This year’s spring and summer seasons were among the wettest in recent memory on the East Coast. Every region in the country has pendulum swings, alternating years of hot and dry weather with wet and cool conditions. This year, it was the East’s turn for a soaking.
While the West Coast endures historic heat and drought, the East Coast has been pounded by a constant southerly flow of torrential rain, setting records for daily and monthly totals in many states along the Atlantic seaboard. Usually by summer’s end, East Coasters see signs of flowers, trees, and lawns in declining health. Not this year! Here are some tips to optimize lawns and gardens as you and your customers anticipate cooler fall weather on the horizon.
The Backyard Quagmire
Stepping into your backyard shouldn’t require rubber boots. With above-average rainfall, drainage issues are easy to spot when water doesn’t recede or disappear within a half hour or so. This standing water causes stress on turf grasses and can lead to lawn diseases if the turf is unable to dry out. The rate at which water percolates or drains through the topsoil slows when there’s nowhere for water to go or when the subsoil is severely compacted to restrict liquids from absorbing into the ground.
While all that rain keeps the grass growing, the lawn mower can make a bad situation worse. Some turf diseases can be spread when a homeowner mows across an entire lawn area. The act of mowing itself, especially with dull, wet mower blades, can create further lawn stress.
Advise your customers to keep their mower blades sharpened and engines tuned. Encourage them to raise the mower deck a notch or two higher – doing so will reduce drag on the mower engine, especially when the grass is wet.
Curing Standing Water Issues
If water surrounds root systems long enough, it disrupts oxygen exchange for the plant, eventually killing off root development. Top growth is reduced or, in extreme cases of waterlogged root systems, the plant suffocates.
Lawn care specialists recommend using core aeration machines for immediate relief of compacted soils. These machines drill into the ground, pull out plugs and deposit them across the lawn’s surface. These holes are usually positioned two inches apart (and two inches deep) exposing crevices to allow air, water and eventually the soil that was just pulled to penetrate the surface.
Competing plants like trees and shrubs can also drain nutrients and water away from turf grass. The technique of using core aeration along with a generous application of garden gypsum loosens the tension of the soil’s surface and allows water to eventually drain through or percolate.
Another source of excess water runoff is from the homeowner’s gutter downspouts. The roof of a typical home collects a vast amount of water from its surface and deposits it into the gutters and eventually the downspouts. These channels of high-volume water can easily pool in areas that may not allow the water to move away from the house. Downspouts may be extended away from the home and divert or channel water further away from pooling in problem areas.
Standing water is also a key breeding ground for mosquitoes. Populations can surge quickly if standing water is left undrained.
Kickstarting Root Development
Fall is the optimum time to start grass seed! The days are still warm and the nights are cool, allowing the seed to receive adequate moisture and germinate quickly. Choose to stock only high-quality perennial grass seed types versus annual grass seed types to provide your customers with the greatest value. Advise your customers to be patient: Depending on the type of grass seed, germination may take up to three weeks. Their patience, however, will be rewarded.
Before making a specific grass seed recommendation, engage with your customer to understand their lawn conditions. If the lawn receives full or near-full shade, they’ll need a seed that can thrive in densely shaded areas. Other types are optimized to perform in wet conditions. Poa trivialis is one of those types of grass seed that grows where others fail.
In many cases, a grass seed mixture (a blend of different types of grass seed) is often the best bet. The benefit of using a seed mixture is that one type of seed can establish when others won’t. (Some types may include: ryegrass, hard or chewings fescues, turf-type fescue, and Kentucky bluegrass.) One key to success is to ensure good seed-to-soil contact between the grass seed with the ground. Another key is keeping the seed moist to establish germination.
Whenever your customers are ready for their fall lawn renovation, encourage them to check the lawn’s pH as well. If soil is acidic, an application of lime is in order. This will allow their seed-starting fertilizer to work its best in supplying needed phosphorous to enhance root development. The quicker the spread of the root system, the easier it is to establish top growth of new grass seed by supplying nutrients needed for speedy uptake. While new laws have eliminated the phosphorus content from almost all lawn bagged fertilizer product, seed-starting fertilizers are exempt and able to provide this important element within their formulas.
Even if this summer was a washout where you live, there’s still time for meaningful lawn renovation. Your consultative selling and your customers’ efforts in the fall will yield positive results in the spring, with a greener and stronger lawn that’s better able to withstand future rainy seasons!
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