November 14, 2019 0 Comments

Can I Still Plant? First Frost & Fall Establishment

Most regions of the U.S., with a few exceptions, have experienced their first frost of the season by now. And landscapers are among that select group of people for whom that first dip into freezing temperatures means more than just it’s going to be a chilly day. An avid gardener, I watch that daily high and low with an eagle eye every fall and spring. On more than one occasion, I’ve had to drop everything and make it a priority to move all my pots indoors for the season. As a result, I’ve come to view that 32 degrees F with a sort of mysticism. It seems a dark magic must be at work to transform a vibrant, huge coleus one day into a wilted mess the very next. So what does first frost actually mean and does it end the planting season?

Fall Frost Forecasts
According to the National Weather Service (NOAA), hitting 32 degrees and first frost in the fall aren’t necessarily synonymous. “Frost can occur when the temperature falls below 36°F, especially in rural areas. It is a localized phenomena and can be quite variable across a small area. While the National Weather Service does not keep track of ‘frost’ in observations per se, we do keep track of when temperatures hit the freezing mark or fall below. Frost becomes more widespread when the temperature falls below 32°F with some freeze possible. A hard freeze is possible when temperatures fall below 28°F.” Here’s a breakdown of NOAA terms:

Frost Advisory: issued when temperatures, winds, and sky cover are favorable for frost development. Most likely when temperatures are less than or equal to 36 degrees. Frost coverage should be more than patchy. If a frost is sufficiently severe to end the growing season, it is commonly referred to as a ‘killing frost.’ What to do – Cover up plants before the sun sets so to help retain heat.

Freeze Warnings: issued when low temperatures are expected to be 29-32 degrees. What to do – Move sensitive plants inside.

Hard Freeze Warnings: issued when temperatures are expected to be 28 degrees or less. What to do – Sensitive plants must be moved inside because the freeze will kill them.

A color coded map from NOAA shows the average date of first freeze in regions across the U.S. A very convenient search of frost risk dates by percentage can also be found on the popular gardening site, Dave’s Garden. Simply type in your area code for information. For instance, when I typed in a NJ area code, it revealed, “Each winter, on average, your risk of frost is from October 15 through April 30. Almost certainly, however, you will receive frost from October 29 through April 17. You are almost guaranteed that you will not get frost from May 13 through October 1. Your frost-free growing season is around 168 days.” It also included charts from three NJ weather stations, provided by the National Climatic Data Center, breaking down by percentages, dates, and temperatures the probability of first freeze or last frost.

What Can Be Planted?
Of course, not all horticultural work has to cease after first frost since the soil stays warm longer than the air. Spring flowering bulbs can still be planted until the ground freezes. And while September and October are generally the best months to plant new trees and shrubs, the experts at Davey Tree say as long as the ground isn’t frozen yet, there are still some varieties that can be planted after first frost. Here is more specific advice from Davey’s arborists:

• Avoid planting evergreens after first frost. It’s difficult for them to establish roots and preserve needles with the limited water supply in winter.

• Also avoid planting birch, dogwood, willow or magnolia since they need more time to establish. Plant in spring and water throughout the summer.

• Unless your area has a mild or warm winter, hold off on planting new fruit trees until the spring so they aren’t damaged by winter weather.

• Generally, other deciduous trees and shrubs can be planted if they will have at least four to six weeks to establish roots and drink water before the soil freezes.

• Not sure about soil temps? Use a soil thermometer. If soil is consistently 50 degrees or higher, it’s safe to plant deciduous trees or shrubs.

• In areas where the ground does not freeze, late fall and winter planting can actually be ideal because trees can establish roots before hot, dry weather sets in.

*In Florida, you can most likely plant any time of year, but unlike the states listed above, the rainy season from May to October is best.

• If you do plant, make sure to mulch and water weekly until the ground freezes. Trees that have been planted for at least a year can be fertilized when dormant in late fall or early winter.

