Once in awhile, especially in the summer months, I get asked, what is the best way to water my grass? This is a very good question, since most people’s beliefs are completely false. Here in Duncan Oklahoma, we have a few strains of Bermuda that are prominent. Bermuda grass is very heat tolerant, which makes it an excellent choice for a lawn grass in our climate. Even though Bermuda is a hardy and heat tolerant grass, even it needs a helping hand from us in the form of watering.
There are two very common misconceptions about watering Bermuda in our area. One is, that in the heat of the day the grass needs a “drink” to help ward off heat stress, especially when it is a hundred plus degrees. The other is that you need to water daily and in short intervals. I think both of these misconceptions are spawned by the fact that we try to project our “human needs” onto our grass. While for us humans it is VERY important to stay hydrated often especially in the hottest parts of the day, for Bermuda that just is not the case. I will address these misconceptions below.
1) The “Drink”: At first glance, as a human, it makes perfect sense that the lawn needs a refreshing drink in the heat of the day. After all, that’s what we need! The truth is that watering in the heat of the day is counterproductive not to mention costly. Studies have shown that up to 80% of water from sprinkler systems is wasted through evaporation during the heat of the day, in fact up to 50% of the water evaporates before it even hits the ground. Once what is left hits the hot grass and soil, another 30% can be lost to evaporation before it soaks into the ground. This doesn’t leave a lot of water left to get where it is actually needed, the roots. We are all acutely aware of how much our water bills are, and the price always seem to go up! Think about how much your last water bill was, now take 80% of that money and picture yourself throwing that out the window, because in essence that is exactly what you are doing if you water in the heat of the day!
Solution: The most optimal time to water is in the early morning hours right before sun up. This is when the air and ground temperature is at it’s lowest. This also gives the water time to soak into the ground before the direct sunlight has chance to start the evaporation process.
2) Watering in short daily intervals: Like the “Drink” misconception, watering daily in short intervals seems to make sense. However, this misconception too is false and in some cases even illegal! Since the beginning of summer here in Duncan Oklahoma, we have been in a stage two watering restriction. This stage two restriction essentially only allows us to water every other day with no lawn watering at all on Sunday. Even short watering times every other day is not ideal for our grass. Short watering only allows the water to permeate a few inches of the top soil, when this happens Bermuda grass roots will stay within those few inches. Also, persistent watering can lead to the development of fungus and other diseases. For Bermuda grass to be lush and thick, not to mention drought, insect, and disease tolerant, the roots need to be much deeper. The ultimate goal of irrigating our lawns is to keep them healthy and looking good, deep roots is key to this.
Solution: Watering intervals are unique to each lawn, no two lawns are the same. However, a general guideline for Bermuda grass is to water until the soil is wet to the depth of 6 inches. Once the soil is watered to this depth, you do not need to water again until the grass starts to show symptoms of drought stress. The signs of drought stress are as follows, a dull bluish color, rolled or folded leaves, and persistent footprints when walked on. As soon as these signs develop it is time to deep water again. Following this procedure will encourage deep root growth, once this is accomplished your lawn will look and be healthy.
In my next blog post, I will go into some procedures you can use to make sure you are irrigating to the right depth.
In part 1 of this post, I discussed what is needed to get that mulched lawn looking great. In part 2 I will go into more detail the challenges and techniques to accomplishing just that.
In an ideal world
You may have noticed in part 1, that I explained four of my top “have to’s” for a great looking mulched lawn. Of those four, two started off with the word IDEALLY, grass height and grass moisture. As anyone over the age of four has probably figured out, we do not live in an ideal world. In fact, when it comes to lawn mowing, whether you are a commercial mower or a homeowner do it yourself type, something always seems to come along and completely disrupt your well laid plans.
I am going to address the commercial mower side of this today. When it comes to grass height , there are two major deciding factors as to why grass height may not be ideal, economics and weather.
1) Economics: As I stated in part 1, in Duncan Oklahoma, within the growing season, the ideal grass height for mulching is usually reached within a week of mowing. There are a lot of customers who just can’t afford within their budget to have weekly lawn care. These customers, in my opinion, still deserve to have a nice looking lawn.
2) Weather: As we have already seen this summer, precipitation and moderate temperatures really gets all of nature growing, and grass is no exception to this. Even consistent scheduled mowing still gets interrupted by days of heavy rain. Rain not only prolongs the days in between mowing, it is the catalyst for excessive growth. It’s the ultimate “catch-22” for the lawn care industry, we need the rain for the grass to grow, and the rain is our biggest obstacle in keeping us on our work schedule. Words from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow come to mind, “The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.” So true!
