Planning my 2013 lawn care calendar

GrowSomeGrassDecember 13, 2012

Hi everyone. We moved into a new home this past summer. The lawn was seeded for the first time in June. It's hanging in there but the lawn is going to need a lot of work in 2013. I'm trying to plan ahead and would like advice on when to do what. I need to:

1) Put down crabgrass preventer. Because the lawn was hydroseeded in the middle of summer, we had a massive crabgrass problem. Most of it has died now in the winter and there are a lot of open patches.
2) Put down grub control / Grubex. Patches of lawn are dying/have died and the builder took a look in September and said we have grubs.
3) Reseed. The lawn inst thick enough and you can still see maybe 30% turf. There are also a lot of open patches from the crabgrass thats died and the patches that were destroyed by grubs.
4) Fertilize. I was thinking about applying Scotts Turfbuilder with 2% iron earlier in the year.
5) Fertilize again with Summerguard sometime in mid-summer.
6) Compost. The soil is very hard and there are tons of small stones/building rubble that they just seeded over. I need to get some topsoil going.

Please can you guys help out and let me know A) in what order should I be pursuing these steps and B) what the best months to do each step are.

Other info:
1) I dont know the type/species of grass. The builder just said it was a "hydroseeded sun and shade mix"
2) I live in Massachusetts, Zone 6B.

Thanks everyone! I really appreciate it.

This post was edited by GrowSomeGrass on Thu, Dec 13, 12 at 16:28

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What my research has yielded so far. How is this looking?:

Crabgrass preventer:
-apply around March 15th
-lasts for 4 months after application
-therefore I cannot reseed my lawn until after August 1st

Spring feed:
-apply Scott's Turfbuilder with 2% iron on March 15th

-apply on July 1st
-last all season (more info on time?)
-do not use Grubex until new grass is established (time?)

Summer feed:
-apply Scott's SummerGuard on July 1st

-apply Pennington Sun & Shade mix on Sep 1st

-apply compost on Sep 1st

Winter feed:
-apply Scott's Winterguard on October 15th

This post was edited by GrowSomeGrass on Thu, Dec 13, 12 at 17:35

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 4:46PM
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It's unfortunate that your house was finished when it was, because starting a new lawn (cool season grass) from seed in late spring/early summer is the worst possible time. You are almost guaranteed to lose some, if not most, of the new grass due to heat and disease pressure. I would be a bit skeptical when a builder tells you that you have grubs because you have patches of dead grass. It's more likely that areas died due to the things I mentioned. The builder knows this, and said it was grubs because he knows he can't be blamed for it. Most builders do the bare minimum when it comes to grass, and stop watering soon after the grass looks OK. Anyway, what's done is done, so I will try to help. From what it sounds like, you have a few options, but unfortunately the best option is to wait till next August to either overseed what you have now, or do a lawn renovation (i.e. kill everything and start over). Most builder sun and shade mixes are largely perennial rye with some fine fescue and maybe a small amount of KBG. Builders love perennial rye because it germinates in a few days, and is ready to be cut in about 3 weeks. PR doesn't do very well in shady areas, that's where the fine fescues come in. Unfortunately fine fescues don't look like PR. What are your expectations for a lawn? Do you just want green coverage, without regard to uniformity of color and texture? Do you want a nice consistent good lawn? Do you want a great lawn? Another issue is how much sun does your yard get on a cloudless summer day? Do you have shade issues? How much traffic is your lawn going to see? Do you own dogs? How large is your lawn? Lawns require water in times of drought. Can you provide irrigation to the whole lawn? Let's forget about the fertilizer/grubex for now. In fact the first thing you should be doing before the ground freezes is get a soil test done to determine what shape you soil is in, and what you need to due to correct any large imbalances.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 9:36PM
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All good questions. Start right and save yourself grief and frustration.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 10:37PM
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Hi tiemco. Thanks for the help. I really appreciate it. To answer your questions:

-I do believe we have grubs in certain patches as one of the workers I trust told me that
-This is my first lawn so I didnt even know what a grub was! I've lived in apartments my whole life
-I dont need a complete renovation. I will be able to repair it.
-my expectations for the the lawn is that I would really like a green and luscious lawn, hopefully uniform in terms of texture and color (you know, the lawn you envy from the guy down the street and wonder how he does it LOL!)
-I would like a great lawn!
-The front part of the house gets a ton of sun and the grass there is SOD (that's all the builder said, didnt tell me the species etc). What I do know is that the other houses planted with sod have had their grass go brown. I used Winterguard and its worked perfectly, keeping the grass a dark green color.
-The back yard is a mix of sun an shade hydroseed, with some parts being completely covered in shade. The shaded parts remain very wet and water logged for days after it rains because the sun doesnt reach those spots. The sunnier areas in the back become clay like and very hard when they dry out. I'm trying to aerate manually with a core aerator ($20 buck one from HD), but its taking time. The grass in the back is thin. When you look at it from a 45 degree angle it doesnt look too bad, but when you look directly down, you can see a lot of ground and the grass is thin. There also seem to be a lot of stones/building rubble that have been spread all over the lawn.
-lawn wont get much traffic for the next 2-3 years, but after that its kids and dogs!
-dont know lawn size, but I bought the Scotts Winterguard back in the fall (5,000 sqft bag), and it covered all areas perfectly.
-the lawn has irrigation (automated sprinkler system, covers the whole lawn)

1) You mentioned seeding in August. Is this the best time for Massachusetts?
2) Do I get the soil test done through the Town?

Thank you!!!

-I see UMASS here in MA can do it for $10. See this form: Soil Analysis - Use This Form for Turf Landscaping and Home Gardening-editable.pdf
-do I just need the standard fertility test, or do I need the soil organic matter and soluble salts tests?
-I put down Winterguard on Nov 3rd. When should I be able to do the soil test as not to corrupt the results?
-if the test reveals I need to take certain steps to fix the soil, what time of year should I be doing it? (i.e. should I get the test done ASAP because lime needs to be put down in January for example?)


This post was edited by GrowSomeGrass on Fri, Dec 14, 12 at 10:26

    Bookmark   December 14, 2012 at 10:10AM
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You want to get soil sample before the soil freezes and prevents sampling. The sample should be from a depth of 3-5 inches below the surface. Tiemco will explain why you shold have the test done now. As long as you are digging soil samples, you may as well do the jar test to provide more info about your soil.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2012 at 4:02PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Hmmmm. You have said a few key things in your reply to tiemco which makes me want to refer you to another doctor. This forum used to have more gurus, but without getting into the whys and wherefores, they have migrated to another forum. Tiemco participates in that other forum, so you would not be losing his advice if you found it. The policy of this forum is not not allow links to other forums. What you said was you want a beautiful lawn. You can get there in this forum, but you can get there faster where there are more gurus.

But let's continue with your answers to tiemco's questions. UMASS is the only good alternative to Logan Labs for soil testing. You want the salts and organic matter test. At Logan Labs the test cost $20. Not sure what it costs at UMASS. UMASS had a little bit of trouble with reliability last year which sent the gurus to Logan Labs. If you want to support your local university, go with UMASS.

Fall is the time of year to seed cool season grasses. Sod can go down any day of the year. You seed in the fall because you will not have the crabgrass problem and you will not have the summer heat killing the grass. If you want to nurse what you have now through another season and seed in the fall, that would be the best use of your resources. If you have the extra coins, then either dormant seed or seed in the early spring and take what you get. You will get more crabgrass, but getting rid it it is easy by seeding again in the fall.

Grubs come and go. I, too, am skeptical that you had grubs. The ONLY way to know is to dig for them. If you find MORE THAN 12 per square feet, then you HAD a grub problem. You don't have one now because they are all finished feeding until they come out as beetles or whatever. Grubs are easy to recognize when you dig for them. They're about the size of your thumb. Killing them now would be a real waste of money since they are no longer feeding. Quite often grubs come one year and do not return for several years. Applying grubex every year is another waste of money. It is best to learn when to expect grubs and then to apply something. If you ever see Japanese beetles or any other beetles swarming your porch light (usually in May or June), THEN expect grubs and take precautions. If you see no beetles, forget about it.

Don't fix your soil until you know what it needs. Don't put the extra iron fertilizer on unless you need extra iron. Don't apply lime until you know which lime and how much. The soil test will tell you. That other forum has extensive help on soil testing. Sometimes they will come here. Look for andy or morpheuspa. They're about the only ones who periodically check this forum.

Grasses go brown depending on the species of grass. Kentucky bluegrass would be expected to be brown this time of year under normal circumstances. Fescue would be expected to be green this time of year. It usually has little to do with the fertilizer.

Put some cat food or tuna cans out in the yard and time how long it takes your sprinkler system to fill them. You need that information for irrigation. It is very easy with some systems to overwater. The basic theory is you should apply one inch of water, all at one time, on an infrequent basis. During the cool months the rough estimate is monthly watering. During the hottest heat of summer you can work your way up to every 7 (or 5) days. Watch the grass and let it tell you when to water. But when you water, do the full inch all at one time.

