The Causes Affecting the Good Growth in Trees, Shrubs, and Lawns
1.) POOR SOIL
When a new lawn is established because a new house was built or because the existing lawn needs to be renewed, the good soil is taken out. In a new construction, the soil removed is added back but due to heavy construction equipment of moving back and forth on the site, the soil is compacted. In the Renew Lawn Process, after taken out the existing no good grass together with the good soil, 1 or 2 inches thick of good soil (loom) is added back. At the end, there are 3 or 4 inches thick of no really good soil because that can be sandy or clay soil.
In order to establish a good lawn, it must have at least 8 inches thick of good soil with plenty of organic matter. Ex., in a new lawn in Lexington, Massachusetts, I did it with grass seed. The homeowner asked me to install an irrigation system on her new lawn so she could protect her investment done. My answer was “why are you going to spend $3,000 or $5,000 in an irrigation system if when you are going to need it, the town is going to ban outdoor water use? I explained her how to manage the soil using compost, and she agreed with my proposal. We all know that the spring of 2015 was too dry and part of the summer as well but I did not have any problem in that lawn with no irrigation system. Isn’t that great? The lawn did suffer stress but it did not turn brown.
As a business owner, I had the chance to make money installing the irrigation system. But with the outdoor water ban every summer, is it worth to spend money in an irrigation system? I always say, “I want to make money having many customers and not take any advantage of them”
It is important when the grass seed is done. I have heard some people say, fall is the best time to do grass seed. Not for me. I do not do grass seed in spring and fall. Why? If grass seed is done in fall or spring, it is going to germinate in the middle of the spring. When summer arrives, it won’t have a good root system and it will compete with weeds. If that new grass has irrigation, maybe is not a problem, but lawns with no irrigation, the new grass could not resist the heat of the summer.
I only do grass seed from August 15th to September 15th; maybe I can go to the end of September but not more than that. During that period, the grass seed has the chance to produce if not good root system, it starts getting good roots so in the following spring has the chance to grow and produce good root system. When the summer arrives, it is stronger compared with the grass seed germinated in the middle of spring. The first 3 years are crucial working with grass seed. The first year, the grass is growing thinner, the second year is thin, the third year is thick, and the fourth year is thicker. Thicker grass is a good lawn. Good beginning is a good end. If the lawn begins with poor soil compacted by heavy equipment, seed out of the time, the results are not nice lawn claiming for water, fertilizer, etc.
2.) HEAVY EQUIPMENT BACK AND FORTH
Nowadays, we can see landscape companies using more and more heavy lawn mowers because they are bigger and faster what is called “more profitable”. I’m sorry for this statement but I call that “irresponsible with homeowners” because those landscapers what really care them is how much money they are going to make, they do not care about the damage caused to the lawn using that heavy equipments.
For example, if a lawn mower weights 350 pounds and the operator weights 150 pounds that means every single week 500 pounds of weight is passed on the lawn. That compacts the soil. Compacted soil claims for more water, more fertilizer, aeration, etc.
I have these 3 items together because one way or another they cause the same damages. Those products kill everything especially the insecticides; it doesn’t matter if it is an organic insecticide. Those products not only harm the flying insects good and bad, they cause problems as well to the macro- and microorganisms. Using those products helps in the soil compaction as well and dead materials last to be decomposed or they are not decomposed at all. Example, most of the landscape companies if not all of them do in spring what is called “dethatch”. That is when the dead grass is taking out of the lawn. The accumulation of dead materials in the lawn is the effects of pesticides applications killing everything becoming the soil a dead soil. If the soil is alive with plenty of macro- and microorganisms, insects, etc. All of those dead materials are decomposed in rich organic matter and the cast produced by earthworms are highly rich in nutrients. All that activities loosen up the soil. “Human beings, how we have destroyed what Mother Nature gave us”
I never do dethatch because the soils I’m taking care of have good life. Good soil, healthy soil, good plants, and nice lawn.
3.) MOWING TOO SHORT
The lawns around the houses are not to play golf, then why mow too short? In my 8 years of working in lawn care, I have learned that one thing is associated with another. I have learned as well that we, Human beings, complain, attack, or we try to solve the effects but never, ever work in to avoid the causes causing the effects “there is not effect without cause”. The cause is first, the effect is the result of the cause.
Example; if the lawn is thin there are weed problems. Weeds is the effect, thin lawn is the cause.
If the lawn is mow too short there are grubs problems. Example 1, one of my customers for lawn had crabgrass on her lawn. Every time when I mowed that lawn, I mowed it short to avoid the crabgrass to produce seeds. One day when I finished mowing there, I forgot to rise up the lawn mower blades and I begun mowing in another lawn. I mowed about 8 feet long too short. I had grubs problems in that piece of the lawn.
