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Lawn Care

European chafer beetle battles: when soccer parents struggle with lawn damage

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

The European chafer beetle problem isn’t going away anytime soon. We are seeing a lot of damaged lawns right now in the Tri-cities area where I live. So much damage, it even enters the conversation on soccer field sidelines. Many of the soccer parents are clearly frustrated with the damaged look of their lawns. Otherwise they would be discussing their sons’ performances on the pitch.

 

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A familiar sight after birds and animals dig for grubs.

 

Suffer

I don’t have any good news for you. It’s fall and if your lawn is damaged by birds and animals digging for grubs there is very little you can do. Once the grubs are eaten you should fix your damaged lawn. Simply rake out the damaged spots and install a light layer of turf blend soil. Then rake it into the lawn.

My City of Port Moody handout on chafer beetles suggests covering up the damaged lawn spots to deter further damage from animals.

November is a bit late for applying grass seed because there isn’t enough sunlight for grass seed to germinate. Wait for spring when daytime temperatures shoot up.

One thing you could do now is apply winter fertilizer to your lawn for strong roots. If your lawn wasn’t aerated in spring you could do that now before the ground gets really cold and stiff. Core aeration allows more oxygen and water to reach the root zone.

Spring

In spring 2018 you should start caring for your lawn or hire professionals to do it for you. Municipalities have their own handouts on chafer beetles so pick one up where you live and follow the steps. Aeration is a good idea again in spring.

I know it takes effort and costs money but fixing your damaged lawn areas will make you happier. Rake everything over and put down more turf blend soil. Rake it in and overseed once temperatures go up.

Nematodes

You can pre-order nematodes for late summer application in spring. I have a private client who applied them in 2016 but declined the service in 2017. As of right now, November 2017, his lawn is fine. Only his neighbour’s uncared for lawn has chafers.

This is an interesting case because the recommendation is to apply nematodes every year. I know, more bad news. But if you need help, I can come help you apply it the first time. Once you’re trained, you can do it yourself. Or just follow the directions; and check my previous blogs on chafer beetle battles. Read my previous blog on nematode application.

Alternatives

You can also consider alternatives. Yesterday I was blown away by a lawn in Port Coquitlam. The owners planted their front lawn in clover. Actual clover, not the micro version that’s mixed in with seed and sold as anti-chafer mix. For a hefty price, too.

Clover will attract bees and other insects and chafers don’t care for clover. I think when it’s nicely edged, it looks good. There are other ideas so spend the winter thinking about it. You can also read some of my previous blogs on lawn alternatives.

 

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Front lawn planted in clover and nicely edged. I love it and so will the insects in summer. Goodbye chafers.

 

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No action is required for your lawn in December. The way it’s been going, it will be covered by snow anyway. So just enjoy the holidays.

 

Fall landscape projects, part 2

By | Lawn Care, Mulch | No Comments

In an earlier post about fall landscape projects we looked at river rock and aged mulch installs. In this post we continue with more examples of landscape projects that are perfect for the fall. The weather is still decent so take advantage of it by improving your landscapes.

Blowing bark mulch

If you have a larger property or strata site, it can make more sense to have bark mulch blown in. There are several local companies that do this. They can transform the look of your site almost instantly. Paying for lots of labour hours by moving lots of yards of mulch by hand with wheelbarrows might not make sense.

Sure, if you have 4 yards to move, that’s fine. But how about 80 yards?

One key is to be present when bark mulch is being blown in. Walk the crew and show them precisely what should get covered. There may be some exceptions or no-go zones so explain it to them.

 

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Bark blowing saves you a lot of time.

 

Lawn repairs

Weak lawns can be top-dressed and over-seeded right now because we still have decent temperatures for grass seed germination. I observed three lawn repair projects recently. One was for a weak lawn where shade is an issue. The home owner did everything himself without involving his strata council. The other two projects involved lawn repair after dog damage. And as we know, unless you keep the dogs away, the lawn will get damaged again. Very few people take the time to hose off their lawns after their dogs finish their business.

In step 1 you install new turf blend soil and then you rake it so it’s even.

In step 2 we over-seed the lawn with good quality seed.

In step 3 we roll the lawn nicely with a roller. Just fill it up with water and run it over your lawn. This flattens the soil and ensures seed-soil contact.

In step 4 lightly sprinkle water over your new lawn. Fast germinating seed can germinate in seven days. Some seed mixes take longer. Temperatures can vary from place to place so don’t panic.

