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Turning a Heavily Shaded, Wild Hog and Hurricane Destroyed Yard into a Beautiful Lawn in 30 Days

My mom lives in southeast Texas and has 7-acres of land with most of it being heavily wooded and unusable. The front lawn, however, is divided by her driveway with 1/5 of the lawn on one side of the driveway and 4/5 on the other side. Our project was on the larger side or the 4/5 side.

It has always been my mom’s desire to have a green lawn, but my dad loved the trees. The heavy shade and soil conditions didn’t allow for grass. About 80% of their 40,000 sq. ft. front yard was dirt with heavy sand/clay soil. They call this gumbo clay in that part of the country. The part we were going to work on measured just about 30,000 sq. ft. 

To make matters worse, the day before we began working on the yard a herd of feral hogs came through and turned up part of the lawn looking for grubs and anything else they could find. The damage was mostly in the shaded part and what we thought was a bad thing actually turned out to be beneficial. With the soil turned up, it was more acceptable for planting seed. We just hoped those feral hogs wouldn’t come back!

 The Challenge of Choosing the Right Seed

Seeded Ground

I was faced with the challenge of choosing the best grass to plant in a place where no grass has ever grown. Being in southeast Texas, Newton County, which is about 80-miles north of the Gulf and 20-miles west of the Louisiana border, most all the grasses that are grown there are warm-season grasses. In fact, the only cool-season grass we were able to find in any store was annual ryegrass, which is overseeded in Bermudagrass, adding some green in winter. We would not plant an annual grass so I made sure I brought the grass seed with me.

The most shade tolerant of all warm-season grasses is St. Augustine, which my mom has in part of the front lawn. However, she also had more than 50 trees – both pines, and hardwoods and these are just in the section we seeded. She had a total of about 60 trees total in her front lawn. Almost half of those trees are in 1/3 of the yard on the east side where the heaviest shade is located. No grass has ever grown there, only a few patches of moss. 

Fortunately, as far as shade goes, a hurricane came through just before we started and damaged six trees, which were soon afterward taken out. This allowed for slightly more light to filter through. But there was quite a bit of debris left behind after the hurricane. We had to remove the limbs and leaves before we could begin.

 How We Considered Light and Heat Levels

Before we started, I took light readings at noon to see how much light was reaching the soil in the most shaded part compared to the full sun sections. What I discovered was that the shaded areas were receiving half the sunlight compared to the full sun, which was great because we had expected it to be much less.  The sun was coming in only in patches through the canopy for most of the day, but in one part of the day between 4 – 6 p.m., most of the shaded area did receive almost full sun (except for the shade cast by the tree trunks). The shade also lowered the temperature by about 20-degrees.  I determined this was enough light to work with using the more shade-tolerant varieties of Turf Type Tall Fescue (TTTF).  Many cool-season grasses are more shade tolerant than the most shade tolerant warm-season grass.

The second consideration was if the more heat-sensitive grass of the mix, the fine fescues, could survive the southern summer heat. This has yet to be seen in this project, but we will keep watch over it. Fine fescues are the most shade tolerant, but also the most heat-sensitive of all cool-season grasses. 

In the U.S. fine fescues are relegated strictly as shade grass. Most fine fescues cannot take full sun and this is especially so in southern locations. Yet they can still fail in the shade if the heat gets too high.

For this reason, I made sure there were not just fine fescues in the shade mix. There are about eight different varieties altogether, three varieties of fine fescue and five varieties of TTTF including Nightcrawler TTTF and Cross 4 TTTF. Both are very shade tolerant and crossfire 4 performs well in the deep south while nightcrawler is one of the few fescues that put out rhizomes. The idea for all the varieties is if one variety fails in a specific location then the others will take over.

New Lawn After 30 Days

 How We Started This Project

Our job was not an easy one. At just under 30,000 sq. ft., it was large enough that we had to be careful about the equipment we chose. We needed to break the surface of the soil but didn’t want to rent a walk-behind dethatcher since most are quite small. So I made a 36″ wide dethatcher from materials my mom had in the shop.

