Keeping the Grass Greener Caring for Lawns and Landscaping in New England

Keeping the Grass Greener

 New England is not exactly known for year-round sunshine and palm trees swaying  in the breeze. At first glance, greenery, lawns and lawn care, may seem a non–issue for many Northeast residents—but like most Americans, New Englanders have a love affair with lush green turf.  

 Keeping grass green in New England’s widely-varying climate, where winter temperatures can average below freezing  and summer months can bring triple digit temperatures, can be a challenge. And  don’t forget those frosty, winter blasts off of the Atlantic Ocean that can wreck  havoc on the healthiest lawn.  

 Condominium and home owners associations often find landscaping and lawn care  the largest line item in the budget after insurance. Landscaping also adds to a  property’s real and perceived value, not only for current residents, but for those  seeking a new address to call home.  

 Nothing ups the ante on curb appeal quite like well maintained landscaping and  colorful plants.  

 Winter Greens

 David Brown, senior account manager at Greener Horizons, LLC in Middleboro,  Massachusetts, says that only the heartiest, most durable grasses should be  used for New England lawns. “We often use cool seed weather grasses, and fescues are often used,” he says. “There are all types of blends used around here but the most popular blend is  bluegrass and fescue together. You get all of the advantages of one type and  then where it has disadvantages the other one would fill in. That’s the main reason you use any blend. Fescues and bluegrass are the two most  popular grasses around here.”  

 Suzanne Coventry, an account manager with ValleyCrest Companies, a landscaping  firm with locations throughout New England, concurs with Brown. “The most common type of grass or ground cover in the New England area is a blend  between fescue and Kentucky bluegrass, and you’ll also find rye,” she says.  

 It Isn’t Easy Being Green

 An attractive lawn doesn’t just happen overnight. It requires effort and maintenance. The problems  associated with lawn upkeep in New England can be unique. Urban pollution, salt  exposure and snow plow damage and other urban stresses here can present a whole  different set of challenges compared to most other states.  

 “There are all types of funguses and diseases that can afflict a lawn in the New  England area,” says Brown. “One common thing that we run into a lot is red thread. It’s a fungal disease. It adds red coloring to the lawn and when conditions are too  wet, you see it a lot in the late spring and early summer. Then there’s the dollar spot. The dollar spot will show up like a little, white round spot  on the lawn.”  

 Experts interviewed say that the most obvious sign of a serious lawn problem is  discoloration. When a lawn turns black or when grass becomes powdery, those are  signs of fungal infections.  

 “Another common problem that we have seen in the spring is powdery mildew,” says Coventry. “That happens if it’s a really wet spring, and last year because of the drought we had issues in  regards to more turf stress.”  

 Just what is it that stresses your community’s lawn? For the most part, the experts say, stress comes from conditions at  either end of the spectrum: Too much water, too little water; too much  fertilizer, too little fertilizer. Other sources of stress, the professionals  say, include excess pesticide, high temperatures and watering t the wrong time  of day.  

 While the organisms that cause lawn diseases are “almost always” present in the air or soil, they are most likely to gain a foothold when the  grass is under stress.  

 When it comes to weeding and feeding the landscape, there are a host of  environmentally-friendly products on the market. In the hands of a certified  lawn care professional, these products will enhance the lawn and landscaping.  At no time should an untrained person apply these products since there are so  many variables involved with a correct application.  

 State by State

 In New England, each state has its own rules and regulations regarding services like pesticide application. In Massachusetts, for example,  anyone who applies any form of pesticide for hire must be licensed by the  state, and associations should make sure that their lawn care providers are  properly licensed. Connecticut promotes the use of organic fertilizers and pest  controls, through the use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques. But a  pesticide-free lawn may exhibit the occasional imperfection, while still being  vigorous.  

 Javier Gil, president of J. Gil Organic Landscaping in Hampton Falls, New  Hampshire, says the first thing that should be done prior to lawn maintenance  is a soil test. “I take a soil sample and send it to the lab and when I get the results back I  know exactly how many products I’ll use for the season. Chemically, you put the same things in every season but  organically you only use what is needed. I use a lot of organic compost that I  get locally so I don’t have to go very far to get it. I use a lot of chicken poop, seaweed, soy, corn  and compost tea. Compost tea is a liquid extract of compost. You take the  beneficial organisms in compost and then you spray it, not only on grass, it  can also be sprayed on trees, shrubs and flowers. It’s good for everything.”  

