Should I Be Worried About Glyphosate?

The chemical glyphosate, found in the herbicide Roundup, has been making headlines lately – especially after a judge ruled in January that Roundup can add a “cancer warning” to its label. Glyphosate is NOT in the herbicide that we use regularly on customer lawns, but every once in a while we do recommend Roundup for a specific use. It is also available off the shelf at home centers for homeowners to purchase.

So should you be concerned about using glyphosate on your lawn? This blog post from lawn care operator LawnAmerica puts things in perspective for homeowners: Is Roundup Safe to Spray on Lawns?

Healthy Turf Helps the Earth

Did you know that a 2500 square foot lawn produces enough oxygen for a family of four for a year?1 And that dense lawns typically are void of the many weedy species that often produce allergy-related pollens?2 Researchers have documented these and numerous other advantages of healthy turf and landscapes. For a detailed list of benefits including air purification, temperature modification, water purification, crime reduction/safety, and noise abatement, click here.

11996 Maryland Turfgrass Survey. An Economic Value Study. Institute of Applied Agriculture. University of Maryland, College Park

2Beard, J.B., and R. L. Green. 1994. The role of turfgrass in environmental protection and their benefits to humans. J. Enviorn. Qual. 23:452-460

In another valuable resource, John Heinze, Ph.D. and Executive Director of the Environmental Health Research Foundation, published the report “Benefits of Green Space – Recent Research, April 25, 2011”. Here are his key findings:

  • “Healthy, properly maintained green space provides substantial benefits to the environment in terms of Erosion control/water purification, Air purification, Temperature modification/energy and cost saving, Oxygen generation and Carbon sequestration.
  • Green space provides substantial benefits to human health in terms of Recreation/Increased physical activity/reduced risk of obesity and Healthcare/Stress reduction.
  • This data rebuts the notion that the need for healthy, properly maintained green space is only ornamental or aesthetic.”

For the full report, click here.

The Five Keys of Successful Lawn Care

There are five factors that influence the quality and health of your lawn, and the three most important of these are largely beyond your control.  Weather, soil quality, and the types of grass you have in your lawn are all critical to turf health but once the lawn is installed, it is difficult to have much impact on any of them.

1) The Weather – obviously you can’t control it so you might try to mitigate it.  If it is hot and dry, you can water.  If it is very humid, golf courses will sometimes drag a hose over the greens in the morning to knock off the moisture and reduce the risk of disease.  If there has been a lot of snow and the grass is matted and/or diseased, rake it up to encourage air flow through the turf canopy.  Other than that, you just have to hope your lawn can power through the difficult weather.

2) The Soil – it is very difficult to improve the soil if the lawn is already installed.  Typically all you can do to address this is to make sure you or your lawn care company are providing proper fertility.  If you have poor soil and the lawn has been installed, you should definitely be mulching your clippings and it might also make sense to be top dressing the lawn with a 1/4″ of high quality compost a couple times each season.  These practices will add much needed organic matter and stimulate biological activity.  Aeration will also help.

3) Grass Varieties Used – if your lawn is already in place, then there is really very little you can do short of removal and replanting.  You can also try overseeding, but I do not believe it works well enough to justify the effort or expense.  If the wrong grass has been planted and you want a pristine lawn, your only viable option is to spray it with a broad spectrum herbicide such as Round-up and start over.


But don’t lose hope!  Now let’s talk about the factors we CAN influence…

4) Proper Lawn Care Practices – This is the secret sauce!   

Proper lawn care practices are critical to having a beautiful, healthy lawn…and they cost you very little.  Follow these eight simple rules and your lawn will improve – guaranteed.  And it will not require you spend anything more and you might even save money – less fertilizer and weed control should be needed. The grass knows how to grow.  Let it do what it wants to do naturally and help it instead of doing things that stress it and make it struggle to survive…like scalping it!  In descending order of importance:

1) Mow High! – This is the key.  The taller the grass, the healthier the lawn.  There is a one to one relationship between the height of the grass and the depth of the roots.  If you are mowing at 2 inches, you will have 2 inches of roots.  If you are mowing at 4 inches, you will have 4 inches of roots.  That added root mass will make your lawn more drought and disease-resistant and provides the finest natural weed control.  This works!

2) Mulch Clippings – If you are bagging your clippings you are losing much of the nitrogen you are applying when fertilizing.  The clippings will also help maintain biological activity in the soil.  Best of all, you don’t need to struggle bagging them and carrying them to the curb to fill the landfills.