With another of my customers, along the sidewalk there was crabgrass as well and I had to mow short that strip to avoid the crabgrass to produce seeds. I had grubs problems in that piece of the lawn as well.
One of my customers decided to sell his house. The new home owner decided to hire a traditional landscape company who started to work in the spring of 2015. Late August of the same year, the same homeowner contacted me because she saw the difference between her lawn and her neighbor’s. I have been working in her neighbor’s lawn for 3 years, the same years I have worked for whom sold the house.
When I looked the lawn, I saw a serious grubs problems and I told her I did not use insecticides but in this case to save the lawn I had to apply insecticide right away. I rescued the lawn; unfortunately, I had to do it with traditional methods. Why I did not have grubs problems in that lawn during the 3 years period that it was under my care? The answer is simple; I did not mow that lawn too short.
Those examples show that mowing too short contributes to grubs problems. But it’s not only that, it contributes as well to weeds germination and loss of moisture in the soil because the sunlight goes directly to the soil. On the other hand, high grass absorbs more energy from the sun and that energy is transformed into sugars and starch feeding the grass roots, feeding the soil, etc. It is as a chain, one thing is related with the other which is one reason I call organic “complex and confuse” but it is great to work organic because I know how it works.
I mow from spring to late September in the highest point of the lawn mower 5 inches high. I leave the grass clipping in the lawn and in the fall I shred the leaves into the lawn as well. From late September to the end of the season I mow in the lower point of the lawn mower.
4.) WRONG WATER USE
This is the area where it has been difficult for me to convince homeowners the way they are using the water in their lawns is totally incorrect. It is common to see lawns with irrigation systems which are programmed to turn on for 20 minutes every day. This is totally wrong. Please do not do that. Do not waste water, it is a valuable resource.
I have been in lectures, seminars, I have read books, magazines, etc. the information presented is always the same, “one inch of water once a week” or “water deep”. Then why the irrigation system has been and it is done 20 minutes every day? Those 20 minutes of irrigation may wet the soil ¼ of an inch and a good portion of that moisture is evaporated. Using the irrigation that way, the grass roots instead of going down looking for moisture, they stay on top of the soil because the little moisture is there forming a mat of roots contributing to soil compaction as a result of that aeration has to be done. We, Human beings, are the origin of the effects. Why we complain against the effects but we don’t complain against the causes of the effects.
As I already said, I do not do dethatch and aeration either because in a healthy soil there are plenty of living organisms. Earthworms for example, they loosen up the soil for me. If the soil is compacted, water from the rain instead of setting down in the lawn is washed out; what a waste.
Technically, it is said that grass goes into dormant period in the summer. I totally agree with that but for me it only applies to lawns with no irrigation systems. The lawns with correct irrigations go into dormant period only in the winter because that’s when they don’t grow. The homeowners who I have convinced and they have followed my recommendations using the irrigation correctly, their lawns grow and grow in the summer with no stress.
These are my suggestions on how to use correctly the water in the lawn. Do not get confuse. I’m not taking as a base using 1 inch of water once a week as the books indicate. I’m doing a “Revolution, a totally different plants and lawn care activities”. I’m taking as a base or example 20 minutes of irrigation every day to show how wrong this is.
Example: The lawn (x lawn) has 10 irrigation zones, each zone runs for 20 minutes daily. This means that every day those 10 zones are watered by 200 minutes per 7 days a week, equaling 1,400 minutes. All of this equals to 23.33 hours of irrigation per week in those 10 zones.
My recommendation is this for those same 10 zones of irrigation. Each zone is going to run for 90 minutes once a week. Each week will be 900 minutes which equals to 15 hours. There is a difference of 8.33 hours saved on water compared to the traditional process. How many gallons of water are saved per week with those 8.33 hours not used in irrigation? A lot! The results are great. Someone may say that is going to cause water to run off. It is not because the sprinklers do not stay in the same direction. Someone may say as well, that is not going to work in sandy soils. I totally agree with that. In that case, my suggestion is using the same 10 zones as an example; each zone will run 60 minutes every 2 days. When I say every 2 days I mean, if the irrigation runs on Monday, the next one is Thursday and so on. There is not problem about the 3 days between Thursday and Monday. Doing it that way, 20 hours of irrigation is spent a week in those 10 zones saving 3.33 hours of irrigation compared to the traditional wrong water use. How many gallons of water are saved in those 3.33 hours? If it’s not a lot, it is a good amount of water.