 A balanced diet is as important to a community’s lawn as it is to the families living in the condominium. If provided with  appropriate levels of fertilizer, the plants will develop a dense root system,  producing a lawn that can resist invasion by diseases and weeds. And like  people, turf gets hungry on a regular basis. Proper fertilizing throughout the  growing season is essential.  

 The balanced diet that lawns crave comes from a combination of nitrogen,  phosphorous and potassium. Unbalanced diets can lead to problems like spindly  blades of grass rather than the lush carpet that everyone wants to see.  

 Coventry agrees that the most vital factor in maintaining a lawn is  fertilization. “Fertilizing is probably the most important thing a homeowner or groundskeeper  can do to keep their lawn attractive and healthy, that’s our biggest thing,” she says. “It’s not a ‘set it and forget it’ product. The best thing is to do a really effective crabgrass preventative in  the spring with a pre-emergent and then a really solid program that has about  four pounds of nitrogen per thousand square feet for fertilizing. We recommend  a really good fertilizing program if you’re residential or a homeowner. We recommend that you fertilize every six weeks  at the commercial level. Basically as far as the fertilizations go, you’re going to go with the pre-emergent in April and you’re going to go with fertilization in June and another fertilization in  September. Those are the three key points.”  

 “Aeration and over-seed is a good thing,” adds Brown. “Aeration would be pulling plugs out of a lawn and letting them settle in.  Aeration adds oxygen into the lawn and gives it a way to breathe and it reduces  compaction. If you’re on a lawn where kids are running around or pedestrians are walking through  it, that compacts the soil and aeration can alleviate that and over-seeding  will help thicken the lawn and it also helps to squeeze out weeds by making it  more dense with the grass that you prefer.”  

 Brown believes that there are specific months that certain lawn-care tasks  should be undertaken. “Every lawn is different and we always apply based on the needs of the turf,” says Brown. “But a typical example of our lawn care is: early spring, we apply fertilizer  with crabgrass and broad leaf weed control; late spring, it’s fertilizer with broad lead weed control; early summer, it’s fertilizer with broad leaf weed control and grub control; late summer,  fertilizer with broad leaf weed control and fall fertilizer with lime  application.”  

 Common Mistakes

 Lawn care professionals say that a few mistakes homeowners make when caring for  their lawn are over-watering and mowing the blades too short. “The number one mistake people make when caring for their lawn is over-watering,” says Brown. “Most people think that to have a healthy lawn you need to add water, more water  and more water. Typically, it seems like the right thing to do but it isn’t, even in hot and dry conditions. And you should always water in the morning.  It gives and opportunity for the water to settle in and dry out during the day.  If you water at night, you can introduce fungal problems into the lawn because  it won’t have a chance to dry itself out.”  

 “Over-watering and mowing your lawn too short are two very common problems  non-professionals make,” Gil agrees. “The lawn should be mowed at around three or four inches tall because if you keep  the leaf blade longer then the root system is going to go deeper into the soil.  So whenever you have drought periods, then organic roots are going to be very  deep into the soil and they are going to be able to reach down into the water.  Most chemical lawns are mowed like an inch-and-a-half to two inches, so the  root system is going to be very shallow. So whenever you have a drought, the  grass is going to die because you are going to need to water it more often  because it has such as shallow root system.”  

 When shopping for expert lawn maintenance advice or services, the Internet and  websites provide an excellent way to do the homework and research. Experts note  that many lawn maintenance companies offer free consultations and design  options, so the idea is to use the Internet as a tool and then call in the  professionals. Landscaping and lawn maintenance are not areas for even the most robust HOA or community association to undertake. The  climate conditions, pests, and weeds native to New England are challenging for  even a seasoned professional. Hire the best company available to your  association and then relax and enjoy the view.      

 Anne Childers is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to New England  Condominium and other publications. Staff writer Christy Smith-Sloman  contributed to this article.


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