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Lawn Care

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

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

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.

 

When installing artificial turf makes sense

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

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am not a fan of artificial grass. It’s plastic, man-made with petro-chemicals, it heats up and it doesn’t produce oxygen. But there are legitimate cases where desperate people can find salvation in artificial turf.

 

Dog damage

 

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These people have a tiny back lawn frequented by their dog. The daily urine assault left the grass burned and struggling. The owner tried to fix it, over and over and finally got fed up. Since parting with the family pet wasn’t a popular option, they decided to install artificial turf. And it works in this case. Even our lawn maintenance was awkward before the changeover.

 

Clay soils

 

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Some owners are still clinging to their natural grass lawns. The soils are full of clay. You don’t have to dig far to see it.

 

Our West Coast soils have lots of clay in them which means that lawns installed over them drain poorly. The clay forms a nasty layer that doesn’t allow water to percolate down easily. If you want to fight these conditions one recommended procedure involves top dressing these lawns with organic soil. This can over time break up the clay layer. But this would take time and resources.

So what do you do? You stop fighting the conditions and install artificial turf.

You will notice in the picture that some owners are still clinging to their natural grass lawns.

 

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Note the sticky, dense clay chunks.

 

Shade

 

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In summer these backyards are dark as the Fraxinus trees flush out.

 

Shade also affects grass lawns negatively. Grass needs light to thrive and in this case we have four joined sections of backyards that turn dark in summer as the mature ash trees flush out with new growth.

Two years ago I personally pruned whatever branches I could reach on these mature ash trees (Fraxinus). Alas, it had very little effect on the lawns. They were still shady and weak. So the strata council called a tree company to remove the trees. However, the tree company advised them that the municipality was unlikely to issue tree removal permits because the trees were mature and close to houses.

Ok, so now what? One last idea: artificial turf. It looks great in shade and it eliminates the annual fight with expensive grass seed and soil top-dressing. In addition, landscape maintenance workers don’t mind skipping these units because they are difficult to access with push mowers.

This is one case where artificial turf was the last resort.

Conclusion

If you must have lawn, natural grass is better. I personally dislike man-made plastic turf. But there are cases where installing artificial turf makes perfect sense, such as dog damaged lawns, shady lawns and poorly draining lawns sitting on top of clay soils.

 

 

Vas on grass

By | landscape maintenance, Lawn Care | No Comments

I love people who fight for new lush lawns. I admire their tenacity and envy their deep pockets. But often they get defeated by the site conditions, like available light, good soil and proper seed.

 

Promise

 

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This is awesome. I found this sign in between two units on a strata complex we have taken over recently. Now that the key beauty strip areas are cleaned-up, we start hitting the low key zones. Like this space between two units.

The sign is full of hope and promise but when you look around, you know it didn’t really work. Why not? Why can’t strata owners plant some grass seed and enjoy a green buffer zone?

 

Assessment

 

 

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Shade

Guaranteed, this is the number one problem here. It looks OK in winter but by spring, as the trees flush out with new growth, they add more shade. The buildings do the rest.

Plants need light and water for photosynthesis. Pruning the trees would help but it wouldn’t be enough. If you remove too many branches, the tree won’t be able to feed itself. Like grass, trees also struggle to reach light so they can manufacture food.

 

Soil

I wonder about the soil depth and quality in a buffer zone like this. In addition, this rectangular patch is a small ecosystem. One idea would be to top-dress the area to help the new shade mix seed. But I am still not convinced that there would be enough light for the grass to thrive. Owners with deep pockets are free to attempt it. Top-dressing is actually a very pleasant landscape job.

Moss

What’s wrong with moss anyway? It’s prized in Japan. I’ve seen it in beautiful Japanese gardens. I would plant moss and let it go. But people love their lawns. It’s an addiction. Until site conditions cure them.

Vents

It’s also possible that the vents on both buildings affect the grass. Assuming the vents are from driers and considering that in my own place they get used daily, it could adversely affect the grass seedlings. We don’t even know if the new seed got watered and if the watering took into account the effect of the drier vents.

 

Conclusion

Always consider your site conditions when your lawn struggles. It could be more than just lack of fertilizer. Shade is always a huge issue and the same goes for soil conditions and proper watering. Seek professional advice. Call Proper Landscaping for professional help.

European chafer beetle battles: December damage

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

I am seeing lawn damage related to European chafer beetles all over the place. Today we discovered a nasty patch of grass in Port Coquitlam. And considering the size it must have been done by raccoons, not birds. They must have enjoyed eating the grubs in early December when not much else is available. And it’s just as well. Let them eat all of the grubs.

 

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This isn’t exactly what you want to see three weeks before Christmas. This was done by larger animals, most likely raccoons.

 

 

Shock!

It’s the residents that are in shock. Then they rush to their laptops to pen angry missives to strata management companies which, in turn, call on their landscape contractors for help.

So what can we do? Not much in December. We kicked back the messed up turf as best as we could.

 

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Once the sun came out we kicked back the rolled up chunks to make the area look more presentable.

 

Action!

In spring, you can top dress the messed up spot with a thin layer of lawn mix soil and over seed it with good quality seed. Then, follow the steps outlined in municipal handouts.

First, aerate the lawn so more water and oxygen can reach the root zone. Second, water your lawn properly; and three, cut your lawn a bit higher. Fertilizer applications are also recommended.

 

Nematodes

If your lawn areas aren’t excessively big, you can try applying nematodes in late summer. I recommend this to all clients who have never tried it. What can you lose? Some cash.

Order your nematodes in spring and once they arrive, store them in your fridge. The application should happen in late summer in our Tri-Cities area.

In summer, the chafers emerge from lawns and fly into tree tops to mate. Then, the females descend back to lawn areas and stick their behinds into available turf. Long, healthy grass is more of a challenge. You can always hope that they will target your neighbour’s weak lawn.

The microscopic nematodes must be watered into your wet lawns just as the grubs start growing.

I tested nematodes at one residence in 2016 and the lawn was clear on my last visit in November 2017. I will do more follow up at this client’s place because he opted out of a second application in 2017. The drawback with nematodes is that they should be applied every year. But still, I prefer one nematode application to more soil and seed installations.

Of course, there is hope for people who give up on their lawns. Alternatives exist. You just have to pick one that makes sense on your property.

As we head towards Christmas, let the animals enjoy their grub feasts and then clean up your lawns as best as you can.

 

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.