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Lawn Care

Is it OK to pull a lawn mower backwards?

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Tiny lawns

Yes, it is OK to pull a lawn mower backwards but only when you’re mowing a small patch. When a patch of grass is very small, it makes it awkward to turn around with your machine. So, we move in and pull it back. And we repeat the process until the grass is cut.

Pretty laser lines on small patches of lawn don’t even show up properly so we need not stress. If you try to turn around with your mower, you will most likely step into planted beds and cause other problems.

Larger lawns

Larger lawns are a different story because mowing backwards makes it extremely difficult to cut in straight -laser!- lines. You will inevitably lose the lines and either:

a) Create “mohawks” or uncut sections of lawn surrounded by cut lawn. A week later these mohawks become pronounced and detract from your clean cut lawn presentation. Fixing them takes time.

b) End up cutting sections twice which is a duplication and a waste of time.

Well-cut lawns have beautiful straight lines and this is accomplished when we push the mower, not pull it. Pulling your mower means that you’re not looking at the lines properly.

Straight diagonal lines after pushing a mower, not pulling.

Danger!

Another problem is safety. Mowing backwards means that the mower is moving towards your feet not away from them. One slip or hesitation and your foot could end up under the mower deck with potentially severe consequences.

Speed

Mowing backwards is also much slower than pushing the mower forward. It’s hard to get a good rhythm going when you mow backwards. Pushing the mower forward the way it was intended allows you to build speed and force while staying on course.

So, if your lawn is too tiny to allow for full mower turns, then by all means push it in and pull it out until it’s done. On larger lawns it doesn’t make sense to mow backwards. Finish your line and turn around properly so you’re correctly line-up for the next pass.

Happy mowing!

Is turf or grass better for soccer?

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Someone asked me the title question online recently. So, let’s see. If you’re talking about the game of soccer, then turf wins! Why? Because the turf is nice and even.

So many times I’ve seen my 11-year-old son miss easy shots on goal because the grass was bumpy and it threw the kids off. On turf my son would bury those shots, four times out of five.

Problems with turf

There are a few problems with turf. It’s expensive and it heats up. When it heats up in summer, it can off-gas and it requires watering. At least, in theory. In practice, I have yet to see a club hose off the turf before matches.

On one crazy day in White Rock, 2-3 years ago, with temperatures in the high 20s, my son complained about the heat. Not just about the temperature but about his feet. It turned out that his expensive plastic cleats sucked up the heat and made it extremely uncomfortable for him to play. I think his team gave up over ten goals that day. Nobody cared to water the playing surface.

The rubber bits must also be replenished once in a while; and I’ve seen references to goalies falling sick from playing on turf with rubber bits on top.

Players also suffer more injuries on turf.

Turf at Starfire, Renton, Washington State, USA

Grass

I like to see my son play on natural grass, even though Santa Claus had to bring him a plastic cleat cleaner. Also, municipalities no longer use chemicals and the grass is cooler. It also gives off oxygen.

My son likes to point out the frequent imperfections in natural grass. The grass surface can be bumpy, water pools up in some areas and turns to mud.

Grass maintenance also costs money. Municipalities have to cut, aerate, fertilize and top-dress grass fields.

I believe the biggest drawback is water. Athletic fields have a thick sand base to prevent water from pooling up which means that they have to be watered more to keep them in decent shape. Thus, we get concerned citizens calling city departments during water restrictions, asking why the athletic fields are receiving so much water. This is the reason why: they are built with thick sand bases that drain quicker.

If I could, I would have my son play only on natural grass.

Blade edger freaks

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As I scrolled through my group newsfeed on Facebook, I noticed a lawn care post about blade edging. Finally, I found a brother in the United States who appreciates good blade edging. Here’s why you, too, should become a blade edger freak.

No lines

This picture isn’t very inspiring, is it. Left untouched, the grass will creep over and cover up the stepping stones. And that will defeat the purpose of having them installed in the first place.

To keep the grass creep in check, most landscapers will buzz down the edges. It’s not pretty but it arrests the creeping grass.

Also, note that line edgers are too weak to re-establish the hard edges. So, what do we do? I’m glad you asked!

Sharp lines

This is much better. To accomplish this work, we use a blade edger. Hit the engine, use the spinning metal blade to locate the hard edge, sink it in and follow the line. That’s it.

If you’re new to this work, kick the grass until you see the hard edge. Then rev the engine and sink the blade in.

If you encounter resistance, don’t be afraid to step back and hit the line again. Note how the sharp lines guide your eyes straight to the house. I find this extremely pleasing.

Final step

The final step involves blowing the stepping stones along both edges so the lines are nice and clear. Always pick up any grass chunks this work creates. Nicely re-established, these sharp lines should hold for a long time. Touch them up when required.

In online lawn care forums, many lawn care dudes use blade edgers to re-establish lawn edges but all subsequent touch-ups are done with line-edgers.

I don’t recommend this approach because the line edger isn’t as precise as the blade. One exception would be a day when your blade edger isn’t available. You decide.

If you love blade edging, embrace it because it’s normal.

Winter lawn care considerations

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We are still in mid-February so it will be a while before we mow. But here are a few things to consider before the new lawn care season starts.

Plow damage

Snowplow damage.

I see snow plow damage every winter. And every winter I sympathize with the snow dudes, as I fix their mistakes. They usually show up early in the morning when it’s dark, on sites they may not know at all; and they’re rushed and exhausted.

So, watch your language and clean-up the damage. Bring in some soil and overseed in spring when temperatures are high enough for seed to take.

It will happen again next year. Guaranteed.

Deep edging

Winter is a great time to re-establish lawn edges because we have time for it. Once you hit spring you won’t have time for it. So, use an edging shovel and re-establish your edges. It gives you nice definition.

