Like many plants, grass has a below-ground root system topped by a living, aboveground shoot that’s green and growing. In between lies a layer known as thatch. Some thatch is natural and good for a lawn, but too much can usher in problems. Thatching is a very aggressive procedure and must be done while the grass is completely dormant. If your lawn has a build up of dead plant material at the base of the plant that exceeds ½ inch, its time to dethatch.
Early March is the perfect time to thatch or aerate your lawn! You either Thatch or Aerate not both. It’s critical to dethatch before the lawn starts to come out of dormancy or you can damage new growth. Dethatching your lawn will improve its overall health. When you dethatch, you actually cut through the thatch with knife-like blades and remove the debris. It is a combing like operation in which you comb out the debris.
You can buy or rent what’s called a “thatching rake”, which has knifelike blades rather than normal tines. Vigorously rake the lawn to remove the thatch. A Thatching Rake is ideal for small lawns, but for larger areas a more practical and effective method is to rent a gas-powered machine called a dethatcher, vertical mower, or power rake. Available at your local rental yard, a dethatcher cuts through the thatch with rotating blades or stiff wire tines. The machines can be heavy and difficult to maneuver, but they’re a lot easier to use than the thatching rakes. We advise the wire-tine type of dethatcher on Kentucky bluegrass or our fescue lawns. Dethatching works best when your lawn is lightly moist – not too wet or too dry. Here’s how to do it:
- Mow the lawn short, lower than normal right before you dethatch.
- Make at least two passes over the lawn with the dethatcher to get all the thatch. Make a second pass at a 90-degree angle to the first.
- Rake up all the debris. If you haven’t used any pesticides on the lawn and it’s not a weedy grass, you can compost the debris or use it for mulch.
- Water and fertilize the lawn with 16-6-8.
It’s important to remember dethatching is stressful on a lawn. The lawn ends up looking pretty ratty, but if you dethatch at the right time, the lawn will recover quickly and fill in.
Aeration involves perforating the soil with small holes to allow air, water and nutrients to penetrate the grass roots. This helps the roots grow deeply and produce a stronger, more vigorous lawn and avoids soil compaction. One of the most common questions from homeowners is how to determine if they should be aerating their lawn. Your lawn is probably a good candidate for aeration if it:
- Gets heavy use, such as serving as the neighborhood playground. Children and pets running around the yard contribute to soil compaction.
- Was established as part of a newly constructed home. Often, the topsoil of newly constructed lawns is stripped or buried and the grass established on subsoil has been compacted by construction traffic.
- Dries out easily and has a spongy feel to it. The spongy feel may also mean your lawn has an excessive thatch problem. Take a shovel and remove a slice of lawn about four inches deep. If the thatch layer is greater than one-half inch, aeration is recommended.
- Was established by sod and soil layering exists. Soil layering means that soil of finer texture, which comes with imported sod, is layered over the existing coarser soil. This layering disrupts drainage, as water is held in the finer-textured soil. This leads to compacted conditions and poor root growth. Aerating breaks up the layering, allowing water to flow through the soil more easily and reach the roots.
Two main aerating tools exist – a spike aerator and a plug aerator. With a spike aerator, you simply use the tool to poke holes into the ground with a solid tine, or fork. Plug aerators remove a core or plug of grass and soil from the lawn. For the best results, use an aerating tool or machine that actually removes plugs of soil. Poking holes is less effective and can actually cause additional compaction in the areas around the holes.
Look for an aerating tool or machine that removes soil plugs approximately 2-3 inches deep and 0.5-0.75 inches in diameter, and about 2-3 inches apart. These machines can be rented from your local rental yard. Always follow the directions provided by the store. You may want to consider sharing the rental cost with a neighbor who is interested in aerating. Here’s how to do it:
- Before you start, make sure the soil is moist. It’s extremely frustrating to aerate when your soil is bone dry. Aerating the day after a rain shower or watering your lawn the day before is advised.
