Fairway Green, Inc
9 Ilene Ct, Suite 14 Hillsborough, NJ 08844
Phone: (908) 281-7888

Category Archives: Lawn Care Treatment

Soil pH and Lime: How Lime Affects your Soil

What is pH?

Soil pH is the measure of its acidity or alkalinity and is rated on a simple logarithmic scale. The scale represents hydrogen ion concentration and ranges from 0.0-14.0, with 0 being the most acidic and 14 being the most alkaline.  The halfway point on the scale, 7.0, is neutral. Soil acidity increases as values decrease from 7.0 to 0.0, and soil alkalinity increases as pH values increase from 7.0-14.

What causes the pH of the soil to be acidic?

The soils of the northeastern region of the United States tend to be naturally acidic. The amount of annual rainfall largely determines whether soils will become acidic, neutral, or alkaline. In regions of high rainfall, such as here in New Jersey, the alkaline elements are leached deep into the lower soil regions by percolating rain water. This natural process leads to acidic soils.

Along with rainfall, there are other factors that will affect soil pH.  Removal of grass clippings that contain alkaline elements, instead of allowing them to decompose into soil, will promote acidity.  Leaves, pine needles, and other plant matter can create more acidic soil conditions as they decompose, and living plants will feed on alkaline elements (potassium, calcium, and magnesium). For these reasons, areas under dense tree cover or anywhere grass and tree roots compete for soil nutrients tend to have more acidic soil.

Why does the soil pH matter?

Knowing the soil pH is crucial because it strongly effects grass growth. Soil pH dictates nutrient availability, elemental toxicity, and microbial activity.

Various mineral nutrients are readily available in varying concentrations depending on the pH of the soil. At certain critical levels, some of the minerals remain bound to other minerals and are unavailable for plant use. The chart is a general representation of plant nutrient availability based on soil pH levels.  The narrow areas of each band represent low availability of that nutrient, while the taller areas represent optimal nutrient availability.

The chart clearly illustrates that between a pH of 6.0-7.0, availability is at its peak for most of the critical lawn nutrients.  The other thing to observe is that at about 5.5, nutrient availability becomes problematic and only gets worse as the soil becomes more acidic. Likewise, as the soil becomes more alkaline than 7.0, nutrient availability will also begin to suffer. However, soils with a pH of 7.0 or more are very rare in New Jersey, so the concern is normally in keeping lawn soil as alkaline as possible.  The chart is not specific to our grass types, for typical cool season grasses found in New Jersey, the recommend pH level for optimal nutrient availability is between 6.3 and 6.5.

In addition to increased soil nutrient availability at a range of 6.0-7.0, this is also the range at which microorganism activity starts to peak. On the above chart the line labeled actinomycetes illustrates this point. Actinomycetes are bacteria in the soil responsible for the breakdown of a lot of organic matter as well as complex soil nutrients.  Keeping the soil microorganisms as active as possible is of interest to the lawn care technician because they will help breakdown fertilizers into forms usable by plants, as well as keep thatch to a minimum by aiding in decomposition.

How can the pH be corrected?

Acidic soil pH can be corrected by applying lime.  The most common liming materials are calcitic or dolomitic agricultural limestone. These are natural products made by finely grinding natural limestone. Since natural limestone is relatively water insoluble, agricultural limestone must be very finely ground so that it can mix with the soil particles and react with other nutrients to change soil acidity. The more finely ground the limestone is, the faster it will react in the soil. Both calcitic, and dolomitic lime contain calcium carbonate. Dolomitic lime however, also contains magnesium in the form of magnesium carbonate and should be used when soil tests indicate a magnesium deficiency.

