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Maintenance Through the Seasons
By Mike Dahl, LC/DBM

Newly seeded lawns may take up to two months to establish roots well enough that they can be mowed. Lawns planted with sprigs, stolons and plugs need three to six weeks. Sodded lawns may be mowed within two to three weeks after installation.

Every maintenance customer of yours has distinct needs and expectations, and these change as their landscapes change - not just through the addition of new turf, flowers, shrubs, trees, hardscape, water features and site amenities, but also through aging and the effects of weather.

So at the beginning of each year, making a maintenance plan for each customer's care throughout the year is a good start to providing praiseworthy service.

Craig Jenkins Sutton, president and co-founder of Topiarius, a full service landscape design, build and maintenance firm in Chicago, advises to "Map out any changes you are going to make to current landscaping. Plan, measure, and budget ahead of time to avoid major time-wasting mistakes."

Here are other tips from industry specialists.

It goes without saying that preparation for a year of healthy, lush landscapes is key. Removing leftover leaves, and branches that were felled by winter wind and snow starts the process. Instead of raking leaves into piles to be bagged, vacuuming them up, or mulching them into the lawn, you can also rake them onto bare soil under trees to cover exposed tree roots, which are vulnerable to the elements.

Gail Santelle, communications director for Woodland Power Products Inc., the makers of the Cyclone Rake leaf and lawn vacuum, points out the value of using this type of equipment to more easily pick up leaves that can be weighty from winter thaw and spring precipitation, and don't mulch very well.

She adds that other potentially harmful debris is removed by the powerful suction of her company's vacuum including mold growing on top of the lawn. And to get the maximum benefit from a vacuum/mower combination, high lift blades should be used.

Jenkins-Sutton suggests mowing at a higher height than usual to encourage the roots to grow deeper so the turf is healthier, more drought tolerant, and can fight off weeds better, reducing the need for chemical pesticides.

According to the University of California's Integrated Pest Management program, dethatching is best left to later in the spring to give the turf time to get strong enough to be able to recover from the damage of the process.

The recommended mowing height for turf-type tall fescue lawns is 1 1/2 to 3 inches tall; for Kentucky bluegrass and perennial rye-grass lawns it is 1 1/2 to 2 inches tall; for bermudagrass lawns it is 1/2 to 1 inch tall.

A small amount of thatch is good for a lawn but when it gets too thick, it reduces the amount of water, air and fertilizer reaching the soil and calls for dethatching to return the lawn to good health.

The University of California's Integrated Pest Management program advises that top dressing, proper fertilization and irrigation help prevent dollar spot disease, though fungicides may be necessary if the disease develops, which is typically during seasons with moderate temperatures and relatively high humidity.

Aeration is often an autumn undertaking. The cores deposited on the ground by a core aerator break down within a couple of weeks adding nutrients to the lawn.

Some landscape professionals argue against the need for dethatching as having some thatch is good for a lawn. Certain species of turf are more vulnerable to harmful levels of thatch buildup. U.C.'s IPM program lists creeping grasses such as bermudagrass, bentgrass and Kentucky bluegrass as examples of this whereas tall fescue and ryegrass are not.

Jenkins-Sutton notes that dethatching will scarify the soil surface but power raking is more for just getting the debris up and loose. He adds these tips for caring for plants in the spring:

  • Wait to prune flowering trees and shrubs until after they bloom because they flower on last season's growth.
  • To help keep a full appearance on evergreen trees, you can pinch back the "candles" or new growth by about half for a fuller more bushy appearance.
  • Spring is a great time to divide big plants like hostas to use to fill in blank spots.
  • A lot of grasses will start to die out in the center as they mature. You can dig them up, divide them and replant them in bare spots. When Jenkins-Sutton doesn't want to move a large grass, "In the center where the grass has died out, we use 14-inch-long demo blades on a reciprocating saw, and cut out the dead core, pull it out and backfill with compost."
  • As soon as daylilies start to show in the spring, he likes to dig them up and use them to fill in where plants have died over the winter.
  • Porous pots can be cleansed of disease-producing spores with baking soda and water, which is much less harsh than a bleach solution.

When summer heat settles in, setting the height of the lawn mower even higher will protect the turf's roots, let them retain water and grow more easily.

U.C.'s IPM program recommends that when mowing, remove only one-third of the leaf at any one time, and avoid drastic height reductions.

Jenkins-Sutton stresses the importance of proper watering of plants since, "The number one cause of death of newly installed plants in the landscape is underwatering. The number two cause of death is overwatering."

For trees, he prefers circle drip irrigation systems. To determine the appropriate amount of watering, he suggests digging down four to six inches, a foot or two away from the tree. If the soil is dry, increase the watering time. If the soil is saturated, cut watering time in half. If the soil is moist, the watering time is adequate.

Santelle says that lawn vacuums can serve a purpose in the summer, especially on large properties, as they can be used in combination with a mower to considerably reduce the amount of time you have to stop to empty the clippings.

According to The Grounds Guys, a full service grounds care organization with franchises across the country, reseeding a lawn in the fall is effective because the soil is still warm but the air temperatures are cooler. Before proceeding, the company suggests aerating or power raking to make the soil more receptive to seeds and help prevent pooling of water and seeds.

Non-core aeration is less work-intensive than core aeration while still providing the benefits of allowing the soil to absorb water more easily and letting the roots "breathe," but is best left to dry soils because the process essentially packs the soil in between the holes closer together.

In shady areas, it is advised to mow at a slightly higher height than normal, which will let the blades more efficiently absorb what available light there is.

They also recommend that when seeding, combine the seed with sand to increase their chances of taking root.

Santelle considers fall a good time for aeration and reminds that lawn vacuums can be used to clean up the cores left over.

Jenkins-Sutton advises to only aerate when it becomes a problem. One sign is the increased appearance of crabgrass. He also prefers to pick up the plugs instead of leaving them to break down, which may take a couple of weeks. In heavy soil, he fills the holes with compost. In less heavy soil, he suggests using a mix of compost and sand, which saves customers money.

Fall is the season for raking and Santelle cautions that manual raking causes injuries that require treatment to 28,000 people every year due to, "the strenouous activity of raking, blowing, dragging tarps. It really takes a toll on your body," she says.

Santelle is not a big fan of mulching leaves into a lawn in the fall, especially substantial amounts of the debris.

"If you have a lot of leaves and you mulch them, you will not have a lawn in the spring," she warns. Her advice is to mulch the leaves as you collect them with a mower/lawn and leaf vacuum setup and then let it decompose into soil to be used the next season. In addition to picking up leaves, vacuums can help rid lawns of dormant weed seeds that otherwise would hibernate and sprout in the spring.

Jenkins-Sutton mows with mulching blades in the fall and then puts the mulch under trees and shrubs as winter protection. After a few hard frosts or freezes when the evergreens go into dormancy, he suggests spraying them with an antidesiccant to help protect against drying winds in the winter so the plants aren't losing as much water.

Other tips include tying branches together with jute twine on weaker-branched evergreens so that heavy snow load does not bend them down and break branches, and to keep irrigating until the ground finally freezes.

LC/DBM hopes these tips will help you have a full year of providing expert landscape maintenance that will lead to increased customer satisfaction and retention.

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February 17, 2020, 1:49 pm PDT

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