 

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We have germination but the dog inside is waiting.

 

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This photo is from the day of completion. It will take 7-14 days to get germination.

 

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Germination!

 

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What can you do to improve your landscape this fall?

 

 

One tired story: dogs and lawns

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

It’s October and people are trying to take advantage of decent temperatures to fix their lawns. And today my orders were to address a patchy lawn. Sure.

As soon as we finished mowing, I first confirmed that I had the correct unit number and then I went in to see it. I identified two classic problems. Shade and dog damage. And both problems are difficult to correct unless drastic action is taken. For example, you could prune the trees to allow for more light penetration; and you could give away your dog (unlikely, I know).

 

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problems: dog damage, compaction and shade.

 

Strata orders

The owner of this unit sits on strata council and she insisted that we address her lawn. So I did it today with what I was given. Two bags of landscape soil, good quality fast-germinating grass seed and a hard rake.

 

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Basic materials: landscape soil, fast-germinating seed mix and a hard rake.

 

Of course, on this particular site there are many “damaged” units because the previous maintenance company took some liberties. Now it’s a big project to bring the landscape back up to a decent standard.

Basic fix

Why do dogs burn lawns? Because their urine contains nitrogen and the concentration is too much for the lawn to handle. It’s just like fertilizer burn after heavy applications or say, after and accidental spill. The lawn can’t handle this much nitrogen at one time and burns.

Step 1

You can scarify the lawn with a hard rake to help the seed take hold.

Step 2

Dump out both bags of landscape soil.

 

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Step 3

Use a hard rake to spread out the soil.

 

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Step 4

Over seed with good quality grass seed. We used a fast-germinating seed mix. Clients like to see quick results and this seed mix delivers. We’ve tested it in summer with good results.

 

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Basic fix.

 

Step 5

It rained briefly which should help with germination; assuming day time temperatures stay the same.

Solution?

Is this fix a permanent solution? Not likely. The dog will keep on urinating here. I expect to see more burns in the future. Unless, of course, the owners start to hose off the lawn after their dog does his business.

Some of my previously published blogs show clients switching to fake turf and river rock. Those solutions will not work here. Having a beautiful lawn is always a struggle when a dog uses it. Let’s just accept it.

 

What happens when you join lawn care Facebook groups

By | Edging, Landscaping, Lawn Care | No Comments

To be honest my free time for Facebook is limited but joining lawn care groups has been the best experience ever. It gives you a nice look into issues facing lawn care and landscape operators. And most of the members reside in the United States.

If you can get past the bad spelling, bad language and the occasional gun and ammo picture, you can get rewarded with some gems.

Blowing in the streets

This is one horrible habit where the landscaper blows debris into the street so he doesn’t have to pick it up. Some municipalities have bylaws against it but that doesn’t matter. It’s a bad habit. Don’t do it. It’s best to blow any debris into piles, rake it up and put into your truck. Don’t mess up the roadways or neighbouring properties.

But there is one exception. Windy days. When the winds are howling and you can’t control the blowing then I can look the other way. As long as my workers don’t step into roadways which is extremely unsafe. Of course, the workers remember this exception and then it’s windy every day…..

 

Line edger vs. trees conflicts

This was from a very frustrated company owner who had received phone calls from angry clients. Why were the young trees slashed up and missing bark? Again. See picture below.

I’ve experienced this with young co-workers at a municipality. We were at a public park and my co-worker started line edging around the closest tree. And he was very aggressive. So aggressive I almost got hit with bits of bark.

So what do you do? I have already published a blog post on this epidemic and you can read it here. But let’s just recap, shall we?

The recommendations are to remove grass from tree stem areas, workers are to be held accountable and trained until they understand it. For there are implications when you slash up live trees with line edgers.

As we know, trees are resilient but repeated slashing of the bark stresses the tree. The poor plant now has to expend precious energy into repairs and will likely not grow as vigorously. Repeated hits can kill the tree. So please don’t do this to your trees. Read my blog and never slash up trees with landscape machines ever again.

 

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You can see why the owner of this young tree wasn’t happy. The line trimmer string probably wrapped around the trunk and stripped the protective bark layer. Install a plastic guard, build a tree well around the tree or just remove any grass from the base of the tree. Train all workers well and hold them accountable.

