Walk into any Tim Horton’s anywhere in Canada and listen to the conversations going on. What will the #1 topic be? Weather! Obsessively complaining about the weather is a true Canadian pastime. You name it, somewhere in Canada it’s always too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry… too something!
Any homeowner who uses a professional lawn care service will inevitably question the value of the programs and services they receive at some point simply because weather-dependent services do not always produce the same results.
A reputable lawn care company will always educate their customers that the key to success is that each party does their part. The relationship between the homeowner and the lawn care provider is truly a partnership. This article reviews 6 things homeowners should focus on to make the most out of their professional lawn care program.
Height: The optimal mowing height for your lawn should be 6.5-7.5cm (2½-3”) during cool/wet weather and 7.5-8.5 cm (3-3½”) in summer heat. Most commercial lawn mowers are manufactured to cut well below these heights. As a general rule of thumb, consider the middle setting on your lawn mower wheels as your minimum height of cut. Setting your wheel height using this as a guideline will keep grass healthy and thick. A lush thick lawn provides more soil surface shading, which helps prevent the establishment of many annual grassy and broadleaf weeds. Maintaining a dense and healthy lawn is the best weed control.
Frequency: Determining when to mow should be based on the growth rate of the grass, not on the calendar. Grass blades are the food producers for the plant. Removing too much leaf can shock, dry out and even kill some of the grass blades. To keep your lawn looking its best, you need to mow often enough to remove only 1/3 of the leaf blade at each mowing. Following the 1/3 rule will produce smaller clippings that will disappear quickly by filtering down to the soil surface returning valuable nutrients to the lawn.
The 1/3 rule may sound good in theory. However, most people at some time may find it difficult to consistently maintain a regimented mowing schedule. For example, if you return from summer holidays and your lawn is 15cm (6”) tall, maintain the 1/3 rule by raising the mowing height to 10 cm (4”) and then gradually reduce it with each successive mowing until the recommended height is reached.
Sharpen Blade: Another often overlooked aspect of proper mowing is blade sharpness. Mowing with a dull blade is like giving your lawn a bad haircut. Rather than cleanly cutting a dull mower blade actually rips or tears grass blades. This not only increases the intensity of the plant injury, but also the ragged edges serve as ideal entry points for various diseases. Dull mowing is especially visible in hot weather when the tip of each grass blade dries out and turns brown. Multiply this by several billion and your lawn may end up looking more like a field of straw rather than a lush green carpet.
In addition to sharpness, the general condition of the blade itself should be inspected on a regular basis. A mower blade that has developed nicks, dings, and curls from hitting rocks and branches is no good to your lawn. On average, your lawn mower blade should be sharpened 2-3 times throughout the season. The easiest way to manage this is to keep a spare blade handy that you can simply change when it’s time to sharpen.
How to Mow: Two important factors of optimal plant health care are exposure to sunlight and good air circulation. Altering the direction each time you mow ensures that the grass blades maintain a straight growth pattern; which results in a more even cut. If you mow in the same direction every time the lawn will develop a slanted pattern; which prevents air and sunlight from penetrating one side of the plants. Always mow when the lawn is dry. Mowing a wet lawn will cause damage similar to dull mowing in that the blades tend to rip and tear rather than cut cleanly. Mulching mowers may also have a hard time breaking down wet clippings.
Mulching: When following proper mowing procedures mulching or recycling grass clippings is highly recommended. Leaving grass clippings on the lawn to decompose provides natural, organic nitrogen among other nutrients for the lawn. This will help your grass retain moisture and minimize weeds. It’s really like an extra fertilizer application! In the fall a light covering of dry leaves can be effectively mulched and left to decompose. This will also add valuable organic matter and minerals to the soil.
Nitrogen is a key ingredient that your lawn requires to maintain a deep rich green colour. Aside from the fact that emptying a bag after every few passes is much more time consuming it is important to remember that bagging clippings on a well maintained lawn removes nearly 2 pounds of nitrogen and other nutrients for every 100 square metres of lawn.
The only times clippings may need to be collected is if they are too thick to be broken down by your mower and/or there is a disease problem you are trying to remove by mowing.
Grass plants are essentially 90% water and therefore need regular watering either from rainfall or by irrigation. Specifically, grass needs 3-4 cm (1 to 1-1/2") of water weekly. In general your watering schedule should be based on deep and infrequent watering. It should also be flexible with current weather conditions; and of course it must adhere to any local lawn watering restrictions. Typically, Mother Nature supplies the required amount of moisture during cooler times of the season. The goal of your watering should be to replace what rainfall does not supply; usually during the hot, summer months. Under normal conditions watering should always be done early in the morning. Evening watering can promote the spread of disease because the leaf blades of the grass stay wet for prolonged periods. Disease potential increases with the frequency of evening watering.
If a lawn is diseased, compacted or just not growing well raking can be very beneficial and even required to maintain optimum health. However the time of year, the current weather conditions and the equipment used greatly influence the benefits of this activity.
Every spring immediately after the snow has melted it is common to see homeowners raking their lawns to encourage their grass to start growing. While there is some truth to this, if it’s too early and the grass has not been given a chance to come out of winter dormancy, raking will actually uproot a lot of healthy and desirable grass plants; thereby thinning out your lawn. The same thing can happen at any time of the season if the lawn is too wet. For this reason raking should not be undertaken until grass has started to grow naturally and/or when it is not too wet.
It is also important to use a leaf or fan rake because a rigid garden rake can cause a lot of root damage. Another procedure many homeowners do annually is something known as power raking or de-thatching. This is done with a machine that has blades that rough up the grass and pull excess material out if it. Apart from isolated situations when there are excessive layers of thatch in a lawn, in many cases these machines can cause extensive root damage and thin lawns out unnecessarily which in turn provides a breeding ground for weeds, crabgrass or other pest problems that develop on unhealthy lawns.
It’s common practice to turn over the soil in your gardens before planting. This is done to oxygenate the soil; which improves seed germination and overall plant health. Your lawn also requires cultivation to improve growing conditions, just as your vegetable and flower gardens do. One of the most effective ways of accomplishing lawn cultivation is through core aeration. Aeration relieves compacted soils and reduces thatch, a layer of un-decomposed living and dead plant parts, making it easier for water, air and nutrients to reach the roots of the grass plant. A lawn with a healthy root system is better able to withstand drought, disease and insect stress, resulting in a healthier, more beautiful lawn. If it’s not included already look into adding aeration to your professional lawn care program.
The best defense against weed, insect and disease problems in lawns is to maintain a thick and healthy lawn. If the proper seeds are selected spreading grass seed on the lawn is beneficial in that it introduces newer strains of grass plants that are often better able to withstand pest pressures because newer grass blends have been enhanced with “endophytes” which are micro-organisms that help grass plants fight these problems naturally. Many homeowners have grass seed applied to their lawns annually to help fill in bare or weak areas of the lawn with desirable grasses. If left alone these areas tend to develop weed problems.
Your professional lawn care program should be built on a sound fertility regime that sustains a lush, thick deep green lawn with a vigorous root system. Most soils are not rich enough in nutrients to maintain a lawn at its optimum health. Without a sound fertility program that delivers the right nutrients at just the right time your lawn becomes unhealthy making it far more vulnerable to damage from pest infestations and/or environmental stresses. Spring and fall are the most important times to fertilize your lawn. Ideally nutrients should be released slowly and evenly throughout the entire growing season so that growth is not too vigorous and optimum health is maintained.
So next time you hear someone complain about the weather, you can tell them the 6 things you’re going to focus on this spring, summer and fall so at least your lawn will be ready for whatever Mother Nature throws its way.