Buying Lawn Care Programs and Cars: What they have in Common

Lawn care programs can be confusing

We all know cars have 4 wheels.  But we can’t say all cars with 4 wheels are equal to each other.  Sure they are designed to get you from point A to point B.  But variables can occur in how fast, safely, or efficiently that trip may be accomplished.  How reliable will the car be, and comfortable will you be on your trip?  Then we have the cost of the car, which must factor in not only the purchase price, but all operating, maintenance and insurance costs, and the retained value when you sell the car.  Often, inexpensive cars take a much larger hit in loss of resale value, negating some of the savings on purchase price and repair or maintenance costs.

The same logic applies when evaluating lawn care programs. Just because 2 companies,best lawn care program

6 visit programs have the same number of trips to your home, doesn’t mean all 6 step lawn fertilizing programs are alike.

Lawn fertilizer is like the motor in your car. Fertilizer is your lawn’s energy supply. You can apply a powerful fertilizer, but it may not have a long life or be efficient in feeding the lawn. More lawn fertilization applications are not always better, because the best lawn care programs use high quality, controlled release nitrogen in their programs. Those lawn fertilizers can deliver just the right dose of nitrogen over a long period of time.

Cheaper lawn fertilizers cheap lawn care program deliver nitrogen faster over just a few weeks, and can result in lawn problems with drought stress, disease, or too many clippings. This resembles what happens when you apply too much power in slippery road conditions and your car spins out.


Weed controls for your lawn are the tires and seats. Some older, once tried and true lawn weed controls, just don’t deliver the performance of newer products. It’s the same with auto tires. And like an uncomfortable seat or one that is hard to clean, poor weed control causes discomfort. Today’s smart lawn care companies use advanced lawn weed control products that require less product to be used in the environment. New products can result in better control from a single application, and are often specialized for use in certain seasons and temperature conditions. The result is a better lawn and less control product in the environment.

A good lab soil tests is to your lawn, what CarFax is to a used car purchase. CarFax lets you know if the vehicle has been wrecked and repaired or damaged by flood. It exposes hidden problems so you don’t get burned. Lawn soil tests performed in a laboratory, save you the same type of lawn problems. You and your lawn company will know any hidden soil nutrient problems that may by affecting the performance or your lawn. Though all lawns can have their basic needs met by a high quality lawn care program, your chances of improving your lawn and having long term success, improve greatly with a soil test. Be sure to follow any special recommendations that may result from your soil test.

It takes more money to purchase better lawn care products, but no more time or money to apply them in most cases. So a better lawn care program may cost a little more, but the results should make your lawn visibly better. In the end, a company’s knowledge and results are what you purchasing. In the end, the quality lawn care program could actually save you money because of fewer lawn problems to deal with.

6 Myths about Crabgrass Preventer in New Jersey

1. Crabgrass Preventer has to be applied early

Common belief is crabgrass prevention products (pre-emergents) need to be applied in early March to be effective.  False.  Crabgrass has no set calendar for germinating.
Crabgrass germination is controlled by soil temperature.  Applying control products too early, can mean loss of product effectiveness too soon in summer.  Late crabgrass can then emerge.


As long as all areas of the lawn are treated with crabgrass control, protection exists.  False. All lawn control products, need to be applied per all of the manufacturers label directions, including timing of the crabgrass preventer application, amount of product to apply per area treated, and how to best apply the product.  Doing just one thing incorrectly, can give you problems.

crabgrass_preventer_problem3. THE LABEL SAYS TO OVERLAP COVERAGE

That just means the edges of my spreader pattern, right?  False.   Think of overlapping coverage in a lawn, the same way you would use a paint roller on a wall.  Each pass of your spreader must apply crabgrass preventer in to the middle of the wheel tracks of the prior pass.  Essentially you are appling a half dose in a single pass, and completing the doseage with the overlap on prior area.   Even application is one key to excellent crabgrass control.


Not all areas of a lawn warm at the same rate.  In an untreated lawn, crabgrass can sprout over a period of weeks.  First it starts in thin or bare areas, or small areas near paved surfaces that are easily warmed by the sun.  Then then the thick turf areas slowly warm.  Applying crabgrass control later than advised, can still give up to 80% or more control.  Other annual weed grasses take longer to germinate, and warmer temperatures.  The late application will protect your lawn from them as usual.