Your hard soil might not allow penetration of that much water at one time. You can soften it by spraying any clear shampoo at a rate of at least 3 ounces per 1,000 square feet. Do that twice followed by an inch of irrigation to wash it down. Do that 2 weeks apart and your soil should be much softer when it gets wet. When I say at least 3 ounces, you can go to 10 ounces or 20 if you like, but 3 seems to be a minimum to get the effect. You might want to rake up the stones and construction debris. If you really want to do it right, it will result in a full renovation. There is a machine called a clinker which rakes up the top couple inches of soil and filters it back collecting only the rocks. It runs on the front of a Skidsteer or Bobcat. It will literally shred everything down to a few inches deep. This effect can have unexpected results.

In my opinion the best thing you can do for the health of your soil is to apply 10-20 pounds per 1000 square feet of organic fertilizer at least once a year. Compost is nice but it is expensive and the improvement is not as good as if you used real fertilizer. There is a FAQ called the Organic Lawn Care FAQ on the Organic Gardening forum at GW and elsewhere on the Internet lawn forums if you are interested. I can almost promise you it will not be what you are expecting.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2012 at 8:18PM
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Let's start with the front yard. If it was sodded, then you have some or all KBG. Sod has to have some KBG in it to hold together, so it can be all KBG, or a mix of KBG and TTTF. I bet there are some sod farms that might grow a KBG/PR mix, but I haven't seen a lot of that. Anyway, unless you have large patches of no grass in front, then the KBG in your yard should self repair if the soil is good, and it's properly cared for. How do you know if your soil is good? Soil test. Logan Labs or Umass is fine (standard soil test), but do separate samples for the front and back. Once you have the results, then you can determine what you need to add. Get them as soon as possible, but as winter hits and the ground freezes, you shouldn't really add anything till the spring thaw. The winterizer you put down a month ago shouldn't really skew the results, and the nitrogen number isn't really important anyway.

The backyard is a different story. I appreciate that you trust one of the builders, but unless he checked for grubs, I still don't believe you lost all that grass from grubs. The areas of full shade that get no sun will not support grass. So either thin out the trees to get sun there, or put mulch down. Grass needs sun, even the most shade tolerant species (ask me how I know). If my assumption is correct, then the grass you have now is mostly perennial rye (PR). A PR lawn can be very nice, but only if it is full and thick. PR doesn't spread appreciably, so it won't fill in bare areas. You will have to overseed. PR isn't very shade tolerant either, so any partial shade areas are going to struggle, and will probably be thin and unimpressive. Of the major cool season grasses that do best in partial sun and give you a thick dark lawn, tall fescue is the best choice. Some KBG cultivars do OK in partial sun, but in general KBG does best in full sun just like PR. Personally I am not a fan of mixing PR with other grass species, but there are plenty of people that are happy with a mix of PR, KBG, and TF. Another issue is overseeding mature PR. A thick mature stand of PR can inhibit other turfgrasses from germinating and establishing. If you want a great lawn in the back, then you have a few options, but you need to decide which is the best one for you. With regards to your soil, sounds like typical builder fill. There's not a lot you can do about it without adding a large amount of good screened topsoil. See what the soil tests say about it, then go from there. Core aeration can help with compaction issues, and if you need to add sand or a lot of organic matter it can speed things along, but generally it's not something you should do often. One of the best ways to improve soil is through the addition of organic matter, which as Dchall pointed out is done with organic fertilizers and other sources of organic matter.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2012 at 12:43AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

In my opinion even the worst soils can become very good soils. The first thing to do is get roots in the ground. Second thing is to fertilize with organic fertilizer. My personal choice for topsoil is beach sand (with the salt washed out). Sand is pretty poor soil to begin with, but it really does work well for grass if you use organic fertilizers. On the contrary, if you use chemical fertilizer or no fertilizer at all, the soil will not improve or will improve much more slowly. Compost is the old time cure for poor soil. Organic fertilizer is much cheaper and much more effective.

You can add topsoil if you like but I would be very careful of changing he drainage in the yard.

I'm not sure your original question has been fully addressed. Generally you should not fertilize in the early spring. You will be bombarded with commercials insisting you fertilize early but don't. The spring grass will come in fast and furious regardless of whether you fertilize or not. What professional grass growers do is wait until the initial flush of growth is over and then fertilize going into summer. If you want to use a preemergent crabgrass control early, use one with no chemical fertilizer in it. The time to apply is after your soil has warmed to 50 degrees and you get a heavy rain. Often this coincides with the emergence of flowers on the forsythia plants. If you get your arm twisted into fertilizing early, do not fertilize until you have mowed real grass (not weeds) for the second time. This ensures you have a working root structure. It makes no sense to fertilize dormant roots.

