Lawn Aeration: A Step by Step Guide

Image result for lawn aeration steps

As late summer transitions into early fall, many homeowners are planting new grass or fortifying their lawns to prepare for the upcoming cool season. Aeration is a vital part of the grass growing process. Aerating soil alleviates soil compaction—density built up over time by playground sets, rough-housing children, barbeques, and four-legged friends. Through aeration, soil is broken up so that oxygen, water, and nutrients can penetrate grass roots. This allows the grass to grow more deeply, producing a stronger, tougher lawn.

Aeration Made Easy!

Some homeowners hire landscaping companies to aerate their lawns for them. This is a great time-saver, but, for homeowners who prefer DIY lawn care, no worries! Our step-by-step guide makes the aeration process easy and stress-free.

Step One: Prepping

Before you begin aeration, make sure you have the necessary tools. You’ll need a yard aerator, either power or manual. A power aerator runs on gas and uses spikes or a coring system to poke holes in your lawn. If your yard is large, a power aerator will save you a lot of time. If you have a small yard, a manual aerator should do the trick. Manual aerators are push powered and also use a spike or coring systems. Both kinds of aerators can be rented for cheap at hardware stores.

Before you begin, you should make sure your lawn is clean, tidy, and ready to be aerated. Rake up debris, clear trash, water your grass, and mow. If your grass is overgrown, the aerator will have a hard time reaching the soil.

Step Two: Beginning Aeration

Operating an aerator is similar to operating a mower. You’re going to start at one corner of the yard and aerate in strips until the entire yard has been covered. You should not cover the yard more than once, unless there is an area that is used heavily and needs extra attention. If you go back over an area, aerate in the opposite direction for maximum effectiveness. Once you’re done aerating, leave the holes in your yard alone. Over time, they will fill with healthy nutrients!

Step Three: Further Care

Aeration can leave your lawn vulnerable for a short period of time. Applying compost or a fertilizer will help it power through and give your grass some added nutrients as it begins to grow. Once fertilizer is put down and seeds are planted, you’re in the clear! You can now look forward to a beautiful lawn in the seasons to come.

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What is a GMO?

If you have ever been in a grocery store, chances are you have seen food packaging marked “GMO Free!” You’ve probably seen a lot of food marked this way, from cherry tomatoes to whole grain pasta, and you might have asked yourself “who cares?”

When something becomes a green buzzword (organic, grass fed ect.) it loses some of its meaning. A sticker that says “non-GMO, certified organic” doesn’t exactly explain what any of those terms mean or why they are important in the grand scheme of agricultural science. Terms like “GMO” are connotation-heavy and require some serious unpacking. Let’s start somewhere simple.

GMO stands for “genetically modified organism.” Though this term may sound scary on paper, in gene science, it’s not quite that sinister. To create a GMO, scientists extract a gene trait from one species and insert it into the gene sequence of another, unrelated, species. The foreign genes can come from viruses, bacteria, plants, and even people. There are limitations, of course. Gene scientists have not yet created a real-life spiderman, but they have created goats that produce silk protein via spider DNA. They’ve also produced a lot of genetically modified produce, which is a main focus in current GMO debates.

Since the mid-1990’s, GMOs have been a staple of the American produce industry. Though banned in other countries, GMOs are not yet heavily regulated by the US government. The vast majority of processed foods contain genetically modified produce, usually to increase pest resistance and productivity.

Scientists are making many positive changes in agriculture through gene science. They’ve engineered popular foods to be resistant to devastating diseases and droughts, extreme weather conditions, and pest infiltration. They’ve also modified foods to increase nutritional value, yield, and taste! With advancements in gene technology, scientists are poised to fight world hunger by creating more durable, productive crops. However, GMO technology has also faced some setbacks.

Some biologists, nutritionists, and other health scientists have expressed concerns about the toxicity of GMO crops that produce their own pesticides. Several studies have concluded that certain GMOs can cause organ damage when consumed (Institute for Responsible Technology). Others are concerned that, by genetically modifying organisms, scientists could cause the extinction of naturally occurring species. Small farmers complain that gene technology is running them out of business, since many of the genes that make up GMOs are “owned” by large agricultural corporations that have sued small farms after their GMO plants cross-pollenate with farmers’ non-GMO plants. The ethics of being able to own and patent certain genes causes ongoing debate (read: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/feb/12/monsanto-sues-farmers-seed-patents).