If your application is just a little bit late, and only has 3-4 leaves, control need not be expensive.  One of the best pre-emergent ingredients can also kill young crabgrass at this early stage for very little extra expense.  Look for crabgrass control with the active ingedient dithiopyr, and apply at the manufacturers recommended rate for emerged crabgrass.  You will kill the small crabgrass and prevent the rest from germinating for the season.


Environmental conditions control the forsythia bloom period.  Conditions vary every year.  Plant bloom and blossom drop, is only one way to approximate the timing issue.  It’s still all about soil temperature.  Soil temperature needs to be measured one inch deep.  Crabgrass usually begins germination between 57 and 64 degrees farenheit in the soil.  Air temperatures need to be much warmer to raise the soil temperature quickly.  Extended periods of moderate temperature in the crabgrass germination range can will slowly moderate soil temperature. Cool nights retard soil warming.


In New Jersey, the optimal application period is generally a 4-6 week period of early March to mid April.  Earlier is better, if crabgrass infestation was an issue in the prior year.  For thick, healthy lawns with out bare areas, and treated regularly in the past, the beginning of May can still be safe if you are behind schedule.


The Lowdown on Irrigation System Head Maintenance

Irrigation System Repair 

In New Jersey, where lawns are comprised of bluegrass, rye and fescues, lawn maintenance companies typically mow at a 3″ height.  An unmowed lawn can be significantly taller.  This tall grass, combined with a lawns tendency to over grow any thing in it’s way, renders lawnlawn sprinkler heads less effective as years go by.  This leads to wasted water dollars and increased lawn care costs because of stressed areas being damaged by disease, drought or insects.

If the lawn sprinkler head was properly installed with a swing pipe assembly, it is easy to dig up the head and raise to the proper height. There is no need to disconnect the sprinkler head from the pipe. Irrigation heads working in low conditions, do not distribute water evenly and effectively, causing over watering close to the head, and under watering in large areas away from the head.

After the sprinkler head is raised, soil packed and sod replanted, the irrigation system will once again perform as designed. The raised head is still safe from mowers and not a tripping hazard, while being able to spray water evenly and unobstructed.

How Much Mulch is Right for Your Plants

What is the right amount of mulch?

Mulching is a valuable cultural, and common aesthetic practice.  In some cases mulch is overused, while in other cases it is not used enough.  Over mulching is a waste of money, and a leading cause of death of plants like azalea, rhododendron, dogwood, boxwood, mountain laurel, hollies, cherry trees, ash, birch, linden, spruce, and many other landscape plants.

How Too Much Mulch Can Hurt Your Plants

Oxygen Starvation
can create a barrier that starves plant roots of needed oxygen slows down soil moisture evaportation that leaves the root zone water logged Roots need oxygen for plant respiration. When oxygen levels become too low, roots gradually die back over a period of several years. Symptoms include can include, off color or yellowing leaves, smaller leaves, shorter than normal terminal shoot growth annually, and die back of older branches. Once these things are noticed, it is often too late to save the plant.

mulch_volcanoInner bark Death
This condition occurs when mulch is piled against and covers the lower part of tree and shrub trunks, stems and branches. Bark contains small pores (lenticels) that allow gas exchangeMulch Volcano between the plant and atmosphere. Bark is different than roots because it can not tolerate continous moisture like roots. Eventually a band of inner bark (phloem) is damaged and roots don’t get the food they need from the leaves. With weaker roots comes weaker leaves, and eventually the plant succombs.

Woody tissue diseases can attack the plant as bark decays. The same organisms that break down the woody mulch, break down the plants bark with favorable moisture and temperature conditions. Bacterial and fungal organisms can thrive in this damp environment, infecting the compromised bark. Once infecting the inner bark, decline begins. Stresses plants are then subject to attack form other sources such as insects and foliar disease.

The Composting Effect
As organic matter breaks down, heat is generated. Temperatures can reach 120-140 degrees F. This can damage or even kill the inner bark.