This article was shared from

September 1, 2019 0 Comments

Determining The Need For Reconstruction

By James Moore, U.S. Golf Association
This is one of the most important questions that can be asked regarding every golf course. Usually this question is followed by questions such as:

Do greens wear out over time?
Why is it some greens last for over 50 years and other are rebuilt within 10 years?
How long will it take?
How much will it cost? (Which is often followed with a repeat of the first question – do they really need to be rebuilt?)

At first, these questions would seem to be relatively easy to answer. But the person asking such questions will quickly find that they will receive many different answers to the same question- depending largely on the perspective of the person being asked.

There are at least four distinct perspectives that come into play.

Agronomic Characteristics
The agronomic aspects of the existing and proposed greens involve the greatest amount of science and technical considerations. The following procedure is recommended to determine whether or not the greens should be rebuilt.

Arrange for a Turfgrass Advisory Service visit from the Green Section agronomist in your area. The agronomic staff of the Green Section can provide an unbiased assessment of the ability of the greens to perform up to expectations. This assessment will based on formal agronomic training and invaluable experienced gained from visiting a wide variety of golf courses and green construction techniques.
Please do not assume the Green Section agronomist will recommend the reconstruction of any green simply because that green is not currently built to the USGA Guidelines for Green Construction. (The USGA Green Section’s Guideline for the Construction of Greens can be found at USGA Guidelines.) The USGA agronomists fully realize that there are many greens that perform extremely well that are far from being Spec greens as they are often referred to in the industry. In fact, the agronomist will make every effort to determine whether or not the existing greens can be improved through modifications to the maintenance programs.

Improve the growing conditions of the existing greens as much as possible. Often greens that are performing poorly can be greatly improved with practices including a more aggressive aerification program (including various types of aerification), adjustments to the fertility and/or fungicide programs, the provision of additional light and air movement to better support turfgrass growth, the raising of cutting heights to create a stronger plant, the acquisition of better quality water, or even something as simple as increasing traffic control efforts to distribute traffic over a larger portion of the green. The Green Section agronomist can be very helpful not only in helping the golf course superintendent identify such steps, but also in documenting the need for such work in a written report to the course leadership.

Please note! Seldom do greens fail solely because they are poorly built. More often, there are many stresses on a green that cause it to fail. While reconstruction may well be justified, unless the other conditions that contributed to the turf’s failure are not corrected as well, the new green is unlikely to perform up to expectations. One good method of ensuring all aspects of the current growing conditions of the greens have been considered is to complete a USGA Report Card for each of the greens.
Remove samples from the existing greens and submit them to an accredited, physical soils laboratory for analysis. Provide your Green Section agronomist with the results of the testing. The golf course superintendent and the agronomist can then evaluate the impact of the root zone on the overall performance of the green and determine if corrective maintenance practices are in order – or if complete reconstruction is necessary.
Once you have completed the steps listed above, you will have a very good idea of the agronomic strengths and weaknesses of your greens. However, the most difficult part of the assessment process remains. That is, to determine at what level of maintenance the limitations in the greens will become apparent in terms of lost or damaged turf.

For example, a golfing membership that expects near championship putting quality on a daily basis (an unrealistic goal in most parts of the country) will need greens that are much better constructed and subject to very few other stresses. Predictably, the low cutting heights necessary to produce very fast greens place a great deal of additional stress on the greens. Such greens are invariably be less able to tolerate heavy play, limited light, poor air movement, or extremes in temperatures. Those golfers desiring the ultimate in playing conditions will also need to provide the ultimate in growing conditions for the turf. The reverse is true as well. On those courses where the majority of the players can be kept happy (assuming golfers can ever be kept happy) with moderately paced greens and the greens “enjoy” otherwise good growing conditions, limitations in the construction of the greens will be far less influential on their overall performance.