Here is how we began…

Using 2×4’s and plywood, along with 6″ nails, I made a dethatcher I could pull behind the mower. The only part of the dethatcher that was touching the soil was the end with the nails sticking out about 2.5 inches. I lined the 2 X 4’s up on either side of the 36″ wide plywood, clamped them in place, and drove nails down the length of the wood. 

Note: The nails I used are labeled as “Pole Barn Nails” and are pretty strong.

I also went to the tire store and got a damaged car tire tube they were going to throw away. I used this to weigh down the dethatcher. I cut the tube in two sections to handle it better and when I was finished, the nails on the dethatcher had about 60 lbs pushing down on them. I use car tires filled with sand because the tubes do not bounce and stay in place. If I used cinder blocks they would have bounced out quickly without tying them down. Since I had to lift up the dethatcher often to clean out the pine needles and leaves caught in the nails, the tire tubes worked much better. In fact, it worked perfectly and for the first few hours, I ran the dethatcher over the lawn in different directions. This broke up the surface and also removed some moss in one location as well as smoothed the damaged soil by hogs.

I then spread the seed. I went over the yard twice. First with a shade grass mix that included five different varieties of seed. This was used primarily in the most shaded part of the lawn. Then again with turf-type tall fescue with five varieties. Afterward I used the backside of a rake and covered the seed with a thin layer of soil. A total of eight varieties of seed were used because there were two varieties that were the same in each bag. I spread each variety, shade grass and TTTF separately so I knew exactly how much of each type was being applied. In the bare ground sections, I spread 10 lbs total per 1,000 sq. ft. In the full sun sections, I only spread the TTTF.

Since there was no soil test performed at that time, the following day I applied a starter fertilizer to ensure there was enough Phosphorus for the new seeds. Phosphorus (P) in the soil is relatively immobile. It doesn’t flow or move with rainwater or irrigation once it enters the soil. There may be plenty of P for mature grass but since the young roots of the germinated seed are short they may not be able to reach it. Therefore, starter fertilizer is often recommended. 

Then we began watering the seed to keep it moist, watering at least twice a day and sometimes three times. The seeds must take in water until they germinate. It took eight days to begin to see grass blades emerging from the seed. The photos showing a green lawn were taken 30 days after planting the seed. Next spring I will get an update on the grass.

 The Benefits of Using Turf Formula® and SuperCal®

Turf Formula® mixed with Super-Cal® is being used. Together they increase the soil microorganisms tremendously as well as increase seed germination. In studies, starting with 5,500,000 CFU (Colony Forming Units) of viable microbes, the studies showed within 72-hours the numbers increased to 187,000,000. This increase in beneficial microbial numbers and activity breakdown soil elements faster into nutrients the plants can use. While fertilizers usually contain just three elements, Turf Formula works on the full spectrum of elements that are broken down by microbes and can be used by plants.  

Turf Formula® can also increase nutrient uptake, make photosynthesis more efficient and create healthier plants with increased root numbers and depth. Plus, soil pathogens are decreased helping plants to better withstand stress and drought. 

I would never grow grass without Turf Formula® and SuperCal® since it has proven itself to be a great benefit in creating better, healthier turf.

Russ James
AgriGro Turf Specialist

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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.

dailymotion.com

 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.

bioadvanced.com

 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

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. 

Call Russ / Email Russ


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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

Creating a Better World

 The Added Value You Gain That Makes All Your Hard Work Payoff

Turf maintenance and home lawn care is something we cannot take for granted. We have realized how much our health can be enhanced from the greenery around us. Having a home lawn and garden is not only nice to look at but is healthy as well. It gives us a sense of tranquility and order in a troubled world. Many take it for granted, not realizing that our plants and turf grass’s combined value far exceed any time or cost we invest in maintaining them. We were created for life in a green world, and we can’t live without it.

However, nature doesn’t merely make beautiful lawns on its own. If you have a lawn, I’m sure you have worked through some grass care problems. You are not alone. Having a beautiful green lawn will always be a work in progress and is a planned process from start to finish.

Take a look below at a few important facts about lawn grasses. You will see that all your hard work, whether you are in the professional turf maintenance industry or simply an avid home lawn care enthusiast, is an important part of creating a better world. 

