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Lawn Care

Chafer beetle battles: time for nematodes

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This week is the third week of July and that means it’s time to buy nematodes to your lawn, if it’s suffering from European Chafer Beetle damage. Chafers are invasive insect pests and the larvae feed on the roots of grasses which causes serious damage to lawns.

 

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Animals looking for grubs can destroy your lawn overnight.

 

 

Then later we get animals digging up lawns looking for juicy grubs and lawns are destroyed overnight.

Chafer beetles are here to stay, too. But we can take the fight to them.

 

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Juicy grub from this spring.

 

Nematodes

If you failed to pre-order nematodes earlier in the season then just go down to your favourite garden store and ask if they have any in stock. Nematodes are tiny worms that live in the soil. If you apply them correctly they will chase down Chafers in your lawn. Do this in late July.  You might want to read my previously published blog to see how I did it.

Chafer cycle

Chafer beetles emerge out of lawns and soil in June and fly into trees to mate. Then they go back into lawns to lay their young.

 

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A very pregnant Chafer beetle heading for the lawn.

 

This is why the late July nematode application is critical. Once the grubs get too big the nematodes aren’t effective.

So, let’s review: buy nematodes in the third week of July and apply them in late July.

Follow the directions carefully. Your lawn should be soaked before nematode application and after. Also, remember that nematodes are photo-sensitive. Direct sunlight will kill them so apply them early in the morning or evening.

This is my blog post about my residential application. It might help you.

Lawn care

According to municipal handouts, healthy lawns should only need an hour of watering a week. Keep your grass at least 6cm high and leave the clippings on your lawn. The clippings serve as free fertilizer.

 

Conclusion

Keep your lawn healthy. If you have Chafer damage buy nematodes now and apply them at the end of July. Follow the directions. And pray!

 

 

Plastic lawns: are you sure you want one?

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Why do people install costly plastic lawns? This is a good question. And so is this one from a person on Quora.com, “Why would daycares install plastic turf?” Let’s take a look.

Easy maintenance

It’s easy to maintain plastic lawns. I imagine you just gently sweep them or hose them down. People are busy and maintaining natural grass is expensive. You need machines, time, gasoline or electricity, you have to deal with green waste and fertilizer purchases and it all requires effort. Probably weekly effort.

That’s why some people hire professionals like Proper Landscaping to keep their lawns beautiful; and some give up by making a costly plastic turf purchase.

Situations calling for plastic lawns

Chafer beetles

On the West Coast, our lawns are plagued by European chafer beetles. The larvae are in the lawns and animals come dig them up thereby destroying patches of lawn. Now, the cheapest fix for this is raking, top-dressing with soil and over-seeding. But it gets very old when you have to do this annually. All of a sudden, plastic turf starts to look attractive.

 

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Animals dig up lawns looking for juicy European chafer beetle grubs.

 

Patios below grade

I’ve seen shady, below grade patio lawn patches that turned to nothing every winter. It was a constant fight to keep five narrow strips of lawn alive. So, the owners all opted for plastic turf because it eliminated the headaches with maintenance.

Dog damage

The first time I ran into a company installing plastic lawn was in White Rock. By the way, if you’re still considering plastic lawn after reading this blog post, then I can put you in contact with this installer. Now, back to White Rock.

The owners have a narrow lawn patch and a large dog. They also like to use their sunny patio. But the small patch of lawn was no match for their dog. The copious amounts of dog urine “burn” the lawn because it’s way too much fertilizer for the lawn to absorb.

You can spray the dog spots with water in theory but in practice people just kick the dog out and let it do its business.

So, in this case, plastic solved their problem.

 

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This used to be a nasty dog-damaged patch.

 

Poor access

One case from England showed an enclosed backyard where the only mower access was through the house! That’s not a good situation. I guess you could use a line-trimmer but you would still have to go through the house and the result would be a nice looking lawn. Here plastic lawn made sense.

 

 

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The only access here is through the house so the owner opted for plastic turf.

 

The case against plastic lawns

I don’t like anything artificial in nature. If I had a house, I would either go for some sort of green alternative or I would maintain the lawn without gasoline mowers. If I had to use a gas-powered mower, I would definitely use Aspen fuel instead of regular gasoline.

I would never let my kids attend kindergarten with plastic turf.

Why not plastic turf? This is the key question.

Heat

Plastic lawns heat up and may require summer watering. And summer watering may not be possible with summer watering restrictions. A few years ago my son played a soccer match in sunny White Rock and the plastic turf was so hot, his plastic cleats were super hot. And I don’t even mention the off-gassing that may be going on as the heat hits the plastic. Right now, heat absorption is the biggest problem with plastic lawns.