3) Water When Dry – Most grass needs 1-1 1/2 inches of water per week, especially during the dry summer months.  Water deeply but infrequently (once per week is even OK) in the morning to reduce the possibility of disease.  Amount of moisture and the timing of it is what matters, not the frequency.  Use an old tuna fish can to determine how much water you have applied.

4) The 1/3 Rule – Never remove more than 1/3 of the height of the grass in one clipping.  It shocks the grass plant and stresses it, making it less healthy and more susceptible to disease.

5) Sharpen Mower Blade – Keep the blade sharp.  If you cut with a dull blade it will leave a jagged, frayed edge on the grass plants which browns quickly and will also make the plant more susceptible to disease.

6) Aerate – Core aeration reduces compaction making root development easier.  It also pulls micro-organisms to the surface which helps break down thatch and encourages biological activity in the soil.

7) Vary Mow Pattern – Changing your mowing pattern insures the wheels are not running over the same areas every time, which can cause bald spots and weaken and stress the grass.  If it is hot and dry, this becomes even more important.  In these conditions, you should try not to mow at all.  The weight of the mowers can damage the turf and even cause diseases such as dollar spot to flourish in the tire tracks where the turf is stressed.

8) Mow High!  Oh, did we say it again?!  If you do only one thing, mow high and your lawn will be much healthier.

5) Proper Fertilization, Weed and Pest Control/Selection of a Lawn Care Provider – So why did I put this last?  Because of all the factors, I think this may be the least important (although it pains me to say it!).  If you are getting some cooperation from Mother Nature, if your soil is at least average, if you have sun-loving grass varieties in the sun and shade-loving grass in the shade, and you are following the lawn care practices above, you are well on your way to a beautiful lawn.  All grass will need some fertilization if you want it to be green.  The soil will provide some of its nutritional needs but grass is a mono-culture, meaning there are millions of tiny plants that are all competing for the same nutrients.  This is an unnatural state which will require some assistance from you to sustain the turf’s health and keep it as green as possible.  That is why you need to fertilize.  The amount of fertilizer your lawn needs will depend on many conditions including the age of the lawn, the quality and type of soil, the type of grass being grown, the amount of shade, the amount of rain/irrigation, the quality of the mowing/care, etc.  A lawn care professional can provide this information or you can wing it and see what kind of results you get.  Just don’t start too heavy – you don’t want to burn your lawn, damage the soil organisms, or pollute ground or surface water.

Regarding weed and pest control, these are best left to a licensed lawn care provider.  They know which products to use and how to do it safely.  They can also diagnose any issues with the lawn, which can be quite difficult for the homeowner when experiencing insect or disease issues.  These problems frequently have overlapping symptoms and can devastate a lawn quickly if not treated properly.

While fertilization and weed/pest control might not be the most important component of a healthy lawn, it is still important, and a licensed lawn care company is best suited to correctly assess the needs of your lawn and select the products that will provide the best possible results.  You can find the most knowledgeable  companies in your area at  Every state has at least one local lawn care association which can also recommend local lawn care professionals who care about quality.  For other questions or more information, please call Emerald Lawn Care at 847.392.7097.  We are always happy to help!

5 Reasons Why Crabgrass is Rampant

I read this brief article in the August issue of Turf Magazine and thought it captured in very few words why crabgrass can be such a problem.  While the article talks specifically about crabgrass in 2013, I think you can read it more generally about problems in any year.  Hope you find it helpful… Mark

 5 Reasons Why Crabgrass is Rampant

from, 8/5/2013

Kevin Frank, Michigan State University Extension, doesn’t waste words explaining why some of the lawns in your neighborhood may have more than their share of crabgrass.

Here’s the recent post that he and colleague Aaron Hathaway shared on a recent MSU Extension News blog.

I was recently asked by a lawn care operator to reply via email with 1,000 words or less of why it’s an epic crabgrass year – well, maybe he didn’t say epic, but you get the idea. I accepted this challenge heartily, but decided in the spirit of today’s world of texting and twittering to do it in less than 100 words.

1. Record heat and stress in 2012 resulted in bumper crabgrass crop, plenty of seed, and thinned turf for more opportunities for crabgrass to invade this year.

2  Cold, long, spring-delayed crabgrass germination, may have escaped early spring preemergence applications.

3. Soil moisture increases soil biological activity, in turn, increasing herbicide degradation.

4. Plentiful precipitation in June when young crabgrass was geminating helped with root development.

5. High temperatures in July were perfectly timed for crabgrass to really start competing.

Weeds on the Edges?