 

Garden grinding

This term came with a disturbing video in which the operator of a line edger buzzed weedy beds down to dirt patches. It looks ridiculous and unsafe. Your line edger should be used for edging only. Bedwork is a completely different task.

I worry about rocks flying into windows or the worker “eating” rocks. The weeds will probably come back anyway. It’s best to use garden tools for bedwork. Period.

 

Are you in?

Spending some free time (NOT work time!) in Facebook groups can be rewarding. Sometimes there are decent discussions about estimating, machines and worker attendance. Not every group is fantastic so look around and enjoy. Maybe we’ll see you there.

Leave group recommendations in the comment below.

 

 

Can you fake a new turf install?

By | Company News, Lawn Care | No Comments

I don’t recommend it but it’s possible to fake your new turf installation. I got to see it last week but it definitely wasn’t my first time. It happens from time to time with home owners. If professional landscapers worked like this they wouldn’t be professionals.

Let me start by saying that I give people full marks for taking action and trying things out even though they aren’t professionals; and don’t want to pay for professional help or fight with their strata council. This example comes from Langley. The mother-daughter pair looked very happy with their project. They evidently googled it.

 

Faking it!

The idea is very simple. When you get tired of looking at your weak, beat up and dog urine soaked lawn you simply purchase new turf chunks and plop them on top of the existing grass. There. Done.

Normally you would use a turf cutter to remove the existing turf and rototiller to work the soil. Obviously, this would make the project much harder for busy home owners working outside in the middle of a heat wave. I repeat, I give them full marks for trying and for their enthusiasm but we’ll see how well the new sod does.

 

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Does it work?

I think they’re pushing their luck and here’s why?

a) The soil should be nicely prepared ahead of time. All existing turf should be removed and the soil nicely turned over with a rototiller. Then, we rake it over and roll it flat with a roller.

Since we’re in the middle of a record-breaking heat wave, the soil should be well watered-in days before any sod installation happens.

Sod roots poorly on poor soil. It requires porous, moist and cool conditions. This project didn’t any of the three criteria. How does the sod root into existing turf below? It can’t be easy. I wouldn’t call it porous. Remember, most of the sod roots have been shaved off so now it will be a struggle to absorb water efficiently.

b) The mother and, I must point out, very cute daughter underestimated the amount of sod they would require. But unlike time-stressed landscape contractors they cheerily drove off to get more. You can go online and use sod calculators. All you need to know is the length and width of your yard. Hint: always order a few extra pieces to allow for mistakes and mishaps, theft, etc.

c) I feel like the ladies rushed the install, thereby leaving huge gaps. Ideally, the sod pieces should fit together nicely. In this yard you are inviting weeds to sprout in the gaps. They should also consider the application of turf starter fertilizer.

On the way home we reminded them about watering the new sod religiously and wished them well. Since we maintain this site weekly, I’m hoping to have follow up pictures. It makes for an interesting case study. Can you fake a new turf install?

 

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Always install new sod same day and never leave it over 24 hours.

 

 

It’s easy to love your self-propelled mower

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

New landscapers usually start by mowing lawns with push mowers. They’re simple machines with one pull cord and they’re light. Then, as the worker progresses, he gets to use a self-propelled mower.

As the name suggests, the mower is self-propelled which means you don’t have to push it as much. This comes in handy when you mow long or sloping sections. I absolutely love seeing the faces of my new workers light up as they discover the mower’s pull.

One important detail

After you gas up your mower with straight gas, you have two more steps to complete. Use the pull cord to start the mower and then, in step two we engage the blades. Normally there is a small button on a bar which we must depress. Obviously, different machines have different set-ups.

Once your machine is on, engage your blade. This should be easy to spot as the machine gets louder and your mower bag gets all puffy. Make sure your blade is engaged.

 

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The yellow button on the bottom engages the blades.

 

True stories

Nothing gets your boss more excited than having a worker mow the front of a high-profile club house for 25 minutes without actually cutting a single blade of grass. This is a true story and the crew leader heard about it from his boss. Make sure your blades are engaged. Ask if you’re not sure. This is basic training you should receive from your superiors.

Glitches

What if you’re trained and your blades still won’t engage? This happened to me recently when I was filling in for a sick worker. I gassed up my mower, picked up my green waste tarps and left. Except my blades wouldn’t engage. What now?

Frustrated, I stopped the engine and tipped the mower on its side. Incredibly, there was a plastic pot stuck between the blades and deck. Was it a freak accident or the crew having some fun with their senior supervisor? I laughed it off and mowed all morning.

