Suburban Hills Lawn and Garden Tips
By Glenn Conatser
(Glenn is deceased)
There is nothing more satisfying than to own a home in Suburban Hills and to frame it with a great landscape and a great lawn!
OK, Lets get started. The lawn is the base of our landscaping efforts so lets look at some tips on having first a decent lawn then a good lawn and yes even a great lawn. You know however, it is hard to go from a bad lawn to great in one year but we have to start on the process. Some of you have given up on having a great lawn but I hope to encourage you to give it a try. Let me say up front that it is easy and can be fun.
There are two general types of grasses used for lawns in Suburban Hills. Cool season grasses and warm season grasses. The fescues are cool season grasses and Bermuda is an example of a warm season grass. Here is our first problem, in Knoxville we are too far south for cool season grasses to do their best and we are too far North for the warm season grasses to do their best. As the name implies, cool season grasses do their best when temperatures are cool (say below 80 degrees). Cool season grasses struggle in July and August and also in late June and early September in some years when the temperature is high and especially if it is also dry. Here in Suburban Hills the cool season lawns look great (should look great) from say late February to July or August and then again in the fall when the temperature cools down at night and the days get a little shorter with not so many extremely hot afternoons.
On the contrary, warm season grasses do their best when the temperature is hot (80 + degrees). The problem with them is that they die when the first frost hits and stay dead until late spring the next year. When the warm season grasses die that allows weed seeds to get some air and sun which causes them to germinate and stick their ugly heads up through the turf. Since most weeds prefer the cool seasons they get a foot hold during this dormant season and to put it bluntly makes your lawn look pretty awful. Another thing about Bermuda is that it has a very aggressive growth habit especially around flowerbeds and places you don't want it to go. Don't get me wrong, Bermuda, especially the hybrid types make a gorgeous lawn, especially if you live in South Georgia or North Florida. Anyway, there are a few Bermuda lawns in the neighborhood that look really good and are very well kept. There is also at least one Zoysia lawn that is very nice. Zoysia is considered a warm season grass but it has a much less aggressive growth habit, and takes longer to establish but it can be an absolute wonderful lawn when properly managed.
Since most of the lawns in Suburban Hills are cool season grasses ( fescue ) lets look at how to start from where you are and begin to make them better, yes even very good. OK lesson number one -- Do not mow your fescue grass too short. Always keep your mower set to mow a minimum of 2 inches high to a maximum of 3 inches. I prefer 3 inches or even a little higher; in fact my mower is set at its highest level. My advice is to start in the spring mowing down as low as you need to cut off the dead winter tops off the grass then raise your blade one notch each week or two until you get up to at least 2 inches. After you have achieved a very good grass turf then go on up to 3 inches. The reason for mowing high is simple, when you mow too short the grass cannot develop an adequate root system because you keep cutting it so short that it doesn't have enough leaf area to supply the energy needed for root development. The second reason is that you don't have enough turf to shade out the weeds! What happens is that you have created an environment that is hostile to grass and favorable to millions of weeds. What you will have is weeds of all kinds and very little grass. Also be sure to mow with a sharp blade. A dull blade opens up your grass to disease and leaves the grass with a brown edge.
Lesson number two--- Weeds, Weeds, Weeds. When you develop an environment that favors weeds instead of grass guess what? You have more weeds than anyone can count, Right? There are basically three types of weeds in our lawns. The first type is broadleaf weeds. These are the ones that show up in the spring and fall usually in clumps and if we don't kill them they will be there more or less until the end of time. Some of them produce seed every year (no matter how close you cut them) by the millions and here we go again. Broadleaf weeds (like dandelion and clover) are distinctive from and not botanically closely related to grasses and sedges. Broadleaf weeds have leaves that are broad, and are generally produced in pairs or multiples. Leaves are detached from the main stem by a sub-stem or petiole. Leaves may be simple (having one leaflet, like clover). Veins within the leaf give a netted appearance in most cases. The most effective way to control broadleaf weeds is to treat them with what is called a selective herbicide. A selective herbicide is one that kills a specific group of plants but does not kill other types. In this case we want something to kill broadleaf weeds but not our lawn grasses. These are also post-emergence herbicides because they kill the weeds when they are up and growing as opposed to pre-emergence herbicides that kill the seed of certain plants before they germinate and come up. These herbicides are wonderful products when used properly but you need to strictly adhere to the instruction on the label because they do have the potential to cause harm to you and your good plants if misused. By all means keep them out of the reach of children.
Herbicides alone will not solve the weed problem. You must also create an environment to favor your grass and one that is hostile to weeds. Do this by proper fertilization, proper mowing, proper addition of water if needed, proper seeding of grass in bare spots and all of these things being done at the proper time. I hate to mention this but in some cases it may require a complete renovation of your lawn! Actually this may be the best and cheapest solution in some cases. It isn't hard to do and you can do it yourself with the right equipment that you can rent at almost any rental place in Knoxville. We will talk about lawn renovation in the summer or fall edition because you do not want to renovate a lawn in Tennessee at anytime except the FALL. Let me give you one quick reason for this. If you plant grass in the spring and get the grass up and growing then all of a sudden it is summer and we are dealing with a cool season grass guess what happens to the young seedling when it gets 100 degrees and no rainfall? You will have to spend a fortune on watering or your nice young grass is dead as a hammer. Guess what else happens? You have created a great opportunity for millions of crabgrass seed and other weeds to come up and do a number on your lawn. Planting in the fall gives you all fall, winter and spring (cool seasons) to establish a root system to tolerate the next summer. Also crabgrass does not germinate in the fall or if it does it gets zapped by the first frost.