 Did you know:

  1. An area of grass measuring 5000 sq. ft. in size produces as much oxygen as two 100 ft trees. That is roughly the size of an average front yard. An area of grass 650 sq. ft. in size can provide the daily oxygen needs for one adult. In the process of gas exchange, lawn grasses absorb large quantities of carbon dioxide from the air each day.
  2. Grass has an air conditioning effect on the environment. Roadways and sidewalks can heat up significantly higher than the surrounding air temperature while the adjacent grass will be cooler by at least 25 to 50 percent. A major complaint about artificial turf is that it absorbs heat. The temperature on these fields will often be 25 percent hotter than the air temperature in the stands. As a result, players have played in heat well into the 100s. Injuries also increase on artificial turf. Many stadiums have removed synthetic turf and replaced it with grass—the result: cooler fields, happier players, and fewer injuries.
  3. Performing good turf maintenance practices benefits us in many ways. A good covering of grass helps protect soil from erosion by holding it together through a complex network of roots. A good stand of grass slows water flow, giving it time to be absorbed and helping to recharge the water table. It also shades the soil and slows evaporation. (check out this Sports Field Maintenance article discussing the high demand on sports field managers)
  4. Lawn grass is a big part of nature’s air and water filtration system. Every year, enormous quantities of dust, pollution, and harmful gases are trapped and filtered out by grass blades and roots.
  5. A well-cared-for lawn can greatly increase a home’s value. This is a well-documented observation; manicured lawns add a sense of increased value to the property.
  6. Plants also add a sense of peace in a fast-paced world. Many have found relaxation in garden and lawn care. Experiments on the calming effect of plants were done on Russian Cosmonauts while in space. An area was built for green plants to be grown onboard the space station. Scientists notice that the Cosmonauts showed reduced stress, and their center of social activity always occurred near the plants. In inpatient care studies, hospital patients who were allowed to see and touch live plants felt better, healed faster, and went home sooner.
  7. Thick lawns and pastures are less conducive to weed growth. Poor grass care leads to problems. Many weeds are considered invasive, can attract problem insects, and are hard to control once established. Allowing invasive weeds to dominate harms the environment and is costly to remove.

Transforming grass into a beautiful landscape that is not only sustainable but healthy for you and your family, takes purposeful planning.   Often efforts can go against or deplete the healthy environment your working so hard to create. 

Looking for ways to use less fertilizer and other chemical inputs is important.

AgriGro® works to add life by working with nature and makes it possible to create a gorgeous landscape through our effective fertility program that is a cut above the rest.

Russ James
AgriGro Turf Specialist

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

Call Russ / Email Russ


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Organic Nitrogen in Soil

While all nutrients are essential for plant life, Nitrogen(N) is the element that is required in the greatest amounts to maintain healthy and vigorous plant growth. It is also not very understood. As you will see, using organic sources for your plant nutrients is a lot different than just buying a bag of fertilizer. Let’s dive in to better understand how it works and the effects of organic nitrogen in the soil.

The interesting thing about nitrogen (in its natural form) is that it’s not derived from the soil like other nutrients, but comes from organic matter. Nitrogen released by soil microbes enters the soil as ammonia. Nitrifying bacteria convert ammonia to different forms, including nitrates, the form of nitrogen plants most readily use. If your soil is low in microbes, you will lose much of this ammonia to the air, lowering soil nitrogen levels. Therefore, it is essential to maintain your soil correctly. To help in this, Turf Formula is time tested and increases microbial levels and activity tremendously, which is vital to plant and microbial health. It helps deliver nitrogen and other nutrients faster and more efficiently for plants to use.

Consider how meadows, forests, and rangelands thrive yet do not receive supplemental nitrogen. They are dependent on a constant supply of organic matter to meet their nitrogen needs. In order for lawns and fields to maintain organic nitrogen in soils, organic matter comes from biodegradable materials such as grass clippings, shed roots, fallen leaves, decomposing twigs and branches, dead insect bodies, earthworm, insect, rodent and animal feces, and the like. Leaving grass clippings on the lawn can return 1 – 2 lbs of nitrogen per 1000 sqft each year back to the soil. 

