Fall Leaf Removal

In many places around the country, autumn trees are extremely beautiful with brightly colored leaves consisting of reds, oranges, yellows and greens. The cooler weather of fall is so relaxing following the hot summers in the U.S., but what follows can be a chore. The autumn leaves will soon fall off the trees and we must decide what to do with them.

With that said, it is important to note that leaves hold a lot of nutrients that can be returned to the soil through decaying leaf organic matter. It releases Nitrogen, Magnesium, Potassium, and other nutrients back into the soil for plants to use. It also releases into the atmosphere carbon dioxide it absorbed earlier in the year and converted to carbon compounds. In fact, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, decaying organic carbon from natural sources contributes to more than 90 percent of the carbon dioxide released into the earth’s atmosphere and oceans. Fallen leaves contribute to this effect and are reabsorbed and used again by most all plant life, including newly sprouted leaves each spring. (check out why Organic Matter Matters here

However, if you are a sports field manager or homeowner and have worked hard to maintain a beautiful lawn, then leaving the leaves on the grass is not an option. The leaves can eventually smother the grass leaving even more problems to correct come spring.

So what are your options? Assuming you are going to do the work yourself, you are looking at two primary choices. If you have a lot of large shade trees, then removing the leaves from the grass is the best option. If you have a few scattered, smaller trees, then mulching them in place may be the best choice. But if you decide to remove them you are faced with other choices that depend on your abilities and cost factors. Not everyone can afford the expensive professional equipment used on prestigious country clubs. Even city golf courses and most homeowners can struggle to get the work done on a smaller budget. Here are a few helpful examples.

 Cardboard Method that Replaces Raking

If you have a small area to maintain and are in decent shape, you can rake them. A shortcut to raking is using a thick flattened cardboard box or a piece of lightweight paneling or something similar. With the cardboard at a 40 degree angle in front of you, walk and push the leaves to a primary location. On a flat surface you can remove 6 ft of leaves in one sweep. I have seen huge lawns cleaned up using this method in less than an hour. Once the leaves are piled up they can be bagged or burned in place if your laws allow it.

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 Lawn Vacuums

Lawn Vacuums are the name given to the various, pull behind, leaf vacuum systems. These are large storage boxes that hold leaves that are sucked up through a large diameter vacuum tube attached to the mower discharge vent. There are smaller homeowner systems up to larger commercial systems. Each one has a motor attached to the storage box that pulls the leaves from the discharge vent on the mower into the box. One of the better lawn vacuums on the market is the Cyclone Rake. The storage box holds up to 415 gallons of shredded leaves and comes with motors as large as 10 hp.

The lawn vacuum draws the leaves though a 6″ – 10″ tube, depending on the model. At the end of the tube is a blade that creates the vacuum and shreds the leaves even more. So be sure to walk the property and remove all the limbs and sticks that could get stuck in the vacuum tube or you will spend valuable time cleaning out the tube. When the storage box is full it can be easily dumped onto a trailer or somewhere on your property used for disposal.

The better systems work great and can remove leaves from a shaded lot the size of two or three acres in just a few hours. It is a time saver and far less strain on your body.

(Top 10 Best Leaf Vacuums in 2020 – atopdaily.com)

 Mulching Leaves

Leaves can also be mulched and left on the grass. The keys are to mulch when the leaves are dry and to keep the leaves under the mower as long as possible. If your mower allows you to close the discharge vent, this doesn’t allow the side discharge of leaves. The result is that they are mulched repeatedly until they filter out under the mower.

Can you have too many leaves to mulch? I do believe so. While it is possible to mulch huge amounts of leaves, you can end up with several inches of shredded leaves sitting on the grass and the effect can be about the same as having left the leaves untouched.

Important Information that can affect your decision on mulching: Leaves are completely broken down by soil microorganisms. The bacteria responsible for most of the work are most active in summer. If you have enough soil moisture in summer, the microbes are going at it full speed. Early spring and fall they are slow or are slowing down considerably. In winter, in most of the U.S., they are either inactive or close to it. This is why leaves that fall in Autumn are still there in the spring. They decompose rapidly as the weather warms.

Therefore, in the fall and winter, an inch or so of shredded leaves is fine on the grass that is mowed higher than a couple inches. It can help insulate the soil as well. Having several inches of shredded leaves can suffocate the grass by keeping moisture and air from reaching the roots.

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 Hand-Held Leaf Blowers

If you have just a few small trees or even a single shade tree, you can use your hand-held leaf blower to blow the leaves into a pile. You can put a tarp in the back of a pickup truck and load the leaves onto the tarp. If your city has a dump station, simply pull the tarp and all the leaves come with it.