- Most aeration machines cover only a small percentage of soil surface per pass, so make multiple passes over the most compacted areas. Save resources by leaving unaffected areas alone.
- The excavated soil plugs should be allowed to dry and then broken up to give your lawn a uniform, clean appearance. Break them up by running them over with a lawn mower or pounding them with the back of a rake.
- After aerating, it’s important to continue basic lawn care practices such as proper fertilizing, mowing and watering.
Post-aerations also presents a great time to overseed your lawn. Simply spread seed, rake the lawn so the seed gets down to the soil surface, cover with humus, rake lightly again and keep everything moist. Remember you can purchase all of your fertilizer, humus, double mix soil and our sod quality seed at our Tacchino Street location
Post-aeration is an optimal time to overseed and top dress your lawn. Any method you choose to evenly distribute seed will work. Over seeding doesn’t require expensive equipment. Smaller areas can be done using your hands if you don’t have access to fertilizer spreader. If overseeding lawns by hand, you should first divide the amount of seed you want to spread in half. Then carefully spread half of the seed over the entire area. Choose a single direction to walk while spreading the seed. Then spread the other half of the seed at a right angle to the first direction you walked in. By spreading the seed in two different directions you have a greater chance of getting complete coverage. Small hand held rotary spreaders can also be used for small areas. They are inexpensive and are more precise than spreading by hand. For larger areas, it is better to use a drop or rotary spreader. This is the same type of spreader that is used to spread lawn fertilizer. Drop spreaders, like the name sounds, drop seed directly below the spreader. Care must be taken to ensure you are walking in straight lines. Any swerve may result in a missed area. The amount of seed needed is usually recorded on the label and varies with different seed varieties.
- Use 2 to 4 pounds per 1,000 square feet if your lawn is thick already. It is more of a maintenance activity for thicker lawns.
- When overseeding lawns with open dirt areas and other trouble spots, use 4 to 8 pounds per 1,000 square feet.
- For complete renovation, 8 to 12 pounds per 1,000 square feet.
- Make sure you follow good irrigation techniques for the best results. It may take a couple of years, overseeding each year, for the lawn to look it’s best.
- Remember a key point when overseeeding lawns: Try not to apply too much seed, and I emphasize “too much”. Thick, vibrant lawns are created over time as plants grow and enlarge. Applying so much seed in an attempt to get a super thick lawn in three months may lead to overcrowding as plants mature.
Choosing the Right Seed Before overseeding a lawn, it is important to choose a seed that is compatible with your grass. You should try to use a seed that is the same as your grass. For example, if you have turf-type tall fescue, then use turf-type tall fescue seed or a blend of turf-type tall fescue seed and Kentucky bluegrass seed. Be careful about using bargain store seed brands for overseeding. Bargain seed is often poor quality and can contain multiple undesirable varieties. You can purchase our sod quality seed at our Tacchino Street location.Top Dressing
Once you’ve aerated and applied your seed it’s important to top dress the area. Here’s why: top dressing holds the moisture and will prevent the seed from blowing away. It adds organic matter to the soil. Top dressing combined with core aeration can place organic material deeper into the soil. Adding humus helps reduce traffic stress. Humus incorporated into heavy soils helps relieve compaction problems. Top dressing with the right materials can help reduce the need for fertilizer.
Steps for top dressing lawns:
- If your lawn has more than ½ inch of thatch, dethatch or core aerate your lawn first.
- Mow the lawn as low as possible without stressing the grass too much.
- Bag or remove all of the grass clippings and dethatching debris.
- Spread top dressing (humus) over lawn to depth of ¼ to ½ inch. It is okay to fill in holes, especially if you have poor soil.
- Lightly brush the grass with the backside of a rake. The object is to get as much top dressing touching the soil as possible.
