In a climate like we have in Richmond, VA, grasses usually go dormant and have a tan appearance in the winter. Shorter days and colder temperatures slow down grass growth. Older grass leaves will die in continuous cold and the lawn will look brown. This will occur with all grass types including tall fescue and bluegrass.
Grass blades can also go dormant from a process call desiccation. This occurs in cold windy areas. Cold wind causes the grass blade to lose its moisture. The roots are frozen so no water can be taken up to replace the lost moisture and the grass turns brown. This is most noticeable on west facing areas that have no protection from the wind.
Though the grass looks dead, it is alive and once the temperatures rise in late March to early April, the turf color will begin change and start growing again.
There are some steps to take to minimize injury to your lawn during the cold winter months:
- Late fall fertilizer. This acts as natural anti-freeze for better cold tolerance, maintains lawn density, and stimulates spring color and growth.
- Continue to mow your lawn in the fall until it stops growing. Never reduce mowing to less than 3”.
- Remove leaves as often as possible, never less than once per week. Leaves smother grass and by eliminating light and oxygen. New grass growth is especially sensitive and leaves must be removed more often. Use a blower instead of a rake
- Continue to water until Thanksgiving in our area if it does not rain.
- Stay off the lawn if it is frozen. Walking on the grass can kill spots as the crown of the plant is more sensitive to being crushed when frozen.
Lawn dormancy is normal and we should expect our lawns to be off color in the winter. By properly preparing our lawns now we can expect outstanding color and growth in the spring.
The Effect of Frost to Lawns
The first frosts of the season have begun. What does this mean for your grass? Luckily, grass can stand up against frost. Frost almost always thaws and evaporates later in the same morning that it forms. Frost upon blades of grass is harmless, but keep in mind frost is comprised of ice crystals and can be razor sharp under certain circumstances so you must take precaution in order to not damage your lawn. If you walk across or drive across a frost covered lawn, those ice crystals will penetrate the cell walls next to them and cause damage. This will kill those cells turning them brown.
Myths Regarding Frost
After the first frost, fertilizer should not be laid. This is FALSE. Although not much growth occurs after the first frost, there is still a lot going on in the soil. As autumn progresses, turf grasses switch the emphasis on growth from leaves to roots. The roots that are formed right now contain the fuel that will be used to power the lawn through next summer’s heat and humidity. Anything that you can do now to optimize root development now will pay off next season. Lawns will continue to grow right up until the ground freezes so continuing to fertilize is the right thing to do. An easy way to remember is: if it’s green, it’s growing; if it’s brown, it’s sleeping.
Winter is almost here. That means putting the lawn mower and string trimmer and blowers and all other lawn maintenance equipment away. Here are a few tips to follow when you are storing your small engines for a few months.
- This is a tip that you can use throughout the year and during the winter months. That is putting an additive (Star Tron, Seafoam, or Sta-Bil) in your gas as soon as you put fresh gas in your container. With the gas that is being sold at gas stations, it is mainly for vehicles which have ethanol. Ethanol is not good for the small engines that are used on mowers, string trimmers, and blowers and other equipment. Ethanol has inherent properties that can cause corrosion of metal parts, including carburetors, degradation of plastic and rubber components. This is why you should put in the additives in the gas can all year long and not just for the winter. Another option is to by the Ethanol-free gas that is sold Sears or Home Depot and other retail stores that sell outdoor equipment that is specifically for small engines.
- Over the years of working with small engines at Virginia Green, here is what I have learned. As it gets time to put mower, trimmer, blower away for the next few months, I will fill the gas tank to about ¾ of the way up with the gas and additives. Then run the engine for about 20 minutes. By doing this you will not have a dry carburetor where any ethanol can dry up and flake off when fuel is added in the spring and cause problems.
- Here at Virginia Green Lawn Care we use a combination of Seafoam and Star Tron as soon as we get any kind of fuel delivery. And this is done throughout the year no matter when we get fuel. With as many small engines that we have here, having one small engine down can be costly.
- Now that mowing the grass is not going to be a weekly job, maintenance on the mower can begin. One of the first thing to remember when doing any kind of maintenance on any kind of equipment (disconnect the spark plug and the spark plug wire). This will ensure that the engine does not have any chance of starting up and you getting injured. Here are a few things to do when working on you equipment.