 How to Make Compost in 14 – 18 Days

This method was developed by the University of California at Berkeley and has been modified over the years. Composting leaves is a great way to reuse your leaves on your lawn and garden. It adds valuable nutrients and organic matter needed for beneficial microbes and earthworms, etc. The 18 day method is a “Hot Compost” method as compared to the cold compost methods used by most people that can take up to 12 months. Using the hot compost method kills any damaging bacteria and weed seeds as well. The compost will be much finer with smaller particles and ready to use.

Here we go: The basic facts. You simply cannot make a pile of leaves and expect it to compost quickly. You need to have a good C:N (Carbon to Nitrogen) ratio. Don’t let this confuse you. It is really easy.

  1. Determining the C:N Ratio of materials: Leaves have a moderately high carbon and low nitrogen ratio. The higher the carbon to lower nitrogen material breaks down slowly. Fallen trees, branches, etc have the highest C:N ratio and can take years to break down naturally with a 500:1 to 1200:1 C:N ratio. As for leaves, depending on the  leaf type, it can be as high as 80:1 C:N ratio and as low as 40:1. This means it can break down more slowly. You will need to add material with a low Carbon to Nitrogen (C:N) ratio to speed the process. Freshly cut grass, some garden plants, vegetables, fish, animal manure, etc will break down fast and speed the process. I put freshly cut grass in a large plastic bag during summer years ago and in a couple hours it was so hot that you couldn’t touch it. I have included a website below that shows the C:N ratio of many different materials. (learn more about Organic Nitrogen in Soil here)
  1. How to Mix the Different C:N Ratio Materials: The ratio of high and low C:N should be a 1:2 ratio. This is shown as a 1 + 2 = 3. An example is one part manure added to two parts leaves. First lay down a layer of leaves less than a foot thick. Remove large sticks.

Next add 1 part mown grass, garden plants or vegetables, or manure. Blood meal fertilizer has an extremely low C:N ratio at 3:1 and can heat up quickly. Cover with another 2 parts of leaves. Repeat this until you have a 3 to 4 ft tall by 3 to 4 ft wide stack of leaves to grass/manure mixture. There needs to be sufficient amounts of Nitrogen for it to heat up and work.

It is possible to have too much nitrogen. If this happens add newspaper or sawdust internally within the pile to slow it down.

  1. Next,  after building the pile as described, water down the entire stack until thoroughly wet and water is flowing from the bottom of the pile. You can put extra compost activator (Turf Formula® is an excellent choice) in the middle section to start the process more quickly. This can be crab waste if you live near the gulf, fish, or even store bought activator.
  1. Leave the pile for 4 days. Then turn the compost pile using a pitch fork. If you are expecting storms to come through you may need to cover the pile with a tarp to keep it from getting flooded again.
  1. Turn again after four days. If moisture is still good, leave it alone. If not spray a little more moisture. It shouldn’t be wet, just damp. You can squeeze some of the compost to see if any moisture is on your hands.
  1. Check the internal temperature. It should reach 150 degrees. When this happens, start turning every two days until the 18 days are over. The compost should be cooled, no harmful bacteria or weeds seeds.

The compost should be dark, smell earthy, and be well broken down. It can be used on your gardens, lawn, or wherever you need compost. With a little experimentation you can have the perfect blend that composts rapidly.

There are numerous articles that can be found online. Here are two sources I used:

 

One last thought to consider – AgriGro®’s products provide a big help in this area by boosting the native microbial life to improve breakdown of insoluble nutrients. Products like Turf Formula® work to provide an immediate shockwave to your compost allowing the natural microbiome to unlock higher nutrient availability to your spring turf. 

Russ James
AgriGro Turf Specialist

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Sources:
Lawn Care Academy, Russ James, Photosynthesis of Turf Grasses
Fundamentals of Turfgrass Maintenance, Photosynthetic Pathways Page 11, Dr. Nick Christians

The Importance of Microbial Communities in Agriculture

The elements of crop production can be dissected into three distinct yet overlapping sectors: (i) Chemical (crop protection and nutrition), (ii) Physical (mechanical activity), and (iii) Biological (seed and plant physiology; microbiology). 

Holistically addressing these components is crucial to ensure plant vigor and to maximize economic yield. However, production practices are often negligent and detrimental to one biological element – the plant/soil microbiome. 

Microbes (e.g., bacteria and fungi) are ubiquitous in nature – there are more microorganisms in one gram of soil than there are humans on Earth [1]. Many of these soil-colonizing microbes have a mutualistic symbiotic relationship with their host plant, meaning both organisms benefit from the interaction.

