Watering Instructions for your Everyday Life

The simplest way to describe proper watering is to visualize layers; turfgrass, thatch, roots/topsoil, lower topsoil (6-8" depth), subsoil.

To develop a deep root system, make sure there is moisture that moves past the root system into the lower topsoil to the subsoil. Soil dries from the top down so this drives the roots deeper as they follow the available moisture. Keeping the topsoil constantly moist prevents root growth and the turf becomes weak and vulnerable. Shallow rooted turf happens when watering is too frequent. Shallow rooted turf will be vulnerable to all types of pressure, particularly drought/heat stress. It's best to water it heavily (deeply) then allow it to dry for a couple days and repeat.

The next variable is the subsoil. Subsoil moisture is much harder to manage because we can't see it. Adding difficulty, subsoil moisture levels change so much due to soil type, topography and seasonal changes in climate conditions. In the spring, the subsoil is usually moist but moisture levels vary from year to year depending on climate conditions experienced in the previous season(s). The subsoil is your buffer or insulation. If the subsoil is moist there is insulation protecting the topsoil. However, if the subsoil is dry it will be near impossible to get enough water to porous soil like sand when enduring 90 to 100 temps for more than a couple of days. When speaking of sand, subsoil moisture provides important insulation in terms of temperature. Dry sand gets really hot and is the reason why drought stress to sandy soil presents as if someone poured gasoline on the turfgrass. Unless one truly understands these intricacies, this condition is almost always associated with a chemical burn.

Lawns become problematic in the summer season when the subsoil begins to dry. In new lawns (less than 20 years established) it is extremely important to water the turfgrass before it shows stress. Watering should begin in a supplemental nature as soon as the summer weather patterns begin. If you wait for the turfgrass to show stress before irrigating it's too late! It is extremely important to maintain health and vigor throughout the season, once problems are realized it is often too late for easy correction. Once the subsoil dries it takes so much more water to bring it back that the saturated ground often causes fungal disease as this phenomenon usually coincides with high temperatures both day and night.

Tompkins Lawn Care and Company X

A deeper look at comparing apples to apples

When comparing service businesses, like Tompkins to company X, it is important to note that it is near impossible to compare apples to apples. A Toyota Camry is the same regardless of the dealership selling it however, service businesses are very different from one to another. Company X may consider good to be good enough while others never accept good enough, we are the latter. Aside from work ethic and pride, there are many variables between the materials used by each company. Our fertilizers are custom blended, granular with organics for the best possible results and environmental safety is paramount when considering all fertilizers and pesticides to be used in our programs. An example of this would be the use of Acelepryn for grub control. This alone is seldom used by others due to cost.

Cost is the driving force with many other businesses because it has to be. Many companies fail to retain their customers due to poor performance. When customer turnover is high, prices need to be held low as a way to bring in new business and so begins the race to the bottom. Low costs always come with sacrifices. Some are realized at the time and others take a while to be noticed but the result is always the same, you get what you pay for. Building this business over the past 23 years I have seen many other businesses come and go. We keep growing because we do what we do and we do it well. We earn our customers by referral and keep them without contract by providing results. My business model is simple, a job worth doing is worth doing right.

Q & A

Q. What is this tall clumpy weed that is spreading?

A. It's tall fescue, A hearty turfgrass that is widely used in seed mixes for vegetative cover in waterways, roadways and in housing developments prior to new home construction.

Tall fescue is a deep rooted, hearty turfgrass that thrives in poor soil and hot weather. Bluegrass (most local sod is bluegrass) is a cool season grass that does poorly in inorganic soil without irrigation. When Bluegrass struggles and/or goes dormant, the underlying tall fescue will push through. If the site is not fertilized heavily from the start, tall fescue will spread. When the bluegrass growth slows or dormancy begins with warmer and dryer weather in summer, tall fescue will become more apparent because there is no competition from the weaker plant. Because tall fescue does well in these conditions it will continue to spread as the bluegrass struggles and declines.

As a turfgrass, there really isn't a good solution for eradication once it has been introduced and allowed to spread. Selective control requires many follow ups and has varying results, ineffective when considering the environmental impact and expense. If this scenario goes unchecked it may be necessary to kill it off and start over. For this reason, we suggest that all existing vegetation be chemically killed prior to installing a non-native lawn.

Q. Why should I aerate?

A. The benefits from core aeration is multi-layered and is the best singular thing you can do to protect your turfgrass from the many uncontrolled variables that put the lawn at risk. The largest, singular variable we cannot control is the climate. After all is said and done and no matter what time and money has been spent to improve turfgrass, climate conditions will always be the final factor that determines the level of success. A common problem that affects bluegrass sod is pressure from fungal diseases and the best natural defense against this is aeration. In addition are the more obvious benefits of core aeration such as increased oxygen and nutrients to the root system, promoting deeper root development making the turf stronger, controlling thatch by composting the soil plugs and building more organics in the soil. Often discounted are the secondary benefits to being a responsible land steward. For instance, the best way to keep our water clean is to utilize the natural filtering characteristics of the soil. Aerated soil allows water to percolate through. Not only do the plants benefit from the water as it moves past but run off is reduced protecting our waterways. There are many low-tech remedies for our new world problems too often we over-complicate things and lose focus of the bigger picture.

