Core Aeration of Lawns

by Carl J. Boxenberger, EMGV

Core aeration is a process by which cores or plugs of soil and thatch are removed from the lawn. Core aeration is done by a machine with hollow tines.

Soils that are prone to heavy traffic are subject to compaction. Core aeration reduces soil compaction by removing plugs of soil which opens up a channel in the lawn and allows water, oxygen and nutrients to penetrate down in the soil.

Core aeration should be done when the grass is actively growing. Fall is the time to core aerate cool season lawns such as tall fescue. Spring and early summer is the time to core aerate warm season grasses such as Bermudagrass.

Gardener operating soil aeration machine on grass lawn. Stock Photo c Mikhail Pavlenko

Core aeration equipment with hollow tines can be rented at local equipment rental companies.  There are also professional turf maintenance companies that will aerate your lawn if you do not want to tackle this by yourself.

Run the aeration equipment over your lawn to remove soil cores. Chop up the cores by running a lawn mower over them. If you have a large lawn and a tractor, you can distribute the cores by dragging a piece of chain link fence or mat over them.

Core aerate a few days after a rain. This will have allowed the soil to drain. If you pull plugs when the soil is wet they will form wet clods of soil alongside the aeration holes and actually inhibit air infiltration into the soil, defeating the purpose of aeration.

Further Reading

NC State Extension Turf Files: https://www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/

News alert about zoysiagrass mite damage
https://ncturfbugs.wordpress.ncsu.edu/2019/05/23/zoysiagrass-mite-alert/

Moss in Lawns

by Flora O’Brien

Don’t get me wrong. I love all things mossy. But recently, probably because of all the rain, I’ve been getting questions about how to get rid of moss in lawns. In the spirit of equanimity I will address this subject.

If you have moss taking over your lawn the problem isn’t the moss, it’s the lawn. Turf grass struggles in areas that are too wet, too shady, too compacted, too acidic, too lacking in nutrients. These are the ideal conditions for moss, though. In order to eliminate moss, you must resolve these conditions.

A moss lawn in Saluda, N.C., November 2017. Photo by Flora O’Brien.

First address the drainage issues. Limiting the amount and frequency of lawn watering would be a first step. Slowing or redirecting the flow of water by restructuring the topography might help. You could add topsoil or install terracing stones. Placement of a French drain or similar strategies will also work.

To manage excessive shade you might have to limb up or remove trees and large shrubs. Keep in mind that the roots of trees drink large amounts of water so removing them may add to your problems. You could expand the diameter of mulch under trees and around beds. You could also try planting a grass more tolerant of shade but all of them need some sun.

Dense, compacted clay soils like we have in this area will not support turf grass for long. Yearly aeration is recommended. Leave the plugs where they lie. They will decompose and add to the soil’s fertility.

Let’s talk about fertility. First take a soil sample. It may recommend the application of lime to raise the pH and suggest a fertilization regimen. When you mow the grass leave the clippings in place to feed the soil. Good cultural practices like regular mowing, fertilizing and watering will produce the healthy lawn that will resist the growth of mosses.

How about the moss that’s already there. For small patches, dig them out, including an inch or so of the base soil and plant them in another spot. Then add new soil, seed or sod. The entire lawn could be raked dislodging the moss, new soil added and the area reseeded. There are products on the market made especially for killing moss in lawns but if the underlying conditions are not corrected, the moss will return.

Now here’s the thing. If you have wet, compacted soil in the shade you are not going to have a successful lawn without major expenditures of time and money. So why not just let the moss establish itself? You will have a year round green carpet that never needs mowing, watering, fertilizing, spraying, or plugging. It is true that mosses don’t tolerate heavy foot traffic but you could add stepping-stones or pathways. Then find a small, dry area in the sun and plant a pocket of lawn there.

NC State Fair garden vignette, October 2013, Photo by Flora O’Brien.

Sources & Further Reading

https://njaes.rutgers.edu/FS426/

https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/homeowners/030329.html

https://sampson.ces.ncsu.edu/2012/07/why-does-moss-grow-in-areas-of-my-lawn-and-not-my-grass-2/

This article originally appeared in the EMGV newsletter.

April To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Hallelujah it is APRIL!! Real Spring is here. Statistical frost-free date is April 11. Get them tomato plants ready!! I mean if the seed packet says 65 days and you started the seeds in mid-February then you should be enjoying that first ‘mater sammich about Easter this year. Right? Well, maybe that’s pushing it a bit, but definitely by Mother’s Day. So, here’s a bunch of stuff to do while you are waiting for the tomatoes.

