Frequently Asked Questions in Residential Landscape Construction
What are some solutions to common soil problems?
High-clay soils are composed of small sticky particles that are easily hold their shape if molded when wet. When clay soil is dry it is extremely hard and very compacted. Clay soils are dense and do not allow water to move easily through them. They can drain slowly.
To improve clay soil, add organic matter such as compost, sphagnum peat moss, or aged manure and work it deeply into the soil using mechanical means such as shovel, digging fork or rototiller.
Sandy soil is composed of large particles, they are gritty to the touch. This sandy soil has the opposite issue as clay because it drains quickly leaving little water for plants.
The solution to improve sandy soil is the same as the solution to clay soil, add organic matter such as compost, sphagnum peat moss, or aged manure and work it deeply into the soil using mechanical means such as shovel, digging fork or rototiller. The organic matter will help slow the water’s travel through the soil and allow the plant material more time to drink it up.
pH is a unit of measurement of the acidity and alkalinity in soils. A Soil is said to be acidic if has a pH less than 7.0. A soil is said to be alkaline if it has a pH more than 7.0.
Knowing your soils pH level is important when choosing plants that will do well in your soil. Over time, many plants have adapted to different soil pH levels. For example, thyme, oregano, clematis, and others grow better in alkaline soil. Other plants, such as rhododendrons, azaleas, and blueberries, do better in acidic soil.
A soil test will tell you if your soil is acidic or alkaline and may give recommendations for correcting the problem. Typical pH corrections involve working lime in the soil to raise the pH or elemental sulfur to lower the pH. Generally, here in Utah we have alkaline soils mostly because our water is slightly alkaline. Due to this fact, efforts to correct the soil pH are short lived and need to be repeated continually to keep the lower the pH.
My lawn is newly seeded! How should I care for It?
- Water lightly but frequently. For best results, keep the soil damp. Do not water to the point of puddles and do not let it dry out. When the seedlings are 2 inches high, decrease the frequency of the water applications but irrigate for longer durations.
- When the grass blades reach 2 to 2 .5 inches tall - mow for the first time. Allow the soil to dry out some so your mower will not leave tire tracks. Cut the grass to a height of 1.5 to 2 inches. Begin mowing down to this height each time the grass reaches 2.5 to 3 inches. After mowing three or four times, increase the mowing height to 2.5 to 3 inches.
- Apply fertilizer. Four to six weeks after germination, apply 0.75 to 1.0 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. Apply again the same amount of nitrogen in another four to six weeks. Use a new lawn starter fertilizer that is high in phosphorus, or a high-nitrogen product commonly used for established lawns available at most garden centers.
- Use caution when using herbicides on newly seeded lawns. If weeds become a problem and you would like to use an herbicide, the product label will let you know when it is safe to apply the herbicide to a new lawn.
How should I care for my newly sodded lawn?
- Water short durations2-3 times a day for the first two weeks. If it is warmer water more often, if cooler, less often. Avoid puddling and excessive runoff but make sure to wet the entire root zone which is only about ½ deep. On the third week begin to reduce the frequency of the watering but increase the duration. Test for root establishment by gently pulling up on the grass. If you feel resistance, the roots are beginning to grow into the soil. Continue to adjust down the frequency of the watering on a weekly basis until the lawn has grown roots into the soil and the is being watered only watered once a day, three to four times a week. Once grass reaches 4 inches, mow to 2.5 to 3 inches. After four weeks, begin a fertilization schedule.
What is the best care for my established lawn?
Good mowing habits, a balanced fertilization schedule and correct watering are the keys to the best-looking lawn on the block. These 3 keys will reward you by smothering weeds and resisting diseases.
- Mow grass to 3 to 3 .5 inches high. A lawn cut to 3 to 3.5 inches tall is less prone to insect, disease, and weed problems.
- Cut off no more than a third of the height. Mow more often if needed and when the longest grass leaves are 4 to 4.5 inches tall.
- Mulch whenever possible. Bagging your clippings removes valuable nutrients that can be returned to the soil. Investing in a good mulching mower benefits your lawn and your pocketbook by reducing the amount of water and fertilizer needed to maintain a healthy lawn. Mow often and only when grass is dry to prevent clumping.
- Fertilize in September and again in late fall. At a minimum, be sure to fertilize your lawn in September and late fall. Use a fertilizer high in nitrogen such as 22-0-5. If you would like to go the extra mile, fertilize again in mid- to late May to keep the lawn green and healthy throughout the summer.
- Train your lawn to use less water. How do you do this? This is done by watering deeply and infrequently. Water only when it is needed rather than on a set schedule. Allow the lawn to get a blueish-gray cast to it before watering. This slight color change is a sign of stress. Stress will cause the lawn to reach deeper for the water. Don’t worry, a healthy lawn will recover quickly to a lush green shortly after water is applied. To water deeper, applications of water should be longer in duration. Water to the point where water begins to runoff. Stop watering, wait 30 minutes and then water again to the point of water runoff. This will create a good saturation of the soil. The goal is to wet the soil to a depth of 4-6 inches. You won’t need to water again for a couple of days.