Another example how the construction of greens impacts courses differently can be found in areas of varying water quality. In many communities the quality of the water can vary widely from one part of town to another. While all greens should be irrigated with good quality water, those that receive water high in salts, sodium, and bicarbonates are under a great deal more stress. Such greens must have good internal drainage to allow leaching of these components out of the upper portion of the root zone and away from the plant.

Often golfers have a hard time understanding the interrelationships between the various stress factors the greens must endure. There is a tendency to look for one thing that needs correcting in an effort to simplify the problem (the problem being poor turf performance). The reality is that all greens are exposed to a wide variety of stresses. Just a few examples include heavy play, low cutting heights, poor air movement, limited light, tree root competition, inadequate cupping area, limited entrance and exit points to and from the green, compaction of the root zone, poor quality water, and bentgrass grown too far south – and bermudagrass grown to far north. And of course – poorly constructed greens. Again, prior to making the decision to rebuild the greens, every superintendent and representatives of the course leadership are urged to complete the Report Card to get a better idea of the “big picture”.

Architectural Characteristics
Most often, greens are targeted for reconstruction because of their agronomic limitations. However, poor or inappropriate architecture is every bit as good a reason to rebuild as a root zone that does not drain.

Architecture has a tremendous impact on the overall performance of a putting green. Consider a green design that includes severe contouring of the putting surface. Although the green may measure 6000 square feet in surface area, from an agronomic standpoint the area that is usable for hole locations is the more important measurement. Even though the green may be large, if the contours are so severe that they limit hole locations to just a few areas the concentrated player traffic will wear the turf thin.

The design of the green obviously impacts it’s ability to withstand traffic. The architect that designs small, heavily contoured greens for a course that receives heavy play does a disservice to all concerned. However, this seldom happens. What does happen is that many times the amount of play a course receives today is much greater than what the course received during the first few years after construction. This is exactly what has happened on many older courses. Golf has never experienced the popularity it now enjoys. While this has been good for the game and those who enjoy it, many older courses still have greens that were designed for much less play. The same “push-up”, 50 years old greens that might withstand 15,000 round per year, may fail completely under 30,000 rounds.

Changes in the way golfers want the greens to be maintained have also impacted the design of the greens and the ability of the turf to withstand traffic. Greens that only 20 years ago were mowed at 3/16 of an inch and perhaps measured 6 feet on the stimpmeter (a device used to measure the speed of greens) may today be mowed at 1/8th of an inch and measure 9 feet. The low cutting heights necessary to produce fast greens greatly reduce the ability of the turf to withstand traffic. The faster speeds likewise “amplify” the contouring of the greens. Hole locations that were considered reasonable at 7 feet on the stimpmeter are often out of the question at 9 feet. This effectively makes the usable area of the green much smaller.

Obviously, the combination of lower cutting heights, faster putting surfaces, and more play will have a strong negative influence on the green’s architecture as well as it’s agronomic performance. As a result, the original architecture of a many courses is often inappropriate to today’s conditions.

When the greens on a beautiful old course cannot withstand the amount of play they receive because they are just too small, a change in architecture is necessary. Often this is an extremely difficult decision for the golfers and leadership of the course. This is particularly true for courses with architecture of historical significance to the game of golf. No one wants to lose the artistic touch of Tillinghast, Mackenzie, Ross, McDonald, Maxwell, or many other great architects that have done so much for the game. For this reason, perhaps the greatest test of today’s architects is to be able to preserve the “flavor” and strategic value of a historical architectural style while at the same time incorporating design characteristics that will allow the green to better withstand today’s pressures.

Needs of the Golfers
As discussed above, many of today’s golfers expect greens for daily play that far exceed the quality that was expected for major championships just 20 years ago. Many golfers expect daily course conditions comparable to what they see on television on the weekend. Unfortunately, very few of these same golfers have any idea how much preparation goes into peaking a course for a championship. With very few exceptions, the course that is seen on television has undergone weeks and even months of extra preparation for the event. The main point of this discussion is that golfers should realize that rebuilding greens to USGA guidelines does not mean those greens will be able to support championship conditions on a daily basis.