 

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Very funny! A plastic pot jammed between the blades and deck. No wonder the blades wouldn’t engage.

 

When trees and artificial turf are incompatible

By | Arborist Insights, landscape maintenance, Landscaping, Lawn Care | No Comments

My friend who specializes in artificial turf installs told me recently that he was killing it. Great. I was happy for him. He went through his apprenticeship by installing NFL turf and deserves his success.

However, there are some cases where installing artificial turf is a bad idea. Take for example the case below from the United States.

 

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Picture used with permission.

 

Unhappy owner

The owner was unhappy with his lawn and approached his landscape company about replacing it with artificial turf. His landscaper was worried-correctly!-about removing four inches of turf and not adversely affecting the tree. Then she posted this picture in a Facebook group and asked people for their opinions.

Incidentally, I recommend joining a few Facebook lawn care groups. Many of the groups have thousands of members and interesting things pop us almost daily.

Let’s see

This is an interesting case so let’s see.

A) I presume that the tree shades out the grass when it pushes leaves out. You could prune the tree to allow for more light penetration. Another possibility is top-dressing with a light layer of soil and over-seeding with shade grass mix. Baby the lawn a little bit. Aerate it and fertilize it.

B) To install artificial turf you have to remove the top four inches of soil and install rock. You can read my blog about my friend’s project which shows the steps involved in installing artificial turf.

Since trees rely on surficial roots for water and nutrient collection this step would no doubt affect the tree. I also notice large roots that would make it impossible to install the turf perfectly flat.

And to prepare the rock for turf install, it gets compacted with a machine. We know soil compaction kills trees by limiting air and water uptake by surficial roots. Installing four inches of rock and compacting it all around the tree would have serious consequences for the tree.

C) I understand that most artificial turf models allow water to penetrate but I still think it wouldn’t be the same deal for the tree. Then there is the issue of heat. Natural grass produces oxygen and cools down our properties and cities. It’s the opposite with artificial turf. Once it’s installed it heats up and the soil underneath dies. I think the turf would simply “cook” the tree roots.

D) I believe the tree has to go before artificial turf can be installed. Imagine the full effect from grass cooling and tree shade to open artificial turf which absorbs heat and zero shade. Remember, artificial soccer fields should be watered down to protect the players on hot summer days.

E) Then there is the issue of cost. Artificial turf isn’t cheap but it’s easier to maintain than natural grass. I personally dislike anything artificial in my landscapes. Anything that kills soil is bad in my books.

Conclusion

The owners of this property have to find another solution to their grass problems. Artificial turf install is totally incompatible with the tree in their front yard. They can prune the tree and baby the grass. Or they can remove the tree to make way for artificial turf. Of course, this step loses the many ecosystem services provided free of charge by the tree and leads to soil death. I would personally avoid this second idea at all costs.

 

Courtesy blow in landscaping

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

Courtesy blow in landscape maintenance refers to final clean up with a backpack blower. It’s assumed that this will take place because, after all, your clients deserve it. It gives their place a nice finished look.

As landscape supervisor and trainer, I train all workers on the importance of a proper clean up blow. But as I found out this past weekend, not all landscapers understand this basic lesson. So please look at the pictures below from Pennsylvania, USA and identify some of the common deficiencies. What bothers you about these picture?

 

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Lawn care basics

Well, what’s on your list? Incredibly, this is the finished product. I believe the elderly home owner was charged $75US for the job when the going rates are something like 50% of that amount.

One obvious defect is the mess of clippings left on the sidewalk. Again, courtesy clean-up blow is a rule in landscape maintenance. The site must be cleaned up and left as if you were never there. This is hardly the case.

Another defect is the shaggy lawn around the power pole. Perhaps line trimming wasn’t part of the deal but for $75US it should have been. By next week it will be even more obvious. And remember another landscape maintenance rule: the line trimming should match the height of your mower setting. Any decent lawn care professional should be able to match his trimming height to his mower.

Blade edging rules!

Lastly, the whole street hasn’t been blade edged in a long time. This is a mistake. Once the lawn starts creeping over into the sidewalk it makes edge re-establishment time consuming.

Take a minute to examine my work pictured below from a city park in Coquitlam, British Columbia. I blade edged the city side; the shaggy edge in front is on a private site. The landscapers there don’t use blade edgers. They vertical their edges with string trimmers.

