Spring Lawn Mower Maintenance

Spring is a great time for some lawn mower maintenance. Follow these 6 steps and you will be ready to mow!

Change the oil. This is one of the most important steps. Also, check the oil periodically during the season to make sure it’s at the correct level.

Check the air filter. The air filter typically doesn’t need to be replaced every year. If it is slightly dirty you can clean it, but if it is very dirty or damaged, it is a good idea to replace it.

Check the spark plug. If you are having trouble starting your mower, this can be a common cause. If the plug is very dirty or dark on the end, then it may be time to replace it.

Sharpen your blade. You can sharpen the blade on your own with a metal file or a bench grinder, or you can have a pro do it. Either way, a sharp blade is vital to having clean-cut grass. This practice should be done a couple of times during the season. It may be a good idea to buy a spare blade to use while your other one is being sharpened.

Setting the mower height. For the best results, set the height at 3 inches during the cooler times of the year, and 3.5 inches during the summer months. A higher mowing height can aid you in keeping the weeds and crabgrass out of your lawn. This will also result in thicker grass and a lawn that will not dry out as quickly.

Click on the link below for a more detailed look at lawn mower maintenance.

Spring Lawn Mower Maintenance and Tune Up Tips

Quackgrass vs. Crabgrass

Each spring, we receive questions regarding an ugly, wide-bladed grass growing in lawns. Customers are mistakenly identifying this grass as crabgrass. It is a easy mistake to make because they look so similar, but this ugly grass is actually quackgrass, not crabgrass.

Quackgrass in the spring

Quackgrass is a perennial grass that is one of the first grasses to come out of dormancy each spring. Many homeowners confuse this thick-bladed “junk grass” with crabgrass.

Quackgrass has a huge root system so pulling it out is not a long term solution. Because quackgrass is a variety of grass, there aren’t chemical products available that know the difference between quack- grass and the other good varieties of grass in the lawn. Round-Up is good at controlling quackgrass, but applying it will also kill desirable grass around it.

We have heard of customers who have applied Round-Up in an interesting way. They will put a rubber glove on their hand with a cotton glove over the rubber glove. Then dip the gloved hand into Round-Up, and coat the quackgrass blades with the liquid. The Round-Up kills quackgrass roots and all in about 10 days.

Crabgrass in the summer

Crabgrass is a summer annual. It is similar in appearance to quackgrass because it grows in clumps and faster than the grass around it. It germinates in mid-May and starts appearing in lawns in July. Our first lawn care application includes a crabgrass pre- venter which is our best defense against this un- sightly grass. The second best thing to help prevent crabgrass is a high mowing height. We see less crabgrass in lawns that are mowed between 3 and 3.5 inches than lawns mowed below 3 inches.

Moles vs Voles

Mole or Vole Damage?

Over the winter months, moles and voles continue to work in your lawn.  These two pests damage a lawn in different ways and identifying them is key in controlling them.

Click here for more information on identifying Voles vs Moles

Snow Mold – Gray & Pink Patches

What are the gray or pink spots in my lawn?

Snow mold. There are typically two kinds of snow mold: Gray and pink. This disease is usually noticed as the snow melts in the spring. It is commonly found in those turf areas of greatest snow accumulation, such as along driveways or over the brink of a hill where snow drifts tend to accumulate. The most notable symptoms are white crusted areas of grass in which blades are dead, bleached, and matted together. Although this disease looks unsightly, it rarely causes permanent damage to your turf. A light raking of the affected areas will speed up the recovery. In most cases our spring application will stimulate enough growth to heal these areas.

Lawn Mowing Height

Mowing is one of the most important cultural practices performed in lawn maintenance. Regardless of whether the lawn is fertilized, irrigated , in sun or shade, proper mowing practices are essential if a high quality lawn is to develop. Properly mowed lawns will have fewer weed populations, better moisture stress tolerance and generally better quality than lawns not properly mowed.

Research has shown the proper mowing height for cool season grass is between 3 and 3.5 inches. Mowing below 3 inches drastically reduces the quality of turf.

Advantages of higher mowing height:

Better Lawn Color

We see a much thicker, greener, healthier turf with lawns that are mowed at heights of 3 inches or above.  Here is a picture of 2 lawns that are maintained in a similar way. The major difference in these lawns is the mowing height. The lawn on the right is mowed below 3 inches:

Less Weeds & Crabgrass

Mowing height can play an important role in prevention of lawn weed establishment. Research has shown that higher mowing heights result in fewer weeds per unit area. This is due to higher grass providing more shading and competition to the weed seedlings during the initial establishment phases.