- Remember to keep the soil moist, but not too wet, until seeds have germinated. Some compost can be too hot for newly germinated plants. Aged humus or humus mixed with good topsoil is better in this situation.
- All products recommended are sold at Western Turf & Hardscapes. We use and sell only top quality products and can be picked up or delivered 6 days a week.
Early March is the time to apply pre-emergent herbicides. Herbicides are an important tool for weed control, but should not be relied upon solely for weed elimination. Before deciding on herbicide use, assess your entire lawn area.
- If you have a low population of certain broadleaf weeds, such as dandelions or crabgrass, hand pulling may be the only means of control necessary.
- If your lawn is otherwise healthy, learn to tolerate a certain amount of weeds. Even in the best managed lawns a number of weeds will appear.
- Consider using an herbicide only for invasive weeds such as ground ivy, clover, or grassy weeds.
- It is important to identify the weeds. This will help on the selection of the appropriate herbicide application.
- Try to determine how the weed was introduced into your yard and the conditions that favor it.
- Look at cultural practices, along with poor growing conditions, as the possible reason for weed encroachment.
Pre-emergence herbicides are applied prior to the germination of weeds. They are commonly used to control annual grass weeds. Pre-emergence herbicides should be directed towards the soil. The chemical forms a barrier in the soil which kills weeds as they germinate. Pre-emergence herbicides need to be watered in soon after they are applied. Caution must be used if you intend to overseed. In most cases you cannot overssed and apply a pre-emergence herbicide at the same time. The only exception is the herbicide Tupersan. Always read and follow the product label carefully. Improper use can result in poor weed control, damage to your lawn as well as to the environment. It is a violation of state and federal law to use any product in a manner that does not conform to the information on the label. Weed-and-feed products are not the best choices for weed control, because you may fertilize and apply herbicide at inappropriate times. Also, over-fertilizing can occur. When possible, buy products that contain an herbicide only. There are a few exceptions, however, some of the pre-emergence granular herbicides come on fertilizer carriers only.Examples of selective Pre-emergence Herbicide:
Liquid vs. Granual Herbicides Many herbicides are available in liquid form. They are formulated to be mixed with water and applied with a hose-end or pump sprayer or come pre mixed or ready to use. Liquid herbicides allow you to target weeds only. This is known as spot treatment. The benefit of spot treatment is that you do not have to treat the entire lawn with the herbicide. Do not apply liquid herbicide on a windy day. The chemical may drift onto ornamental plants and cause damage. Granular herbicides are applied with a drop spreader, and maybe easier for a homeowner to apply. Granular herbicides are best applied when the grass is wet, so the chemical will adhere to the foliage. Always avoid applying any type of herbicide on your lawn during the heat of summer or when lawn is showing signs of drought stress.General Guidelines to Ensure Herbicide Effectiveness:
- Check product label to verify that the weed you wish to control is listed.
- Carefully read and follow label directions.
- Irrigate lawn within two days after application if it has not rained.
- Mow lawn before application of herbicide.
- Proper timing of herbicide application is essential.
We all desire a lush, green, healthy lawn. Not only is a vibrant lawn nice to look at, it will also resist weeds, insects and other enviromental stresses. Healthy lawns cool the environment, provide a safe place for children and pets to play, reduces noise pollution, and increases your home's value! Lawns should be fertilized starting no later than the 1st of April. It’s important to use season appropriate fertilizers that are time released in pellet form so you don’t over-fertilize or burn your lawn. Before you fertilize here’s a short checklist to ensure the best results.
- Check your sprinklers. Start with the “catch can” test. Take 4 to 6 cans or cups anything the same size will work, turn on your sprinkler system for 15 minutes grab your ruler and measure the amount of water in each can. If they don’t measure equally you need to adjust your sprinklers or replace a few sprinkler heads.
- Check the blades on your mower you want them a sharp as possible. Dull mower blades “rip” the blades of grass and will result in a ragged-looking and stressed lawn. It also makes the lawn prone to disease and fungus. Never mow when the grass is wet.