The best technique for mulching higher than ideal grass height is “multiple” cutting. Usually, on my Bi-weekly mowing customers, I proceed with a “double cut” technique every time I cut them. When grass is high the initial cut or “first pass” cuts the grass to the correct height and partially chops the grass to the desired sized pieces. There is usually so much grass within the mower deck, that even my commercial ztr riders can not chop it all. The clippings are larger than the target sized pieces and lay on top of the grass blades. I then do a second pass in the opposite direction that I mowed the initial time. This crisscross technique helps evenly distribute the now smaller more ideal clipping pieces throughout the yard. In excessive growth lawns sometimes a third or even fourth pass is needed.
Because of the time and extra fuel cost, a lot of lawn care companies refuse to employ this technique. They have the mindset that if the customer truly wants to have a nice looking lawn, they will have their lawn cut weekly. They will leave the unmulched clippings lay making the yard look less than desirable to try to “push” the homeowner into going to a weekly cut. As for me, the extra time and fuel cost is worth the customer satisfaction and the nice looking lawn that ultimately reflects on me and my company.
The other hindering factor to an ideal mulched lawn is grass moisture. There are a myriad of reasons why there may be too much moisture present in the lawn. For simplicity reasons I have narrowed it down to two categories, mother nature and human nature.
1) Mother Nature: This one if pretty much self explanatory. In our region a lot of times when we get precipitation it is accompanied by strong thunderstorms that can deluge our lawn with excessive amount of rain in a short period of time. The soil in our region is primarily made up of clay which is not conducive to good drainage. Water can set upon the yard for hours on end.
2) Human Nature: I lump pretty much everything else into this category. Let’s face it we are not perfect beings! Whether it is forgetfulness in leaving the garden hose running, or human error in not setting the sprinkler timer right, we have all been there. I have even had customers affected by bad driving, a fire hydrant was hit by a car once and flooded a customer’s yard, it took days for it to dry out! I throw mechanical failure into this category too, I mean after all someone has to be responsible for that water main break! Am I right?
Most lawn care companies, if they are truly blessed, have very full schedules, and at times need to get their customers mowed as soon as possible or risk falling too far behind and alienating those customers they have worked so hard to attain in the first place. This means sometimes wet yards have to be mowed.
With gator type mulching blades, which I recommended in part 1, they do an excellent job of chopping the grass into small pieces. However, because they DO an excellent job of this, it can lead to excessive clumping of the clippings when the grass is wet. I have two approaches to alleviating this problem, using only half of the decks cutting width and using a powerful commercial leaf blower.
The first approach is to not take full cutting widths with my mower, I usually take half a deck’s cutting width, this helps reduce the clumping because the clippings have more space inside the deck to disperse. Half of the deck is used for cutting and gathering the clippings, the other half of the deck basically “airs out” the clippings causing more moisture to be released. thus reducing clumps.
The second approach is the commercial leaf blower. No matter how much care and technique is used to reduce clumps, you will inevitably have some clumping. Using a commercial grade leaf blower, which can have wind speed between 150-200+ mph, can disperse the clumps back into the finely chopped clippings that fall down to the soil layer. This can be a very time consuming process, because it requires, at times, walking the entire yard, However, it is a very necessary process in giving your lawn a nice clean look.
As with the multiple cutting technique that I explained above, using the techniques of half width deck cutting and power blowing clumps technique is a time and fuel consuming process, that a lot of lawn care companies just will not do. In the end, however, the consumer has the ultimate power. If your lawn care company is not making your lawn look the way that you want it to, insist that they do! If they still can not provide you with the results that you want, find a company that will. There are good companies out there and you can find one to fit your needs!
In my last post, we discussed the benefits of mulching your grass clippings. In this 2 part post, I am going to go into what is needed and the procedures that I use to give lawns that “clean” look. In doing so, these procedures will also give the most nutritional benefit to your yard.
We all have seen those yards in our neighborhood where the homeowner side discharges his grass and leaves the brown grass all over his/her yard. Some people actually think that is “mulching” the grass clippings, and leaving their grass lay like that is optimal for the yard. Both assumptions in this case are wrong. While there is some nutrient benefit from doing this, it is not an efficient way to get the nutrients into the soil where they are needed, and of course it looks terrible!
After years of explaining to my potential customers the proper theory of mulching, I have come up with an analogy that most customers can grasp.
Think food processor!
A good quality mulching depends on a good quality mulching mower, which has the ability to keep the grass clippings inside the mower cutting deck as long as possible. The mower also has to have a powerful motor to be able to keep up with the horse power demand that is needed to do the extra “work” that is involved in the process. Not only does the mower have to make the initial cut of the grass, it also has to “chop” the grass into very small pieces, that then fall down to the soil. Once there, the process of decaying breaks down the chopped clippings into the much needed nutrients and moisture.