Because high quality, finely ground limestone is very dusty and difficult to spread, some companies market a prilled or pelletized limestone for commercial and residential use. A small amount of clay or a polymer is added to the ground limestone so small prills are formed instead of dust. This makes it easier to apply out of a fertilizer spreader. Once applied, soil moisture will cause the granules to dissociate and disperse the limestone particles. Furthermore, newer pelletized lime products can be manufactured with reactants such as organic acids. These reactants speed up the chemical process by which lime changes soil pH, allowing for lawn applicators to produce quicker results, while using less product.

When using any limestone product, it is important to apply the material at the correct rate. Calcitic or dolomitic limestone, be it ground or pelletized, can have recommended application rates ranging anywhere from 5-200lbs/1000sq.ft. The rate at which the lime should be applied depends on the pH of the soil, what target range is trying to be obtained, and soil type.

Optimum pH range in cool-season turf soil is between 6.3-6.5. At this range soil microbe activity and nutrient availability is high, and it provides the most optimum condition for the most desirable species of Kentucky bluegrass and perennial rye.

Soil type comes into play when determining lime application rate. Certain soil types will be more resistant to change in pH than others. In general, it is more difficult to change pH in clay soil than it is in sandy soil. When liming clay, higher lime amounts will be necessary to have the same effect that a smaller amount would have on sandy soils.

Before applying lime to an area, a test of the pH should be done. Soil pH should be measured at least once a year as a general practice. This can be done using any number of kits or through the use of a pH meter. The lower the pH, the more lime it will take to correct. For example, a soil with a pH of 4.5 will require significantly more lime to correct to 6.5 than a lawn with an initial pH of 6.0. It is for this reason that a pH reading should be taken at least once each year.

If severely low pH is suspected, a soil sample can be sent to a commercial or university lab. The results of the soil test will specify how much lime should be added in a single or multiple applications to correct the problem. In addition, any other nutrient deficiencies that may exist will be specified, and recommendations on treatment to correct these issues will be provided. Soil tests are a very accurate and a useful tool in determining hard to diagnose turf issues. However, soil test results take time and are an added expense, which is why they are less practical for determining pH on every lawn.

If you are in our service area and want to know more about liming your lawn or testing the pH, give our office a call at 908-281-7888.  Also, you can learn more about our liming process from our website.

Are You Prepared to Comply with the New Jersey Fertilizer Laws?

What are the New Jersey fertilizer laws?

The New Jersey fertilizer laws were signed into effect by Governor Chris Christie on January 5, 2011.  It is one of the most restrictive fertilizer laws in the nation for good reasons.  It was enacted in three phases.

  • Phase one- This required the use of best management practices to reduce the impacts of fertilizers on waterways, and provided public education regarding correct fertilizer use.
  • Phase two- Initiated the creation of a certification program for professional fertilizer applicators and lawn care providers.
  • Phase three- Required manufacturers to reformulate their fertilizers for New Jersey.

Why were the fertilizer laws enacted?

The New Jersey Fertilizer Laws were enacted to help protect waterways from having run off of fertilizer by setting new limits on the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus that can be applied on lawns as well as the times in which they can be applied.  In addition, fertilizer companies and homeowners are required to clean up any fertilizer that has gotten onto hard surfaces such as patios, walkways, decks, sidewalks and roadways.  Other factors that impact waterways include soil erosion, leaking septic systems, biological waste that makes its way into storm sewers, and even leaves washing into sewers and waterways.

How do the New Jersey fertilizer laws affect businesses?

A “blackout period” was imposed to restrict the timing in which fertilizers can be applied.  This date range is from December 1st to March 1st for lawn care companies.  Neither Nitrogen nor potassium can be applied between these dates.

In addition, businesses are now required to be licensed to apply fertilizer.  This not only applies to established businesses, but anyone you hire to apply fertilizers must be licensed.  To obtain this license, applicators are required to pass a test, take continuing education courses and pay an annual fee.  It is illegal to apply fertilizer in New Jersey without this license.