- Change the oil in the mower. Follow the Owner’s Manual on the frequency of oil change. Most will go by hours, but if you use the equipment in a dusty environment, then changing the oil on a more frequent basis is a good idea. Your Owner’s Manual will also tell you what kind of oil to use in your equipment.
- Changing the cutting blade on your mower. It’s not a bad idea to buy a spare blade when you buy your mower. This way when you take the old blade off your mower you have a nice sharp blade ready to go. Once the old blade is off, take it to your nearest shop or if you able to sharpen it yourself. It’s not a bad idea to spray some WD-40 on the blade before you put it away so that it doesn’t rust much.
- Also while you are getting the mower ready for storage for the next few months, spray the throttle cable and any other cable down with WD-40. This will help the cable from freezing or rusting during storage.
- You will also want to change out the spark plug and the air filter on your mower, trimmer, blower and any other outdoor equipment. Again check your Owner’s Manual for specifics on these items. The air filter is something that you may want to look at each time you start up your equipment, it’s a good habit to get into.
How does soil pH affect turf health and growth?
Soil pH is an important chemical property because it affects the availability of nutrients to grass. Nutrients (both macro and micro) supplied to a lawn as part of a maintenance program will be utilized most efficiently and will have the best impact if the pH of the soil is within the proper range. The pH of soil is measured on the pH scale from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic and 14 the most alkaline. The ideal pH range for both fescue and Bermuda grass lawns in our region is 6.2 and higher. It is possible for the soil to be too alkaline, but due to our soil conditions in Virginia, it is extremely unlikely.
How is soil pH determined?
To measure soil pH, a soil test should be performed. Do-it-yourself soil test kits are available but the best method is to send a sample to a professional lab. Virginia Green is partnered with an independent laboratory and they handle all our soil testing. Samples are collected with a soil probe which is a hollow metal, cylindrical tool that pulls a core of soil. Multiple core samples are taken from throughout the turf areas and combined within a bag to be sent to the lab. This process will yield an average pH result when the test is performed.
If the soil proves to be acidic, how is acidity reduced?
If a soil test comes back with a pH below 6.2, an application of limestone is the best way to raise the pH of a soil and therefore reduce acidity. Either granulated or powdered lime can be utilized. However, granulated lime is preferred because the powdered form can drift in the wind when applied resulting in an uneven application. The amount of lime needed to effect change in pH can be determined by a landscaping professional, such as an agronomist. Lime supplied to actively raise pH levels is often referred to as a corrective lime application. Absorption of the lime and change in pH can take as long as 8 to 12 months. After that time, it is a smart agronomic practice to test the soil once again and see if potentially more lime is needed. It is worth noting that lime also supplies the micro-nutrients calcium and magnesium. Determining and correcting soil pH, if necessary, is a process that should always be done to ensure a lush, healthy, green lawn!
Many people replace or renew their mulch in the fall. This is a great time of year for mulching, here are a few reasons why:
- Mulching your beds help to suppress weeds, keeps the soil warm in the winter, and conserves water. Mulching also helps to reduce stress on plants with shallow roots and improves drainage and soil structure. Not to mention fresh new mulch looks good!
- The depth of your mulch should depend on its size. Larger mulch allows more air and light penetration, so mulch such as bark nuggets or pine straw can be laid up to 4 inches deep. Finer mulch like shredded bark or compost should be applied at only 2-3 inches deep. A thicker layer than this can reduce oxygen to the plant roots and “smother” them.
- Piling mulch up at the base of plants can cause them to rot and die! Whatever mulch you choose, be certain to leave at least a couple of inches of space around the trunks of trees or the crowns of plants to allow them to “breathe”.
Mulch is a good thing – freshen yours up for fall now!
A great lawn begins with selecting the best turf type tall fescue variety and establishing it from seed or sod. Selecting the best type of seed for fall core aeration and over seeding is a simple process if you understand several factors.