- Water your lawn 2 days before your first mowing. You want the soil moist but the foliage dry. Before fertilizing, you want to mow the lawn as short as possible, taking 1/3 of the blade off each time you mow to get it to the desired height: 2 inches in the spring and 3 to 3 ½ inches during the heat of the summer.
- Fertilize with seasonal-appropriate fertilizer. Use a broadcast-type spreader and set according to label instructions. Once the fertilizer is applied, sweep walkways and patios before you water it in.
- Fertilize every 4 to 6 weeks during the growing season, April through November.
- Spring Fertilizer - Turf Supreme 16-6-8, broadcast 7.5 pounds per 1,000 square feet.
- Summer Fertilizer - During the heat of the summer, your cool season grass will naturally slow its growth. You want to fertilize with fertilizer very low in nitrogen high in phosphorus and potassium. Ideal summer fertilizer is 6-24-24.
- Late Summer Fertilizer - Should be applied as the temperatures start to cool off. The 16-6-8 or 21-7-14 will reinvigorate your lawn.
- Winter Fertilizer - Should be applied November 1st. Winter fertilizer is crucial for a healthy lawn. Starting in November, the grass will start to go dormant. Now's the time to mow short, fertilize one more time, and turn everything off. Remember the top of the grass will go dormant but the root system is always alive and will grow and repair itself the most during the cooler, colder months. Fertilize with the 6-24-24, as the low nitrogen will not stimulate top growth and the high phosphorus and potassium will feed the root system throughout the winter, resulting in a happy, healthy lawn in the spring.
All of these recommended fertilizers can be purchased at the Western Turf & Hardscapes Tacchino Street depot.
Watering times should be adjusted for each season. Our lawns in northern Nevada don’t necessarily require a lot of water, but the water times and the minutes we water are important. We over water because we falsely think that our lawns need a ton of moisture to keep them healthy and lush, or we're just not taught otherwise. In fact, the opposite is true: short duration watering twice a week is usually sufficient. In the spring and fall, when the temperatures are cool, maintaining a green lush lawn is very low maintenance. On your watering days, water once late in the morning and once late in the afternoon, 10 minutes at a time. If runoff occurs at 10 minutes, cut it back to 7 minutes. When you water for short periods at a time, the ground is able to absorb the moisture right away and doesn’t run off, evaporate or blow away. Anytime you have “pools” of water, or run off occurs, you’re watering too much. Very shady areas will require minimal water during early spring and late fall. In the spring and fall, we advise you water your lawn at 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.Summer Watering
A well established lawn during the heat of the summer should be watered twice a week at 6:00 a.m., 8:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m., and at noon for no more than 15 minutes at a time. If you aren’t watering correctly the grass, will start to struggle and become stressed by heat. Typically, people believe the appearance of heat stress is a fungus, and will treat it without knowing for sure what it is. More often than not, simply adjusting watering times and using the correct fertilizer is all the action they need to take.
Here’s how to identify heat stress. The blades of grass are 90% water and if there is not enough (or too much) moisture in the soil, the root system will take all of the moisture out of the blade of grass and draw it down into the roots. The grass will turn a brown, steel-blue silver color and then turn completely brown as the areas go dormant. Not to worry: once watered correctly, it will come out of dormancy.
One and Off Watering or Flood Irrigation: Most people assume that watering for long periods of time is beneficial, however the opposite is true. When you water longer then 15 minutes at a time with typical, popup rotary sprinklers, your lawn will indeed be soaking wet, but the root system is not benefiting. When the lawn is watered for long periods of time and kept moist, the root system does not have to forage for water, promoting a shallow root system. When you water short periods, the root system will be forced to forage for the ground water, creating a mature healthy root system. Again, water in short periods often on your watering days; once at 6:00 a.m., 8:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m., and noon twice a week will keep your lawn lush, vibrant and healthy.