The aesthetic difference is huge. I love sharp edges. The Pennsylvania street pictured above deserves a nice sharp blade edge. And yes, a final courtesy clean-up is mandatory. Follow the edge with your blower to make sure it’s nice and sharp.

 

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Conclusion

Never leave your lawn care site without performing a courtesy clean-up blow. Line trim all edges at the same height as your mower. And periodically check your hard edges and re-establish them when necessary for a sharp, clean look.

Finally, consider getting Landscape Industry Certified so you can separate yourself from people who perform shoddy work.

Helpers landscapers love to see

By | Landscaping, Lawn Care, Strata Maintenance | No Comments

While working yesterday, I ran into a worker every landscaper loves to see. Hired by the strata council he was on dog drop duty. Great. That really helps. I wish these dog waste companies were hired more often.

 

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Yes, most of the dogs you see on site are adorable and many of their female owners are, too. But let’s be honest, some backyards are totally disgusting. So disgusting I actually have to include warnings in my training.

I’ve seen new lawn care dudes totally paralyzed when the next yard they have to cut is completely covered in dog waste. So, if you can, mow around the piles. As the grass gets tall around the pile there is a chance the owner will get the hint.

Angry owner

Several years ago I was confronted by the strata owner of a small patch of what used to be a lawn. He was angry because now he had a meadow. Obviously, as the strata landscaper I had to stay polite so I gently pointed out the massive piles of dog waste by now hidden in the tall grass. Nobody on the crew wanted to mow that yard.

Incidentally, when grasses are allowed to mature, they can reproduce sexually. I doubt this even entered the owner’s mind.

Now, he was really angry telling me there wasn’t anything buried in his lawn. And as he was saying this to me, he side-stepped along the wall, never actually stepping in his own meadow. Aha, case closed.

Doggy bags

If you have a weak stomach, skip this paragraph. Mower decks covered in dog waste are bad but nothing beats line trimming accidents. I openly admit to once slicing through an old improperly disposed of doggy bag. I have no idea how to describe the contents of an old doggy bag in language I can print. It’s a sick accident. No wonder I get excited when I see dog waste removal dudes.

Procedures

We mow around dog waste piles if possible. We skip totally covered yards. Some owners get notices; some get letters from strata council. All new workers are trained to line trim with goggles and their mouths closed. All workers have the right to refuse maintenance work in disgusting yards.

If you have a problem on site, definitely call a dog waste removal company. Your landscapers will love you for it.

 

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How to change your lawn mower oil in the field

By | Lawn Care, Tips | No Comments

Spring is here and weekly lawn care is part of our routine. Our commercial machines see daily use and work extremely hard for us as we deliver great looking lawn care.  On some days the mowers will run all day. Five days a week all the way to November.

Key changes

To keep the machines running well all year there are a few key things we can do them. We have to change oil, air filter, blades and pull cords. Luckily most of these tasks can be done in the field on the fly. Some landscape companies employ small engine mechanics, some take the machines back to their shops for maintenance. But to save time, it makes sense to make easy adjustments in the field.

 

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I love this light, simple commercial Honda mower.

 

I openly confess to struggling with machines. I prefer handling plant material. But again, my advice to all landscapers is to become total professionals by knowing everything. That includes machines. So I took notes today when our guys were changing oil in the field.

Oil change in the field

Let’s take a look at a simple commercial Honda push mower.

  1. Locate the oil tank.

 

 

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2. Now we need to extract the used oil. It might help to run the mower briefly so the oil flows better. We used a fluid evacuator. Simply stick the hose into your oil tank and start pumping until the oil is out.  Never pollute. Put the used oil into your empty oil container and recycle it at a proper facility.

 

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3. Replenish your oil with the proper formulation. Check the owner’s manual. We used 10W-30 Lucas oil. The Honda push mower requires 250mL of new oil. The exact amount will depend on the model of your lawn mower.

Frequency of oil changes will depend on actual use. Our machines work hard all season so we change the oil every two weeks. One oil change for every twenty to fifty hours of use is a general guide.

My old Honda mower sees limited action so I change the oil once a year. However, that might be a mistake. I think seasonal oil changes would be better: spring, summer and fall.

 

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A funnel and measuring cup

 

In conclusion, it’s obvious that your mower will run better and last longer with regular oil changes. It definitely pays to stop during your busy week to do this quick change. Schedule it into your week and do it.