Assuming the lawn is in too sandy soil, in this case, each zone has to run for 45 minutes every other day. Each week 22.5 hours of irrigation is spent. Still there is a 0.83 hours of irrigation saved. How many gallons of water are saved in those 0.83 minutes? It is not too much but it is water saved.
If the soil is too sandy, I recommend adding compost to the lawn plus keeping the grass clippings in the lawn and shredding the leaves into in the lawn. It will transform that kind of soil in a good soil. Water is a valuable resource; we have to do the most we can to save it.
As I already have written, I’m doing a “Revolution, a totally different plants and lawn care activities”. I recommend to start to water the lawn around 4pm or 5 pm through the night. I know many professionals in this matter, if not all of them, are going to be against my recommendations because reading materials suggest that watering through the night can promote diseases due to the humidity in the grass. I’m sorry. For me the reason of disease problems is the little water used in those 20 minutes of irrigation.
Mother Nature doesn’t water only in the morning hours. Watering deep through the night will keep the grass cool and the moisture will go down deeper because there is not evaporation. If the moisture is down, the grass roots will go down looking for that moisture. This means good roots system but if the irrigation is done traditionally wrong as it has been done until now, the grass roots will stay on top of the soil because the moisture is there. The result is unhealthy lawn. Unhealthy lawns are susceptible to diseases. We have to work appropriately with everything. One thing is associated with the other. My customers with no irrigation system in their lawns and plants beds, they do not have problems in the summer. The lawns suffered stress but they did not turn brown. The plants after 1 year planted they do not need irrigation, the rain is enough and too much mulch in the beds may avoid water penetration being evaporated in the following day. Only heavy rain can penetrate the mulch but sometimes it doesn’t. It has to be heavy and long period of rain to penetrate going into the soil. Again, “one thing is associated with the other”. Good beginning is transformed in good end.
These are the comments about what I’m doing:
“Our lawn never looked better, thanks to you”
“You are a magician. My grass is better than it was last year with my other landscaper”
“You are doing a terrific job”
“I’m lucky to have found you”
“I have never had a garden like the one I have now working with you”
“I’m happy because my grass looks great”
My main goal in the landscape industry is “how to have nice plants and lawns with no irrigation system, if there is already one, to use it correctly”. How to convince homeowners? That is my challenge.
What I have written about plants and lawns is not theory based in studies or data. It is the reality in my daily life. I’m conducting an experiment at my house’s lawn. I haven’t applied lime, fertilizer, or anything else and my lawn looks good. In the summer, I mow it when it really needs to be mow. My question to be answered with that experiment is, “is it worth to be spending money in lime, fertilizer, and water in the lawn?” Let me say this with anticipation, “I do not think so”. I’m really sure that working the soil appropriately, after 3 years, we can have nice lawn without any input in the lawn. I have seen that.
When I get a new customer doing traditional lawn care, I send soil sample to the lab. In the third year when I test the soil again, it has improved a lot. The reason we have to use many inputs in the lawn is because we had destroyed the life in the soil. Working organic brings that life back to the soil but as I wrote earlier, “organic is complex and confuse”. We have to know “what is organic and how it works. Do not harm”. That is the key. There are some organic services providers that say they’re working organic but they are using heavy lawn mowers, they are bagging the grass clippings, they do not shred the leaves in fall into the lawn, they use organic insecticides. That is not the way organic works. “Do not harm”. One thing is associated with the other. Good beginning, good practices, good ending.
No irrigation system - 9/18/15
1.) PLANTED TOO DEEP
In the woodland, we can see where the roots start around the tree trunks, but trees planted by men, we cannot see where the roots begin. This means that trees were planted too deep; branches start to die on top and the leaves turn yellow. Trees become unhealthy. Trees under those conditions are suffering suffocation because they were planted too deep.
2.) MORE THAN ONE LEADER BRANCH
Trees must have only one leader branch. By having 2 leader branches, the tree overtime will split in 2 pieces.
3.) ONE THICKER BRANCH THAN THE OTHERS
When a tree has a thicker branch on one side, the tree’s growth will be unbalance. The thicker branch can break resulting in damaging the tree. Why take that risk?
4.) BRANCHES GROWING TOGETHER
If branches are left to grow together, as the wind move them, they are scratched and when they get thicker, the damage is bigger causing them to become weak and unhealthy. Insects and diseases might attack those damaged areas.
On one visit to a homeowner, I saw a crabapple tree in bad shape with plenty of Lichen. I told her the problem with the tree was Lichen and I explained her how to eliminate it. However, she was not convinced because she researched it online. A few days later, she e-mailed me that according to the information obtained; Lichen was not causing any problem to plants. I responded that I did not base my knowledge in information from the internet. I based my knowledge in the 24 years working in the green industry. Lichen are causing problems in plants.