Ultimately, gene science has many practical applications beyond the creation of GMOs. That being said, there are numerous potential benefits to utilizing genetically modified produce to fight hunger, blight, and pest infestation. These benefits do not entirely offset concerns about GMOs, which raise valid questions about how to ethically, safely, and responsibly use gene science. For those who worry about GMOs in your food, fear not: there are plenty of non-GMO options for you at your local grocery store (conveniently labeled, to!)  As for those that still don’t care, try not to feel too guilty as you bite into a sweet, cheap, and monster-sized genetically modified tomato~

A History of American Lawns

Lawns are a staple of modern American suburban life, but it wasn’t always that way. Before the industrial revolution, manicured lawns were only for an elite, wealthy few. Lawnmowers weren’t available for public use until the late 1800s. Before that, families would have to hire groundskeepers to trim their lawns with scythes, or otherwise purchase cattle to eat excess grass. These weren’t viable options for workers that subsisted on less than a dollar a day!

A scythe.

Most homes had dirt plots or small vegetable gardens out front rather than lawns. If there was grass, it was typically overgrown and unmanaged. Grass growth was generally considered a nuisance. Americans did not have access to foreign grass varieties or genetically engineered turf, and the majority of grass that grew in the wild was unsuitable for tidy lawns. This, combined with America’s unpredictable weather patterns and a lack of reliable irrigation technology, meant that lawns were an impractical commodity.

An American “lawn” in the plains, circa 1870.

Designs for a man-powered grass mowing machine started popping up in the early 1800s. In 1870, Elwood McGuire of Richmond, Indiana designed a push mower easy and inexpensive enough to be used by ordinary Americans. This invention allowed lawn management to become a reality for America’s rapidly developing middle class. The allure of a broad, green lawn worked its way into the American consciousness, and America’s lawn craze began.

Illustration of an early cylinder mower

By 1915, The U.S Department of Agriculture was searching for the perfect grass variety to be used in lawns. Aided by new technology, the U.S.D.A tested Bermuda, Fescue, Bent, and Blue grasses. After studying the qualities of each variety, scientists began genetically engineering new strains of grass seed that were sturdy, beautiful, and adaptable to America’s diverse climate.

With the invention of the watering hose and improvements in irrigation technology, America’s obsession with lush lawns grew. By the mid 1900’s, there was a way to keep plants hydrated even during dry seasons. Additionally, the import of “cool season” grasses meant lawns could stay green all year long, even in northern climates. When millions of Americans moved from urban centers to suburbia in the 1950’s, lawns became a major focus in the lives of middle class Americans. Families had more land and more money to turn their outdoor spaces into livable and beautiful symbols of status and prestige. A green lawn (and a white picket fence to go with it) became a part of The American Dream.

Today, Americans spent billions of dollars each year on lawn maintenance, and millions of people hire landscaping companies to put in irrigation systems, lay down sod, and trim up gardens. There have been numerous innovations in the landscaping industry, especially when it comes to “green” landscaping. Now more than ever, landscapers are finding ways to keep lawns looking beautiful while also conserving water, cutting down on pollution, and preserving the environment. As the definition of what makes a healthy, beautiful lawn changes, landscapers are changing their businesses to adapt. Whatever the future holds, we’ll be ready.

How You Can Stop Invasive Plant Growth

Invasive species have earned their name. Though, to an untrained eye, they are often indistinguishable from native wildlife, invasives are aggressive, unwelcome garden inhabitants. They spread quickly and relentlessly, choking out native growth and disrupting the habitats of local animals. In Virginia, invasive plants like Heaven Tree, Kudzu, Alligator Weed, and Japanese Honeysuckle run rampant. I have personally spent hours uprooting Heaven Trees in my own backyard, and it can be backbreaking work. However, a small labor like this seems insignificant when compared to the ecological and economic destruction that invasive species cause when left unchecked. As gardeners and landscape lovers, we have a responsibility to be on the look-out for invasive growth, and to always keep it under control.

Kudzu vines

Why Care About Invasive Growth?

