Guide to Best Management Practices for Turf Grass
Improperly cut grass will see a decline in overall turf quality. By following the 1/3 rule we will never remove more than 1/3 of the grass blades during a single mowing. Mowing more than 1/3 will put your grass under undue stress and cause shock and a decrease in root growth. If you find turf has grown particularly tall, it is best practice to raise your mowing height for the initial cut and then come back a few days later and reduce the height again, till you get it back to your regular mowing height. Another thing to keep in mind is having a sharp mower blades. Making sure you have a new or sharp blade on your mower will provide a clean cut to the turf blade, which will in turn help reduce the risk of disease and stress to the turf as well.
Aeration and dethatching are both great tools that can assist you in achieving great turf health. Aeration will open up the soil surface and improve the air exchange between your soil and the atmosphere which allows the root-zone to breath. It will also reduce water runoff and improve fertilizer use, resulting in a thicker and healthier lawn. Aeration is best done when the grass is actively growing; for warm season turf that would be mid-spring. For cool season grasses, aeration can be done in the spring or the fall. My preference is to aerate in the early fall, because it will give your turf plenty of time to recover before winter, and spring can run the risk of damaging tender grass shoots.
Dethatching involves removing the debris from decaying plant material. A thin layer of thatch approximately ½” is adequate, and actually helps to maintain soil moisture and temperature. When thatch is thicker than ½”, it can be difficult for water to penetrate through that thick layer of debris. A thick layer of thatch cause issues such as attract pests and diseases, block air, water, nutrients and or fertilizer from getting into the soil. A big misconception it that grass clippings cause thatch; that is not the case. Clippings are mostly water and decompose quickly, and they will also help to return nutrients to your soil.
Pests are intuitive creatures and we know that environmental conditions like temperature and rainfall can give us clues into what type of pests we should be on alert for during different times of the year. Pests use different means of feeding on plant tissue, they can be described as chewing vs. piercing/sucking. Many this can help us to diagnose what pest we might be dealing with based on how and what part of the plant tissue that the pest is attacking. Popular culprits you may see are: Grubs/Beetles, Caterpillars (Armyworms, Cutworms, Sod webworms), Cinch Bugs.
Scouting for various insects, identify any ones that are present and then determine if a mitigation strategy is necessary. Using best management practices is a great way to limit insecticide exposure and taking the environmental factors/impact into consideration. Good news is, if we have healthy turf, it can typically withstand some degree of pest pressures.
A soil test is recommended to determine your soil pH and the nutrient availability. This will provide you with guidance on how much nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and micronutrients you will need to deliver to your turf and if necessary, amend your soil. For warm season grasses fertilizer applications will typically take place April through September, and for cool season ideal times are early spring, summer, and fall.
The amount of irrigation needed takes into consideration soil type and evaporation rates, which are affected by temperature, humidity and wind. Different soil types dry down at different rates, for instance growing turf in sandy soils will require more water then growing in a soil profile with more clay content. I recommend performing an audit on your irrigation system to determine how much water you are delivering and the uniformity of the system. This can be done by getting several containers and placing them measured distance apart from each other and running your irrigation system. Based on your audit results you can then make adjustments on runtime and the distribution of water.
Watering deeply is a crucial step in the development of a deep root system because a deep root system will make for a more resilient and durable stand of turf. This turf will be able to tolerate environmental stress factors much better than shallow-rooted turf. If you find that you can’t quite get that irrigation system dialed in, or you want better uptake on the fertilizer that you have applied, or you just want to reduce your watering requirements- Hydretain can help. Hydretain is a humectant technology that is applied either in granular or liquid forms and when watered into your root-zone helps plants use moisture vapor in the soil that would otherwise be lost to evaporation & condenses that vapor into plant usable water droplets.
These five areas of management are a great pathway to get your turf on the right track. If we take a closer look at these areas, they are all interrelated. If we manage our thatch through cultivation, then our irrigation and fertilizer, we will see more successful results and healthy turf. Also, if we are adhering to the 1/3 rule when mowing, the turf will be healthier and have a tolerance to some minor pest pressures.
Western Regional Sales Manager- Golf, Sports Turf, and Nursery Markets