June 26, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Splendor in the grass — clippings, that is

The Don’t Bag It lawn care plan can save homeowners time, energy and money, and reduce waste going into landfills. The principle is simple: return clippings to your lawn.

By leaving your clippings on the lawn and allowing them to work back into soil, you can realize these benefits and still maintain a beautiful, green lawn. In fact, grass clippings contain valuable nutrients that generate up to 25 percent of your lawn’s total fertilizer needs.

A hundred pounds of grass clippings generate and recycle as much as 3 to 4 pounds of nitrogen, ½- to 1 pound of phosphorus, and 2 to 3 pounds of potassium back to the lawn. These are the three most important nutrients needed by lawns and commonly supplied in lawn fertilizers.

The other good news is grass clippings don’t contribute to thatch, an organic debris layer between the soil and live grass, since grass clippings are 75 to 85 percent water and decompose readily.

Thatch is a tightly intermingled layer of living and dead stems, leaves and roots of grass that develops between the green grass and the soil surface. The overall effect of a thatch layer is an unthrifty lawn that doesn’t respond to management practices and is easily injured when conditions are optimum for growth. It is assumed the return of grass clippings to the lawn will increase thatch. This is not true. Grass clippings are 75 to 85 percent water and decompose readily. Thatch is formed from grass parts more resistant to decay like roots, stems, nodes, crowns, etc.

Why, then, do many homeowners bag grass clippings? Basically, it is a personal preference and habit most homeowners have acquired. Another reason is bagging ensures no clippings remain on the lawn to detract from lawn quality and aesthetics. Proper lawn care practices usually eliminate surface clipping debris and ensure a successful Don’t Bag It program.

Fertilization is the most important lawn procedure to improve lawn quality and to maintain a high quality, healthy lawn. The most important nutrient in the lawn fertilization program is nitrogen. Nitrogen helps promote green color and a thick, dense lawn.

Nitrogen does, however, stimulate top growth (clippings). The more nitrogen applied, the more top growth. Improper application of nitrogen fertilizer results in lawn mowing nightmares and unhappy results with the Don’t Bag It program.

In the Don’t Bag It program, it is essential to apply the proper amount and kind of nitrogen and to apply it at the right times of the year to control growth. Run a soil test to find the best rate and kind of fertilizer to apply for the best color and density of grass. Soil test information is available by calling 330-725-4911.

Time to fertilize

University research shows August and late fall fertilization in October is ideal for home lawns. Fertilizations during these times will benefit lawns more than any other practice. Most homeowners place too much importance on spring and summer fertilization. Some fertilizer is needed during spring and summer; however, over-application of fertilizer at these times can cause disease, rapid growth requiring more frequent mowing and other problems resulting in summer lawn nightmares.

Disease and weed problems are less severe when fall and late fall fertilization are practiced. Heat and drought tolerance are better, thus enhancing summer lawn quality. Finally, grass plants produce more root mass and a deeper root system, resulting in a healthier plant. Clipping production is less in spring and summer when late fall fertilization is practiced.

Product choice

How do you choose between products with the same nutrient content? The big choice is between fast and slow release of the nitrogen. The percentage of total nitrogen that is water insoluble and which is water soluble is listed on the fertilizer bag.

In the water soluble form, the nitrogen is available quickly and in the insoluble form it is available slowly. A good turf fertilizer contains some of each kind of nitrogen.

The slow-release portion provides nitrogen over a period of time for slow, even growth. The slow-release portion is critical to reducing rapid top growth and the need for more frequent mowing.

The soluble fraction, or fast release, will provide nitrogen immediately after application for a quick response during cool weather. Something approaching 30 to 50 percent insoluble or slow release nitrogen is suggested.

Soil water

A major detriment to lawn attractiveness during summer is a lack of soil water. During hot, dry periods, most lawn grass growth ceases and the grass turns brown and goes dormant if supplemental water isn’t provided. The dormant grass is in a resting stage and will normally revive with favorable moisture and temperature conditions in the fall. Lawn attractiveness is, however, lost during dormancy and weed growth, which detracts from the appearance of the lawn, may be greater. Dormant lawns won’t need to be mowed.

During the driest period of summer, our lawns require about one inch of water every week to stay green and growing. Lawn sprinklers need to be set for at least one to two hours per spot to apply one inch of water. One inch of water typically wets a soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.

Over watering and/or frequent watering stimulates excessive top growth and the need for more frequent mowing. Lawns watered too frequently tend to develop shallow roots, which may make them more susceptible to pests and heat-drought stress.

Water infrequently (weekly) and deeply (6 to 8 inches) with one inch of water each time. The best time to water is early morning, so less water is lost by evaporation. The worst time to water is in evening because the lawn stays wet all night, which encourages disease development.

Miller may be reached at 330-725-4911.