Science notes

Maria Ignatieva, writing in Science (October 12, 2018, vol. 362, issue 6411) states that, “…..substituting …with plastic lawns eliminates real nature from cities and arguably reduces overall sustainability given that they reduce habitats, decrease soil organisms, pollute runoff water, and may have yet unknown negative consequences for human health through plastic particles.”

When I mentioned the above quote in my answer to the Quora question, some people got mad. I’m not saying you can’t have your plastic lawn. If you have deep pockets, do it. It’s your lawn.

But, plastic lawns kill or severely diminish life in the soil because they limit water infiltration and cook the soil as they heat up. Also, not many organisms want to make plastic turf their home.

Conclusion

I totally agree with Ignatieva, plastic lawns are not the answer. Overall, plastic lawns heat up our cities and they remove real nature from them. I personally would never buy one.

But, there are some desperate cases where plastic eliminates maintenance headaches.

 

The biggest NO-NO in lawn care

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Somebody on Quora.com posed this question and it took me just seconds to decide what the biggest no-no in lawn care is. I hate lawn scalping so much, I call it the ultimate sin. Just remember that new workers have to gain experience and are likely to make mistakes. It’s not the end of the world but they must be aware of it. Careless mowing shouldn’t be tolerated.

Here’s what scalping is and why it’s a sin.

Scalping

Scalping happens when your mower slips off the edge of your lawn and the blades cut into it. This leaves a nasty brown spot in your lawn. New lawn care workers are warned not to get too close to the edges because line trimmers are coming along to take care of the danger zones.

Note that line edgers can also slip and scalp lawns so be careful. The machine is different but the effect is the same ugly brown lawn patches. Or worse, patches.

 

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This is a line edger scalp. Always line trim at the same height as your lawn.

 

Why it’s a sin

So, what’s the big deal? If you scalp your lawn doesn’t the grass just regrow? Not so fast.

It’s ugly

First of all, the scalp looks ugly. This is especially serious close to high-profile lawn areas. And also in late fall just before the lawn cutting season ends. Obviously, late season scalps will not cover over and will remain ugly all winter.

I witnessed this once when a ride-on mower dude made several mistakes on the very last cut of the season. My then-boss drove by and freaked out. If the dude wasn’t a perfect ride-on mower drone, he would have been fired. Remember, lawns should look great all season. Don’t scalp them.

 

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A classic lawn scalp where the mower slipped off the edge. The brown part is where the blade took out healthy grass. It’s ugly.

 

Meristems

Grass blades grow from meristems. These are growth points located roughly in the lower third of each grass blade. So, when you cut below this point, the grass doesn’t regrow. The ugly patch gets covered over eventually as neighbouring grass spreads out. That’s if you’re lucky.

Scalp first aid

Smart lawn care workers quickly throw grass clippings over the scalp to make it look green, not brown. They also use line edgers to even out the green grass around the scalp to make it blend in more. Then pray to God your foreman doesn’t discover the mistake. By next week you could potentially blame someone else.

I’m kidding, of course. Mistakes happen. Just mow better next time. Mastery takes time.

Conclusion

Don’t scalp your lawns. It’s the ultimate sin in lawn care.

 

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Never run your mower through tree wells. It’s a bad habit. Just look at the wheel marks and the ugly brown scalp.

Mow like a pro: basic mistakes to avoid

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When new workers come on board it’s always fun to see them mow for the first time. Then the fun ends and mistakes must be gently corrected. Stay patient as the new workers get used to new sites. They mow like pros and you train them like a pro.

Let’s take a look at some examples from last week.

 

Missed lawns

It happens even when the yards are connected together but it can’t wait until next week because the unit owner will call to complain. Point out the miss and send the worker back. Easy.

 

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A completely missed lawn.

 

Tarp management

Workers are responsible for their tarps and must haul them out for collection to the road. Otherwise they get left behind and the office gets more unnecessary phone calls. The blower at the end of the day is the final check but it’s always a good idea to check on new workers.

 

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All tarps must be pulled out to the road for collection.

 

Mohawks

Mohawks happen when the mower doesn’t overlap properly. And they look awful one week later. Check your lawn before leaving to make sure it looks great.

 

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This mohawk will look worse a week from now.

 

Diligence!

Let’s not get sloppy, the gate must be moved, if necessary. The entire lawn gets mowed. No excuses. Kick the gate and go.

 

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Don’t cross your lines

 

So, your lawn is completed and you’re moving on. Do you take the shortest route to the gate? It would be the fastest route but it would ruin all of your beautiful laser lines. Don’t do it. Follow the edge and leave the lines intact. Never cross your finished laser lines!

 

 

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Learn to exit properly without cutting across your laser lines.

 

Mowing like a pro isn’t difficult. It just takes some time and patience. Practice, practice, practice!