Fertilize once in late spring and then wait until fall. One way to remember when is Memorial Day and Labor Day. Those dates should be good for your area. If you decide to use only organic fertilizer, you can use that any day of the year without fear of hurting anything. Again I would wait until the initial flush of spring growth is over. If you decide on chemical fertilizer, then in the fall I would suggest at least one of your two fall apps to be organic. The soil really does benefit from the organic.

If you see June bugs or Japanese beetles swarming your porch lights in May or June, then get ready to apply something for grubs. If you don't see huge swarms, then forget about grubs. The use of insecticide is harmful to the beneficial microscopic insects living in the soil.

If it gets really hot in summer or you cannot water in the summer, it is a good idea to let the grass grow up taller than normal. When the temps come back down you can go back to your normal height. I like fescue at 4 inches (mower's highest setting). Tiemco mows his much lower with excellent results. KBG seems to perform best around 3 inches. Tall, dense grass will help fight off weeds.

Water deeply and infrequently as I mentioned above. If you water every day you will be encouraging new weeds to sprout. By allowing the soil to dry out completely at the surface, the new weeds (including crabgrass) will not be able to sprout.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2012 at 1:58PM
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Wow. I don't know what to say. Thanks for all the responses and info! I am reading this text in great detail. To comment/answer on things that were mentioned:

1) Soil test - the temps are already around 32F these days in MA and its very wet. I suppose 4-5 inches down it wont be frozen. I can do the test now but I put down Scotts Winterguard on Nov 3rd. I dont want the cold, the rain, or the Winterguard to corrupt the results. Should I just go ahead? When can I expect to receive the results? Even if I get the results in early Jan, can I do anything with them until the spring? Its $20 for all the tests at UMASS too, so the same as Logan Labs. I'm indifferent to which lab I go with.

2) Seeding - I will seed in the fall as recommended. I already bought Pennington Sun & Shade Mix a few weeks ago (Home Depot 50% off) and was prepping to seed in spring. But I will hold out until fall. The seed is still sealed and stored in my very cool basement. It should be fine. I went with the Pennington Sun & Shade Mix over the Scotts Turf Builder Sun & Shade Mix after reading all the poor reviews about yield on the Scott's. Let me know if I made the right choice or if I should be looking at other seeds.

3) Grubs - I really believe I have grubs, but that they are isolated to 1-2 patches on the front grass. The rest of the open/thin patches around the back lawn are where the grass hasnt grown well due to the crabgrass invasion, too much shade, waterlogged areas or very hard/clay soil. Is there any harm to just applying Grubex to the whole lawn in May/June to be cautious and then hold off in 2014? I already have Grubex that I got at the same 50% off HD deal so I can use it. Just dont want to harm the lawn just to be overly cautious.

4) My grass species - I will take some photos of the sod and the hydroseed so we can get some clarity on the species. I'll report back on the weekend.

5) Watering - great tips, thanks.

6) Hard soil - nice tip on the shampoo. I also better get my back into it with my aerator!

7) Organic fertilizer/compost - I have a big question about this. I already have a few bags of Milorgranite (same HD deal, LOL!). I used 2 bags over the summer (didnt see much effect but I guess it works). I was planning to use the other bags in 2013. BUT, is this the right stuff to use? Also, I have access to our local town dumps compost heap which costs basically nothing. I was thinking about loading up there an applying some topsoil to my lawn, but I'm very worried about introducing weeds. Any thoughts on this? I'm not so anal about chemicals and potential toxins (I suspect the likelihood is extremely low as things are controlled at the dump), but my main concern would be getting a weed infestation! Any thoughts?

8) Timing of fertilizing - great tips thanks. So will this work? March 15th = crabgrass preventer only (no fertilizer combo). June 1st = Summerguard. July 1st = Grubex. Sep 1st = reseed + organic fertilizer (or compost). October 15th = Winterguard.

9) Cutting height - thanks for the height recommendations for the front and the back.