Less Mowing Maintenance

A general rule of thumb is not to remove more than one-third of the grass blade when mowing your lawn. The chart on the right provides different mowing heights and estimated mowing frequency.

Stronger Root System

A direct relationship exists between the height of the turfgrass and the depth and total mass of the root system.  Research with Kentucky bluegrass has shown that root growth was more than twice as great when the grass was mowed 1 inch higher.  In general, a lawn mowed too short will have shallow root system with little total root mass. The impact of shallow, weak root systems is most apparent during summer stress periods.
Some information provided by: William E. Pound & John R Street, Ohio State University, Horticulture & Crop Sciences

Turfgrass Seedheads

Seedheads are starting to appear in big numbers in lawns this week This is a normal occurrence that happens every May across Michigan. Most of the common turfgrasses found in lawns produce seedheads including Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass and of course Poa annua (otherwise known as annual bluegrass). Seedheads not only detract from the appearance of the turf but the seed stalks are tough to mow so make sure you have a sharp mower blade. However, even with a sharp blade you still may see a sheen or whitish look to the turf after mowing due to the seed stalks. Resist the urge to try and mow down the seedheads by lowering the mowing height. Any golfers out there will tell you that Poa annua can produce seedheads at putting green mowing height so lowering the mowing height on the lawn is not a recommended approach.

Some things to watch for over the next couple of weeks as the seedheads hit peak. The turf may start to look stemy and lose density. This is natural. It will come back strong once this period of seedhead production ends. Basically right now the plant is putting a lot of energy into popping those seedheads. Once it’s done, the turf growth and density should return to normal levels.

Dr. Kevin Frank Crop & Soil Sciences

Also check out this great video from the Lawn Nut!

Spring Lawn Mower Maintenance

It’s time to put away your snow blower and shovel and dig out the lawn mower! Now is a great time for some lawn mower maintenance. Follow these 6 steps and you will be ready to mow!

Change the oil. This is one of the most important steps. Also check the oil periodically during the season to make sure it’s at the correct level.

Check the air filter. The air filter typically doesn’t need to be replaced every year. If it is slightly dirty you can clean it, but if it is very dirty or damaged, it is a good idea to replace it.

Check the spark plug. If you are having trouble starting your mower, this can be a common cause. If the plug is very dirty or dark on the end, then it may be time to replace it.

Sharpen your blade. You can sharpen the blade on your own with a metal file or a bench grinder, or you can have a pro do it. Either way a sharp blade is vital to having clean cut grass.  This practice should be done a couple times during the season. It may be a good idea to buy a spare blade to use while your other one is being sharpened.

Setting the mower height. For the best results, set the height at 3 inches during the cooler times of the year, and 3.5 inches during the summer months. A higher mowing height can aid you in keeping the weeds and crabgrass out of your lawn.  This will also result in thicker grass, and a lawn that will not dry out as quickly.

The last step is to have fresh gas. Old gas is the number one cause of having trouble starting your mower. If there is old gas in the mower, drain it and replace with fresh gas.
Here is a more detailed look at mower maintenance:

Growing grass in the shade

 

The reason turf performs so poorly in shaded are-as is because of a of lack of sunlight. Grass is like most other plants, it does best with an abundance of sunlight present.

Densely shaded areas are often characterized by:

1) Thin, patchy areas of grass

2) Bare soil

3) Tree roots

4) Moss

5) A lack of Kentucky Bluegrass

Some varieties of grass perform better in low light situations such as ryegrass and fescues. The most popular and desirable grass in West Michigan is Kentucky Bluegrass. It is a preferred grass and excels in full sun, but it will not grow in the shade.

To make matters worse, every year the canopy of your trees grows larger and thicker, making it even more difficult to grow grass beneath them. Unless drastic tree trimming or removal is done, over time, things tend to get worse, not better.

Sodding these areas is not an option.

The primary grass used in sod is Kentucky Bluegrass. Bluegrass will not grow in the shade.

So, what can be done to improve these areas?

1) Reseeding. You can reseed with a shady mix of grass seed. This will work especially well in areas that receive a mixture of sun and shade throughout the day. Just remember: you have not improved how much sunlight can reach the ground, so your reseeding results may be short lived.

2) Tree Trimming. Trees can be trimmed and their canopies raised and thinned out allowing sunlight to penetrate. After 2 or 3 years, the canopy usually will have filled back in and more trimming will be neces-sary.

3) Bark Mulch and plants. Rather than constantly battling shade, spreading bark mulch around the base of the tree can be a great option. Another idea is to add a shade loving ground cover like pachysandra or ground ivy, or some shade loving plants like hostas.

4) Accept the thinner grass and enjoy the trees. Sometimes we need to accept that our trees are a wonderful asset to our properties but aren’t going to make for the best conditions to grow grass. We care for many homes that don’t have trees, and would love some trees despite the problems they bring.