A perfect mower for small lawns

By | Lawn Care, machines | No Comments

There I was cutting long stretches of lawn on a huge strata site when I hit the corner pictured below with my commercial Honda mower. I took one quick look at the reel mower by the wall and dismissed it as a toy for homeowners. But I’ve been thinking about it and now I feel like reel mowers deserve their own blog post.

 

 

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Lawn size

Lawn size determines the right type of mower to use. Considering the miles of lawn I had to cut on this day, using a reel mower would have been out of the question. But reel mowers are perfect for small lawns. Like this one.

 

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This is a perfect lawn for reel mowers.

 

Reel mower

A reel mower is a mower in which the blades spin vertically (north to south) and use a scissoring action to cut the blades of grass. A reel mower should have between three and seven blades, depending on the model type. Don’t forget to get them sharpened once in a while for a nice, clean cut.

Modern reel mowers are light-weight, easy to maneuver and they start every time! They are quieter and since they don’t burn gasoline they are cleaner. Using a reel mower is a great form of exercise and you don’t have to suck unhealthy exhaust fumes.

You can check out the various reel mower models available here. The owner of the reel mower above sounds perfectly happy with it. He cuts his small lawn between our weekly cuts so his lawn stays nicely cut and he gets his exercise.

And all this happens without generating any kind of pollution. According to the Audubon Society, 800 million gallons of gas are used to power lawn mowers annually in the United States, which produces significant amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

So the next time I run into a reel mower parked against the wall, I won’t dismiss it. I just wish I could use it to cut the miles of lawn I have to cut.  Sadly, it won’t happen. But if you have a small lawn, don’t even think about buying a gas-powered mower. It would be expensive overkill.

 

European chafer beetle battles: critical June-July

By | landscape maintenance, Lawn Care | No Comments

This past June as I walked to my car in the morning I noticed a fat European Chafer beetle heading for the nearby lawn. Of course! June is the time the beetles fly into nearby trees to mate and then head back to delicious-looking lawns to deposit their young.

June

The European Chafer beetles aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. We’re stuck with them. I could have stepped on the beetle with my Stihl boots but that would have been a nasty start to my day. So instead of incorporating the beetle into the sidewalk, I observed her. Once she hit the lawn she disappeared very quickly.

 

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This picture sequence should remind you to order nematodes from your local garden centre. More on this later.

 

July 8, 2018

While helping my buddy with his wild backyard I turned over unused garden beds. And in the process I dug up many beetles and a few young grubs. The grubs will mature in lawns and beds before emerging as beetles next summer. And to mature they will feed on grass roots which in turn attracts animals. Crows, birds and raccoons will happily dig up your lawn looking for these juicy grubs.

 

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European chafer beetle larvae 2018.

 

What can you do?

Step one, take better care of your lawn. My buddy is way too busy to “baby” his lawn. He has previous chafer related lawn damage that never got fixed. All three municipalities in the Tri-Cities recommend raking over your damaged lawn and then applying topsoil and over-seeding with deep-rooted grass. Water your lawn daily unless there are watering restrictions in place. Once your lawn is established water 1-2 times per week. Keep your lawn at least 6 cm high and leave clippings on the lawn.

Step two is optional and it involves applying nematodes in the third week of July. The basic idea is for the microscopic nematodes to chase down the grubs and eat them from the inside. You can read my blog about the procedure. There is one catch which makes clients nervous: you will have to apply the nematodes every year.

 

The chafer beetles are here to stay but you can help your lawn by keeping it healthy.

 

 

 

Lawn care mastery: beginner tips 2018

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Lawn care is the first thing new recruits get to do and they must master it before they can graduate on to other machines. The list below is intended for beginner landscapers.

 

Exceptions

 

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Watch out for exceptions! Normally the left wheels would be on the sidewalk but here the lawn is extremely high above the sidewalk. If you put the left side wheels on the sidewalk you will scalp the grass, effectively erasing it. And that’s the ultimate sin in lawn care. Instead, position the mower the way you would on a soft edge between bed and lawn. The line trimmer will take care of the rest. Your mowing should always be stress-free so watch out for exceptions.

 

Tarps

 

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Here the worker correctly brought a tarp close to his mowing area but then he left. Before you move on, always pull out your full tarps to the road for easy collection. Sometimes blowers missed them and then people call to complain about missed tarps. And that’s embarrassing. So always pull out your tarps for easy collection. They are the worker’s responsibility.

 

Exiting your lawn area

 

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This is a common mistake. Here I had to go back the way I came so I followed my existing laser lines. DO NOT cross your beautiful straight lines on the way out. Yes, it would be the shortest way out but it would destroy your presentation. Always exit using the existing lines. Never cross your mow lines.

 

Collisions with trees

 

 

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This tree is getting hit repeatedly by mowers and line trimmers. It stresses it out and it may not survive the abuse. Stay away from trees.