Emerald Lawn Care receives calls every year asking “Why does my lawn look good except for all the weeds around the edges?”

There are actually several reasons this is an issue on many lawns.

1) The concrete/asphalt of the driveway, sidewalks, curbs, and other hardscapes, gets hot during the summer.  This causes the soil along these surfaces to get hot and dry out.  The cool season turf we have in this area (Kentucky bluegrass and ryegrass) prefers cooler soil so it thins out or recedes.  The weeds, especially crabgrass and spurge, love the hot, dry conditions and they fill in the thinner areas.

2) It is common for this area to be edged with a string trimmer and scalping the turf is common.  This shocks or even kills the grass, causing the area to thin out and the weeds to fill in.

3) Frequently, salt is used to treat the surfaces to remove snow and ice.  When winter is over, and the lawn begins to come back, it doesn’t do well in the areas along the salt treated surfaces.  Many weeds are more tolerant of the high salt concentration and fill in those areas where the turf is not doing well.  Edging with a steel-bladed edger also exposes bare dirt at the edges of the hard surface which is an invitation to weed development.

4) Sometimes a lawn care technician, in an effort to keep lawn care products off of hard surfaces, does not get enough product applied at the edges.  Insufficient crabgrass pre-emergent is very common since this is commonly applied as a granular product and is more difficult to control along the edges.  The added heat common in these areas can also cause pre-mature breakdown of herbicides.

5) Areas along driveways and roads are frequently driven on by mistake.  The weight of a vehicle causes substantial turf damage and compaction, and of course, there is an abundance of weeds that thrive in damaged areas and actually prefer compacted soil.

You can see that there are multiple potential reasons you might be struggling with this issue.  As with many lawn issues, raising the mow height can help.  Leaving the edges untrimmed also might be a solution.  If salt is the culprit, a calcium or gypsum application might be the answer.  In almost all cases, more water will help.  Or maybe it is as simple as taking the keys away from your teenager who keeps driving on the lawn!

Unique Challenges for Tear-down Properties

When a new house is built on a tear-down site, the good soil is often sold off and replaced after construction with lesser-quality soil.  We have checked many tear-down properties and pulled soil cores, finding little or no top soil and solid clay.

What does this mean for the new homeowner? 

It means you better install an irrigation system or plan on a lot of effort and expense trying to maintain your lawn.  If properly used, an irrigation system will make up for a lot of sins.  At the very least you should mow your own lawn, because you will need to keep the mow height higher than the typical mowing company is willing to do.  You also want to avoid heavy mowers, which increase the stress on the lawn, and you should mulch your clippings.  Good mowing practices become critical when you have poor soil and/or insufficient soil depth.

Finally, aeration and seeding should become a regular part of your routine every fall to reduce compaction, encourage root development, and introduce new grass varieties that may perform better in your less-than-optimal conditions.  Contact us for more information.

Emerald Lawn Care’s Six Tips for a Healthier Lawn

#1 Mow High!Mowing your lawn at a taller height is the single most important rule you can follow when caring for your lawn.  There is a one-to-one relationship between the height of your grass and the root depth.  This means if you are mowing your lawn at 2 inches, below you will have 2 inches of roots. Mowing at 3 inches will give you 3 inches of roots…you get the point. Turf that is mowed high is much more capable of defending itself against weeds, drought stress, and other uninvited pests and diseases.  If there is one thing you can to do to help your lawn, it is mow as high as you can stand it! We suggest at least 3 inches, but if you are willing to go higher, your grass will thank you!

#2 The 1/3 RuleWhen mowing your lawn, never remove more than 1/3 the height of the blade in one mowing.  When you take off too much of the grass plant, it is shocked and requires time to recover. Your lawn will have a difficult time thriving and will look stressed.

#3 Mulch Your ClippingsWhen you remove clippings from your lawn, you are removing up to 1/3 of the nitrogen you are paying us to apply.  You also fill up the landfills with valuable organic matter and waste fuel to transport it there.

#4 Regulate Water IntakeThe rule of thumb is 1” per week.  Some prefer to deep water once or twice a week.  People with irrigation systems generally water every other day for 15 minutes.  Both lawns will look good and both will have adequate root development.  The optimum time to water the lawn is early morning between 5am and 8am.  This will allow the top growth to dry reasonably quickly and reduce the risk of disease.  Watering during the heat of the day can also be good because it reduces the temperature of the lawn, reducing stress and helping with some diseases.  However, mid-day watering is less efficient as some of your water will evaporate and some communities regulate what times watering can be done. Note: Well watered turf in July and August is more attractive to grubs, so keep an eye out for loose turf, animal digging, and brown spots-these are all signs of grubs.

