Expectations of a Perfect Lawn

Hank Kerfoot - Wednesday, July 01, 2015

We have been growing Modern Turf Care for four years now and have nearly 800 clients. We appreciate your business and will continue to strive to provide you with the very best yard possible. Our staff is comprised of highly trained turf professionals and most of them have turf degrees from colleges or universities. We take our jobs seriously and the fact that you have trusted our company with your yard means a great deal to us. As the owner of Modern Turf and Modern Turf Care I want to personally thank you for this trust. As I tell my children all the time "trust is earned, not simply granted". This message is a helpful reminder that we do our best for our customers all the time and we realize sometimes that our best may not meet your expectations.

Managing expectations of just what a perfect stand of grass should look like is the hardest job turf managers face; especially since it's impossible. But if you pay a lawn care service to "treat" your yard then it should be perfect, right? After all that's what you are paying for, right? I mean if you wanted a lawn full of weeds and dead spots you could manage that on your own, right?

Well as the owner of a sod farm, a former golf course superintendent, the owner of a lawn care service company and a homeowner whose lawn is managed by said lawn service, I can answer all those questions with one word - wrong. First of all there is no perfect lawn or stand of grass and it is unreasonable to expect that yours should be, whether you manage it yourself or you pay for a service. Allow me to describe many of the common variable factors that determine just how successful a lawn will or can be.

First, I'll discuss irrigation issues. Irrigation systems are installed to supplement rainfall. When we have a drought lawns need to be irrigated more frequently and deeper. So who is responsible for this? Typically the homeowner, sometimes the landscape contractor but almost never the lawn care service company. When we go through periods of drought it is normal to see dry spots in yards. Remember - irrigation is to supplement rainfall - not replace it. When we get into the business of replacing it we will never provide as well as Mother Nature does. Dry spots will show up in lawns for different reasons. It may be a result of poor coverage, poor pressure or a stuck sprinkler head. Sandy soil will show drought faster as it just cannot hold water for very long and, believe it or not, a half-acre lawn can have many different soil types. Slopes and hills can get dry quickly as the irrigation water may tend to run off and settle at the bottom. Sometimes the only way to sufficiently wet these dry areas is with a hose, and I don't mean a sprinkler at the end of it. I mean a person holding a hose, without a nozzle, and flooding an area to get it wet. It may even take several days of doing this to "catch up". But you have an irrigation system and that should cover it - right? Wrong. Supplement - not replacement.

Weeds - what about all these weeds? We live in an area with unprecedented weed pressure. We have a climate that is very conducive to weed growth. Good rainfall year round, coupled with moderate temperatures provide weeds a happy world in which to survive. Weeds are controlled several different ways. The best weed prevention is by growing healthy grass. We strive to do that for you with proper amounts of fertilizer, aerification, lime and hopefully irrigation. Aside from growing really good grass the initial attempts at weed control are called pre-emergents. That's simple enough. They prevent weeds from emerging, mostly. In the late summer or early fall we apply pre-emergents for winter weeds like clover and poa annua. They last through most of the winter and sort of “wear out” towards the spring. If the winter is very cold and it rains a lot in the late winter to early spring the control wears down more quickly. Like this year. That happened. Mother Nature wins, Turf Care loses! We put pre-emergents out in the late winter or early spring to try to prevent the grassy summer weeds like crabgrass, goose grass and sedges. This year we had a tough time applying them at the right time. We had a cold, wet and late spring. The weather conditions, being less than ideal, had an impact on just how effective the weed prevention is this year. Guess what? It’s not good news. They didn’t work as well as last year. It happens. What do we do now? This brings us to the second line of weed control. Post emergents, selective herbicides or weed killers, are trickier to manage. They can burn the grass, especially when it’s very hot. Guess what? It’s hot; it’s very hot and very dry. It’s too hot and too dry to spray herbicide. But the weeds are growing and I pay your company for a perfect lawn. No you don’t. You pay our company to provide you with the best possible lawn and that is the service we provide you.

Shade – I don’t own your trees and I can’t cut them down or prune them on your behalf. In general, grass doesn’t grow in deep shade or under trees. There are exceptions. I have seen them and I am aware that it happens. We have a tool to measure shade and give you a reasonable expectation of how a given variety of grass will perform in your shade. Grass stands under trees suffer for several reasons. One is shade. Another is water. Trees use an immense amount of water. Far greater than any grass plant ever dreamt of using. Trees are more advanced plants and are far superior at extracting water from the soil than grass plants. If you have grass in the shade and you won’t cut down your trees and you won’t trim your limbs – water the living daylights out of those areas – especially in a drought. The third tip for success when managing grass in the shade it to raise the height of cut and cut it less frequently. Grass blades are solar panels – they get energy from the sun! Simply put, the bigger they are the more sunlight they can use to convert water and fertilizer to sugar energy or photosynthesize. Do not apply additional fertilizer to grass in the shade. The grass cannot use the extra fertilizer and it will ultimately burn the turf and set it back.

Brown spots – There are brown spots in my yard and they weren’t there before you last applied something. You killed some of my grass. You’re fired! But first fix my lawn. Well hold on there partner. We may be responsible and we may not. We treat nearly 800 properties now and we are not perfect (just like your lawn!). With that stated we have never killed a yard (knock wood). When we apply a fertilizer or chemical to your yard, we apply it completely to the entire lawn. That’s what you pay us to do. If we put out the wrong chemical or too much fertilizer or did both at the same time when it is 104° outside, it is unlikely that we will leave a spot or two of injury or death. We would probably toast the entire yard. Like I stated, we haven’t done that yet. So if we come out to look at some spots or areas in your yard, don’t be surprised if we try to figure out exactly what actually happened. It may not be what you want to hear. I know… last week you had Augusta National and now it looks like Graniteville Goat Ranch, I get it. We see it all the time but we are professional turf experts so please give us a chance to investigate the symptoms and see if we can diagnose the issue, help fix it and keep it from happening again. And yes, by all means, if we did it - we will own up to it and we will rectify the situation.

As the summer wears on it may get cooler and wetter but that would not be the typical trend. It normally gets hotter and drier. Hopefully you can use some of this information to help have a better looking lawn. A few more things you can do to help maintain better grass (particularly in stressful times) are to mow the lawn less frequently, mow it taller and keep those blades sharp. Dull blades are awful and cause great stress to turf plants. I see lawn heights get lower and lower all summer because lawn mowing services want you to know they have been there. As the summer stress takes a toll on grass it slows down growing. Don’t let your grass be mowed too low, too often with dull blades! If someone provides you with a mowing service, discuss these things with them and get them to change what they are doing. It’s your yard – make them change!

Finally, please remember that even the finest golf courses in the world that have millions of dollars a year to spend and staff rosters topping 40, have weeds, and dead spots, and shade issues, and different soil types and irrigation inadequacies. We strive for perfection all the time and ask your patience while we try to achieve the unattainable on your behalf. If you think this is all a bunch of bull, come look at my yard sometime, it’s the worst it’s been in a couple of years. I’m good with it. Modern Turf Care treats it. I suspect it’ll look better by the end of the summer and hopefully next year it will be perfect, but I’m not counting on it…