Fertilizer bags always include three large numbers on the bag that represent Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium, in that order. It may have 0 for any of those nutrients if the bag contains none, but companies list them. Most of the fertilization programs professionally developed for turf are based on the amount of N needed on the grass for that time of year. It is equally important for organic lawn care. In turf science, it is said that a person skilled in Nitrogen management separates the true professionals from the average fertilizer user. Professionals are required to know this. 

Another interesting fact that runs contrary to popular belief is plants do not know or care where the nitrogen comes from. Whether through the breakdown of organic matter or by synthetic fertilizers, grass only knows it is nitrogen and will use it just the same.

 The Important Role of Soil Microorganisms to Grass Plant Health

While the grass doesn’t care about the nitrogen source, what about the soil? While it is true that some forms of nitrogen, such as ammonium, can harm some soil bacteria, it is only for a short time. As explained by the Texas A&M Agricultural Science Dept., soil bacteria immune to ammonium break it down into a plant-available nutrient. Then the harmed bacteria begin to recover rapidly. If the bacteria didn’t recover, the world would be in severe danger since 80% of the world’s ammonium is used as fertilizer.

To give you an example of how nature works, consider oil spills. Millions of spilled oil gallons can cause severe damage to birds, fish, microbes, and plant life. It upsets the whole balance of nature. Man tries his best to clean it up, but much of it is impossible to reach. 

This is where microbes come in. What is harmful to one microbe is like Swiss Chocolate to another. Oil digesting microbes can quickly breakdown the oil, and as that happens, the original microbes that were damaged by the oil soon return. This is what happened in the Gulf of Mexico during the BP spill. Within a relatively short time, the oil that pushed deep into the marsh was gone, and life sprang back. Life at the beach – crabbing, shrimping, and fishing – are now back to normal. 

If you have an organic lawn care service or strive to use organics as much as possible, maintaining your soil microbes is of supreme importance. There is nothing quite like Turf Formula® for home and sports turf, or FoliarBlend® for fields related to the most active and numerous microbial activity. University studies have shown Turf Formula® increases your natural microbial activity by up to 5000% in as little 72 hours. Soil microbes break down soil elements into nutrients plants can actually use, and it does it much faster. These microbes provide enzymes, amino acids, and other essential elements plants need for root development and overall plant health (read more on Sports Field Maintenance).

 Role of Nitrogen Inside the Plant

Magnesium is found inside the grass plant at the Chlorophyll molecule center, but three Nitrogen ions surround magnesium. Chlorophyll gives plants their green color and uses large amounts of nitrogen. Nitrogen is also found in amino acids, proteins, enzymes, nucleic acids, and more. It is an essential element for grass blade development, root and runner growth, photosynthesis, and other plant functions. Therefore, healthy grass is dependent on the correct amount of nitrogen availability. 

As already stated, soil microorganisms break down the organic matter and release back into the soil many different nutrients. The microorganism’s activity is related to temperature, with the greatest activity in the high heat of summer and winter being the slowest. As long as soil moisture is adequate, summer marks the fastest organic matter conversion back into nutrients.

To further challenge things, nitrogen is unstable in soil.  This is the primary reason soil tests often do not record Nitrogen levels, because it is so unstable, and levels quickly change. Suppose you are using organic forms of nitrogen. In that case, you need to keep a supply of organic material available to plants, especially from the start of the growing season, through the summer months and fall when microbes are at their highest activity levels. Organic matter can take many forms. Organic fertilizers, such as Milorganite, composted poultry litter, have all been used successfully. The latter generally have higher nitrogen levels than other manures at about 4% N. There are also “bridge products” that combine urea and other forms of N with the organic matter for increased nitrogen levels. 

Some companies make well-composted granulated manure fertilizers that are very safe. However, organic fertilizers cost more than non-organic. You can also use high-quality loamy topsoil or composts. 

Driving these points home, if you are doing organics, especially if you have an organic business, do not rely on nature alone. Your business depends on it. Keep track of organic matter levels via a soil test and the application rate of organic material afterward. If your soil is low in organic material, you will have low organic nitrogen levels in soil, and your grass will not be as green. As a result, your grass will show signs of chlorosis. You may not have enough nutrients to maintain the dark green color needed for healthy plants, and you will need to make organic additions or add fertilizers. 

