By Mike Jiggens
Since the implementation of Ontario’s cosmetic pesticide ban, lawn care
companies have been challenged as never before to produce quality home
lawns for their customers. Limited by the number of products they can
legally use, lawn care professionals must rely more on a cooperative
relationship with their customers to ensure their satisfaction.
Speaking at the third annual Nutrite Professional Seminar for lawn care companies in March at Guelph’s Springfield Golf &â€ˆCountry Club, Ontario Seed Company’s Richard Goetze said problems with home lawns can include both biotic and abiotic issues, the selection of inappropriate grass species, drought, heat, excessive shade and poor soil conditions.
Much of the problem, however, can be attributed to the neglect or abuse of the lawn by the customer, he said. The professional must speak with the customer to enlighten him about the ramifications resulting from a neglected or abused lawn.
Examples of such neglect or abuse can include erratic mowing practices or scalping, or parking cars on a lawn.
“Educate them and provide them with documentation to mitigate that,” Goetze said. “It only helps you in the end if they’re not abusing or neglecting their lawns.”
Goetze spoke about proper seeding and overseeding strategies that can be adopted to not only overcome some of the customer neglect and abuse issues, but to promote healthier turf stands when challenged by such issues as drought and excessive shade.
The question of whether to renovate the lawn or initiate a wholesale conversion project must be carefully discussed with the homeowner. Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, tall fescues and fine fescues are the primary cool season grasses to consider, but buffalograss is another that has sparked recent interest.
Kentucky bluegrass is sod-forming, has reasonable disease resistance, can recover quickly from drought-induced dormancy, is traditionally aesthetic, and has outstanding wear tolerance due to its sod-forming rhizome growth.
“If you have high maintenance, and you’re able to provide enough irrigation in particular, it is a really good choice.”
Because Kentucky bluegrass is slower to establish, customers must be educated to that fact so that they don’t feel they are throwing their money away, Goetze said.
Getting the seed down with a slit seeder is a highly-recommended method, but Goetze said he has seen the contrary of that.
“I’ve seen slit seeders not do as well as sowing just on the surface into a worked-up seed bed.”
Goetze suggested lawn care professionals consider using newer varieties, recommending more than one variety for home lawns because each has slightly different characteristics and different stresses.
Choosing tall fescue allows for a grass which is drought-tolerant, has good wear tolerance and is ideal for low-maintenance turf. Some tall fescues, he cautioned, don’t produce a traditional-looking lawn, but it’s reasonably shade-tolerant, it bunches out when it gets dense and provides good recovery from drought.
He also suggested high fertility be avoided when using tall fescues.
“It doesn’t mean no fertility. It just means you can avoid the higher ends of fertility.”
Newer varieties of tall fescues offer good colour and substantial bulk, he said.
Goetze said perennial ryegrass is his personal favourite species to use in seeding or overseeding projects. It is fast to emerge from seed, and establishment is fairly rapid.
“You get excellent-looking aesthetics and good wear tolerance because of its rapid growth.”
Perennial ryegrass is a bunchy grass which can produce ample clippings, especially with high fertility.
“Perennial ryegrass can lead to some pretty impressive clipping yields.”
Fine fescues can be compatibly mixed with Kentucky bluegrass, are reasonably shade-tolerant, and don’t fare badly with fertility. Fine fescues can take infrequent irrigation, but still require precipitation.
“It can’t live without rain.”
Goetze said fine fescues tend to form dense bunches, and cautioned it’s difficult to get seed in an established lawn.
“You need to be aware of that little difficulty.”
Buffalograss, a native prairie grass found in southern parts of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, has been generating some interest of late in the home lawn arena, Goetze said. Describing it as “soft-textured and pretty,” he said it responds well to low fertility and it avoids drought by going dormant.
He said he has little data available regarding its ability to adequately deal with insect and disease pressures, but added, “My suspicion is it’s not going to be much of a problem because there aren’t a lot of critters that know it.”
Goetze said he suspects, however, there may eventually be issues associated with it. One pitfall recognized already is that seedlings don’t tolerate weeds particularly well in Ontario.
But buffalograss can be mowed and maintained like a lawn, he added.
With a renovation project, “when everything is said and done and growing, you’ve changed it over from whatever it was to a decent lawn, everytime with a renovation, and you can get those traditional aesthetics just fine.”
A renovation project won’t result in a serviceable lawn for some time after it’s completed. Several months will usually elapse before the lawn is ready to handle any significant stresses, and this information must be shared with the customer, Goetze said.
A conversion project, on the other hand, is a longer-term commitment, demanding patience and commitment on the parts of both the lawn care professional and the customer. Goetze said there is more work involved than that of a renovation project, and the amount of time people use the lawn can be limited or sections of the property can be segregated while the conversion is taking place.
The length of time a conversion project takes to complete will depend on what the professional and customer are starting with, and can extend from as little as one season to perhaps a few years in order the achieve the desired aesthetics.
“When you do a conversion, you have to be really committed to it. It can be inconvenient, but you can still enjoy it.”
That enjoyment must be balanced with the inconvenience factor when a conversion project is being done, Goetze said.
It also requires more planning than a renovation.
“You really have to pay attention to all the evaluations and look for whether you’re going to do amendments or use a native soil.”
Goetze said to beware of “the unexpected” while undertaking a conversion project due to the prolonged length of a typical project. Conversions tend to require a certain amount of adjustments.
Seed-to-soil contact is essential, and it is adviseable for the customer to wait to mow for the first time until the turfgrass becomes a plant and isn’t just shoots. Aerification followed by drop seeding work well to achieve the right seed-to-soil contact.
Overseeding and interseeding are practices done in conversions when a more robust lawn is desired and one which will survive through its various pressures when not a lot of pesticides are used.
Overseed “a little north” of half-rate or at half-rate with whatever seed is to be used, he advised.
“Manage the new overseeded turf thinking not about the turf you see, but thinking about managing the seedlings.”
Cooperation with the customer is vital wen overseeding, Goetze said. The lawn care professional should ensure he’s going to be maintaining a good seedling habitat and one that’s not going to turn into an abused area. The customer must buy into the overseeding program which is something the professional will do as a regular part of home maintenance for the lawn.
When thinking of regular fertilizing, the professional should also be thinking of regular overseeding as part of a program, he said.