Q. My lawn is being fertilized too, why does John's lawn always look better?

A. Mowing plays a huge role in a successful lawn management program. Time and money spent to fertilize and improve a site can be quickly erased by mowing it incorrectly. Mowing will actually stimulate growth in turfgrass and if done properly, mowing helps to create a thicker, more dense stand of grass. Conversely, mowing can cause damage to even healthy turfgrass. Even on flat surfaces, every movement, start, stop, turn, etc. causes damage and this increases exponentially when on any incline. If you think your mower might be too big, it is. Mowing should be done often enough so as not to remove ⅓ of the total leaf surface; this is known as the "one third rule". Removing more than ⅓ of the leaf surface causes the root system to die back. As a result, the turf will come under stress and will likely succumb to fungal diseases, insect damage and heat stress to name a few. When combined with sterile soil these issues cause serious problems that can take years to recover from. Many discount the damage that occurs with normal mowing. Healthy lawns, growing vigorously can effectively heal from this damage before it's noticed however, lawns that are under stress will not be able to regenerate and heal. The best example to this would be areas that are shaded. When shaded areas are mowed at the same frequency as sunny areas, it won't be long before you are over seeding. Hoping this new seed will grow (in the shade) so that you can get back on the mower and do it all over again....wrong. It's better to recognize that these areas do not need to be cut in the first place. Respect that nature offers us microclimates in every landscape and it's best that we react to each one accordingly. Accept the natural process and quit fighting what is inevitable.

Q. I'm against chemicals but these dandelions! How can I enjoy my property and still sleep at night?

A. You can be environmentally responsible and yet still enjoy a property that's inviting and not as...colorful. Too often it seems that people want to place themselves firmly to one end of the spectrum or the other with little thought given to the 98% that remains in between. Sometimes our ideals conflict with common sense and ultimately we run off track. This about-face creates a situation where we need more of something we previously vowed to never use again. In turf management, more pesticides are used to rectify problems stemming from neglect than what would have been needed for common sense management during that same period.... the whole "ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure" thing.

Weeds will grow anywhere that sunlight reaches bare dirt. Areas of grass that are thin and lifeless will quickly fill in with weeds. Weeds thrive in the same conditions that cause turfgrass to decline so you can see how a bad problem gets steadily worse. When one relies on herbicides for weed control the battle is lost. Weed control should be established by keeping thick, vigorously growing turfgrass. Healthy turfgrass provides a solid ground cover that prevents the establishment of weeds. This can be achieved with the use of natural elements within fertilizer, annual aeration and mowing. If a weed seed blows in from the neighbor or from across town, it can be spot sprayed as one, singular plant before the need arises to blanket the entire area with pesticides.

Q. How can I have a manicured lawn without harming the environment?

A. You can eat your cake and have it too. This is where practical experience and knowledge of the natural process come into play. Providing nutrients, natural elements found in our fertilizers, we promote turfgrass to do exactly what it wants to do...become a groundcover. Once this occurs the reliance upon chemical pesticides is reduced significantly and you have a beautiful and functional landscape that if kept healthy, will perform well year in and year out. Nature's way of protecting soil is to cover it. When nutrients are not available to promote vigor in desired turfgrass, the cover is obtained by emerging weeds. Soil is full of life....more precisely, weed seeds. All soil contains weed seeds that when given warmth, water and sun, weeds will grow. This is nature's protection against erosion and a natural way to keep waterways clean from silt and pollutants. The best way to stabilize soil is to keep a healthy cover of turfgrass. A deeply rooted turfgrass will prevent erosion while at the same time acting as a diffuser to allow water to percolate into the soil. Thick turfgrass is also an excellent filter that collects pollutants where they can break down before they enter our water sources.

Fertilizer gets a bad rap but one must remember there is a big difference between the agricultural use of fertilizers and pesticides when compared to the responsible use within the green industry. Although some of the active ingredients are the same, the use is entirely different. In agriculture, specifically row crops, fertilizers are applied directly to bare soil! Opposite turfgrass management, these situations offer no vegetative filter and everything flows downhill to lowest water source. Hog confinements and other Meat Factories are huge contributors to the nitrate problem. Written in the Des Moines Register September 15th, 2017 "Iowa has about 5,000 more pig confinements and cattle lots across the state than originally believed, a report to the federal government last month shows. That's nearly 50 percent more animal feeding operations than the state initially inventoried.". At that time, a 1000 head hog confinement could go unregulated and did not need to comply with state manure licensure. It is situations like these that cause nitrate problems not lawn fertilizers. If you want to save the planet, EAT MORE PLANTS and not so much meat!

Don't Fool Around

Utilizing practical experience, paying attention to and understanding how nature works is the basis of successful Integrated Pest Management or IPM. When working with nature rather than against nature, you will notice often that a gentle nudge is all that is required to change the course. Understanding the cause of current conditions is the first step in formulating a strategy to implement improvement. For instance, when turfgrass fades out in a shaded location, many people put down more grass seed, over and over again. Instead, recognize the reason the grass failed, the shade. Turfgrass does not grow in shade so why assume that new seed is going to offer a different fate than the stronger, mature plant that died? Knowing the grass died because it's too shady, look for ways to remedy the cause. Look up, prune the trees causing the shade. If that doesn't work think about a landscape planting suited to the location. Options abound however, don't expect a different outcome unless you change a variable that created the problem. It's foolish to think we can oppose nature, she always has the last laugh.

Q. We only want weed control, is that possible?

A. Successful weed control begins with fertilizer and building better turfgrass. We can spray the weeds and they will die however, unless we improve the turfgrass the weeds will come right back. This creates a situation where the continuous use of pesticides are required. Alternatively, if the turfgrass is improved, using natural elements in our fertilizer, core aeration and proper mowing techniques we can increase the vigor in the turfgrass and the competition prevents weeds without having to blanket the site with pesticides time and time again.