In the context of agriculture, an abundant, diverse microbiome has been demonstrated to affect crop health in the following ways:

  • Enhanced nutrient mineralization and uptake
  • Resilience against biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) stress
  • Boosted plant immunity
  • Production of hormones and other signaling molecules (by both the plant and microbe)
  • More robust germination 
  • Stimulated plant growth 
  • Improved soil health

AgriGro® is a prebiotic technology leader for agricultural use, providing a line of products that boost the soil’s native biological activity up to 5,000% within 72 hours of application. As a result, plants treated with FoliarBlend®, IgniteS2®, and other prebiotic formulations reap the benefits of a healthy microbiome. They can allocate more energy to primary metabolic processes (e.g., photosynthesis and reproduction). This phenomenon is studied extensively from the molecular level to field-scale and consistently demonstrates healthier soils, higher-yielding crops, and enhanced plant-microbe symbiosis following treatment with AgriGro® technology. Research on specific crops or products can be found here.

According to a recent publication from the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, many within the scientific community believe that the next Agricultural Revolution will entail microbiomes’ usage to improve plant growth and development [2]. At AgriGro®, we help initiate that revolution by employing cutting-edge scientific tools to boost crop yield in an all-natural, sustainable manner. Environmental stewardship in this fashion benefits not only the present-day grower but protects the livelihood of future generations.

To learn more about AgriGro®, click here.



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Understanding C3 & C4 Grasses

In the world of turfgrass, there are only two main grass types, cool-season grasses, and warm-season grasses. Both require photosynthesis to create their own food. Both perform differently in different heat situations, with cool-season grasses performing better in cool weather and warm-season grasses performing better in warm or hot weather.

But it isn’t enough to simply recognize this simple difference. To best care for each species of grass, it is important to know why each one is different and how they grow and produce carbohydrates through photosynthesis due to those differences. It’s far more important than most people realize.

 How Things Appear on the Surface

Cool-season grasses include species such as Kentucky Bluegrass, Tall Fescue, Creeping Bentgrass, and Ryegrasses to name a few. These emerge from dormancy quickly in the spring, grow rapidly, and slow down in late spring and summer. Growth is slowed or stopped by mid to late summer, especially if no irrigation is given. In the cooler weather of fall, growth picks up again but at a more moderate pace. Cool-season grasses can stay somewhat green all winter even though all growth has ceased.

Warm-season grass like Bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, centipedegrass, St. Augustinegrass, and others emerge from dormancy slowly as soil temps rise above 50 degrees, but full growth rate is not experienced until mid-summer. Growth rate slows in the fall and dormancy begins as temps fall below 50 or with the first heavy frost. Warm season grasses lose all of their chlorophyll in dormancy and will not green up again until it breaks dormancy in spring. In the deep south, some species of tropical grass will remain green all winter if the temps do not drop low enough to send the grass into dormancy.

C3 | C4

Each one has advantages and disadvantages. But below are the primary factors that shape why they grow this way and how to care for them. It is all centered around how they carry out photosynthesis.

The process of photosynthesis is carried out through a process of photosynthetic pathways. It sounds confusing, but it will become clear in a bit. The pathways have to do with the carbon compounds around which photosynthesis takes place. These two primary pathways are called the C3 and C4 carbon compound pathways.

C3 will always refer to the cool-season grasses and C4 always represent warm season grasses. There is no crossover. Therefore, scientists, when speaking of these grasses to other scientists or those educated in turf science will sometimes refer to these grasses as C3 and C4 grasses.

 Understanding C3 Grasses

Cool Season Grasses, or C3 grasses, are great at fixing CO2 at cooler temperatures. These are the temps they grow best in. However, at higher temperatures, above 90 degrees they are not as efficient. C3 grasses at higher temperatures have a hard time distinguishing between CO2 and O2. Remarkably, C3 grass can also catalyze the fixation of O2 which it does on equal or greater portions as CO2 in hot weather. When O2 is fixed it is called Photorespiration, and the result is lowered carbohydrate production.

When Photorespiration occurs the grass slows in growth and vigor and without water, the grass will often go dormant. It simply doesn’t have the energy to keep going.