You know that beautiful garden and lawn that you’ve spent hours nurturing, cultivating, and protecting? After an invasive species outbreak, all that hard work could very well be for nothing. Invasive species strangle and smother other species of plants, out-competing them to complete extinction. With no natural predators, invasive species can grow indefinitely, completely altering native ecosystems. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation says invasive species cause “substantial impacts on rare or vulnerable species or natural communities” and can “alter ecosystem processes” considerably (http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage/document/nh-invasive-plant-list-2014.pdf).

Tree of Heaven invasive plant

What You Can Do to Stop Invasive Growth

When creating a landscaping plan, always research the plants you’re planning on including. Make a conscious effort to include native plants in your design. Remember, most invasive species can be replaced by native species. For instance, if you like Japanese Honeysuckle for its sweet, flowery aroma, consider going for sweetbay magnolia instead. It has similar characteristics, but it won’t smother your garden or disrupt the local ecosystem.

This helpful chart from http://www.usna.usda.gov/Gardens/faqs/InvasivesAlternatives.html might give you a few ideas:

Problem Plant Desirable Characteristics Great Alternatives
[Click on icon for Native Plant image]
Japanese Wisteria showy flowers, fragrance woodland phlox, Phlox divaricatus
sweet azalea, Rhododendron canescens
coast azalea, Rhododendron atlanticum
American wisteria, Wisteria frutescens
Japanese Honeysuckle fragrant flowers leatherflower, Clematis viorna
Carolina jasmine, Gelsemium sempervirens
trumpet honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens
sweetbay magnolia, Magnolia virginiana
purple passionflower, Passiflora incarnata
English Ivy Drought Tolerant Evergreen plantain-leaved sedge, Carex plantaginea
marginal woodfern, Dryopteris marginalis
woodland aster, Eurybia divaricatus
alumroot, Heuchera villosa
creeping mint, Meehania cordata
Allegheny spurge, Pachysandra procumbens
creeping phlox, Phlox stolonifera
Solomon’s seal, Polygonatum biflorum
Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides
Autumn Olive Drought Tolerant strawberry bush, Euonymus americanus
wax-myrtle, Myrica cerifera
meadowsweet, Spiraea latifolia
mapleleaf viburnum, Viburnum acerifolium
Barberry Cheap/Nice Fruit strawberry bush, Euonymus americanus
shrubby St. Johnswort, Hypericum prolificum
winterberry, Ilex verticillata
deerberry, Vaccinium stamineum
mapleleaf viburnum, Viburnum acerifolium
Purple Loosestrife Long Bloom Season/Wet Tolerant swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata
sweet pepperbush, Clethra alnifolia
purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea
gayfeather, Liatris spicata
grass-leaved blazing star, Liatris pilosa
green-headed coneflower, Rudbeckia laciniata
New York ironweed, Vernonia novaboracensis
Miscanthus species Strong Vertical and Fall/Winter Interest split-beard bluestem, Andropogon ternarius
switchgrass, Panicum virgatum
sugarcane plumegrass, Saccharum giganteum
little bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium
Indiangrass, Sorghastrum nutans
Lesser Celandine Early Color spring beauty, Claytonia virginica
yellow ragwort, Senecio aureus
Other spring ephemerals, if nursery propagated
Asian Bittersweet Showy Fruits American bittersweet, Celastrus scandens
Virginia rose, Rosa virginiana
Porcelainberry Fast Grower/Colorful Fruits gray dogwood, Cornus racemosa
Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia
swamp haw viburnum, Viburnum nudum
Shrubby honeysuckle Replant after removal spicebush, Lindera benzoin
highbush blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosum
arrow-wood viburnum, Viburnum dentatum
Burning Bush Euonymus Fall Color fringed bluestar, Amsonia ciliata
Hubricht’s bluestar, Amsonia hubrichtii
witch-alder, Fothergilla gardenii
oak-leaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia
fetterbush, Leucothoe racemosa
swamp haw, Viburnum dentatum
arrow-wood viburnum, Viburnum nudum

Invasive species can also travel on shoes, landscaping tools, firewood, and gear used for hiking, camping, fishing etc. Seeds often “hitchhike” and spread this way. Remember to always clean your gear after every use and be mindful of what you might be tracking around. Accidently leaving Heaven Tree seeds in a national forest could spell disaster for hundreds of plants and animal species.