Other Hazards of Too Much Mulch
Certain mulches such as pine bark can acidify the soil affecting nutrient uptake. In particular micronutrients are most greatly affected. Some become less available and limit plant vigor, while others are extremely more available leading to toxicity. Symptoms often mimic that of certain woody disease.

Hardwood mulch can initially be acidic, then over time as it breaks down become alkaline. this condition also affects nutrient uptake and is not good for acid loving plants like azaleas. To insure your plants grow their best, a periodic soil test can be done to check pH and nutrient levels.

Mulch can be a great home for small rodents like mice and voles. Mulch piled around the trunk and lower branches makes a great home and it isn’t far to a great bark dinner. Once 50% of the bark is gone around the diameter of a trunk, a slow death surely comes.

Nitrogen loss can be a problem when fresh mulch like wood chips or newly shredded bark and wood material are used. Leaves yellow for a period of time, but usually the situations returns to normal. This problem is caused by the organisms that break down mulch using nitrogen to compost the new, fresh material. If you use this type of mulch, adding a high nitrogen fertilizer to the mulch can help make sure there is enough nitrogen for both plants and organisms.

How to Mulch – Recommendations

proper_tree_mulchingMulch depth should not exceed 3 inches. That is 3 total inches of mulch, not just new mulch. If the soil is poorly drained, mulch depths should not exceed 2 total inches, especially for shallow rooted plants. Wet soils may not need any mulch. Coarser textured mulches can be placed a bit deeper due to better oxygen diffusion into the soil. Finer textured, or double shredded mulches, only need a 1 or 2 inch layer.

If you think you have excess mulch, scratch through it to see how deep the mulch really is. If the surface is crusted and hard for water to penetrate, simply raking the surface can reduce the water shedding effect of the crust.

Being careful not to damage bark or roots, pull mulch back from plant stems and trunks—a rule of thumb is 3 to 5 inches away from young plants, and 8 to 12 inches away from mature tree trunks. Look for the area where the roots meet the trunk. Make sure that junction of rootproper tree mulching and truck remains exposed to air. Within months, many plants will improve in growth and color.

How to Succeed with Sod Installation

Sod Installation Needs Proper Preparation

The good part about sod installation is your immediate gratification.  The bad part can be, disappointment a year or more after the install is complete.

So why does sod fail? Failure may be a harsh word, but any thing less than the lush, intial beauty could leave you with that feeling. More often than not, sod is viewed as a solution that will mediate a lack of prior lawn care success. So it is important to assess why the current lawn hasn’t succeeded, before proceeding with sod installation. sod installation 3

Reasons Sod Installations Fail

  • the lawn area is too shady
  • poor site preparation
  • poor use of the irrigation system
  • no irrigation system
  • a poorly designed irrigation system
  • lack of proper, post sod installation care

How to succeed with sod installation in southern New Jersey

If you have trees, plug your address in to Google Maps and check to see if your lawn area is visible. If you can’t see your lawn, neither can the sun. No sun, no lawn.
Consider how the sun tracks across the area, to visualize where you can create tree canopy openings for sun light.

If you want a lawn and it is shaded, remove enough trees to create holes in the canopy several parking spaces in size.

Remove limbs on trees near open, sunny areas like streets, to a height of 20 ft.

Remove all vegetation and debris from the area to be sodded. That includes stripping old sod, woodchips, forest mat.etc.

Grind all stumps.

Apply any needed topsoil to achieve the proper grade.

The surface you are sodding, should be prepared the same as if you are going to seed.

If an irrigation system exists, be sure it can easily apply 1.5 inches to 2 inches of water per week in extreme hot weather. It is also important that the water is applied evenly. If you have irrigation system, and always have lawn problems in the same place every year, your system is suspect. Have it checked by a contractor or consultant with a certification from the Irrigation Association, and get recommendations to correct design defects.

Immediately after the sod goes down, water heavily 1 or 2 times initially to settle sod on to the soil.

After intial watering, water 2 or 3 times per day just enough to keep the sod slab and topsoil dark and fully moist. Continue this for about 3 weeks until a tug at the sod indicates grass rots have attached to the soil below.

Now begin watering once per day, between midnight and 8 am. Use about the same total combined minutes as were used in the 2-3 shorter waterings.