The second type of weed is the Grass Weeds. These weeds (like crabgrass and goosegrass) are botanically related to lawn grasses. They have a similar appearance and growth habit. Leaves of grasses are not detached from the main stem. Leaves of grasses are narrow, with a blade-like appearance. Leaves are produced one at a time in vertical rows. Veins within leaves run parallel. Stems are usually round or flat. Grass weeds are often very difficult to control once established in a lawn. Thus grass weeds are generally best controlled with preventative or pre-emergence herbicides. Pre-emergence herbicides need to be applied prior to germination, as they act by preventing establishment. In Knoxville crabgrass germinates when the soil temperature reaches 55 degrees for 4 days in a row so you must apply the pre-emerge herbicides before this happens. A thumb-rule is to apply before the forsythia is in full bloom or before we have a full week of 65-degree weather. If you want to be a purist you can take the soil temperature and then your neighbors will think you are weird! Goosegrass germinates about 4 to 6 weeks later. Annual bluegrass germinates usually in early September. Now are you getting the picture? To control all three of these bad boys you would have to apply the pre-emerge herbicide three times. I can hear you now saying no way! I agree with you. Lets start out by getting the crabgrass. OK? The others are generally not as bad a problem and we will zap them later if we need to.
The third general type of weeds in our lawns are Sedges. They (like yellow nutsedge) are not grasses, but have leaves that are similar in appearance and are thus often mistaken for grasses. Since herbicides used to control grass weeds are generally not effective on sedges, it is important to distinguish between the two types. Sedges have two key identifying characteristics. Their leaves are arranged in three vertical rows with a triangular stem. Remember grasses have stems that are commonly round or flat with leaves in two vertical rows. Examples of sedges include yellow nutsedge, annual nutsedge, purple nutsedge and Kyllinga. Sedges are vigorous perennials with the exception of annual sedge and they are difficult to control. Complete control will require repeated applications of the proper herbicide.
One other weed deserves special attention. Wild onion and wild garlic are classified as broadleaf weeds but in my opinion need to be looked at separately. Wild onions are everywhere in Suburban Hills. They come up in the early spring or late winter and again in the fall and are usually in groupings of several plants. These bad boys need to be zapped while they are young and growing fast and they are harder to control because they come from a bulb and have reserved energy stored in these bulbs. You will need to make repeated application of the correct herbicide to get these bad boys. Spray in early spring and then again two or three weeks later then hit the ones that survive again in the fall when they show their ugly heads again and to get the ones that are coming up for the first time. If you are persistent you can totally eliminate these in one year at least that has been my experience.
Lesson number three-- Fertilization. There are several needs our lawns have and nutrients to grow and flourish is just one of them. Lets face it, our East Tennessee soils leave a lot to be desired in terms of organic matter and some of the basic nutrients needed for good plant growth. If we lived in the mid-western part of the country we wouldn't need to worry about this so much. Our soils in Suburban Hills are very deficient of organic material and have a clay base that turns to solid brick during dry summers. This means that our soils do not have the water holding capacity needed during the hot, dry summer months to maintain the great lawns we see in other parts of the country where there is an abundance of organic matter in the soil. You transplanted Yankees and those of us who have lived where the good soils are know what I am talking about. You others will just have to trust me. In spite of all that, we can have beautiful lawns here if we do some things right. Trust me! Am I repeating myself? If our lawns are already established we can help ourselves by the addition of plant nutrients in the form of fertilizers. Three nutrients we need mostly. These are Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium better known as N-P and K. Nitrogen is the one most needed by grass and is the nutrient that gives grass its nice dark green color. We don't want to over-do it because too much nitrogen makes the plant grow too fast and makes it weak and makes it grow too tall instead of spreading out and developing a good root system. Nitrogen is very mobile in the soil, making it subject to leaching and other types of losses. It is difficult to substantially increase soil reserves of nitrogen and as a result it is the most likely nutrient to be deficient in our lawns.
Phosphorous is important for establishing and maintaining a healthy lawn. It is especially needed by lawn grasses for the development of strong and fibrous root systems. Unlike nitrogen, phosphorous is very immobile and does not leach readily. Usually only small amounts of phosphorous need to be added to the soil for good lawns in this area.
Potassium is used by lawn grasses in amounts second only to nitrogen. Potassium increases grasses’ resistance to diseases and improves the hardiness of lawns to temperature and moisture stress. Using a mulching mower and leaving the clippings on your lawn will help keep the potassium levels up. Actively growing lawn grasses contain 16 nutrients essential for survival and reproduction. By allowing leaf clippings to drop, rather than collecting them, bagging them and placing them at the curb, you are recycling nutrients and reducing the amount of landscape waste reaching your landfill. Generally, small leaf clippings lying on the soil surface decompose rapidly and do not contribute significantly to thatch. This is especially true if you use a mulching mower on your lawn. A mulching mower cuts the grass in tiny peaces and distributes them down into the grass. I always use a mulching mower except sometimes in early spring when the growth is so rapid that it clogs my mower.
SPECIFICS and SUMMARY
* Always mow fescue at least 2 to 3 inches high.
* Always mow with a sharp blade.
* Each time you mow try to mow in a different direction
* Mow often enough to cut no more than 1/3 of the grass off
I would suggest you use one of these products mixed with fertilizer first, then use the liquid mixture to spot treat those weeds that may be left.