescue has a better stress and wear tolerance, however, not all fescues contain endophytes which act as a weed  and insect repellent excreting a natural fungus/ herbicide into the soil to repel the germination of crabgrass and broad leaf weeds while limiting root growth. There is also the germination time to consider, fescue- 3 weeks at least, rye grasses- 7 to 10 days. If you need a quick fix, stay with rye seed.

Myth #4: Kentucky Blue Grass is best- maybe for nice deep-green colour, but consider the shorter root system, the lack of endophytes, and it being the top menu item for insects and suddenly KBG doesn't seem so appealing. Anyone who has had to re-sod their lawn usually find themselves in the same situation a few years down the line unless they are dumping  a huge amount of water on the lawn, or are over-seeding annually with diverse species of grass to out-compete the Kentucky blue.

Myth #5: Coated seed is the way to go- Sure if you have absolutely no time to keep the seed moist yourself, but with the recent dumping of rain we've had, I find that difficult to believe. Understand what a brilliant marketing campaign coated seed is. They are selling you half the seed you'd normally get in the bag and you are buying it for more money. Is that worth a little of your time to hose down a seeded area for a week or so?

Leave mythology for the Greeks and stick to the facts when seeding your lawn and watch it flourish.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

What weeds may come...

It was an unseasonably cool and wet beginning to May but, you can be sure the weeds will pop overnight once it warms up.

It's like the first snowfall when people suddenly can't drive, the weeds appear and everyone loses their mind.

I constantly wonder why this is? I mean there has been a bylaw in place for what...eight years now? Weeds appear every year at this time, so where's the surprise?

I have come to the conclusion it is due to the constant bombardment of flyers and other media ads proclaiming product/ service that is "guaranteed" to give you a "weed-free lawn." This is simply not true.

I know the big companies are about the numbers and this is an excellent selling tool for them, but once they have your money they've got you. This happens every year when the frustration of looking at a sea of yellow turns to desperation/ panic and you are willing to try anything.

Even Fiesta and Weed-B-Gone state, "weed killer" right on the container, but these products affect the top-growth only and the unaffected root will push up a new weed. Yet, we keep buying this crap although you know from experience it has limited capabilities.  It's the only product, currently available, to remotely control anything. If you are concerned about creeping charlie , or clover, well...just forget about injuring any weed with a horizontal root system, it's not going to happen to your satisfaction.

I've tried discussing this slight-of-hand with both the Ministry of the Environment and the Consumer Protection Agency only to be sent chasing the tail of the other. Please know guys,"passing the buck" accomplishes nothing and the problem remains.

Here's a thought; if all the companies just started to drift away from their antiquated ways of advertising and tried being honest, maybe the consumer would change their way of thinking too and shift to creating a healthier lawn by other practices.

While there is money to be made and suckers willing to bite, I don't see change anytime soon and a "weed-free" lawn will continue to be a hopeless pursuit instead of a thing of the past.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

And the ban played on

I realize I'm putting my two cents into a subject that I have no place commenting on. After all, concerning the prohibition on lawn chemicals, that ship sailed almost 10 years ago. However, I find it odd and perhaps a little sad that this debate is still raging on in the House of Commons concerning the use of neonicotinoids like imidacloprid and it's effect on bees.

Back in the days when everyone and their mother used this chemical to control grubs and other insects you never heard word-one about environmental effects on bees or other beneficials, but over the past few years it has been the hot topic. Once again we find junk science at the forefront, leading the Trump-like charge of, "off with their head!" sending the farmers into a defensive position.

OK, let's get a few things straight. The cosmetic pesticide ban was just as it sounds "cosmetic". It's like putting a band-aid on a very deep wound. When the prohibition of pesticides came into effect it removed...and let's be generous here...15% of all pesticides used out of circulation, (home owners/ lawn care companies). That means, for those of you who are mathematically challenged, 85% are still being used legally by the deep-pocket golf industry, the farmers, sod growers and forestry.

Yet, fingers must be pointed and angry voices heard until all chemicals are abolished. The golf industry has come under increasing scrutiny over the past few years and I'm OK with that. Why shouldn't they play by the same rules as us. The pesticide use on golf courses is strictly cosmetic, right? It's not like the lawn care industry, or the homeowners got a mulligan.

Yet, when you consider these actions against the farmers, you need to look at the long-game consequences. With no effective alternatives available, you are asking our food growers to produce increased yields to feed the hungry without the ability to fend off crop damaging insects. Does anyone else see the warning signs here?

I'm just glad I'm no longer involved in the debate....well except for this post.

Happy Earth Day!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Getting that spring feeling

Right now, your lawn probably looks a little brown and is covered with debris. After a long winter this is common. The lawn hasn't eaten since last fall and it's waking up hungry.

But once you remove the broken branches and the dog mess (if applicable), the other issues can be easily mended.

Traces of snow mould and minor salt damage can be repaired with fertilizer, salt stopper and seed.

Same goes for those annoying snake-like tracks caused by voles.

Lime will help dry out moss and help correct any PH issues.

With grubs on the increase again last year, there may be digging activity from skunks/ raccoons, or perhaps you have a mole problem. Depending on the severity you may need fox, or coyote urine pellets to deter further damage. Unfortunately there is no treatment for over-wintering grubs at this time of the year and you simply have to deal with it.

Anyone who touts nematodes as an answer can see you and your wallet coming from a mile away. The truth is, the grubs are too big to control at this stage and putting nematodes down in the spring is a waste of money.

Opening up the soil for natural predators, like birds, is an option with aeration, but keep in mind not to do it too early, (mid April should be fine), or you could cause more damage to your lawn than benifit.
Also remember there are thousands of dormant weed-seeds in your lawn waiting for the right conditions and aerating in the spring can cause the turf to be needlessly weedy.

So do the minor things that are needed and soon you'll find a spring in your step as the issues, like that last snow fall, melt away and green returns to your lawn.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Symposium's KISS

KISS is an acronym for Keep It Simple Stupid and that's the message the 2017 IPM Symposium delivered this year. Instead of promises of new weed/ insect controls coming soon to a big box store near you, this year's event was scaled down and back to basics. In fact, the message related was the same one we've been preaching to our customer base for years now - there is no silver bullet in this post-pesticide era.

Maintaining your lawn, be it golf green, sports turf, or home lawn involves the combination of five key factors working in unison. They are:
Solid cultural practices like proper mowing and watering techniques with annual core aeration.
Over-seeding annually with favourable grass types like endophytic ryes and fescues.
Regular feeding of fertilizer with micro nutrients to create a healthy soil base,
Use of nematodes and beneficials to control unwanted insects annually.
and finally Weed management with the use of legal pesticides, which in this case is Fiesta.

The reason weed control is the last thing on the list is simple, no matter what, the weeds will come and without a systemic killer on the market you are powerless to effectively control the problem long term. Therefore the shift is to maintaining your lawn in all the above areas, and in doing so, everything will become more manageable and the aesthetics more pleasing.

The more you practice the above the less weeds and overall problems you will have with your turf. It has been almost  eight years since the bylaw has come in to effect and if you haven't adjusted your expectations of what today's lawn should look like it is time to finally re-evaluate. All lawns will have one type of weed or another - it's inevitable.

Future posts will cover some of the key elements involved such as Soil health, over seeding and a new strain of nematode coming on the market. However, keep in mind, as far as new products go, I've been told that cheque is in the mail before.

For now, we must remember the no silver bullet philosophy and diligence, vigilance and patience is key.