Make sure you are using proper cultural practices in these areas: Mow the grass at 3 inches or higher and keep these areas properly watered. Reduce compaction with aeration, keep grubs out of the lawn, along with a good fertility program to have the best chance at growing grass in shady areas.

Dethatching Your Lawn

Every spring we are asked by our customers if they should power rake or dethatch their lawns. It seems like the logical thing to do, after all, we clean out our cars and basements– shouldn’t we also clean thatch out of our lawns? The answer to that question is usually “no.”

Thatch, as defined by Dr. James Beard, is “a rightly intermingled layer of dead and living stems and roots that develops between the zone of green vegetation and the soil surface.” In the most basic sense, thatch is what gives the turf that “spongy” feeling when you walk on it. If you have ever walked on a recently established turf, you may have noticed that it feels very firm. That is because a thatch layer has not yet developed.

Dethatching1

A Power Rake and Its Blades

 

Thatch, as defined by Dr. James Beard, is “a rightly intermingled layer of dead and living stems and roots that develops between the zone of green vegetation and the soil surface.” In the most basic sense, thatch is what gives the turf that “spongy” feeling when you walk on it. If you have ever walked on a recently established turf, you may have noticed that it feels very firm. That is because a thatch layer has not yet developed.

The results of Power Raking

Dethatching is an aggressive procedure that rips and tears the turf, resulting in only a small amount of thatch reduction. Most thatch consists of living roots and stem and is not removed by power raking.

You also may be surprised that grass clippings do not contribute to thatch accumulation. Most thatch is attached to turf plants or their root system. Grass clippings are highly biodegradable; therefore, making it best to return them to your lawn.

 

A Core Aerator and Its Tines

Instead of dethatching, aeration is recommended. Aeration removes cores of soil from the lawn. These cores break down and redistribute valuable nutrients to the soil and also topdress the soil with a thin layer of dirt which reduces thatch. The holes left in the lawn provide passageways for air, water, and nutrients. As the soil and roots expand to fill the holes, the surrounding soil is allowed to loosen, reducing compaction.
Aeration is a service best performed in the summer or fall. Spring aeration can reduce the effectiveness of spring applied crabgrass control.
So, if you’re feeling ambitious, go head, power rake your lawn. It will probably be a good workout, but of little benefit for your lawn.

Some information and picture provided by:
Dr. Kevin Frank, Michigan State University

Getting rid of Moss

Moss is a nuisance in a lawn and people often want to know how to get rid of it. However, before you control your moss, it’s important to understand why it is present.

Moss loves shade, moisture, and poorly drained or compacted soil. It will tend to creep into areas where grass has weakened and cannot grow.  The moss is simply filling a void.  Moss does not kill existing grass, it simply grows where grass cannot.

 

The best long term solution to controlling moss is to correct the shade and moisture problems.  Here are a few suggestions to help alleviant these issues:

 

Trimming trees– This will allow more sunlight to get to the lawn.  Grass needs 3-4 hours of direct sunlight or 6-8 hours of filtered sunlight in order to grow. Trimming trees allows more sunlight in and will allow more varieties of grass to grow. Trimming trees also promotes air movement and helps the grass to dry out.

 

Tree Removal-  This is a drastic step, but can make a big impact in growing grass and discouraging moss.

 

Water Management  To reduce extra water, try “capping” sprinkler heads, changing nozzles, or reducing sprinkler time.  Also, be aware of your lawn’s drainage pattern and areas that may be accumulating water.

 

Mowing Height–  Mowing the grass between 3 and 3.5 inches tall is healthiest your the lawn.  This allows deep rooting of the grass and the maximum surface area to absorb sunlight.

 

Aeration-  This removes cores of soil and allows air movement, helps drainage, and relieves soil compaction.

 

Home Solutions to Control Moss

 

You don’t need to make a trip to your local lawn and garden center to control moss.  There are two common household products that will help control moss.

 

Ultra Dawn or Ivory liquid dish soap-   Mix 2 to 4 ounces of dish soap with 1 gallon of water.  Spray the mixture with a spray bottle or use a watering can.  Apply when the grass is moist. 

 

Baking Soda-  A few applications of baking soda will control moss.  Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of baking soda per quart of water and spray on a warm, sunny day.  In most cases, one or two applications will provide complete control.  Baking Soda also works well to control moss on wood decks and brick patios.

 

Both of these methods will turn the moss into a yellow / orange color and cause it to dry up.   Keep in mind that killing moss is only a temporary solution. If you want to remove moss permanently, you must correct the shady and wet conditions that are causing the moss.