Lawn Care
This is the first month you may fertilize warm season grasses (i.e. Bermuda, centipede and zoysia) as they should be breaking dormancy soon. DO NOT fertilize cool season grasses again until fall.

Mow fescue and bluegrass at a height of three to four inches.

This is your last chance to put out pre-emergent crabgrass control. The deadline is when the dogwoods bloom. After that, the seeds will have germinated and pre-emergent by definition will no longer be a viable option.

Fertilizing 

  • See “Lawn Care.”
  • Fertilize any shrubbery that didn’t get fed in March.

Planting
Is this what everybody’s been waiting for, or what? By mid-month it is crazy time in the garden(s).

In the veggie garden sow, sow, sow. Melons, squashes, beans, cucumbers, pumpkins, peppers, tomatoes and corn. Presumably you have already amended the soil per your SOIL TEST recommendations. Be sure to plant enough to share with someone who might not have any at all.

Warm season grasses can be planted by the end of the month. Seeding is possible, though not recommended. Plugging and sodding are the better options with warm season grasses. Check out NC State Turf Files for detailed information on all lawn turf types.

Pruning

bloom-blossom-blue-sky-1505004
Flowering cherry tree photo by Carissa Rogers from pexels.com

  • Remove any winter damage from shrubs and trees.
  • Wait to prune spring flowering shrubs [I.e. azalea (Rhododendron x hybrid), lilac (Syringa species), forsythia, spiraea, wiegelia, etc.] until after the blooms fade.
  • Prune fruiting shrubs [i.e. holly (Ilex species) and pyracantha] while they are in bloom to avoid removing all of this year’s berries.
  • If necessary, prune spring flowering trees [i.e. Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’), flowering cherry (Prunus hybrids), redbud (Cercis species)].

Spraying

  • ALWAYS check plants for pests before spraying (except for borers which you won’t be able to see).
  • Be on the lookout for the following insect pests: azalea lacebugs, boxwood leaf miners, euonymus scale, hemlock & juniper-spruce spider mites. Spray only as needed following label instructions.
  • Spray iris beds for iris borers.
  • Treat cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) for worms. An organic product containing BT is a good green choice.
  • Spray squash plants near the base of the stem at first bloom to control squash vine borers. Continue this procedure weekly until June 1 using only an appropriate insecticide.
  • Spray apple and pear trees while in bloom with streptomycin to control fire blight. Use two applications: one at early bloom and a second at full bloom. If we have a rainy spring consider a third application.
  • Begin weekly applications of fungicide on bunch grapes.
  • Continue a rose spray program (forever and ever).
  • Begin weekly fruit tree spraying after the flower petals fall off.

Other Exciting Things (or not) to Keep You Happily Outside in the Glorious Spring Weather
Mulch. Mulch, mulch, mulch. The possibility of a hot dry summer always looms large in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Shredded hardwood, pine needles (pine straw), shredded cypress and pine bark in its many guises are all good mulches.

When you are bored or desperate to remain outside to avoid painting the bathroom, dusting the ceiling fans, bathing the cat … whatever, there are and always will be weeds to pull. It is the environmentally sound way to get rid of them and the kids and/or grand kids can help (until they turn 11 at which time the helpfulness gene goes dormant).

It’s Spring y’all.  Go out and enjoy.

Further Reading
https://www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/

 

 

To Do in February

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

It’s February!! Those of us who are die-hard just-can’t-help-ourselves gardeners are

bluebird and box
male eastern bluebird and bluebird box. photo credit: Patricia Pierce on Flickr

nearly beside ourselves—right? I mean, we can do stuff! We can dig in the dirt (well, at least the dirt that isn’t moisture-saturated or frozen)! YEA!! Besides, it is almost March when we really get to do stuff. In addition to breaking out the shovels, rakes and hoes the chem-heads out there can start spraying and fertilizing. So, here goes. A prelude to Spring in the key of D# major.

Lawn Care
Cool season grasses (i.e. fescue and bluegrass) should be fertilized with a slow-release fertilizer following the recommendation of your SOIL TEST.

Late February/early March is the best time to apply a pre-emergent crabgrass preventer. There are several easy to use granular products on the market. Be sure to read and follow the directions on the label for safe and proper handling and application. Calibrate your spreader to ensure accurate application amounts; Too little will not give you effective control and too much may damage the turf.

Fertilizing
See Lawn Care above and Planting below.

Planting
And so it begins: The vegetable garden. The reason for some gardeners’ existence, for frozen fingers in February, summer sunburn and the endless supply of liniment in the medicine cabinet.

