Monday, September 22, 2014

Lindsey Getz

Free-lance writer based in Royersford, Pa.


See ya, summer

Fertilizer/Soil Health

With the warmer weather fading, LCOs across the country are preparing to treat turf for the fall.

September 12, 2014

As owners and operators gear up for the fall, the preceding seasons and the weather patterns have a lot to do with the steps they’ll ultimately take with their lawn care programs. Though no one can predict nature, advanced preparation can have a lot to do with lawn care success.

Weather’s impact.

Though the harsh winter wreaked quite a bit of havoc, when it comes down to it, it’s the summer that sets the tone for fall. And while there have been reports of flooding and higher than average rainfall in many parts of the country, contractors are also saying that this summer has been relatively mild compared to past years. Chris Lee, president of Earthworks in Lillian, Texas, says it’s not unusual to have consistent 90-plus degree days in Texas. But this summer they haven’t had that excessive heat wave.

The Midwest recorded lower temperatures, along with higher than average rainfall. Jim Sieger, maintenance account manager at Kenosha Grounds Care, in Pleasant Prairie, Wis., says the combination of the increased rain and the high humidity is likely the culprit behind early signs of fungal disease. “But things can never be perfect,” Sieger says. “In the past, the drought has brought us less disease problems but the lawns were brown. If I had to choose between the two, I’d take the rain. Customers are looking for a green lawn.”

Down South, it’s also been wet and rainy. In Florida, Steve Okros, chief operating officer and co-founder of Heron Lawn and Pest Control in Orlando says his company is gearing up for fall fertilization. Applications are all based on the season and the current concerns. Soon it will be brown patch fungus and army worms, Okros says. “Our programs are all inclusive so fall application is part of that,” Okros says. “Right now we’re running between 5 and 8-percent profit margins but in the winter it jumps a lot higher.”

Treatment plans.

Sieger says treating for broadleaf weed control typically starts in middle to late August and carries into September for the bulk of their properties. “I also like to get in a third application for fertilizer in September as well,” Sieger says. “In Wisconsin, September is when most lawns start coming out of summer stress, if they had it. September is similar to May in that you often see a growth spurt since temperatures are cooler and there’s more of a rainy pattern. September and October are typically the best time to complete treatments.”

Joe Weiss, owner of Green RX Lawn & Pest Solutions in Cottleville, Mo., is also expecting to see more lawns with fungus this fall season due to a lot of rainfall combined with high humidity. Dollar spot and brown patch have been particularly active this year. “We also saw longer activity of winter annual weeds like clover, henbit, chickweed and veronica,” Weiss says. “These weeds appear in the early to mid-spring season here. Typical summer weeds like spurge and crabgrass have not been too bad but we have seen an increase in nutsedge due to the extra rainfall.”

Planning ahead.

For many businesses, fall is also a time for seeding, aeration and possibly verticutting. Larry Ryan, owner of Ryan Lawn & Tree in Overland Park, Kan., says that fall seeding is an essential part of business. “As a result we have to be ready for that early,” Ryan says. “A big part of preparing for fall is making sure our seed is ready to go. We try to have that on hand along with our starter fertilizer. We start looking for properties that will require seeding and we do those presales in July and August. If we fail to do those presales, we won’t have as good a seeding year.”

Ryan says in his restaurant industry past he learned that people often need to hear something two different times to believe it. In landscaping he’s found that those two times can come from the same person – it’s just a matter of being consistent. “If they hear me talk about seeding now and again a month later, often that repetitive message pays off,” Ryan says. “It’s a matter of giving them some time to mull it over before you bring it up again. But too often contractors don’t take the time to repeat the message.”

In general, successful lawn care is about planning ahead and the fall is no different. “The stuff you’re treating for in fall you don’t actually see until winter or spring,” Lee says. “But if you skip it, you’re chasing your tail and will never have that crisp appearance of a lawn that is completely weed-free. It’s a matter of building client trust as to why you need to perform preventative maintenance. People can be reluctant to pay for something they can’t see so you need to explain why it’s important to prevent problems rather than treat them after the fact.”

Lee says that going into September, pre-emergent application is critical. “We also do a winter fertilization to stimulate roots and make sure things are good and healthy as they go into dormancy,” Lee says. “For us, that’s all part of our annual package.”

Ryan reiterates that message of trust. “In the end, you’re selling trust,” he says. “If you don’t have the customers’ trust, you don’t have anything. You often only get one shot to do everything right and that means taking the appropriate measures in advance of the new season. The bottom line is, if you don’t have a nice looking lawn come spring, you could lose your customer. After all, it’s a green lawn that they’re buying.”

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