Tips

The Scott’s Lawn and Landscape Lawn Care Program has been shaped by 27 years of seeing what works and sticking with it. In 1982 I started pushing a spreader around and now here it is 2009 and I’m still here to the shock and amazement of some people. I could explain our program now but, I’d rather tell you what I’ve learned about grass in 27 years.

Scott’s Lesson Plan

Lesson #1

I learn something every day and if you hang around long enough you will encounter something you have never seen before.

Lesson #2

People are fascinating and I like most of them. I try and figure out what your expectations are. Sometimes their expectations are unrealistic but we try to meet them.

Lesson #3

If I can get you to mow the lawn at the proper height we are headed in the right direction. The higher, the better. I cut my lawn at 4 inches. I admit that’s high but the results are few weeds, deeper root systems, drought tolerance, and a good healthy appearance. Bottom line 3 inches is better than 2 inches tall. 3 ½ inches is better than 3 inches.

Lesson #4

Poor soil is a curse that costs you in the long run. These clay soils have no organic matter and just don’t grow grass. A decent lawn requires a lot of fertilizer and water. Water is the equalizer in the fight to have a nice lawn and I have always had a difficult time explaining how loads of compost which greatly increases the cost of a lawn will save you money in the long run.

Lesson #5

Putting the right grass in the right spot is half the battle. We use fine fescues in shady drier spots. We use Perennial Ryegrasses in high traffic areas. We use a lot of turf type tall fescues in poor soils. We use low water needs blue grasses in dry situations, and other bluegrass varieties where an irrigation system is in use.

Lesson #6

We don’t practice a one size fits all strategy. We don’t put the same product on every yard. We use some organic products where we have had disease problems or thatch buildups. We use different fertilizers and blends to accomplish different things. We have lawns that have fertility problems so we change things to meet each situation.

Lesson #7

A soil test is often the best 7 dollars you will ever be charged. I learn a lot from most of the tests I take. If the lawn isn’t performing like it should the test enables us to understand why and how to fix things.

Lesson #8

We have used organic fertilizers for over 18 years now. They have their place but I am not a zealot. They are expensive and I can’t justify their costs always. If money didn’t matter I would use more organics. I get a kick out of some of the propaganda I hear from the organic people. I have heard that turkey manure and mowing on the high side will get rid of weeds. I have a pasture out behind the farm that doesn’t get mowed and the grass gets over 2 -3 feet tall and it has some nice dandelions in it.

Lesson #9

Every year I’m more convinced about the value of soil testing. All construction sites are messed up soils. More often than not your better soils have been covered up with the basement subsoil. We check for potassium, phosphorus and calcium levels. Plus soil ph. If soil is out of whack it will affect health and vigor of plants. In good times when it’s raining and cool you won’t see problems. But when it’s stressed the problems are magnified. During a drought, lawns with low potassium and low PH will not survive. There is a misconception out there that if you have Oak trees you need lime. Most woodland soils in our state are the opposite and have high PH. Our soils are limestone based. Pouring lime on those Oak woods can harm the trees and make turf struggle to live.

Lesson #10

Air circulation is real important. Where it’s poor we see a lot of disease problems in turf. Moisture stays on foliage for extended periods. When foliage is wet for extended periods of time it’s a prime candidate for disease.

Lesson #11

Sprinkler systems are wonderful if used properly. Most of the time they are not set up or used correctly.

The University of Illinois wants the average lawn to receive 1-11/2

Every 7-10 days. In an ideal world a front would rain once a week for about 3 hours and deposit at least an inch of rain. By the end of the week the soil has dried out the root system has responded to the moisture and went a little deeper to find water on its own. Then nature comes along and provides it with another hit. We don’t live in an ideal world, if you’re under that impression well I want to be on your medication. Sprinkler systems are usually set up to run 2-3 times a week, usually at 2-3 day intervals. The end result is shallow rooted, thatched diseased turf. The soil never dries out. You end up drowning trees and shrubs in the landscape. We see 90% of our disease problems in sprinkler systems. If you have one or any yard the goal is to get the right amount of water on. Set out a soup can or bucket and run your sprinkler and see how much

time it takes to apply the recommended amount of water. The try and space you’re watering out as much as possible . If you have a system and can’t put it on all at once try 2 days in a row.

Lesson #12

For 27 years we have used quality Lebanon Fertilizer products. All fertilizer is not the same. Potash is potash, but nitrogen varies according to quality. Urea and ammonium nitrates are less expensive but are quick release materials lasting 4-6 weeks. The better nitrogens are slow release and last 8-12 weeks. These give you a long color fix. This why we can fertilizer you 3-4 times a year and the other guys are doing 7 rounds.