 

Yes, trees are very resilient but repeated hits from mowers and trimmers stress and eventually kill trees. Never collide with trees. Stay away.

 

All done?

 

 

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So you made it! You got through your mowing assignment. Now you just have a few more steps to take.

One is deck clean-up. Before you move the blades, undo the spark plug cable (it’s in front of the mower) to avoid any accidental blade engagement. Then remove all debris so the machine is ready for the next day.

Also, refuel the mower with straight gas and do it on a tarp just like the deck cleaning.

 

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That’s a lot of debris from one deck.

 

Remember, lawn care should be stress-free! Just follow the hints above for nice, stress-free lawn care life. Once you master lawn mowing you will get to use other machines. It’s all about quick skill acquisition. Have some fun.

How to rescue stepping stones from encroaching turf grass

By | Landscaping, Lawn Care, machines | No Comments

Regular readers of my landscape blogs will know how much I love the blade edger machine. The machine can redefine hard and soft landscape edges and it can prevent turf grass from swallowing stepping stones and drains.

So I got to make myself happy recently when I filled in for our regular foreman on a small strata site. As always, lawn care came first; mowing and line edging. Then when I did the blade edging I noticed many stepping stones and drains on site with turf grass creeping over the edges. Left alone, the grass will eventually cover up the stones thereby defeating their original purpose. And that would most likely give me a nasty rash.

Luckily, I was on the case armed with a brand new blade. New blades are best for soft edges between lawn and beds. For hard edges you can always use older blades and grind them down to “stumps” that can be later recycled.

 

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For best results use fresh blades for soft edging and stubborn overgrown stepping stones.

 

Distress

Take a look at the picture below. It’s not a complete disaster, yet, but the stones could look sharper. Now. Right now. And I had time because the site was small and I was filling in for the regular foreman.

 

 

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It’s not a complete disaster yet but these stepping stones could use some redefining.

Step 1

Blade the edges just deep enough to re-establish the hard edges. If you go too deep you will kick up a lot of dirt. Remember, you’re not building a ditch.

I normally run the entire right line out, then the left side back before finishing each stone. Doing each stone separately makes me dizzy.

 

Step 2

 

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Stubborn edges like these must be raked out. If you just rely on your blower you will have to make a debris pile anyway. The rake worked just fine in this case.

 

Step 3

 

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Blow off the stones and note how beautiful they look with their sharp edges; separated from the lawn. This should be done periodically between May and November when the lawn grasses are the most active. This is NOT a weekly task. This work should hold for several weeks.

And don’t forget round drains while you’re at it. They actually serve a more crucial function in the landscape so keep an eye on them.

 

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A rescued drain.

 

If you have yet to fall in love with a blade edger, I hope this blog post will inspire you. It’s important to check lawn creep around drains and stepping stones and redefine all hard edges periodically.

Too much fun with hand aerators

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Hand aerators are handy tools in spring because many smaller or hard to access lawns can not be aerated with machines. The same goes for tight corners where machines can not safely enter. Just make sure you don’t have too much fun while you’re hand aerating.

 

The tool

 

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The hand aerator produces two soil plugs at a time, it’s human-driven and produces zero emissions. Machines on the other hand produce emissions, many more plugs and they are heavy. So heavy, it makes no sense forcing them into small lawn areas. That’s where the hand aerator excels.

Of course, it’s a grind for the workers. They have to force the tool deep into the lawn in order to produce a nice plug. Remember, we are aerating our lawns so water and oxygen can enter the root zone. Or at least that’s the usual answer.

When you have to hand aerate many small lawns for hours, it can be a grind. So just think, it’s all done for beautiful lawns.

Too much fun 

Still hand aerating late in the day recently, we had some hand aerating contests. Standing side by side we tried to outdo each other from one side of the lawn to the other. It was some extra motivation for fatigued landscapers. But always make sure you don’t overdo it. Safety first!

My crew mate, let’s call him Arkadij, went a bit too far and drove the tool into his flimsy rubber boot. Seconds later he was on the ground in some discomfort. Now instead of hand aerating he was on the ground taking his boots and socks off, looking for signs of blood. Luckily, there wasn’t any. Just some red marks and a developing bruise.

When I asked for his permission to take pictures of him and make him the hero of my blog post, he refused unless I compensated him. Then it was my turn to refuse his extortion attempt. I’m happy to report that he’s OK. Always think about safety.

 

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This was a close call resulting in a bruise. Core aerators are designed for lawns not human flesh. Safety first.

 

Conclusion

Hand aerators are very handy tools, especially the models with big holes. One good model is made by Fiskars. Models with smaller pipe openings tend to plug up so don’t buy them.

The tool allows you to aerate smaller lawn areas and any tight corners where machines don’t fit.

 

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Fiskars core aerator is a good model to use.