National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP)
The National Turfgrass Evaluation Program, Inc. and the United States Department of Agriculture collectively with the various Land Grant Universities across the US evaluate grass seed for commercial use. Grass is grown and evaluated at over forty sites in the US and six providences in Canada and collectively the researchers poll the data and publish it each year. The goal of this process is to identify the following characteristics:
- Disease and insect resistance
- Drought, heat, traffic and cold tolerance
- Density, color and growing characteristics
- Time of establishment
Locally, data collected from Beltsville, MD, Blacksburg, VA and Raleigh, NC is the best tool for Virginia Green Lawn Care and each year, we meet with local researchers to review the test results. Then, utilizing our connections in Oregon with the farmers and local seed suppliers, we put together our Virginia Green Fescue Seed Blend.
Virginia Green Grass Seed Blend
Picking the best seed to use each fall depends on NTEP data and availability of the fescue varieties from the farmers in Oregon. The other major factor Virginia Green utilizes is the cleanliness of the seed– we only buy seed free of weed seed and other crop seed. On the seed tag- this is specified as a percentage and the most preferred should be 0% and 0%. Here is an example of the Virginia Green seed label for 2017:
20.18% Aquavita Tall Fescue
38.62% Starfire II Tall Fescue
21.78% Traverse 2 Tall Fescue
15.39% 2ND Millennium Tall Fescue
2.95% Brooklawn Kentucky Bluegrass
0% Other Crop
0% Weed Seed
The seeding rate on our turf type tall fescue is 6 pounds per thousand square feet of area, or 1,350,000 seeds per one thousand square feet. If there are 225,000 seeds in a pound of turf type tall fescue and there is some percentage of weed seed or other crop, this can really destroy a nice fescue stand. Even .01% other crop is 2,250 seeds per pound of some other type of grass such as Poa trivalis, Poa annua or ryegrass. Some of these grasses cannot be removed without the use of a non-selective herbicide like glyphosate and once established, killing sections of a nice lawn is troubling.
Picking the right turf type tall fescue from the start is important to the success of having a nice Virginia Green lawn. Utilizing data from seed researchers in our area and suppliers in Oregon, each year we get the best tall fescue seed for our customers. Whether Virginia Green Lawn Care is core aerating and over seeding or dropping off bags for our customers to utilize, the seed quality is always the best available. Call our office today at 804-285-6200 in Richmond, 757-258-1788 in Williamsburg, 540-903-2593 in Fredericksburg and 434-975-0100 in Charlottesville today to purchase your seed!
1. Granular application products need to dissolve to work
- Granular fertilizers and granular lime products are broken down and pushed into the soil by rainfall and irrigation.
- Even heavy rainfall for prolonged periods will not wash away granules in turf. The small pellets are caught between grass blades, thatch and root mass.
- Remember, if your lawn treatment is applied and it doesn’t rain for two days, then it pours rain, it is the same as if it had rained immediately after the application. The lawn will do just fine.
2. Liquid products are 100% effective if they have a chance to dry on leaf tissue prior to rainfall.
- Depending on heat and humidity these applications can dry in as little as fifteen minutes.
- We also mix in a surfactant, helping the products remain on leaf tissue in the event of rain.
3. Rain will actually speed the process of turf growth and weed control.
- After rain weeds and grass have an accelerated growth rate.
- This helps weeds to absorb the weed control and expedites the dying process.
- It also helps turf absorb fertilizer and produce new, green growth.
4. Rainfall saves you money on your water bill.
- Lawns need between 1 and 1.5 inches of water each week (either from rain, irrigation, or both).
- If it rains just 0.5 inch it can eliminate between 33 % and 50% of your weekly watering requirements.
5. Richmond summers are notoriously hot and dry.
- Anytime it rains in Richmond during the summer is a joyous occasion!
At Virginia Green we pride ourselves producing healthy, beautiful lawns year round. Learn more about how Virginia Green can maintain your lawn year round with our lawn care programs.
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Weed Control Treatments This Fall
Wow, the hot and humid days of summer are over and so are the insect pests. Not true. There can be pests on your landscape plants throughout the year. They may not be in the life stage that is actively feeding on your plants, but the pest may still be there.
Photo credit: University of Minnesota Extension.
What type of pests would I find in autumn in my landscape? There might be some pests still around from the summer months like aphids, lacebugs, scales, and mites. There also might be cooler weather pests such as boxelder bugs, adelgids, fall webworms, magnolia and tuliptree scales, and spruce spider mites.