There is another major factor regarding the needs of the golfer’s that must be considered whenever the need for greens reconstruction is evaluated. Some golfer’s greatly desire smooth, firm, and very fast greens, and are willing to pay whatever it takes to obtain such greens. However, many other golfers find greens that are softer and slower more in keeping with their games. Predictably, these different needs can lead to sometimes bitter disagreements within a golfing membership. And often, the split is well defined by age. Many seniors simply do not strike the ball as hard as their younger counterparts. As a result, their shots are seldom as high nor does the ball have as much backspin. Firm, fast greens are therefore more difficult for most seniors and many women golfers.

More importantly (from a construction standpoint), while the greens may need to be rebuilt in order to sustain the very low cutting heights necessary for very fast putting surfaces, their construction may be adequate for a less strenuous maintenance regime. In other words, a green that fails miserably when mowed at 1/8 of an inch for weeks at a time may perform quite well when maintained at 3/16 of an inch for the season. When faced with the cost of reconstruction and the fact that the greens may be closed for as much as 10 months for reconstruction and grow-in, many golfers will chose slower, softer greens mowed at the higher height. Please note – not all greens construction problems can be solved simply by raising cutting heights of the mowers. There are many greens that are so poorly built that regardless of the setting on the mower the greens will frequently fail.

Needs of the Ownership or Leadership of the Course
When the conflict arises between those golfers that want new greens and those that find the existing greens satisfactory, the leadership and/or ownership of the course is caught in the middle. Which group should be appeased? Much depends on the need to attract new golfers and/or members. Courses located near other good courses must remain competitive. They cannot afford to offer playing conditions (or club facilities of any type) that are significantly inferior to their competition. The leadership must also consider the need to constantly attract new players. Attrition is an undeniable and inevitable occurrence at almost every course or club.

In at least one respect, it is a shame greens are not depreciated over time. A very general rule for the life expectancy of greens is that the construction should last at least 20 years. Over that 20 year period there are likely to be major changes in the golfer’s expectations for how the greens should be maintained. There could very well be major changes in the amount of play the courses receives. After 20 years the greens will probably not drain well internally. Without question there will continue to be major changes in the legal and environmental aspects of golf course maintenance. And, like almost everything else, there will be major improvements in grasses over any 20 year period. All of these factors will favor the periodic reconstruction of the greens. It is the responsibility of the course leadership to prepare for such work well ahead of time. Good preparation often makes the difference between a project that is accepted by the golfers and one that is not. Equally important, good preparation almost always makes the difference between a project that is successful and one that fails.

As you can see, there is much more to determining whether or not the greens need to be rebuilt than simply sending a soil sample to the laboratory. Again, one of the best steps you can take early on in this entire evaluation process is to involve your local Green Section agronomist.

July 20, 2019 0 Comments

Lawn problems & watering at night.

Watering your lawn at night offers the main benefit of reduced evaporation; you conserve water while maximizing your turf’s absorption ability without the sun’s constant heat. Watering at night, however, can encourage disease in a poorly managed lawn. Although healthy turf may not have obvious disease issues from nighttime watering, irrigation should occur during morning to avoid possible grass damage over time. Whether it is best to water lawn in morning or afternoon depends on the time of year.

Ideal Timing for Watering the Lawn
During spring and summer, lawns must endure afternoon heat stress because most grass species grow best in full-sunlight locations. Help your grass endure the long, afternoon sunlight by irrigating your lawn in early morning. Evaporation loss is minimal because wind and sunlight are limited at that time of day. Also, plants absorb water faster in morning than during afternoon.

The absorbed water helps grass retain its green hue and upright posture throughout the day. Watering lawn in morning or afternoon is helpful during the colder months because if a particularly cold night is ahead, daytime watering allows time for the moisture to move into the soil to protect the grass from frost damage.

