By Nick Strehle
Spring has sprung, and turf grass has already become a hassle. For most people, the best thing to do is return to the basics and don’t sweat the small stuff. All living things are driven to live and will find the easiest way to go about it. As long as we provide the basics requirements, grass will grow on its own and we don’t even have to watch.
Taking care of your own lawn can be accomplished with a few key pieces of information. The following turf care guidelines are listed in order of importance, but remember: it’s just grass. Don’t make it more complex than necessary.
Sunlight: If your turf receives less than four hours of direct sunlight, look for other plant material to cover the area or call a professional that will write a plan for your specific micro-climate. Warm season grasses can always use more light for photosynthesis.
Water: Throughout the year, Charleston receives a moderate amount of rainfall, but the problem is consistency. Most of the Lowcountry is sand that drains rather quickly and does not hold on to enough water between rainfalls. Unfortunately, this means that rainfall must be supplemented with an irrigation system. An irrigation system might be very simple, but you should have a professional design, install, and maintain your system. In the long run you will save money on water, repairs, and on new sod and/or plants.
Fertility: Compared to the Midwest, the soils here in the Lowcountry are poor. The upside is that the majority of the soil is sand, which is easier to change. The cheapest way to amend your soil is by taking a soil test and adding only the necessary nutrients. Start by adding the major nutrients and then micro nutrients. After replacing these lost nutrients, stop adding and allow the water and soil microbes to break down the nutrients that will become available to the turf. Adding compost, snake-oils, and other materials will not be worth the money until the soil can accept them into its soil structure. Think of it like your own body. You would not worry about adding Boron before your protein requirement was meet.
Cultural Practices: Cultural practices are everything that we do to the turf either by hand or machine. This encompasses walking, driving, mowing, aerification, verticutting, and topdressing. All of these items will damage the turf to some degree or another, and if they are completed at the wrong time, the turf will take longer to recover. As the turf grows, we intervene with cultural practices to keep the turf in its optimal growing conditions for future growth.
Each species of turf has its own requirements for height of cut, water requirements, nitrogen requirements, thatch tolerance (layer of un-decomposed rhizomes and stolons between the soil and turf), and sun requirements. Just about all of us mow our turf, but this year, consider adding another type of practice. The thatch layer on most properties does not receive enough attention. Too much thatch leads to lack of air exchange, reduced water penetration, etc. In May, look for another article on cultural practices. The turf needs to be green and actively growing to tolerate the extra wear or cutting, so June is normally the best time to take care of your thatch layer.
By meeting the basic requirements for growth, you will notice that your turf grass will become more drought tolerant, recover faster from damage (pest, disease, or human), be a little more shade tolerant, and will take on a much nicer appearance.
Nick Strehle is a Purdue University Agronomy Major, certified irrigation contractor and EPA WaterSense Partner for Sunburst Landscaping Inc., leading Sunburst’s clients into the next generation of water management. For more information, contact Sunburst at 768-2434.