A lot of people just don’t understand what is happening to their grass. They will assume the grass just needs more fertilizer and water. They will often over-fertilize with a high nitrogen mix in hopes of greening up the grass and restarting growth as in the spring. The result will often damage or kill the grass. This is because the grass simply cannot produce enough carbohydrates to match the nitrogen uptake and maintain growth. The fertilization is often accompanied by a lot of water or irrigation and for a while, the grass looks good. However, if the hot weather remains the victory is often short-lived. By adding too much nitrogen fertilizer, the nitrogen pushes the grass to grow at a time when it can’t handle it, thereby using stored nutrients in the roots since it cannot make enough carbohydrates to match the growth. As summer stress sets back in, it doesn’t have the reserves to draw on, and thinning or dieback often occurs. (Learn more about Organic Nitrogen in the Soil)

Therefore, it is good to remember that no matter how much nitrogen you apply in summer, C3’s will never overcome the grasses’ inability to produce the carbohydrates needed to grow in high heat. This is where experience comes in. It is possible to have a cool-season grass that is green all year, but the professional turf manager understands the balance between how much fertilizer to apply and how much irrigation and when not to push the grass. It takes a lot more irrigation for C3 to stay green in hot weather.

For general maintenance, C3 grasses can be fertilized by using low nitrogen or organic fertilizer including Turf Formula. The low nitrogen, slow release fertilizer will feed the plants what it needs, along with sufficient moisture, without pushing excessive growth that will damage the grass.

 Understanding C4 Grasses

Warm Season Grasses, or C4 grasses, are more efficient at CO2 fixation in high temperatures. This is because C4 grasses use a different enzyme than C3 and attach the CO2 to a different compound making up the 4 carbon compound. While it takes more energy for C4 to produce carbohydrates than C3, due to the extra steps involved, it does it without photorespiration and the end result is far greater carbohydrate production. 

As a result of the more efficient carbohydrate production, C4 grasses, depending on the grass variety and nitrogen needs, can be fertilized to maintain maximum growth in mid-summer or high summer heat. This will keep warm-season grasses growing through the summer months as long as water is available. If it is a low nitrogen grass, be careful that you don’t over-fertilize. Some grasses, such as Zoysia, are low N grasses and do not need more than 2 lbs of N per 1,000 sq ft/year.

 Conclusions

C3 grasses are best grown in cooler environments. They are more efficient at fixing CO2 in cooler weather than C4 grasses. In addition, C3 grasses have a higher photosynthetic rate in shady conditions. This makes them more suitable for highly shaded, low light sites compared to their C4 relatives. (Learn more about the Science of Shade Grass Management Here

C4 grasses have a specialized photosynthetic process that focuses on CO2 in high heat. When C3 grasses are struggling to stay green, C4 grass is in its fastest growth of the year. C4 grasses in hot conditions have an increased Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE) and Water Use Efficiency (WUE). They are able to increase root mass and biomass in hot conditions when their cousins are starting to shut down.

 Special Situations

If you have turf-type tall fescue growing together with bermudagrass, you will have to make a decision on which you will maintain in summer. Bermudagrass requires up to 6 lbs N per 1,000 sq ft/year, double what fescue requires with much of it applied in the warmer months. This may damage or invite diseases in the fescue. If you hold back and do not fertilize in summer the bermudagrass can likely go dormant, especially with low moisture, due to not having the nitrogen to keep growing.

How to decide? Do you prefer the bermudagrass and overseed with fescue for wintergreen? Then fertilize through the summer. You can always add seed in the fall.  If you prefer the turf-type tall fescue, then do not fertilize in summer. It may take several years for the bermudagrass to die back and the fescue to dominate. 

To help the fescue dominate quickly, overseed in fall so it grows in thick by spring. Mow the grass at 2 -3 inches in spring before fescue green-up. The bermudagrass remains low since it won’t start growing until later in the year. Then set the blade at the mower’s highest height to shade the bermudagrass and weaken the grass as it is trying to emerge. Bermudagrass cannot grow in shade.

In contrast, if you prefer the bermudagrass, mow the grass low just before bermudagrass emergence from dormancy so the bermudagrass has plenty of sunlight. Fertilize and irrigate as needed to ensure maximum growth.

 How Can We Help?

Turf Formula® is a fantastic product that helps keep the grass functioning even in extreme or adverse conditions. University studies confirm Turf Formula®’s ability to increase fluid and nutrient uptake, provide more efficient photosynthesis, and lower sodium saturation in soils. Sodium competes with Potassium uptake. Potassium is essential for many plant functions, but stress relief in plants is what it is best known for.

Turf Formula® increases the plant available nutrients naturally. In studies at the University of Missouri/Columbia, naturally occurring beneficial soil microorganisms were increased by 3400% in 24 hours and by 5000% in 72 hours. In these trials, the samples included Super-Cal Calcium in with the Turf Formula®. These beneficial microbes perform a wide range of functions, including soil elements’ break down into nutrients the plants can use and to reduce disease pathogens.