Make sure the shovel hits at ninety degrees and clean up any soil chunks. Remove any weeds and cultivate for a nice, fresh look. Some companies like 2 inch edges but I like them deeper. If you can’t bust your ankle, it’s too shallow. Remember, the edges will fill in over time; and some careless workers crush them with their boots.

Off-set your starting point

Check out the dark green lines in the lawn pictured above. This is a really common mistake in lawn care. People start mowing at the edge, every week, like robots. And over time, we get deep grooves developing in our lawns which detracts from our presentation.

What we want to see is a nice uniform green lawn. Not deep grooves. So, how do we correct this? By off-setting our starting point by a little bit. If the line edger has to do a bit more work, so be it.

Fight deep grooves in your lawns!

How to have fun with the X-Mark 30 walk behind mower

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How do you cut a flat strata site with several long open lawn sections and some tighter spots? You use X-Mark’s 30 walk behind mower. Standard 21′ mower would be fine but it would require extra passes; and a big ride-on mower can’t access many of the tight spots.

I don’t often get to use the X-Mark 30 walk behind because, as a landscape supervisor, I usually move around different crews; and we often leave mowing to the newer workers.

But once in a while people go missing, especially during the summer months. There are weddings to attend and camp sites to populate. Then I get to help out and everything starts with lawn care.

Why X-Mark 30?

  1. Obviously, the larger deck means you have to make fewer passes which reduces user fatigue. As a landscape professional I’m used to fatigue but new guys get spooked by their own sweat. Fewer passes is a dream for them. It was so much fun cutting long straight stretches of lawn, it inspired this blog post.
  2. Because the mower is bigger, it takes some getting used to. It’s self-propelled and feels like a tank. It will crush any garden gnome that gets in the way.
  3. One drawback is that you will need help to load this beast on and off your truck, unless you have a ramp.
  4. The gas tank is huge so you can cover a huge area before re-fuelling.
  5. One cool feature is that the front wheels get adjusted separately: just lift the pin and the wheel pops out so you can insert it into whatever height you desire, quickly.

 

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Making fewer passes on long straight lawns is a bonus.

 

X-mark tech notes

You can read X-Mark’s notes on their website if you like. All I want you to know from this blog post is that the X-Mark 30 walk behind is surprisingly fun to use. If you have long straight stretches of lawn definitely try this beast.

 

 

 

 

 

Is vertical edging worth the trouble?

By | landscape maintenance, Lawn Care | No Comments

I hate vertical edging but sometimes I have to do it because blade attachments aren’t available. Then, when I finish I’m close to developing a rash that will only go away after I complete blog posts like this one.

Why vertical?

Why do we vertical? Why flip a machine on its side and shred your edges? Because it’s convenient. You’re already there, your flat edging is completed and now you just burn out the edges and bail. There is no need to walk back to the truck to change attachments or change blades. And you don’t have to train workers on a new machine.

Personally, I think vertical edging is too much trouble. Let’s examine some of its limitations below.

Vertical limitations

Let’s consider many of the limitations of vertical edging. And before we get into it, note that some big companies don’t allow you to vertical. This is mainly because it gives your site or home an inconsistent look; and it also increases the chances of worker injury and site damage.

 

Shredding plants

This is my biggest problem with vertical edging. As you go along the edge, inevitably you will encounter plants growing over the edge. So you either skip the edge or you shred the plants. Most workers just shred the plants. Either way your site look suffers.

By contrast, the blade edger has a metal cover which discreetly slips under the plant and allows for edging without injury to the plant.

 

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Damage isn’t limited to plants. This pot is missing a lot of plastic already.

Injury risk

Since there is no cover over the line edger you’re bound to eat a few rocks and other debris. Definitely wear goggles every time and close your mouth; and kiss your baby skin goodbye. To avoid getting hit workers angle the edger from the recommended 90 degrees which nicely leads us to the next point.

By contrast, the blade edger blade is covered with a shield and a rubber flap on the bottom.

Erosion

When you shred the edges at 45 degrees every week you eventually get erosion. Think of the UK coastline. This can lead to client complaints as the owners’ lawn edges retreat. Also, anything short of 90 degrees is ugly. If your edge can’t break your ankles, it’s not done right.

Reestablishment

Sometimes you fall behind on boulevard edging and when you finally get to it, you have no hope of re-establishing the edge. The plastic line is too weak.

By contrast, the blade edger digs in with a new blade and easily re-establishes the edge. This is also true for soft edges where the edge is gone.

Hard edges also look inconsistent and it’s slow work because as the plastic line shreds I have to constantly reload it by tapping the attachment head.

 

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While blade edgers can be kicked off course by sidewalk blemishes, vertical edging is much less consistent.

 

By contrast, the blade edger just digs into the hard edge and flies away. This is the best place to start training new workers.

 

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The top edge is my blade edger work; the bottom is a private landscaping company with line edgers. No contest!

Tight edges

My blade edger blade can nicely start and finish the lines by fitting tightly against the hard edge/soft bed zone. Vertical lines struggle here so the beginning and end of many edges stay shaggy.

Tree wells

I can blade edge around a tree well in seconds and leave it looking sharp. Vertical edging around tree wells is a pain.

Sucking exhaust

Vertical edging requires you to lift the engine higher which means the exhaust is much closer to your head. If you start getting dizzy, it’s the exhaust. This blog post assumes that you or your employer aren’t paying big dollars for the much cleaner Aspen fuel. Burning regular gasoline mixed with oil in a small engine isn’t very ecological. I want the engine down by my waist with the exhaust pointing back.

 

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Only blade edgers can nicely sharpen up stepping stones.

 

Is vertical edging worth the trouble? I don’t think so. Do you? Please leave comments.

 

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.