Fertilizer

Mulch Much?

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Welcome back to the Wonderful World of Weed Man!  We are nearing the end of our ‘The Grass IS Greener Over There!’ series.  We have journeyed through the instrumental practices of a healthy and beautiful lawn and have a few remaining stops.  This week’s adventure stop will help answer the question of mulching or bagging the lawn clippings!  Unbeknownst to the average homeowner there is a raging debate within the industry regarding this topic.  OK!, perhaps it really isn’t raging, nor is there a real debate – I just wanted to create some drama to capture your interest!  Let us move forward with a little less ‘creative license’ on our subject.

Mulch or Bag?  While the question is not overly complicated, it definitely can be too simplified in reasoning what to choose.  Before I was educated on the topic, I would choose based on how lazy I felt.  Unfortunately, I was doing myself a disservice by thinking it was that simple.

Mulch – what is it?  As it pertains to your lawn, simply stated, it consists of grass clippings from the mowed lawn.  The cut blades can be sliced into fine pieces that fall easily onto the top surface of the soil.  Soil microorganism will help break the mulch down and reintroduce nutrients back into the soil.

Don’t grass clippings cause thatch buildup? No – It’s a common misconception that thatch is just grass clippings that do not get broken down in the lawn.  Thatch is actually a matting of stems and roots that form just below the surface of the lawn.  For more info on thatch, our last blog article touches on the subject when we wrote about aeration.

Do I need a mulching mower?  Not necessarily.  A mulching mower will help break the grass blade down into smaller pieces than a regular mower. Mulching mowers are specifically designed to limit grass clumps in the lawn.  Nevertheless, a regular mower will do the trick as well, if you mow often enough, or are only cutting a small amount at a time.

So when should I mulch?

  • When you want to provide extra nutrients back into the soil. Some experts will tell you that if you mulch all year, it is equivalent to an extra application of fertilizer on the lawn.
  • Increase organic matter in your soil
  • Save time and effort! When you mulch you don’t have to spend extra time collecting and disposing of clippings.
  • If you prefer not to add to landfills with grass that can be easily broken down naturally in your own lawn.

When should I bag clippings?

  • When you prefer the look of a ‘clean’ lawn. Typically mulching, when done properly, will not leave much of a visible footprint.  Whatever is left behind breaks down fairly quickly though.  Grass is 85% water, it won’t take much for it to dry up and disappear.
  • Bag, when your lawn is overrun with weeds. You don’t want to run the risk of putting more weed seeds down into your lawn.
  • Bag your lawn when the grass is wet or too long, as it won’t break down quickly and will leave piles of grass or clumps on the lawn. This will also make it difficult for existing grass to grow, breath, or get sunshine.
  • Bag if you want to start a compost pile that can be used in other areas of your garden.

If you are like me, there are appropriate times to bag and appropriate times to mulch.  I really like to bag my lawn during the seasons that I want to add mulch to my garden areas.  Sometimes it’s just quicker to mulch the lawn if I need to get it done before an incoming rainstorm!   Bagging during the fall is also a great way to cleanup leaves in your lawn with minimal effort.  I also like to bag my lawn clippings, when my lovely wife tells me to!

Really whether you bag or mulch, the choice is up to you.  Doing one practice over the other will not cause death and destruction to your lawn.  If you have a preference and it is working for you, great!  Now you may have further reason to stick with it, or consider changing your particular practice.  Either way, in the immortal words of G.I.JOE, ‘now you know, and knowing is half the battle.’

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Fertilizer is the BEST Weed Control!

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Welcome back the the Wonderful World of Weed Man!  This is part two of our “The Grass IS Greener Over There!” Series.  If you missed last week’s post you can check it out here.  This week is going to be a primer on lawn fertilizer.  I know, I know, you can hardly contain your excitement!  The masses have clamored, and we are answering.

(For those of you who just like the answer, and less of the journey – just hire Weed Man and we will make your lawn look amazing!  If you want to know the why and how, then read on!)

Large amounts of misinformation and myth exist out on the ‘interwebs’ regarding lawn fertilizer.  So much information that we could never cover it in one blog post.  My goal for this post is to give you a general overview and deal with the most important factors when it comes to fertilizer.

Why should I fertilize, you ask?  We will discuss many of the benefits a little later, but, in a nutshell lawns need food/nutrients.   If you were to visit our website, you would find a very basic overview of our fertilizer service –

“A well-fertilized lawn is better at preventing weed infestation as well as drought and disease. In turn, healthy lawns help the environment by producing oxygen, cooling the air during hot weather and trapping and absorbing urban dust and pollution. Blended exclusively for Weed Man, our fertilizer is a 65 percent slow-release granular fertilizer and is made from naturally occurring ingredients including nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Weed Man’s most popular premium quality, slow-release granular fertilizer feeds your lawn for 4-6 weeks, or 6-8 weeks depending on the blend or time of year.”