Also, Mycorrhizae Fungi are significantly increased in the soil. Mycorrhizae are tiny organisms that colonize the plant roots forming a symbiotic relationship. These fungi draw nutrients and moisture back to the plant in exchange for small amounts of plant sugar. They can form long strands that act to extend the root’s reach. Plants in some parts of the country survive only because the Mycorrhizae are doing most of the work. All outdoor plants need Mycorrhizae to live and are naturally part of healthy soils. With healthy Mycorrhizae populations on root structures, plants can reach more nutrients than bare roots can achieve.

Russ James
AgriGro Turf Specialist

Call today for a free soil analysis to determine exactly what your lawn needs. 

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Sources:
Lawn Care Academy, Russ James, Photosynthesis of Turf Grasses
Fundamentals of Turfgrass Maintenance, Photosynthetic Pathways Page 11, Dr. Nick Christians

Transitioning from Season to Season: A Checklist For You

Fall is full of transitions – the leaves on trees slowly begin to change their color, pool parties become bonfires, and the smell of sunscreen turns into the sweet smell of pumpkin. These things are subtle indications that it’s time to prepare your plants for the wintertime. We have put together a checklist to keep you on track!

Cleaning Up Your Garden

Start by removing any vines, stems, leaves, and any other plant debris found near your plants, trees, and shrubs. You can add your plant refuse to your compost or take it to the local landfill. Composting things such as garden residue, leaves, grass clippings, and kitchen scraps is a great way to recycle organic material. By tidying up your garden this way, you will help reduce hiding spots for any unwanted wintering pests, and come spring; your cleaning will already be done.

If you plan to start a new garden bed in the spring, run a soil test to determine the pH and nutrient needs. Adding organic material such as compost will help make spring planting easier and prepare the soil for your spring garden. Tilling or cultivating the garden soil is a great way to do this. Make sure to add all of your composted organic matter into the soil. Doing this during the fall is better than waiting until spring when the soil is wet. Tilling when the soil is wet can cause issues in your garden, such as damaged soil structure, and can create compaction issues. 

Note: Wait to remove the debris from vegetable gardens after you’ve harvested your final veggies, removing any diseased or insect-infested plants as well.

Cutting and Dividing Perennials

Our perennials are faithful in coming back year to year. To keep it that way, cut perennials to the ground after the foliage has died. This way, energy will be stored in the roots for next year’s growth. Older perennials may become too crowded or begin to die out in the middle; divide the plant using a spading fork to separate the plants into smaller sections. Dividing your plants should be done before the ground freezes to give your plants enough time to settle into their new space before the cold winter months.

PRO TIP: Perennials that bloom during the spring should only be divided during the fall. Perennials that bloom during the fall should only be divided during the spring.

Lawn Care

Next, prepare your lawn for winter by reducing mowing height to about 2-inches for the last mowing of the season. Mid-October to November (depending on where you live) is the best time to do this. Instead of raking leaves on your lawn, use a mulching blade on your mower to grind any leaves down. Grinding down the leaves will help them decompose quicker. Then, add any grass clippings and leaves to your compost pile.

Plant your Trees, Shrubs, and Spring Bulbs 

Fall is an excellent time for planting or replanting any tree, shrubs, or spring bulbs! The cooler weather makes an easier transition for the plants; this will give them a head start producing root growth. Landscape plants, such as trees and shrubs, should have enough soil moisture to begin their winter dormancy. Newly planted trees and shrubs should be hand-watered frequently during the fall’s dry season or until the ground freezes. Applying mulch around your new landscape plants’ base will help keep the soil temperature higher than the surrounding unmulched soil.

Spring bulbs should be planted from late September to October (depending on your area of the country) when the soil has cooled down. During this time, planting will give the bulbs enough time to root before the ground freezes in preparation for their bloom.

Use Ultra® In Your Fall Beds

Applying Ultra® will help boost your soil, plant health, and production by adding plenty of macro and micro-nutrients, vitamins, enzymes, amino acids, and complex carbohydrates. Treating your soil with Ultra® improves soil structure and early and sustainable root development. This will lead to healthy root development, meaning the spring bulbs you’ve planted and any new trees will truly take root during the winter months. You can also expect a solid support system of beneficial microbial life within your garden, all thanks to Ultra®

Come springtime, your pre-existing plants will be firmly rooted, and your soil will be full of nutrients, ready for all of your gardening plans!

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SOURCES:
Gunnell, J., Caron, M., Beddes, T., & Greenhalgh, L. (2018). Putting the Yard and Garden to Bed. Horticulture, Yard(01).