This post was edited by GrowSomeGrass on Mon, Dec 17, 12 at 14:30

    Bookmark   December 17, 2012 at 2:26PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

You can't tie a preemergent weed controller to a date on the calendar. There has been a LOT of discussion about this topic over the years. For awhile, recognizing that timing was critically important to the success of the product, there was not much more than lamenting the inability to predict the time. Then one of the gurus suggested using one of Mother Nature's "whispers" to tell. The blooming of the forsythia plant was the time. Well, not everyone has forsythia. My personal refinement on timing is to apply it after the soil temps hit 50 degrees AND a spring rainstorm hits. The soil has to be warm enough and there has to be sufficient, sustained moisture for crabgrass to germinate. I strongly suspect these conditions precede the blooming of the forsythia, but I'm one who does not have that plant to go by. I do have a cherry tree down the road that always blooms in Feb, so I go by that. Then again I don't have a crabgrass problem so I don't use preemergents.

If you use the shampoo two times separated by two weeks, you won't need the aerator. Normal soil is soft when wet and hard when dry. But it should soften again when it gets wet. So called, compacted soil, does not soften when wet. The problem that prevents the soil from softening is the lack of an adequate population of beneficial fungi in the soil. Deep watering with a little soap will create the environmental conditions to foster the rapid growth of these microbe helpers. Use only clear shampoo. The cloudy stuff has oils in it that do not help.

My personal opinion is that spraying insecticide because you think you might have a problem is not helpful. There is an organic solution to grubs. It is called beneficial nematodes. These little guys bring an insect disease to the grubs and paralyze them. Then they feed on the insects and procreate. I get BN locally but the original source is this place in Colorado. Apply them with a hose-end sprayer. But first, apply about 3/4-inch of water (or a couple days of rainfall). The BN must have a film of water to move on. They cannot move in dry soil. So first get the soil wet, then apply the BN, then finish with another 1/4-inch of water.

Milorganite is fine. I never use it because it has more heavy metals in it than alfalfa pellets (rabbit chow) and alfalfa is lower cost. Probably the reason you did not see any greening effect is you were starting with virgin soil. By next June the soil will be depleted enough to see a greening effect as well as the turf becoming more dense. Here is a demonstration photo showing the effect of alfalfa pellets on a zoysia lawn.

This apparently is a very effective photo. I have had clerks at the local feed store tell me about more and more people coming in to get alfalfa pellets for their lawn. The alfalfa was applied in May 2011 and the photo taken in June. Organic fertilizers typically don't show results for 3 full weeks.

If you are really indifferent about the soil test, then I would go to Logan Labs. You will get a better read on that test. If you search Google for "logan labs, andy, morpheuspa" you will find a place where you can get guru level help for free. They have been reading LL soil tests for many years.

Do not add more topsoil unless you need to change the way your yard drains...because topsoil WILL change the way your yard drains. If you don't start with it right up against the house, then water will drain toward the house. If you do not have 4 full inches of foundation visible below the sill plate on your house, then you should be removing topsoil instead of bringing new soil in. The sill plate is the top of your foundation where the ground floor starts. As you can tell, I am not a fan of topsoil. Oh, and it always has weeds in it. When I need "topsoil" to fill a low spot, I get a local product that is 50/50 sand and "compost." What it really is is half sand and half fresh horse dung. That stuff is hotter than a pistol when it's delivered. Weed seeds cook off in such hot conditions for any amount of time. Plus the sand is very easy to deal with, spreads easily with no clods, and takes roots well.

Compost is nice if you can get it for free. Use no more than 1 cubic yard per 1,000 square feet of lawn. For gardens you can pile it deep, but lawns will smother underneath compost. I see it in my neighborhood every year. There is one lawn that has not recovered in several years. Another keeps repeating the mistake every other year. Their lawn almost completely recovered from an app last spring before the grass stopped growing last week or so. It is sad to see the huge emphasis on compost by the radio show garden experts. They seem to recommend 2 cubic yards per thousand. That will smother even a bermuda lawn. In my neighborhood compost costs about $75 per yard to have it delivered. That means $75 per 1,000 square feet. Or I can apply alfalfa for about $5 per 1,000 square feet. I get a huge bang for the buck applying the alfalfa and almost nothing from compost. Add that to the agony of spreading compost and the possibility of smothering the lawn, and I just keep away from it. I can apply 15 apps of alfalfa for the cost of compost.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2012 at 11:35PM
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Dchall this is fantastic info. Thank you. Where would you recommend I buy the alfalfa?

    Bookmark   December 20, 2012 at 11:22AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Alfalfa PELLETS. Buy it at your local feed store. Anyplace that supplies bagged supplements for horses will have something. If you tell them "alfalfa," you will get a huge bail of hay. You have to tell them pellets and more specifically, rabbit food. Chinchilla food would do as well. Alfalfa pellets also come in horse size that are about the size of your thumb, so specify rabbit. If all they have is horse, call someone else.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2012 at 9:37PM
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