It is time for root vegetables and salad (and beef Bourguignon—which you can’t grow in the garden).  Plants that can go in the ground in February include cabbage, carrots, leaf lettuce, onions, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, spinach and turnips. Work a little fertilizer into the soil that was tested in October (while it was still free to do so) following the recommendations of said SOIL TEST.

Be cognizant of soil moisture levels. It appears that Mother Nature is going to maintain that for now, but she can be really fickle.

Pruning
If you have been ignoring previous posts, now would be a good time to prune bunch grapes and fruit trees. Also due for judicious trimming are summer flowering shrubs and small trees.  That list includes Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus seriatcus) crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia species), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), and hydrangeas that bloom on new wood (Hydrangea arborescens & H. paniculata).

While you’re out there, whack back the ornamental grasses, too. The new blades haven’t emerged yet and the plants are looking a bit tired anyway.

Got some overgrown shrubs that you’ve been meaning to (or reluctant to) prune heavily? Go for it now.  I understand that if you’ve never done it before it can be a bit intimidating, trust me. The plant will almost always not only survive, but thrive. I am aware of the never-more-than-a-third rule, but sometimes that is not enough. If it needs to go back to 12”-18” … go for it.  Chances are, you and the plant will be glad you did.

Spraying
The orchard needs attention. Peaches and nectarines should be sprayed with a fungicide to prevent leaf curl. Spraying a dormant oil on the fruit trees will help control several insects later in the year.

Other fun stuff to do outside in February
– Perennials can be divided if the soil ever gets dry enough.

– Many landscape plants can be propagated via hardwood cuttings this time of the year.  Some of the plants in the category are crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia sps), flowering quince (Chaenomoles sps), junipers (Juniperus sps), spiraea (Spiraea sps) and weigelia (Weigelia sps).

– Bluebirds will be most appreciative of a thorough house cleaning before the spring nesting season. Remove all the old nesting materials and let them start afresh. It’s like clean linens for them.

Oh, yeah. Lest we forget … order flowers or other living things from the plant kingdom for your significant other. Just for the record, guys like flowers and plants, too. Happy Valentine’s Day y’all! Think positive thoughts about an early Spring and no late freezes.

 

Photo credit
Creative commons, copyright Patricia Pierce,  https://www.flickr.com/photos/47602497@N06/26758856348

 

September is the Time to Seed Tall Fescue

by Carl J Boxberger, EMGV

September 1 to 15 is the correct time of year to seed tall fescue in the Piedmont Region of North Carolina. Here are seven important steps to follow:

1) Soil Test:  Have your soil tested to determine lime and fertilizer requirements for your lawn area. Soil test kits are available at the Cooperative Extension Office.

2) Site Preparation:  Break up the soil in the area to  be seeded with a rake for small areas or use a lawn coring machine for larger areas.

3) Fertilization: Apply the recommended fertilizer to your lawn. If you have not completed a soil test  then apply a complete N-P-K (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) turf grade fertilizer with a 3-1-2 or 4-1-2 ratio (12-4-8 or 16-4-8) at a rate of one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.

4) Seeding:  Seed with a quality tall fescue blend for sun/shade depending on how much sun and shade your lawn receives. Seed at a rate of six pounds per 1,000 square feet. Stay away from Kentucky 31 tall fescue as there are much better tall fescue blends available. Things to look for are a high percentage of seed germination and a low percentage of weed seeds in the mixture.

When buying grass seed, also make sure the weight of the bag is equal or close to the actual amount of seed in the bag. Some companies add a coating to the seed which is unnecessary and can be misleading. Look closely at the label on the bag to learn what you are buying.

Do not hesitate to ask the personnel at a nursery or other quality garden center for help in choosing the proper seed for your yard’s conditions. The single most important investment in ensuring high quality turf is the purchase of high quality seed.

5) Mulching: Spread straw (without weed seeds) over the seeded area at a rate of one to two bales per 1,000 square foot area.

6) Irrigation:  Keep the top half-inch of the soil moist after seeding. Water the newly seeded lawn lightly two to three times a day for 15 to 20 days as the seed germinates. As the seedlings grow and root, water less often but for longer periods of time which will encourage stronger root growth.

7) Mowing:  Once the newly seeded grass reaches a height of four-and-one-half inches tall, mow the tall fescue back to the proper mowing height of three inches

Suggested Maintenance Fertilization Schedule for Tall Fescue:
September: One pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet
November:  One pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet
February:  Half to one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet

References:
Carolina Lawns: A Guide to Maintaining Quality Turf in the Landscape
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/carolina-lawns

Understanding a Turfgrass seed label
https://ag.umass.edu/turf/fact-sheets/understanding-turfgrass-seed-label