Two things to keep in mind: yellow grass is too much water, grey grass is not enough! In some cases, a fungus may be present. Identifying a fungus is important, so you’ll want to take some pictures or bring us down a sample of the lawn.
Common names for snow mold are pink mold (though not always pink), white mold, or winter scald. Snow mold is a fungus that occurs in moist grass at temperature between 32-40°F. Snow mold usually occurs under a snow blanket that keeps the soil from freezing, however it can develop along with the snow as well. The grass will lay over and be matted down in circles 6 to 14 inches in diameter, but can be larger in some cases.
The key to recovery from snow mold is to get air to the soil. Try raking the area with a leaf rake or de-thatch, then use a general purpose fungicide (such as Immunox) and you should see results in 7 to 14 days. If the area is shady, keep water off the lawn area, as air needs to get to the soil.
Preventative Measures: Avoid using fertilizers with high nitrogen in the fall and mow the lawn shorter in and before putting it to bed for winter. Mow as short as possible and rake up the clippings immediately. If your lawn is prone to snow mold, apply general purpose fungicide to your lawn before the weather gets cold enough for fungus to appear.Melting Out
Melting-out (Dreshslera), a cool season disease, develops when temperatures are between 50-75. It appears on lawns that have been over-fertilized and where water is allowed to stand on leaves for long periods of time. Small, pinhead-sized purplish to reddish brown spots appear on green blades. The spots are surrounded by a halo of straw colored tissue that will resemble a bulls-eye pattern. A severe infection may cause general fading of the turf, hence the name “melting out.”
Brown patch is a mid-summer disease that is easily confused with other turfgrass problems. The name brown patch is used to describe the symptom of the disease, although it still may be difficult to diagnose brown patch due to the different turf cultivars, soil and climatic conditions, and turf management practices, as well as species or strain of the disease. For example, on closely mowed wet golf greens, the disease will display patches or rings of blighted grass. Blight is also called "cottony blight" which refers to the cotton candy-like growth of white, fluffy aerial mycelium growing from infected turfgrass foliage. The mycelium is most abundant when infected leaves are wet, e.g. in the morning after a night of rain or heavy dew (remember, no night watering). Higher cut lawns show symptoms of circular patches of brown lawn instead of the rings. The disease displays itself as a dark purplish or grayish brown border called a “smoke ring”, which occurs when the pathogen is actively infecting an entire patch of turf resulting in unison wilt. The main cause or factor for development of a “smoke ring” is warm humid weather. Even though we live in a hot, dry area, under irrigated conditions we may see the symptoms of this disease in mid summer. Don’t confuse this for a water-stressed lawn, which frequently takes on a steel blue grey appearance. Probing the soil with a screwdriver or soil probe will help determine if you have a problem with disease or a water problem exists. If the soil is moist to a depth of 6 to 8 inches, day temperatures have been 70 to 90 degrees during the day and above 68 degrees at night, and no stresses are involved, then you may assume a disease is present. If your lawn is laden with a thick thatch layer (greater than 1.2 inch) and is over fertilized in the heat of summer, an infection is imminent. To summarize, brown patch is associated with hot days, warm nights, a thick thatch layer, over watering and over fertilization.
Another common disease is Dollar Spot. When your lawn is mowed high, irregular shaped, bleached patches of blighted grass appear. Many of the spots, ½ inch to 6 inches across, coalesce to cover large areas. When lawns are mowed high, leaves show a straw color hourglass pattern sometimes centered in the blades of grass. Typically there is green tissue above and below the tan pattern. Dollar Spot shows up during late spring and autumn. Temperatures for the development of the disease fall between 59 to 86 degrees. The pathogen becomes more severe in dry soil, even though high moisture is required in the canopy of the turfgrass. For control, fertilize the lawn adequately and do not allow the lawn to dry out between watering. Also, managing the thickness of thatch layer will decrease the incidence of the disease. Disease and fungus live in the thatch layer.