Enforcement of this law will be done by the municipalities, counties, police, local soil conservation districts and the local health departments.  Any of these parties can receive reports from citizens, community groups, and companies regarding the fertilizer applicators that are operating without proper certification.  Professional lawn care applicators and homeowners that violate the law are subject to an initial fine of $500 and $1,000 for each subsequent offense thereafter.

This New Jersey state law also affects the fertilizer manufacturers.  Since the law went into effect, the fertilizer manufacturers had to change their formulation of products to comply with New Jersey laws.  These fertilizers are now required to contain 20% slow release nitrogen and 0% phosphorus.  Phosphorus can be used if a soil test indicates a need for phosphorus or the lawn was recently seeded.

How do the New Jersey fertilizer laws affect the homeowner?

The “blackout period” for homeowners begins on November 15th and goes until March 1st.  Homeowners will have a little less time to get their final fertilizer of the season completed since the blackout period starts sooner than for a professional fertilizer company.

If you are a “do it yourselfer” you want to make sure you purchase a fertilizer that is specifically made for lawns.  If you purchase the lawn fertilizer from your local hardware store, nursery or co-op, it should already be reformulated to comply with New Jersey laws.  Be sure to follow the instructions on the label when applying the product.

Have the New Jersey fertilizer laws benefited the environment?

The New Jersey Fertilizer Laws are a good thing for our state.  As lawn care professionals, we are doing our part to help protect the environment.  In addition to helping our environment, these laws also ensure businesses are operating legally through continuing education and testing.

 

Anti-Desiccants: Everything You Wanted to Know About Protecting your Plants During Cold Weather

What is desiccation?

In biology and ecology, desiccation refers to the drying out of a living organism. In your landscape plants, winter desiccation injury occurs when plants lose moisture from the leaves and do not have the ability to absorb water from the frozen soil. This moisture loss may cause your plant’s leaves and stems to dry out, resulting in discoloration of leaves and even death to stems and branches.

What is an anti-desiccant spray?

An anti-desiccant is a material applied to the foliage of evergreen plants to slow the rate at which moisture is lost.

How is an anti-desiccant spray applied?

An anti-desiccant, also called “anti-transparent” is a liquid spray.  It is applied using a pump system which moves the material through a hose end sprayer.  The liquid is sprayed onto the foliage until it is completely covered and there is slight run off of material.  It will take about two to four hours for the material to dry.  Once dry, it adheres to the target area and is in place to protect your plants.

Here is a video of anti-desiccant being applied:

How long will an anti-desiccant spray last?

Anti-desiccants are typically applied in November and December, and will last for a couple of months. The material gradually wears off and will be gone by springtime. In areas that experience cold harsh winters, like New Jersey, multiple treatments are recommended to ensure the material is in place to protect the plant all winter long.

Do I need an anti-desiccant spray?

If you live in New Jersey and have broadleaf evergreens (plants that keep their foliage all winter) then the answer is yes.  New Jersey can have drastic fluctuations in temperature as well as high winds during the winter, both of which can accelerate moisture loss in plants.  Anti-desiccant applications are very beneficial for plants exposed to wind and/or full sun that will lose moisture faster than ones which are protected from the wind and in shade.

Warning- Not all plants should get anti-desiccant treatments. Do not spray an anti-desiccant on waxy-blue conifers such as blue spruce.

What can I do to protect my plants from winter injury?

The first step is an anti-desiccant application.  This will help your plants hold moisture by providing protection against evaporation and slowing down moisture loss. It will also protect the foliage from accelerated moisture loss due to wind.  This spray will break down over time, so it’s a good idea to have the trees and shrubs treated regularly in the winter to extend the anti-desiccant spray longevity.

Next, you may wrap your plants with burlap.  For small plants, you may wrap the burlap over or around the plants and secure it with twine.  For moderate to large plants, you may drive stakes into the ground around the plant and then secure the burlap to the stakes using staples. This creates a “screen” or “windbreak” around the plant.  Burlap and stakes can be purchased from most garden centers, improvement stores, nurseries and co-ops.