Never release exotic fish, reptiles, birds, or plants into the wild. You don’t necessarily know the effect this will have on the local ecosystems. Many of these exotic species do end up spreading rapidly and becoming invasive. Let pets be pets and wildlife be wildlife.

If you see invasive plant species popping up around your yard, do your part and pull them up. Pulling weeds may not be fun, but it’s a big help when it comes to fighting back against invasive growth. You may also consider volunteering for your local ecological conservation organization. There, you can learn more about invasive species and how to help solve the problem!

Preventing Mosquito Infestations

Summers in Southwest Virginia are lush, balmy, and beautiful. It’s the perfect time of year to relax on an open deck or lounge in a comfy patio chair, cocktail and book in-hand. Unfortunately, as every Virginia native knows, the ubiquitous mosquito is also a big fan of our warm, humid summers. They show up in droves as soon as the days begin to get consistently warm and stick around until first frost. Their annoying, itchy, and painful bite makes it hard to fully appreciate the outdoors without loading up on bug spray or wearing mosquito netting. Many homeowners struggle to keep them out of their lawns and gardens, but there are a few tried and true remedies that can help you reclaim your yard and enjoy this beautiful weather before it comes to an end.

Little Insect, Big Problem

Mosquitoes are more than a nuisance; in many parts of the world, they are a deadly threat. Mosquito borne illnesses infect millions every year. Zika, a particularly threatening mosquito borne illness, has made national headlines as a global health threat. It is important to be aware of the dangers that mosquitoes pose, and to know how to keep their populations in check.

The majority of mosquitoes live out their lives within one or two miles of where they were born. Once mature, they propagate rapidly, and can quickly cause an infestation. To avoid infestations on or near your property, you should develop a thorough treatment plan:

Mosquito-Proof your Landscape

Mosquitoes love shade and moisture. If your garden is overgrown or your lawn is littered with damp leaves/dead grass, mosquitos will flock to your landscape. Over-watering plants, allowing excessive overgrowth, and leaving out lawn-clippings are all recipes for disaster. Keep your plants pruned, your grass cut, and water your plants directly at their roots rather than letting water pool around them.  Your yard should be clean, neat, and free of standing water!

Take Care of Water Features

A standing pool of water is like paradise to a mosquito. They will eat, breed, and multiply there all summer long. If you have standing water features in your yard, you should take extra care to keep mosquitoes away. If you have a pond, consider installing a source of flowing water to keep water clean and circulating. If you notice water pooling on lawn ornaments or in buckets, dump it out. Don’t let debris (like plastic bottles or cups) sit in your yard; even a small bit of pooled water can host mosquitoes. If you have a birdbath or a stagnant fountain, change the water regularly. If you keep a rain barrel, cover the opening with mesh to prevent mosquito infiltration. Leaks and clogged gutters can also lead to mosquito infestations, so keep your gutters clean and get leaks fixed as soon as you notice them!

Prepare with Natural Remedies

You do not necessarily need chemicals to mosquito-proof your landscape. Certain plants, such as citronella and marigold, can ward of mosquitoes before an infestation starts. Additionally, planning a landscape design that is breezy and sunny will allow you to more easily manage your risk factors. And, though it may seem strange to welcome animals like dragonflies, frogs, bats, and birds onto your property, these animals feed on mosquitoes and can naturally limit their population. Plus, a few birds or bats is certainly preferable to dealing with mosquito bites!

August Landscaping Checklist

Is it August already? It seems like just last weekend we were celebrating the summer solstice, and now summer is in its final month. School is starting up, the days are getting shorter, and fall is right around the corner. It’s a transitional period, and that means it’s prime time to start preparing your landscape for the cooler weather up ahead. As we careen into August, keep in mind this landscaping checklist:

  1. Harvest produce and flowers: At this point, much of your summer produce is probably ready to be picked and eaten. Don’t let it remain in your garden for too long; the longer it stays on the plant, the more likely it is to get eaten by pests. It is also a good time to pick flowers off your perennial plants. Place them in vases around your home or give them as gifts to friends and family. By pruning your perennials, you are encouraging more growth later in the season.
  2. Take extra care of your lawn: Your lawn may have had a hard summer. Heat, storms, and drought can damage even the most resilient of lawns. It may be time for a fertilizer treatment, especially if your grass has yellowed throughout the season. Many flowers, on the other hand, will soon need less fertilizer. Keep watering regularly, especially on hot days. Twice a day is the minimum, but extra watering could be necessary if you notice that water is evaporating rapidly. Be sure to keep up with your mowing schedule, as well. Un-mowed lawns are more susceptible to disease.
  3. Prepare your fall produce garden: August is a great time to plant and prepare fall produce. Arugula, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, kale, mustard greens, spinach, and turnips can all be planted this time of year!
  4. Grow grass: As we detailed in our last blog, it’s grass growing season! If you want to cover up the bare spots in your lawn, now is the time. Fescue, bluegrass, and ryegrass are all ideal for late-summer or early-fall planting.
  5. Feed the hummingbirds: At this time of year, hummingbirds are preparing to head south for the fall. However, they can still help your garden throughout the month of August, so keep feeders well-stocked. Well-fed hummingbirds will have an easier time migrating, and a strong hummingbird population is infinitely beneficial to garden lovers.
  6. Keep up the good work: Continue pruning dead growth, controlling weeds, watching out for pests, and checking for common grass diseases. Transitional periods are all about upkeep. Maintaining the health of your yard throughout August will make fall chores all the easier, and it will give you a beautiful landscape to enjoy as the last days of summer slip by. Savor and appreciate all the hard work you’ve done! You deserve it.

Choosing the Right Turfgrass

It’s nearing the end of summer, and, for turfgrass specialists, that means turf season is about to start. Some landscapers may already be laying down cool-season turfgrasses like fescue and Kentucky bluegrass. If you are planning on growing grass this season, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of various grass types in order to best access your options.

When it comes to picking turfgrass, homeowners typically want a variety with durability and year-long aesthetic appeal. Virginia’s hot summers and cold winters make it a particularly tricky climate for maintaining grass growth, especially when it comes to warm weather grasses like Bermuda and zoysia. Cool weather grasses are more commonly recommended by turf experts. Unlike warm weather grasses, cool weather grasses do not become wilted and brown as soon as the first frost hits. With proper maintenance, they can retain their green hue all year long. Here are a few cool weather grasses to consider:

Tall Fescue: Tall fescue is one of the most common turfgrasses in Virginia. It has a sturdy, deep root system that helps it stay hydrated during droughts, and it can withstand a variety of soil conditions. Generally, lawn-owners that are looking for a low-maintenance grass type will enjoy the ease of tall fescue.

Kentucky Bluegrass: When it comes to aesthetic appeal, few turfgrasses come close to Kentucky bluegrass. Known for its signature dark green color, Kentucky bluegrass is beautiful and testy. It needs to be regularly fertilized and deeply watered to keep away common grass diseases like dollar spot and red thread. This grass is also known for its creeping growth habits, which can become a nuisance to lawn-owners. Seeds take anywhere from 14-21 days to germinate, so spring planting is usually more successful than fall planting. Many turfgrass professionals install mixes of fescue and bluegrass for home-owners that want flare without added trouble.

Fine-Leaf Fescue: This fescue variety has thin, needle-like leaves that people tend to love or hate. If you can tolerate its thin leaves, you’ll find that fine-leaf fescue is a low maintenance and durable alternative to tall fescue. It thrives even in low-fertility soil and doesn’t require as much mowing as other varieties. However, it does not prefer a lot of traffic or consistently wet ground, so be weary if you walk or sit in your lawn frequently. Fine-leaf fescue is particularly tolerant of the shade, and thus works well for homeowners with shady yards.

Perennial Ryegrass:  Perennial ryegrass is a particularly good option for cool, mountainous regions. It requires little maintenance and can withstand a lot of ware and tear, although it is not very drought resistant and has been known to become susceptible to disease. Turfgrass professionals do not usually use ryegrass on its own; rather, they mix it with Kentucky bluegrass for a more durable lawn covering.

For more helpful tips and information about turfgrass, check out our website: http://www.roanokelandscapes.com/