#5 Sharp Mower Blades- Dull mower blades tear the grass plant, leaving it ragged.  This means a less attractive lawn because the tip of each blade will brown, giving the turf a brown appearance.  More importantly, it causes the blade to lose more moisture and also makes it more susceptible to disease.

#6 Core Aeration- Aerating your lawn every fall promotes root development, reduces compaction, improves the ability of the soil to hold moisture, and reduces thatch.  All of these result in less turf stress and improved turf health.

The “Mow High Guys ™” of Emerald Lawn Care are trying to ensure that you have the healthiest, most beautiful lawn possible.  If we can accomplish this using less fertilizer and weed control, we will have done our part to help protect the environment and we will have happier customers. Follow the steps above, give it a little time, and you will notice an improvement in your lawn.  We care about doing it right!  For more information go to our website.

The Drought of 2012 Appears to be Over – Watering Still May be Necessary

Last summer’s drought continued through most of the winter.  Lake Michigan dropped to 2 inches under its previous lowest level ever, a full 12 inches less than normal.  The drought and the lack of snow early this winter might still be reason for concern for homeowners and lawn and tree care professionals alike.  Lawns were damaged or destroyed in record numbers last season, and now we are very worried about the trees, since tree damage sustained last summer will start showing up this season.

When a tree is exposed to extended drought conditions, root development is reduced and the tree is no longer able to produce new growth.  This reduces its photosynthetic ability and food storage can be depleted.  Wound healing is also restricted, leaving the tree open to invasion from insects and disease.  Homeowners typically water their lawns not their landscapes, but very little moisture is available to the tree because the grass roots out-compete tree roots.  Proper watering practices are essential for maintaining tree health.

What does drought stress look like on my trees?

Tree leaves turn brown from the outside edges inward and in between the leaf veins.  Called Scorch, this symptom occurs because these areas naturally have the least amount of moisture.  Leaves may also appear curled or distorted.  Evergreen needles will begin browning at the tip, moving down toward the branch.  Long-term effects include branch die back and canopy thinning.  Severely affected trees may not show serious signs of decline for a few years.

How should I water?

Trees should be watered every two weeks.  There are three techniques recommended for watering with a hose.  The first method involves placing a soaker hose around the base of the trunk at least 1-2 feet from trunk.  Turn water on when leaving for work and turn it off when you return.

The second method is to turn your hose on to a trickle.  Visually divide the area around tree into 4 sections.  Place hose 2-3 feet from trunk in one section and leave running for about 2 hours then move the hose to another section until all four quadrants have been watered.

If finding time to water is an issue you may want to consider our final method using more water pressure.  First determine how much water is needed.  A general rule of thumb is 10 gallons of water per 1 inch of trunk diameter.  Measure tree at knee height to determine size.  Using medium pressure it will take about 5 minutes to produce 10 gallons of water.  To determine total watering time use this formula:  Tree diameter x 5 minutes = Total watering time.  For example, a 4-inch diameter tree should receive 40 gallons of water over 20 minutes.

Keep in mind, even established trees need to be watered in a drought but new plantings (planted within 2-3 years) are the most at risk.  Mulching with organic mulch such as wood chips can help retain moisture longer and keep the root zone cool. Make sure all newly planted trees and shrubs are mulched at a depth of 2-4 inches.  Avoid using inorganic mulches like stones or lava rocks as these can conduct heat and dry out tree roots.

Let’s not forget the grass…

As mentioned above, many lawns suffered last season.  This was especially the case for lawns that were allowed to go dormant.  Unfortunately, many of those lawns eventually died.  After about 45 days with little or no rain, many lawns will be severely damaged or die.  If we have another difficult summer, despite all the rain we have received this spring, you will need to water your lawn at least once per week, putting down 1-1.5” of water, especially during the months of July and August.  How many times you water in a week is less important than how much you put down.  We have found the best rain gauge is an old tuna fish can.  Put it out in the yard when you water and when you have 1-1.5” of water in it, you are finished.

A healthy lawn and trees add substantial value to your property and are very expensive to replace.  The money invested in watering is minimal by comparison, so be sure to water your landscape this season!  If you have any further questions please give us a call at 847.392.7097.  For more information, check out the Emerald Lawn Care site!

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