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Fig 1: Fescue lawns browning out with no irrigation in winter

Many homeowners mistakenly believe that during the winter, they can just turn off the sprinkler system or not worry about irritation. While many plants have lost their vegetation, gone dormant, or are not growing, they are still alive, and need soil moisture in order to stay alive. In Charlotte, we’ve not had that much moisture this winter, so if you’ve not watered your turf and landscape, you really need to do so very soon.

Winter desiccation can occur on many plants, particular evergreen and shallow-rooted plants, when the leaves loose water during warm and windy winter days as we’ve experienced. IF there is not enough soil moisture present to be absorbed by the root system to replace that lost moisture, the leaves may dry up and turn brown, leading to leaf damage and possibly death of the plant. Boxwoods, Pine, Azaleas, Laurel, and Hollies are just some of the plants in the landscape in North Carolina that are more susceptible to winter desiccation injury. Even turf needs some soil moisture during the winter. Fescue will turn brown and look bad without good soil moisture. While bermudagrass is brown and dormant, the root system and crown are still somewhat active.

We recommend a good soaking with irrigation about every week or two, without any help from Mother Nature. For plants, soak well in order to allow the water to soak deep into the soil. Turf not so much, as you are mainly concerned about keeping the top inch or two of soil moist in this case, which is different compared to the growing season.

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Figure 1. Sod can provide you with an instant lawn.

The Carolina Panthers had a tough game against the Broncos last week, but the turf at Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco gave many of the players a hard time also. They had a hard time with their footing, slipping at times on the turf. The turf had been re-sodded several times during the past year for various reasons, and just seemed to have a hard time rooting down into the soil. And the soil and drainage system for the field, as in most sports turf fields, are as close to perfect as one can get. So what seems to be the problem?

Most turf, such as bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, fescue, and even bermudagrass overseeded with ryegrass, can be established by sod. In the case with the sod at Levi’s Stadium, it was grown at one of the best sod farms in the country under ideal conditions. However, even with great conditions, and a budget to die for, Mother Nature has the last laugh.

It seems that many homeowners, and even professional groundskeepers, think that one can just lay down the sod, water it, and, within a few weeks, it will be the same as a mature turf. Well, it’s just not so, as it takes time for the turf root system to really become established. The sod only has about 1/2″ of root system, and that needs to tack down and the roots need to sink deeper into the soil. And that can only happen as fast as Mother Nature allows it to happen.

Proper watering and good soil nutrition with proper fertilization is important when laying down sod to establish a lawn. It’s best to keep heavy traffic and use to a minimum for a month or so. Even though the turf may look great after it’s laid, the root system just needs time to develop, and that does take time.

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If your landscape consists of shrub and flower beds, as most do in Carolina, then now is a great time to add additional mulch into those beds. Mulch can be purchased in bags at garden centers and the big box stores, but consider buying it in bulk if you have a truck to haul it in. It’s cheaper this way and eliminates the need to dispose of a bunch of plastic bags. In my case, I use pine bark mulch to add to my blueberry patch, so I’m loading up my truck about every day with mulch to take home to add to my plants. I’ve also used pecan shells, as both add acidity to the soil for acid-loving plants such as blueberries.

Common types of mulch can consist of bark from pine, cedar, cypress, cottonseed hulls, pecan shells, or pine needles. Mulch can be ground up into finer chips, or larger and more decorative. The benefits of mulch include:

  • Protects the root system or trees and shrubs by insulating from extreme temperatures.
  • Help protect against weed germination by preventing some seeds from reaching the soil.
  • Helps conserve soil moisture in the soil.
  • Helps prevent soil erosion.
  • Looks better than bare dirt, and adds color to the landscape.
  • Provides organic material to the soil as it slowly breaks down.

A thin layer of about 2-3″ of organic mulch is generally enough. Too much mulch can lead to insect and rodent problems and decrease air movement into the root system. Organic mulch does break down with time, so it’s a good idea to add a fresh layer of new mulch about every year or so to your landscape. Freshening up existing mulch with raking and turning over also is a good practice. We do recommend organic mulches over ones like rocks or rubber mulches, since they provide the added benefit of adding organic matter back into the soil. We think it looks more natural also, as this is what would be present in any forest floor, a nice layer of decomposing leaves, bark, and other organic materials.



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A recent Harris Poll conducted through the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) confirmed what we know at LawnAmerica, that yards are important to American homeowners. Most Americans think it is important to have a yard (83%) and to spend time outside in the yard (75%). For those that have a yard, 90% think it is important that it is well-maintained.