There are several factors that get us to the point of finely chopped clipping that we need to have, to produce a good looking and healthy lawn:
1) Grass height at time of mowing: Ideally you don’t want to take off no more than 2-2 1/2 inches of grass at any one time. For most yards here in Duncan Oklahoma, that is no more than one weeks growth in the growing season.
2) Blades: The proper type and sharpness of the blade is critical. With the predominate strains of Bermuda grass we have here in Duncan Oklahoma, I prefer a “gator” blade type ( see picture below). This blade has 3 to 5 “teeth” that are at a vertical stance to the primary cutting blade. This enhances the amount of “chops” a particular clipping of grass receives before it falls to the soil. A very sharp cutting edge on the blade is also crucial, not only for the initial cut of the grass blade but the subsequent “chops” of the clipping after that. A sharp cutting edge reduces the “tearing” of the grass blade that gives that excessive “brownish” look to the top of the blade of grass.
3) Mower Deck: Whether you are using a 21″ walk behind mower or a 61+” commercial zero turn rider. The mowing deck needs to be enclosed. Most newer walk behinds will come with a “mulching Plug” that will close off the exit area of the deck. For riding mowers. zero turn or conventional, most manufacturers make a “mulching Kit” that will have baffles and a plug that can be installed. In either case the point of these kits and plugs is to keep the grass inside the deck for a longer amount of time for the chopping process to take place. If the grass is discharged out without the chopping process, you are left with very large pieces of grass that do not breakdown easily into the nutrients your lawn needs, and stay on top of the grass drying out, giving that ugly dead grass look.
4) Grass Moisture: Ideally, you need to do your mowing when the grass blades are dry, this will eliminate “clumping” that can occur in the mulching process. As the mulching process occurs, the small pieces of grass can stick together. If a lot of moisture is present, clumps form. When this happens these “clumps” fall down to the top of the grass blade but usually can not drop all the way down to the soil. While some small clumping is alright, as the moisture is evaporated out of the clumps, in a short amount of time and the small chopped pieces will drop down to the soil. Large areas of clumping can develop mold or can even pack down to the point where the sunlight can’t get through to the blades and yellowing or even death of the grass blade can occur. Waiting for the right time to cut your grass can be the difference between a good looking lawn and a great one!
That concludes part 1 of this post. Stay tuned in the up coming days for part 2, where I discuss some of the techniques I use to make that mulched lawn look great!
If you live in the Duncan Oklahoma area, and would like a quote for lawn care. Please visit us at Craig’s Lawn Care Duncan Oklahoma
Back in the spring, I was called to an older gentleman’s house to give an estimate for lawn mowing. As we walked around his property, he was showing me his property boundaries and what he wanted mowed. After a few minutes of talking about his Crape Myrtles and discussing the price of the estimate, he turned to me and said “now your going to bag the clippings right?”
I told him I sure could bag the clippings, then I politely asked why he wanted the clippings bagged? He stood there in silence for a couple of seconds, just long enough for me to think that I may have offended him! Then he said “Well son, I guess I have always had them bagged, why would I change that after all these years?
After I discussed with him the benefits of mulching the yard, which I will also list some below, he changed his mind. Today he is VERY happy with how his lawn looks, and even thanked me personally that I shared the information with him. As I climbed back into my truck after talking to him, it got me thinking! How many lawn mowing customers have no real reason why they insist on bagging their clippings to their lawn care company? I think that number is exceptionally high, and mostly because the customer has “always done it that way”. I believe, if more lawn care companies took the time to explain the benefits of mulching grass clippings to their customers more lawns and landfills would benefit from the practice.
Benefits of mulching
Grass clippings contain about 4 percent nitrogen, 0.5 percent phosphorus 2 percent potassium, plus small amounts of other plant nutrients. As much as 50 percent of nitrogen that is applied when you fertilize is removed when grass clippings are bagged. The University of Missouri has done research that concludes that mulched grass clippings can supply 25 percent of the lawn’s total fertilizer needs.
University of Connecticut found that the nitrogen from grass clippings began showing up in the growing grass within 2 weeks. By the end of the third year of the study, researchers estimated that about one-third of the nitrogen found in grass came from previously recycled clippings. Annually, this could add nearly 2 pounds of nitrogen to each 1,000 square feet of lawn.
Grass clippings are mostly water. As the clippings naturally break down not only does the nutrients return to the soil, but a small amount of the water from the clippings does as well. As anyone who knows about the current state of are natural water supply in our country, every little bit helps!
For more information on mulching grass clippings check out the information on the Don’t Bag It program.
If you live in the Duncan Oklahoma area and would like a quote for lawn care please visit us! Craig’s Lawn Care Duncan Oklahoma