It is common to see everywhere how mulch is piled up against the tree’s trunk. If the tree was planted too deep and the mulch is piled up against the trunk every year, the tree never is going to grow healthy and it is going to produce roots on top of the soil, exposed to sunlight, and damaged by lawn mowers. The result is a weak and unhealthy tree.
7.) CHOOSING THE WRONG PLANT FOR THE AREA
Recently, a new construction was built and Oak trees were planted 4 feet away from the building’s wall. I have seen Hemlocks planted 3 feet away from the house’s wall. How is it possible to plant Oaks and Hemlocks trees as a foundation plants? To keep those trees low, it requires hard pruning, forcing them to grow against their natural habitat. I have seen Hostas planted in sunny areas.
There are plants for different areas; sunny, shade, moist, wet, etc. We must know the plants’ adaptability. That is one reason why the Massachusetts Nursery and Landscape Association (MNLA) has the logo “Ask to a MCH” (Massachusetts Certified Horticulturist).
To plant is an investment, we must know how and where to invest the homeowners’ money.
1.) PLANT WITHOUT CUTTING THE ROOTS AROUND THE ROOTS' BALL
This is most applied to plants growing in containers. The plants with burlap around the roots’ ball are called B&B. If they have been in the nursery for more than one year, it may have between the burlap and the soil a mat formed for fibroses roots; in that case it is necessary to loosen up that mat at the time of planting.
In container, as the roots grow go around and around the container at the same time absorbents’ roots grown between the container and the root ball forming a mat around the root ball. If those roots are not cut, the plants never, ever are going to grow healthy. Workers without knowledge about how to correctly plant or leaded for a business than only care about how much money they are going to make and they do not care about the health of the plants they pull out the plants from the container and plant them without to cut the roots. The result is going to be weak, yellowish, and unhealthy plants claiming for fertilizer. In the nursery or garden center, they look beautiful because they are fertilized.
2.) PRUNING IN THE WRONG TIME
Technically, plants blooming in spring must be pruned immediately as soon as they finished blooming. Plants that bloom in the summer, they are pruned in spring or after they finish blooming.
I prune from spring to not later than June 30th. There are some plants that they have to be pruned in late fall or winter. For example, the Acer Disectum and American Hornbeam to named a couple. If plants like them are pruned in spring or fall, they bleed too much and that may affect the plant’s growth.
I do not do any pruning after June 30th and before October 15th because if pruning is done in July, August, or September, the plants are going to produce new growth and the new growth is going to be too small and tender. When the cold weather arrives, all of those new grow may die what is called dieback. If the plants are pruned leaving them in a natural look, pruning can be done from spring to fall but not the ones with too much bleed problems.
This Yew has Dieback problem
3.) PRUNING FOR SHAPE AND NOT FOR HEALTH
Technically, shrubs have to be rejuvenated to keep young plants. The process is to cut the oldest stems leaving the new ones. Unfortunately, that process is not been done. Everywhere, we can see that pruning is done only for shape, what is called “manicure process”, and not for healthy grow. There are some plants such as Juniperus, Yews, or Meservae Hollies that look good when the “manicure process” is done. But Rhododendron or Azaleas look better when the pruning is done maintaining the natural look of the plants.
The way I take care of shrubs is by allowing the stems and branches to grow freely. If they grow close together there is too much shade inside the plants. It is necessary plenty of sunlight inside the plants to avoid diseases. When the wind blows, the stems and branches are scratched with the movement and when they get thicker, the damage is worst as due to weak and unhealthy stems and branches.
4.) MULCH EVERY YEAR
When shrubs are planted, 2-3 inches thick of mulch is added. The following year, 1 more inch of thick mulch is added. Around 5 years since the first mulch application was added, at least 5 inches thick of mulch is around the plant. That means the plants are going to be too deep planted because the mulch rose up the ground level around the plant. The result is the plant will never, ever is going to be healthy because it will be suffering suffocation.
I recommend groundcover instead of mulch because groundcover never is going to suffocate the shrubs. Groundcover is better for the environment and homeowners spend money only once compared to mulch. If homeowners prefer mulch instead of groundcover, every time that mulch is spreaded, the existing mulch needs to be taken out. But doing so, it is more money spent. Beds with perennial plants look beautiful, and appropriate perennial plants can be a good groundcover resource to avoid weeds seed germination.
TRADITIONAL - 3/1/2016 ORGANIC - 3/1/2016