It is also important to people to live in an area where they can see or walk to trees, grass or nice landscaping. And the majority of Americans (71%) also feel that it is important for their neighbors to have well maintained yards too. The majority of Americans (67%) think professional landscape help would allow them to have a nicer yard, while only 33% of Americans who have a yard strongly agree that they have the knowledge and skills to keep their lawn and plants healthy and looking good.

At LawnAmerica, we know the value that we provide to customers in partnership with them in providing a beautiful, green, healthy lawn and landscape. We do that in an environmentally responsible way, using only the best lawncare products, applied at the proper time, in a professional manner. And having a beautiful lawn and landscape is much more than just aesthetics. Research has proven that lawncare done properly provides tremendous environmental benefits to our urban environment we all share.

For more information on the importance and value of caring for lawns, visit the following link:

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Groundhog Day

Well did Punxsutawney Phil see his shadow this morning? It appears that he did not in Pennsylvania, the home of the legendary groundhog, but what about here in North Carolina? Legend has it that if he sees his shadow, we’re in for 6 more weeks of winter. We’ve really not had that much of a winter here in anyway until the recent snowstorm, but who knows what February may bring. So whether you believe the local weather forecasters or the local groundhog, just know that for both, it’s really just a crap shoot at this point in time.

So what’s the difference between groundhogs and the gophers and moles we seem to have so much trouble with in Carolina lawns? They are all rodents, but members of different families. Groundhogs are in the marmot family, along with squirrels and chipmunks. They are larger then gophers, averaging about 20″ long and 12-15 pounds. They have furry tails (much cuter) compared to the rat-like tails of gophers. Groundhogs are often referred to as Woodchucks also (how much wood does a Woodchuck chuck), and are one of the few animals that do actually hibernate during the winter.

Groundhog Day and the legend of Punxsutawney Phil started in the 1800’s with the early German immigrants in Pennsylvania. It’s all fun, but trying to forecast the weather especially here in North Carolina can be tough even with all the technologies we have now. We just assume that the weather typically all works out in the wash, and that even with warm and cold spells, the soil temperature will always be in the mid–50’s by late March to early April. Soil temperatures stay more consistent than air, and generally go up slowly from late winter into spring. That’s important for turfgrass managers such as us, who are responsible to have the spring pre-emergent applied and into the soil before the first flush of crabgrass later in spring. That’s why the LawnAmerica guys and gals are out working away now in order to insure this is done well before weeds start popping up. The newer products we use such as Barricade don’t really break down in the soil much with cool soil temperatures, so it’s just fine to apply Barricade now, rather than waiting until the last minute and possibly missing the deadline to prevent weed seed germination.

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Pre-emergent performance

The best way to control weeds such as crabgrass and other summer annual weeds is with a pre-emergent herbicide applied in early spring. This needs to happen before crabgrass seeds germinate, which typically begins in late March to early April here in Carolina and on into April, May, and June. So as long as the pre-emergent is applied before then and watered into the soil, crabgrass should not even germinate.

There are differences in pre-emergent products, and there can be big differences in how and when those products are applied, that will greatly effect the results. At LawnAmerica we use the very best product available, Barricade or prodiamine, which is the chemical name. We apply this between now and mid-March for our existing customers, at the rate of 29 oz. per acre, which will provide about 6-7 months of good crabgrass control according to the chart above. Our 6 and 7-step customers also receive another 8 oz. of prodiamine with their Round 3 Echelon treatment applied to bermudagrass and zoysiagrass if you have that, during the May to early June time period, which extends the control of crabgrass and other weeds even longer into the summer. IF you have a fescue lawn, the Round 1 pre-emergent will last all season long, and break down by the time fescue seeding is done in fall.

Other lawn care companies in Carolina tend to apply a lesser rate of products, and apply them in what they call a “split application”, with some applied in their step 1, and more in their step 2. So, their customers are paying twice, for what LawnAmerica does in ONE treatment. So much for their lawn care being “cheaper”. As long as Barricade is applied by an experienced and good technician, at the proper time, and with the proper rates, one treatment will suffice. And, if a booster rate is applied deeper into spring as we do after that first flush of crabgrass germination, then all the better results will be obtained.

Any pre-emergent needs to be watered into the soil also in order to be activated, so we’ll need help either from Mother Nature or from an irrigation system, which may be you with a water hose! The newer pre-emergents such as Barricade do not break down in the soil or leach out of the soil nearly as fast as older products that I was using years ago, so that’s good. The biggest factor is still how and when they are applied as to why one lawn looks great, and another may have a crabgrass problem.