Lesson #13

People live in fear or grubs, and sod webworms. Every year we use fewer insecticides and every year I see fewer problems. I have had customers who can’t comprehend diseases or heat damage. It’s always grub damage. They find one grub and there is a crisis. There will always be a grub living somewhere in your lawn. There are at least 7-8 types with different lifestyles and life cycles. The 2 that cause the most damage are the June bug and Japanese beetle. One grub per square foot is not a problem. 5 per square foot could be a problem epically if it’s not raining. 9 per square foot is a problem and needs treatment. I have found 25 per square foot before. We use Merit or grub-ex as a preventative and Dylox as a rescue treatment. Grub-ex needs at least 2 weeks time to be effective. So using it when you have a problem is not an option. Grub-ex is a wonderful product that will give you months of control. Dylox kills immediately but doesn’t last for much more than a week. In our program we normally only treat 10 percent or less of the turf we maintain. We will fix grub damage if we make a mistake in treatment. Maybe I have sniffed too many chemicals over the years, but I think like a grub. If you were a mother June bug wanting to lay eggs you look for the greenest yard on the street, you are attracted to bright lights and you realize you can’t lay eggs on the concrete sidewalk… Put this information together and we treat areas that are lush, areas that have lights and areas bordering concrete.

Lesson #14

People who water the lawns after 3 in the afternoon are asking for disease problems. The leaves stay moist for too long a period of time and incubate fungal activity. The best time is from 4 in the morning till 3 in the afternoon. I don’t want to get into different diseases or treatments. It’s not that important to give out. People often mistake diseases for a lack of water and make thing worse by pouring water on the disease.

Lesson #15

This is it, I promise. I have learned over all these years that the fewer chemicals we use, the better the lawns are. We need them to kill weeds, insects and stop diseases but they have an adverse effect on soil bacteria, microorganisms and earthworms. Mess these three up and you get thatch buildups and poor root systems.

Scott’s EDGE

When I started working in 1981 we mainly used black plastic edging. Today we are replacing all that edging with brick or drywall stone. There are many choices in edging . I’d like to explore all your options.

Edging is supposed to do these things

Separate the lawn and the planting

  1. Be attractive to the eye.

  2. Be low maintenance and long lived

  3. Cost effective unless money is not a concern

Option 1

English Edge

You take a spade and cut a double edge so there is a slope to it. This is low cost and attractive but is high maintenance. Once a year it requires cutting the grass back as it will grow into the bed. Usually mulches like bark are applied.

Option 2

Concrete Curbing

High installation costs and long lasting. But it’s not low maintenance. It requires weed eating. One thing I don’t like to do is trim with my mower or string trimmer. It does do a good job of keeping rock and mulches in the planting beds.

Option 3

Brick Edging

This is our preferred way of edging. Brick comes in several different styles and materials. There are also several ways of laying it. We normally install them on 1 1/2 to 2 inches of mortar but they can be laid on sand also. The mortar option is a more stable way of installation and will keep grass out of the beds. Bricks are manufactured from either concrete or baked clay. I prefer clay to concrete although some will argue the choice. Concrete bricks are less expensive but will they hold their color in the long run. I know the clay will be the same color as the day you buy them for hundreds of years. In all fairness they are doing a better job of coloring the concrete pavers now compared to 20 years ago. I wouldn’t bet on the cheapies you see at the box stores. We purchase our materials at Illinois Brick or Woare Builders Supply. The costs aren’t that much more and the quality is so much better.

Aeration

Aeration is very beneficial to growing a healthy lawn especially in our heavy clay soils. Many people recommend yearly aeration but we feel every other year will do the job especially since we go over the lawn two or three times when we do it. The worse the thatch buildup is the more we aerate the lawn.

Aeration reduces soil compaction

This encourages deeper rooting of turf. With a deeper root system the lawn needs less water. This improves drought tolerance.

Aeration increases water infiltration and reduces run-off

Aeration increases oxygen content in soils

Oxygen is crucial to a healthy living root system in all plants.

Aeration also helps get important nutrients

such as potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and sulfur into the soil where they can absorbed by the root system or added to the soil to change structure or soil PH.

Aeration helps breakdown thatch

by mixing soil that contains bacteria and microorganisms into the thatch layer. In the good old days when I first started working on yards (horse and buggy days) we dethatched lawns with a powerake. The problem was the lawn looked awful after you poweraked it, it was a lot of work, and the bill was too high. The worst part was it didn’t seem to solve the problem. 5 years later they were thatched again. The universities came up with a new plan. It was called thatch modification. The idea was to add topsoil to the thatch and change its structure and turn it into soil.

When can or should it be done?

They can be done any time the ground isn’t frozen or the soil is to dry. It also shouldn’t be excessively wet either. If we are seeding, we try to aerate in early spring like March-April or in the fall as in September. If we aren’t seeding then we like to do them in late fall.