Disease and Lawn Watering Schedule
Many bacterial and fungal diseases rely on wet foliage for reproduction and to spread. If you water lawn at night in summer, the lack of evaporation provides time for the pathogens to infiltrate your grass. Morning watering allows time for evaporation and soil absorption, keeping foliage dry overnight.

Overwatering any time of day, however, causes major lawn problems. For example, soggy soil reduces oxygen supplies and causes grass stress. As a result, pathogens, such as root rot, set in and damage the lawn until you correct the soggy conditions. In general, water infrequently to a 6-inch soil depth each time; watering a little bit each day only encourages shallow roots that succumb to drought stress and possibly disease.

Water Lawn Morning or Night to Prevent Pests?
Pests use nighttime to invade a lawn while unseen. As you water your lawn in morning, you have a chance to remove the pests, such as snails, to prevent widespread turf damage. As grass blades swell with moisture, they are more difficult for small pests to damage; wilting grass blades allow simple access to their internal areas upon which pests feed. Morning irrigation efforts keep grass strong for natural pest resistance, which means you don’t have to rely on spraying harmful pesticides across your yard.

Watering for Effective Turf Management
Compacted soil and a thick thatch layer of decaying stems and foliage hinder water absorption and may contribute to puddling on grass turf’s surface. Nighttime watering of a lawn with poor soil often suffocates grass roots and invites disease to the moist areas. Aerating soil by removing 1- to 2-inch long soil cores from the ground rejuvenates grass by providing better access to moisture and oxygen.

Aerated soil reduces puddling and disease while moving precious water into lower areas of soil where roots can absorb the water. Aeration also reduces the thatch layer, allowing healthy water absorption during morning irrigation.

Article shared from

June 1, 2019 0 Comments

Want a fantastic lawn, fast? Sod it! Here’s what you need to know to get the job done right.

Slowing down and watching the grass grow sounds good. In theory. But the reality is that if your lawn needs renewing, you’ll be looking at a big patch of dirt for weeks. And why wait, when summer can begin right now — with a lush green carpet underfoot?

When it comes to getting a thick, healthy lawn, nothing beats sod grass rolls for instant gratification. Sure, it costs a bit more: about $400 to cover a 1,000-square-foot backyard (double that installed). But if you follow our tips for laying sod, in a couple of weeks you’ll have a dense, well-established lawn that’s naturally resistant to weeds, diseases, and pest infestations.
“You’re basically buying time,” says This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook. “You’re paying for turf that someone else has coddled for 14 to 18 months.”

You’re also buying convenience. Sod can be installed spring through fall (and even in winter in mild climates). In areas of the country that favor cool-season grasses, like the Northeast, it avoids the problem of sprouting a nice crop of weeds when seeding a lawn in spring. And in southern states, which favor warm-season grasses like Bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, and centipedegrass, sod is the best way to cover the yard at any time of year, since these turf types cannot be grown from seed.

“Sometimes sod gets a bad rap, but that’s usually because of mistakes people make while laying it,” says Roger. “Put down on properly prepared soil, it will thrive.” Turf likes a well-aerated base that’s slightly acidic (with a pH between 6 and 7.5) and nutrient-rich. And the only way to know what kind of soil you’ve got is to test it. For about $15, your local extension service will send a soil sample to a lab for analysis; results will come back within a week or two and indicate precisely what amendments you should add and in what quantity.

Then it’s time to buy your sod. Depending on where you live, you can order it from a garden center or directly from a sod farm. It will generally be a mix of two or three turf grasses, chosen for optimal color, texture, and heartiness (be sure to tell your supplier if your yard’s in partial or full shade). Ideally, sod should be delivered within 24 hours of being cut and be laid the same day. Measure your yard carefully so you can order the right amount, with some overage (about 5 percent) to account for cutting around curves.

