Last summer was brutal on turf in much of the country. Record high temperatures coupled with little rain did serious damage to grass, leaving behind brown patches of denuded earth. Now that spring has sprung, your customers will look to you for help in restoring the beauty of their outdoor landscapes. Are you ready?
To effectively serve landscape professionals and homeowners interested in repairing distressed turf, you must start with having the right equipment in your fleet.
Get rid of the dead stuff
The first step in bringing new life back to damaged turf is to remove excess thatch, so first steer your customers toward a dethatcher, or power rake. “Remove as much of the dead plants as possible,” says Bob Brophy at Turfco Mfg. Inc. “Take two passes with a dethatcher and rake or use a good bagging mower to remove the dead plants.”
Dethatching becomes a priority when thatch buildup from the prior season exceeds a quarter inch or more, says Pierre Pereira at Billy Goat. “Excess thatch can prevent water and nutrients from reaching the soil and contribute to fungus and turf disease.”
Give it some fresh air
Next, your customers will need to aerate their lawn with a coring aerator. Aerators work by relieving soil compaction in the top few inches of the soil and improving root depth as well as air, water, fertilizer and nutrient flow. “This increases turf health, drought resistance, and results in less stress, fewer weeds and pest problems,” Pereira says.
Once the aerator loosens and fractures the soil, the hole will make an excellent growing medium for tender new plants, forcing roots to go deeper for water and nutrients, making them stronger and more resilient in the long run. “A big mistake most people make with new lawns is they water too frequently and the plants keep their roots on the surface, where the water is.” Brophy explains.
Instead, instruct customers to water deep to drive the roots down. “Keep in mind that grass plants are basically lazy,” Brophy says. “If you give them the food and water on top of the soil, they will not put down roots for when the water and food are gone... then the plants die.”
Ana Voorhees at Toro says aerating should be done in the spring or the fall when temperatures are cooler and grass is growing and benefits most from better access to water and nutrients. “Aerate when soil is moist, but not too wet, to allow full cores to be pulled out by the aerator,” she says. “In drier conditions, soil may need to be watered one to two days before aerating.”
Steer customers toward a unit that’s ergonomically designed and/or mechanically driven to reduce user fatigue.
“Much like shoveling snow, turf care is a seasonal chore,” says Linda Beattie with Schiller Grounds Care. “If an operator is not used to operating turf care equipment, the weight of the unit and the nature of the work can be rather physically exhausting. But there are units designed specifically to enhance ease of use and reduce user fatigue. Tradition drum-style aerators, which often require added weight to effectively penetrate hard, compacted soils, can produce a good bit of vibration during operation and turning. Look for a unit that offers steering capabilities that eliminate the need to physically lift and turn the unit. Also, consider stocking reciprocating-tine units, as these units will require little if any additional weight to penetrate the soil, effectively reducing the overall weight of the unit during operation.”
Plant for new growth
Finally, it’s time to overseed with a high-quality seed specific to the growing zone. If your customers aren’t sure about what seeds to use, suggest they check with a local agriculture extension agent, turf professional or seed supplier to determine the best plants/seed.
“After a lawn is aerated is a great time to use an overseeder,” Voorhees says. “An overseeder cuts slits into the soil and disperses grass seed with one machine. Coupled with aerating, seeding will help the grass seed penetrate the oxygen-rich soil for maximum growing conditions.”