- Pay attention to the weather and adjust your water accordingly. When spring rainfall is plentiful, you may not need to water the lawn to maintain its color and density. During the heat of late summer, you may need to water more often.
- Consider upgrading your irrigation controller. Recently several “Smart” irrigation controllers have become available on the market for homeowners. These controllers are Wi-Fi enabled adjust watering duration and intervals base on weather data and programmed site conditions delivering the water your plant material needs when it needs it rather than on a set schedule.
How Long Should I Run Each Irrigation Zone?
Easy question, not so easy answer. Because different sprinklers use different methods to apply the water, they often apply that water at different rates. The rate at which the sprinkler distributes the water will determine how long they should run. Generally watering recommendations for plants and lawns given in inches. When properly spaced, a fixed spray nozzle will apply between 1.75” to 2” of water in an hour. Stream rotators will apply between .4” to .65” per hour. This means if a fixes spray nozzle runs for 30 minutes it will water almost an inch of water while the stream rotator running for the same 30 minutes will only water one quarter of an inch.
To get a good feel for how much water your own irrigation system applies in any given amount of time, try gather several a shallow flat cans or pie tins. Place them around the lawn in the given area of the zone you are evaluating. Run the zone for a given amount of time and then measure the water that has accumulates in each can/tin. This will tell you how much water was applied during the specified runtime. Using this information, you will be able to determine the duration of time needed for that zone to achieve the desired depth of water.
What Do the Numbers on the Fertilizer Bag Mean?
One all bags of fertilizer there is a label with three numbers. These numbers represent the percentages (by weight) of three key nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
The nitrogen helps the green leafy growth of the plant. The phosphorus aids in strong root stem growth and aids in bloom production. Potassium regulates the CO2 uptake and the general health of the plant.
Which Fertilizer Should I Use?
Generally, there are two types of lawn fertilizer:
- Starter fertilizers. These fertilizers are high in phosphorus to promote growth under the soil. This type of fertilizer is used seeding a new lawn and after the new stand of grass has begun to grow. They are not recommended for use on established lawns. Such fertilizers will have numbers like 24-25-4.
- Fertilizers for established lawns. This type of fertilizer has a high nitrogen content to promote above soil growth and health. They will have little if any phosphorus or potassium. Such fertilizers will have numbers like 46-0-0 or 23-3-5.
When Should I Apply Fertilizer on Established Lawns?
Depending on the stage of establishment of your lawn will determine how when you should apply fertilizer. At a minimum, established lawns should be fertilized in September and late fall. Be sure to follow the application instructions on the label of the fertilizer bag. You will need to know the amount of square feet of lawn you wish to fertilize.
How do I get rid of the weeds in my lawn?
Mowing, fertilizing, and watering are the first line of defense for a great lawn however every now again you may have occasional problem with weeds.
There are different weed types that require different control strategies. The first step will be to identify the weed.
Annual Grassy Weeds
One of the most common annual grassy weeds is crabgrass. Crabgrass grows from seed each spring. Over the summer, it produces new seeds and then dies after the first couple frosts. The seeds produced during the summer will germinate following spring to repeat the cycle. While a vigorous growing lawn will make it difficult for crabgrass to grow, sometimes seeds may blow in from your neighbor’s lawn.
The best means of breaking the cycle of annual weeds such as crabgrass, is to use a pre-emergent herbicide. Pre-emergent products work by inhibiting a key enzyme that aids in the germination of the seed. They are only effective when applied prior to germination, generally, early spring and early fall. Pre-emergent herbicides do not kill existing weeds. Be sure to read the label for application instructions.
Annual Broadleaf Weeds
Annual broadleaf weeds grow from seed each year. Most often they are found in recently seeded or thin and unhealthy lawns. Pre-emergent herbicides may keep some of these plants from growing, but once the weed is large, herbicides are often ineffective. Once they have reached this stage the most efficient means of control is to pull these weeds by hand or to cut them back frequently, so they are unable to produce new crop of seeds.
Perennial Broadleaf Weeds
Perennial broadleaf weeds, such as dandelions regrow from their root and will return year after year. Fortunately, there are several ways you can manage this kind of weeds.
For just a few broadleaf weeds, you may easiest to just pull them out by hand making sure to get the root out.
If the problem is widespread, an application of herbicides is most effective and less likely to damage your other plants. There are many products that will treat such an infestation in your lawn of broadleaf weeds that can be applied in a granular or in a liquid form. When applied correctly, will not harm your lawn. When choosing one of these products be sure to read the label in its entirety and make sure it is safe for your species of lawn. Apply at the recommended rates and make sure the conditions you are applying the product are per the instructions on the label. Do not use a total vegetation killer in your lawn.
I have a Thatch Problem. What Should I Do?