CAUTION – Do not over water your sod. Never make it squishy, soggy wet. Over watering drives air and oxygen from the soil and inhibits rooting. It may also contribute to disease.
Sod is a living, perishable product. It needs continuing care and monitoring. Make sure to put a maintenance plan in place.

What is needed to maintain a sunny, irrigated lawn?

In southern New Jersey, 5 applications per season, containing a slow or controlled release nitrogen is sufficient. These fertilizers last 8-12 weeks, but do not feed evenly during that period. Applying fertilizer at 6-8 week intervals is needed to have a steady, adequate nutrient supply. The fading older fertilizer is supplemented, then replaced by the current application. New fertliizer applications can take up to 2 weeks to kick in depending on temperature and moisture.

A light application of high calcium lime every year will help maintain a satisfactory soil pH and add calcium to our deficient soils. However, a lab soil test should be done year one of a lawn care plan and every 4th year afterwards to assess nutrient levels and pH.

Apply pre emergent crabgrass control every spring, and weed, insect and disease control as needed.

June and July are southern New Jersey’s highest water needs months. About 1.5 inches of water per weak are needed. May and August are about 90% of that, September 60-70%. Water plenty when needed and cut back when you don’t.

Busting Water Myths

Watering at night does causes fungus. FALSE Daytime temperatures over 88 degrees and nights above 68 degrees are favorable for disease. Afternoon waterings that keep the lawn damp all night long, adds to the stress of temperture and humidity that favors fungus.

Watering in the daytime will burn your lawn. FALSE Golf courses frequently “syringe” their grass to cool it and lower stress in hot weather

Water deeply and infrequently. FALSE Nothing stresses a lawn more than erractic water supplies. Keep your lawn hydrated at all times, just as your treat yourself, pets and other plants
Let your lawn wilt before watering. FALSE This is the perfect recipe for disaster. Wilting lawns are very subject to disease and insects, because they are not actively growing and capable of recovering from stress.

Light watering causes shallow roots. FALSE A single daily watering can replace what is lost to evapo-transpiration daily. Lawns and landscapes will stay in tip top condition with this method. CAUTION- This method can only be used when beginning to water while the soil is fully hydrated. If your soil is dry, irrigate heavily until the soil is fully moist at least 18 inches deep. Then the lighter daily waterings can start. We need .20-.25 inches of water on average, per day in June and July to keep our green world happy.

Fence installation impact, on lawn sprinkler systems

Fence Installation

is frequently the result of a property use change.  Children, pets, pools and privacy are the big motivators for constructing a fence, and tough tools are required for the job.

Fence companies tough tools, and plastic lawn sprinkler system pipe don’t work well together. Yet the fence and sprinkler system must exist together. The dilemma is what to do and when to do it when wanting to protect your lawn sprinkler system. Sprinkler pipe and heads are usually on the perimeter of the area where the fence will be placed.

Here is what to do

  • call your lawn sprinkler contractor before you place your fence order and advise him of your coming purchase
  • once you know where your fence, posts and gates are being installed, have your sprinkler contractor come out, review the plan and the sprinkler system
  • all mainline, valves and control wiring should be located and compared to post locations
  • if a conflict exists, remove any of the above temporarily, and reroute and connect after fence completion

Only an accurate as built sprinkler drawing, can help with the next part.

  • sprinkler heads on the fence line, can be cut back and reinstalled if the sprinkler line runs perpendicular to the fence
  • for sprinkler lines running parallel with the fence line, it may be more economical to install a new line parallel with the fence, along with new heads if many heads are involved
  • if the sprinkler line is inside of the fence line and the heads under or outside the fence line, dig up the heads, replumb and move to the inside of the fence
  • if an as built drawing does not exist, dig up the heads affected back to their point of connection to the pipe and determine the best course of action

Be aware that fences may require adding or relocating heads. The most common place for this to occur is where the fence goes from the property line to the side or corner of the home. These fence sections often bisect a zone, requiring a head on each side at the corners of the fence, where only one heads existed before the fence. Sometimes heads need to be respaced to ensure even coverage inside and outside of the fenced area.

These alterations are best left to an experienced irrigation professional. Don’t forget to allow approximately 10%-25% of fence cost for needed irrigation modifications. These numbers can vary as widely depending on the fence cost and the irrigation layout.