Here at Virginia Green Lawn Care, we treat for all of these on plants, but the one that seems to be more attracted to your house than your plants is the boxelder bug. This native nuisance pest primarily feeds on boxelder trees. The adults are 3/8 inch long and black with reddish wing margins. They prefer to overwinter in sheltered places such as leaf litter, wood piles, garden sheds and your home. The color they are most attracted to is white; white siding, window frames and doors. They get inside your home outbuildings and hibernate inside by crawling through vents and small cracks.
When and where should I be monitoring for this nuisance pest? Check on trunks of boxelder trees that might be surrounding your home. A boxelder tree leaf looks similar to a poison ivy leaf with a red stem, but the leaves are typically not glossy. The tree looks similar to that of a maple except for the leaves. Also look on the south side of white buildings or south side white window frames that they may use for “sunning” in autumn.
Do they cause harm to your plants? Typically the answer is no. The only plant that may show some damage is the boxelder tree, but this is uncommon. The major problem occurs when the bugs invade buildings in the fall to overwinter. They do not bite or sting, but may stain fabrics when crushed.
How do I control these native nuisance? If the population is high around your property, the first thing is to remove any female boxelder trees surrounding your home. On buildings wash the bugs off with a soap spray. Test your house paint first for staining possibilities. You may have to repeat this a few times.
Do you have tress and shrubs? Give us a call today for a free Tree and Shrub Program estimate. We treat your landscape plants for pests year round.
Time to stop watering? NO IT IS NOT!
Fall is here and many of our customers have the same question-is it ok to stop watering? NO! Now is the prime growing season for your fescue lawn.
Your grass is working hard to repair itself from the stress and heat of the summer and to prepare itself for the winter to come. Fertility and water are essential to this process. We at Virginia Green have your fertility covered, but watering is up to you and mother nature.
- If you have recently aerated and seeded, light frequent watering twice per day to the point of light puddling until the seed has germinated is key.Once the seedlings have reached 2 inches tall, watering can be cut back to once daily.
- For established turf, watering 2 to 3 times per week for a weekly total of 1.5 inches is advised. This deep, infrequent watering allows the soil to dry between waterings causing the roots to grow deeper and stronger which leads to a lusher, fuller, healthier lawn.
When should I turn off my irrigation system?
For our climate here in Virginia, we recommend watering up until at least Thanksgiving before winterizing your irrigation system.
Continuing to water your lawn this fall is essential to its success now and next spring. Keep watering for a lush healthy lawn!
Have you ever wondered why there is no grass on the forest floor? There is just a bunch of dead and decaying leaves that creates a non-sustainable environment for grass. The same can happen to your lawn without regular leaf removal overtime.
One of the main needs of grass to grow favorably is light. When leaves are left on the grass for too long, it blocks out the sun and your grass will start to stress. Fall is the best time of the year for the grass to recover from the summer. So, it is always best to keep the leaf litter at a minimum during this period so the turf is getting maximum light and can really get thick before the winter period. This time of the year is also when many lawns are getting their best light since the tree shade is at a minimum once all the leaves drop.
Leaf litter also holds moisture and slows evaporation. If the accumulated leaves are allowed to sit for too long, this excess moisture will cause decay and in conjunction with the lack of sunlight you will see marked decline in your turf quality.
Leaf litter left for too long decreases vigor and leads to bare spots. Once Spring rolls around, the turf will be slow to respond and weeds will certainly take advantage of the bare spots and thin turf that are left behind.
It is our recommendation that your leaves are removed on a weekly basis.
Mulching the leaves back into the lawn can be beneficial if done properly. Studies have shown that doing so can return some nutrients and organic matter back into the lawn and have long term positive effects. Keep in mind when mulching,
- The turf must be mowed high, 3.5 to 4 inches.
- The leaves should also be dry, not wet and matted down.
- Must be done on a weekly basis, if done too infrequently the thickness of the leaf litter will be too large for the mulching effort to be effective. You’ll just create a layer of smaller leaves.
- Mulching early in the fall, while the soil temperature is still warm, will lead to rapid decomposition of the litter. Waiting until the end of fall will be counterproductive as the soil temps will have cooled and decomposition will be slower.
Blowers and rakes still work just fine, they just take a little more effort. Please clean up your leaves regularly so that we can help you keep your lawn beautiful.
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