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Lawn Care

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

By | Lawn Care | No Comments

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.

 

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

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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.