Count on one weekend to prepare the soil for sod and another to lay the turf. If your yard is covered with patchy grass, you’ll need to remove it first. This is best done with a sod cutter (available from your local rental yard for about $70 per day), which slices it off below the roots. While you’re at it, you’ll want to rent a rototiller (about $55 per day). You’ll also need a sod-cutting knife with a 2-inch blade, a spreader, an iron rake, compost, and other soil amendments, including fertilizer and lime, depending on what your soil analysis dictates. Two people should be able to cover 1,000 square feet in a day; get extra hands if you plan to lay more than that.

Article and excerpts were shared from THIS OLD HOUSE

May 20, 2019 0 Comments

Benefits of Turf Grass

Sustainability maintained turf serves the environment in many ways.

Turfgrass Reduces Runoff
Turfgrasses slow down the speed and reduce the force of flowing water, allowing more of it to be absorbed into the soil to the benefit of groundwater reserves. Also, any settlement that has been picked up by water is invariably trapped within the stand of turfgrass. This prevents many of the pollutants and other chemicals that rain water gathers from ending up in our water system; instead they go in the soil where they can be broken down safely. Runoff and subsequent soil erosion is considered to be one of the main causes of nutrient contamination of our water supplies. Reducing stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces is a relatively new concept in landscape design with rain gardens being developed in some residential neighborhoods. Some researchers are also recommending designing turf areas to serve as catchments and filtrations zones for polluted runoff water.

Turfgrass Prevent Erosion
Turf systems are not only efficient at catching and filtering water but are also very efficient at holding on to nutrients. Nutrients such as phosphorus are fixed onto soil particles or taken up by the turf, and they do not leach out readily. Turf’s fibrous root system binds the soil together preventing it from being carried off by rains and wind. The blades of grass also slow down rainwater, reducing the amount of soil being carried off by the force of the water. With soil erosion becoming an increasing problem, turfgrass can play vital role in reducing losses.

Turfgrass Replenishes Air
Plants take up carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the atmosphere and grass is no exception. Well-managed turfgrass can also help reduce pollen production by preventing the growth of weedy species which produce significant amounts of airborne pollen. Dust and other airborne allergens are also trapped within a dense stand of turf.

Turfgrass Promotes Safety
Healthy turfgrass serves as a barrier to fire damage and is capable of preventing a large fire from spreading out of control. Well-maintained lawns also deter insect pests such as ticks from invading and rodent pests are typically deterred from crossing large areas of turf. Turfgrass is also a soft surface for recreational purposes- statistics indicate injuries are reduced when compared with artificial services. Natural turf offers a safe, resilient surface for children.

Turfgrass Regulate Temperature
Turf is considerably cooler than most other common surfaces, fifteen degrees colder than concrete and 30 degrees less than synthetic turf. The process of transpiration has a cooling affect that lowers the temperature of the air around the turfgrass plant. Studies have shown that the amount of heat given off by bare soil or poorly maintained turf is substantially more than that of a healthy well maintained stand of turfgrass.

Turfgrass Supports Bioremediation
Pollutants, such hydrocarbons and heavy metals, that are detrimental to the health of people, plants, and animals, often end up in our soil where these substances can be broken down by bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms. A healthy stand of turfgrass possess an extensively fibrous root system, providing both the habitat and energy source for these microbial populations to be much more productive than other plant systems.

Turfgrass Sequesters Carbon
Stands of healthy turfgrass play an important role in carbon sequestration or removal of carbon from the atmosphere. During photosynthesis, carbon dioxide is converted into plant biomass allowing for long-term storage of carbon below the ground within roots. Where grassland systems differ from other ecosystems is that the below ground biomass is relatively large compared to the above ground growth.

Turfgrass Helps with Noise
Turf studies have demonstrated that if turf is planted on a sloped barrier facing a noise source, noise can be reduced by as much as 8 to 10 decibels. Any noise that penetrates is rendered softer and less irritating.

Originally posted on: National Park Service