Thatch is an amalgamation of dead and living grass shoots, stems, and roots that are tightly knitted together that collects between the actively growing grass and the soil surface. A thick layer of thatch can interfere with air and water transferring to the soil and further decreases the effectiveness of fertilizers and pesticides because it does not reach the soil.
Thatch can become a problem in lawns that receive excessive fertilizer. Correct lawn care will help reduce thatch buildup. If you suspect thatch is becoming a problem in your lawn, dig out a small section of lawn and look for a layer between the soil and the green grass leaves.
Remedies for thatch should be considered when the layer is approaching a half inch thick. At this point aerification is the remedee of choice. It is the process of removing small columns of soil from your lawn to decrease soil compaction and increase air movement in the soil, subsequently reducing thatch.
If the thatch layer is thicker, power rake or de-thatcher is more effective at removal of the thatch layer. The is a motor driven machine that looks a little like a lawn mower. It uses mechanical means to draw out thatch out. The best time of year to dethatch your lawn is during the cooler months like April or October, but when the grass is still actively growing. Dethatching and aerification equipment is generally available for rent at reasonable rates at large garden centers or equipment rental companies.
Do Newly Planted Trees and Shrubs Require Special Care?
Yes. Newly planted trees and shrubs will require additional watering because their root system is not yet established. Regular watering is often the difference between a plant that thrives and one that dies. To properly establish newly planted trees and shrubs, proper and regular watering is key for the first year. Do not water in small amounts every day but instead water to saturation point and then allow to the soil to dry out before the next application of water. Be aware to be check the moisture levels in the root ball and not the surrounding soils. Continue irrigation into the fall until the plant has reached dormancy (loses its leaves) or, for evergreens, until the ground freezes.
How Soon Should I Take the Stakes Off My Trees?
Generally, it will take one to two years for a newly planted tree’s roots to grow into the surrounding soil and stabilize it. Propper watering will encourage root growth and shorten the amount of time it takes for a tree to stabilize itself. If your trees were staked at time of installation, check the straps often to make sure they are secure and not cutting into the tree bark and be sure to remove the staking before the straps begin to harm the tree.
What Care is Needed for Established Trees and Shrubs?
Established trees and shrubs don’t require a lot of maintenance. Occasional inspection will only take a few minutes each month. Look for damage from insects, animals or disease. If damage is found, talk to a local nursery or garden center for remedies. Bring a picture or sample from the plant to help in the diagnosis of the issue.
Annual or semiannual pruning may be necessary depending on the species of the plant material. It is a good practice to regularly remove:
• Dead branches
• Broken branches
• Branches that rub against other branches
Proper watering is crucial to the good health of established plant material. Generally maintaining light to moderate moisture in the surrounding soil is enough. Most plants do not require daily watering, in fact it is often detrimental to the health of the plant when the soil is constantly saturated.
You should water when the top few inches of soil are dry. In the fall continue to water until the plant material goes into dormancy and continue to water evergreens until the ground freezes, even into November and December.
Trees and shrubs may need fertilizing once or twice each year. They will need a fertilizer high in nitrogen. The best time to fertilize trees and shrubs are in the early fall as the plant begins to go dormant, and again when the buds swell in the spring. Trees located in lawns that are well fertilized usually do not require additional fertilization. Remember to read the fertilizer label and carefully follow the application directions.
What is the purpose of and benefits mulch?
Natural bark mulch around trees and in shrub beds provide several benefits. Besides being aesthetically pleasing, slows evaporation and helps keep the soil cool and moist, inhibits weed growth and continually enriches the soil with organic material as it breaks down into compost. While rock mulch provides the same aesthetic properties as natural bark mulch it does not break down or inhibit weed growth as well as natural bark. For this reason, we recommend a quality weed fabric to be installed under the rock mulch. Creating a mulch ring around the trees planted in sod areas help protect trunks from damage by mowers and weed whackers.
What are best practices when Planting?
Plant material can be planted during most times of the year although early spring and late fall is the best time to minimize stress on the plant and maximize its chances of survival.
Dig your hole only as deep as is needed. If the soil at the bottom of the hole is disturbed, setting becomes possible and your tree might end up deeper than intended. It is better to have the plant/tree a little too high than a little too deep. The width of the planting pit should be two to three times as wide as the root ball.
When you feel your planting pit is of adequate size, place the plant/tree into the center of the hole. Ensure the root flare or top of the root ball is level or slightly higher than the surrounding finish grade. Don’t forget to remove the container it came in. Inspect the roots and remove any roots that are circling the outside of the root ball. If it is wrapped with burlap, prior to cutting anything, adjust the tree or shrub so it is standing straight. Then stabilize the tree with soil around the bottom third of the root ball. Then cut back and remove fabric, twine and wire from the top one third to one half of the root ball. Once this has been done, begin to back fill the planting pit. It is a good habit to compact the soil around the rood ball as you backfill. Tree staking maybe necessary for the first year until roots can establish beyond the root ball.
Water thoroughly after planting, then water as needed. Soak the soil thoroughly, and then allow it to dry somewhat before the next watering.