Most fairy rings produce mushrooms, toadstools, or puffballs of different sizes. Typically, grass growth is stimulated before a dark green ring forms. Circles of dead grass develop, and in the center of the dark green ring mushrooms also form. The outer portion of the ring eventually turns brown and dies due to masses of fungal hairs that fill the pores of the soil, creating a hard and water repellant surface. For the fungus to progress, large amounts of organic matter (thatch) and a water-stressed lawn must be present. Initially, a dense, white mycelium (vegetative part of fungus which consists of mass of branching thread like hyphae) of the fairy ring fungus moves outward through the soil or thatch from this spot and follows the enlarging dark green ring of grass. The dark rings of stimulated grass will vary from 1 to 10 feet in diameter, but much larger ones have developed. The width of the ring may be only a few inches or all the way up to 2 feet. The dark green rings are particularly noticeable on turfs yellowing from iron and on turf in midsummer that is deficient in nitrogen or under moisture stress.
As the fairy ring fungi grows, it breaks down organic matter into ammonia that is further reduced by bacteria to nitrates. The additional nitrogen stimulates grass growth in the form of dark green ring. A concentric ring of thin, dormant or dead grass may develop inside the band of lush grass. This dead zone usually is larger when the turf is suffering from moisture or nutritional stress. Many of the fungi that cause fairy ring do not directly attack the grass plants. Rather, the mycelium that encroaches is repelled by the soil or fails to mix with water and the grass immediately above the mycelial mat dies from lack of moisture. As the fairy ring expands, the older part of the mycelium mat dies and grass or weeds can grow in the older area. The fairy ring fungus will never grow back into the ring because it has exhausted the organic food source that existed there. They fairy ring will only expand following the spread of the mycelium, but the rate of growth is not predictable and depends on the growing conditions favorable to the fungus species involved. The rings can even disappear unexpectedly for a year or more and then suddenly reappear.
The life cycle of fairy ring follows the general pattern as that of other mushrooms. The fairy ring fungi survive as dormant mycelium. Then, the mycelium becomes active during periods of moderate, wet weather and the ring continues to grow outward more each year. Fairy rings are most severe in light-textured, low fertility soils that are low in moisture. Besides being unsightly, fairy rings can cause serious damage to lawns. The fungus may also deplete soil nutrients and, in some cases, will release a toxic by-product that can directly kill the turf within a ring. Once the disease appears, it is very difficult to eliminate as there is no natural control for fairy ring. Most homeowners prefer to mask the problem, using fertilizers rich in nitrogen, rather than eradicate it. Mushrooms can be temporarily removed by regular mowing or raking, but these methods have not proven to be effective.
Prevention: Before planting a new turf area or renovating existing turf, remove tree stumps and large roots, construction lumber and other large pieces or organic matter.
Suppression: Sometimes fairy ring can be contained by a program including increased watering and fertilizing. Use a combination of a coring and wetting agent to overcome the hydrophobic nature of the fairy ring. Initially, supersaturate the area for 48 hours, then keep the lawn continuously moist. This will suppress growth and promote turf recovery, but will not kill the fungus. Eventually, the fairy ring will return and the process will need to be repeated. Maintain adequate nitrogen during the growing season, as it reduces the contrast in green color between fairy ring and the rest of the turf area. Do not over fertilize or apply organic fertilizer, as it may stimulate development of new fairy rings and encourage other serious turf diseases like brown patch and leaf spot.
Eradication: Eradication maybe considered if one or two small rings are present. This is done by removing the sod on either side of the dark green ring of grass. Dig out and discard all infected soil in the ring to a depth of 12 to 18 inches, or, if it is visible, to a few inches below the white mycelial matt. When removing the infested soil be sure not to spill any of the infected sod or soil on the healthy turf. Replace soil in the trench with fresh topsoil, then re-sod that area.