There are many types of fertilizer:  Liquid, granular, slow release, quick release, etc..  Granular will feed the lawn at the root system/soil level. A liquid spray only feeds the blade generally and may not last in the grass very long.  Slow release will meter out the nutrients over a period of time breaking down via water or soil temperature.  Quick release fertilizer does the opposite.  It gets into the system quickly and it is metabolized quickly.  Quick release reminds me of a person who wants more energy and instead of eating healthy and exercising they drink coffee.  Do you really want your lawn to look healthy or be healthy.  When we visit your lawn we will use a granular slow release – the best product we can find for the overall health of your lawn.

There are a tremendous amount of benefits to having a healthy lawn, and fertilizer helps your lawn become/stay healthy.  

There are a few components that lawns need to maintain their health and vitality. Essentially up to 17 elements are required for your lawn to thrive:  Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sulfur, Zinc, Iron, Boron, Magnesium, Manganese, Molybdenum, Copper, Calcium, Chlorine, and Nickle.  These elements can be found in Air, Water, Soil, and Fertilizer.  Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium are the 3 macro nutrients that your lawn needs the greatest help with, and the remainder of essential nutrients are referred to as micro nutrients.

When you visit your local hardware store looking for fertilizer, every bag will have an NPK number listed on it.  24-0-6 for example (the mixture we use) tells you that 24% of the mix is Nitrogen, 0% Phosphorous, and 6% Potassium.  Although we do utilize phosphorous in our mix, it is not a large enough amount to register for the NPK – we find for the lawns we treat, it is an element that already exists in the soil in our area.  No sense in placing more elements than needed in the soil.  There has been a lot of legislation and concern over the years about phosphorus.  Purdue has a great fact sheet about phosphorus in fertilizer.

24+6 = 30, at least the answer chart at the end of the math book shows it to be 30.  What about the other 70%, is it just rocks and filler?  Absolutely NOT!  The remainder 70% is comprised of compounds and micro nutrients to help the lawn absorb the macro nutrients.  For example elemental phosphorous catches fire spontaneously when exposed to the air, and is poisonous to plants in concentrated forms.  (Think Fireworks!)  We couldn’t put that down on the lawn in its raw form, so it must be manipulated to an amount and form feasible for the plant to absorb.

So once down on the lawn, what exactly does the fertilizer do for the grass?  Well, let me take a deep breath and expound on some of the laundry list of benefits just associated with the plant biology:

  • Promotes rapid growth hastening recovery after mowing
  • Helps the formation and function of chlorophyll
  • Synthesizes amino acids that turn into proteins
  • Regulates the uptake of other nutrients
  • Stimulates early root formation and growth
  • Hastens maturity of plant
  • Stimulates blooming and seed development
  • Causes energy transformation and conversion of sugars
  • Vital for photosynthesis
  • Essential for cell division
  • Increases disease resistance and hardiness
  • Strengthens cell walls
  • Affects water intake

Other benefits of fertilizer include:

  • A good looking lawn – who doesn’t want this?
  • More oxygen in the environment
  • Better disease, drought, and insect resistance
  • Run off and erosion is lowered.

I wanted to transition from that last benefit to one of the common myths we hear regarding fertilizer:  It’s better for the environment if you don’t fertilize and let “nature” take care of your lawn.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  The statement does not even make any sense.  Think about it.  Where in nature do you see grass similar to what you would see in a residential lawn?

A residential lawn is NOT a natural environment for grass.

Lawns need help.  Left to nature lawns will not improve on their own.  Most lawns are setup over compacted soils when a home was developed.  Very little or no top soil was left when the home was built, and sod or seed was put down over the rocky construction debris.

Not only will nature fail to take care of your lawn, leaving your grass unfertilized will impact the environment in a much larger way, then if you do fertilize.  Erosion and runoff levels could be 100 to 1000 times greater for unfertilized lawns than those that utilize a fertilizer.  University of Minnesota did a study on residential lawn runoff and found that unfertilized lawns were worse for the environment than fertilized lawns.  Here is quick video from the leading professor conducting the study.  My favorite quote from Brian Horgan, Ph.D –

“If you don’t fertilize your lawn thinking you’re doing better, you’re actually doing a lot more harm than if you properly fertilize your turf”

I think he sums it up nicely.  Fertilize your lawn.  It really is the best weed control.  Make your lawn healthy by supplying it naturally occurring elements.  A healthy lawn is a thicker lawn.  It fills in bare spots.  Will it eradicate weeds?  NO. When you limit your bare spots and have a thick lawn, its is so much more difficult for weed to germinate.  This means less weeds in general.  Which means less man made chemicals needed to spray for weeds.  It really is the BEST weed control.

My final point will be to show you pictures.  Here are a couple pictures of lawns with a partial fertilizer program (first picture) or no program at all? maybe a competitor?(second picture) in comparison to our program.  These we taken from previous year customers who had a full program, but who had NOT YET had our spring fertilizer for this year.

 

To sum up:  Go out and fertilize your lawn.  Better yet, Hire Weed Man!