Remember that chlorotic grass has lower disease resistance, lowered photosynthetic activity, and root development. It may go into dormancy to protect itself earlier when healthier grass would be green and thriving. You need to add Turf Formula to keep the microbial numbers high to convert soil elements and organic matter into nutrients.

If your soil is high in organic matter (6% organic matter is sufficient), then low maintenance turf can easily survive through the year. Places where clippings are left on the grass, such as home lawns, low traffic parks, cemeteries, amenity grasslands, etc., can often survive without nitrogen applications. Suppose your soil is lacking in organic matter. In that case, there may not be enough nitrogen to sustain healthy and vigorous plant life. You will need to add nitrogen in the form of fertilizers or add organic matter through top dressing with loamy topsoils or composts. Sports turf has higher standards, and nutrient levels will need to be closely monitored (check out the article on why Organic Matter Matters).

 How Much Topsoil Should I Get

Another question to consider is, “how much topsoil will it take to cover my front yard with 1/2″ deep of good loamy soil?” 

If purchased in large volumes, it often will come in cubic yards. To get an idea of how much that is, first imagine a child’s toy blocks. They often have letters on them, and you can stack them. Place nine blocks on the floor in a solid square three blocks wide and three blocks long. Then stack two more sets of blocks exactly like it one top of each other. Now you have 27 blocks in three rows of three on every side. If those blocks were one ft square (each block is 12″ on each side), you would have 27 of them, which would equal a cubic yard. That is a lot of dirt.

 Where to begin:

To answer how many cubic yards of topsoil you need, you will first need to know how many square feet is in your yard. So if your lawn is 50 ft X 25 ft, you have 1250 ft².

Since we are talking in fractions of 1/2″, we first need to convert the fraction into feet to calculate the volume of material. Here’s how we do that:

1/2 in depth = 1 ÷ 2 = .5 inches or half an inch **(if you needed 3/4″ deep of topsoil the math would be 3 ÷ 4 = .75 inches**)

Now divide: .5 in ÷ 12 in/ft² = .041 ft²

 Then to get the volume of material needed for 1/2″ deep:

Front Yard Sqft = 1250 ft² X .041 ft² = 51.25³ (The 3 reprepresents “cubic feet”)

You will need 51.25 cubic feet to topsoil to cover it 1/2″ in-depth.

 Now, if you will need to order it in cubic yards:

If one cubic yard = 27³ cubic feet, then how many cubic yards are 51.25³ cubic feet?

Divide: 51.25³ ÷ 27³ = 1.89 Cubic Yards. You will need just under two cubic yards. You can round it up to two if you like to make it easier for the guy loading it.

 Conclusions:

You can apply Turf Formula®, or Turf Formula® mixed with SuperCal® Liquid Calcium, right over the top of the soil.  In a test conducted by the University of Missouri where Turf Formula® and SuperCal® were applied, Brown Patch disease pathogens were reduced by 35% within 72 hours over the control. Many beneficial microbes feed on pathogenic microbes, and this action may be enough to keep most diseases from becoming problems (check out the study here and AgriGro’s prebiotic impact on soil diversity and richness).

The use of Turf Formula® has helped control Take-All Root Rot, Cedar Apple Rust, Pythium Blight, as well as other diseases.  Cedar Apple Rust on apple trees was controlled entirely the year it was tested. The following year the Turf Formula® application was withheld to see what would happen, and the cedar-apple rust came back. Turf Formula® is not a fungicide, but by increasing beneficial microbes, many bacteria and protozoa have one primary function: to find and kill pathogenic microbes. Turf Formula® significantly increases fluid uptake, promotes significant root growth, and aids in more efficient photosynthesis. 

AgriGro products have become a valuable, time-tested resource for organic and non-organic lawn care professionals, used on golf courses and lawns around the country and around the world. If you haven’t tried it, now’s the time.

Russ James
AgriGro Turf Specialist
Call Russ / Email Russ


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Sources:
Lawn Care Academy Turf Specialist, Russ James
Fundamentals of TurfGrass Management – Dr. Nick Christians
The Mathematics of Turfgrass Maintenance – Dr. Nick Christians
Texas A & M Turfgrass Resources