There are also rolls of tape that can be purchased to wrap around the bark of smaller trees.  This will help reduce splitting of the bark that can be caused by large changes in temperature during the winter.  Split bark can cause damage or disease to the interior (cambium) of the tree, leading to permanent injury or death.

Water the plants throughout the fall even as it gets cooler out.  In the fall, plants are still growing and require good soil moisture to do so.  Keeping the soil around the roots moist until the ground freezes will ensure the plants have adequate moisture going into the winter.

Another helpful tip is maintaining proper mulch levels in your landscape beds.  2 to 3 inches of mulch will insulate the soil and help regulate soil temperatures throughout the year.  Please note that mulch should not be piled high on the trunk of trees or covering the shrubs. This will lead to decay and damage in the future.

Conclusion

An anti-desiccant treatment should be applied to your broadleaf evergreens prior to and in many cases during the winter months to minimize moisture loss.  Minimizing moisture loss will not only maintain the look of your landscape throughout the winter but will also reduce stress on your plants.  In areas with high wind, like New Jersey, a burlap wrap is also recommended for certain broadleaf evergreens which are susceptible to winter damage.  It is best you do everything you can to protect your landscape from winter damage and overall plant health going into the winter can play a key role. Improve your plant’s health during the year with proper cultural practices and regular fertilization to maintain a beautiful landscape.

If you are in our service area and have any questions about protecting your plants this winter, please give our office a call at 908-281-7888

Core Aeration

Why should I Aerate my lawn?

The simple answer is core aeration reduces soil compaction, thatch build up, and promotes healthy root growth.  Soil compaction and heavy thatch build up can greatly reduce the flow of water and nutrients into the soil.  This results in reduced uptake of water and nutrients, lower oxygen levels in the soil and poor root growth.  During times of stress, like the hot and dry summer we just had, plants with a poor root system will be less tolerant to stress and more susceptible to disease.  Core aeration is an environmentally sensitive and organic approach to having a healthier lawn.

Why is my soil compacted?

Soil compaction occurs over time through everyday use such as mowing, foot traffic, and recreational use.  Even without traffic, natural processes such as rainfall and soil settlement will cause compaction.  The impacts from compaction are more evident in parts of your lawn that are frequently used, such as near a play set or in front of an access gate for people with fenced in yards.  In these areas, you will notice thinning and the development of bare patches over time as a result of soil compaction from consistent use.

How does core aeration work?

Core aeration works by mechanically removing plugs of soil from the lawn.  This will immediately improve water and nutrient flow deeper into the soil, as well as promote root growth for a healthier, more stress tolerant plant.  Other benefits include increased oxygen levels to the soil, improved soil pore space, reduction in thatch build up, and enhanced response to fertilizers.

aeration-plugs

The photo above was taken after aerating a customer’s lawn and shows the plugs that were removed.  It may look unsightly at first, but the plugs will continue to break down over the next few weeks and be less noticeable over time.  These plugs play two major roles in the breakdown of thatch layers.  In addition to the mechanical removal of thatch, microorganisms located within the plugs will re-enter the turf from the top and help the decomposition of remaining thatch layers.

When should I aerate my lawn?

In central New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, we recommend aerating from late summer through the fall as the turf will have less stress caused by heat and drought.  In addition, at this time the grass plants will be growing and developing their roots while also having less pressure from weeds.

aeration-plugs2

Right after the core aeration is an excellent time to seed, assuming the temperatures have not gotten too cold.  The open areas created by the core aeration are great sites for seed germination.  For seeding, you would want to coordinate with us in advance so that your core aeration is completed during August or September.

In summary, regular aeration is a necessary process for having a healthy lawn.  For those of you that golf, you may be familiar with the process as golf courses aerate multiple times in the same year.  Our recommendation to homeowners would be to aerate at least every other year, however an annual aeration would be ideal.

Please feel free to contact Fairway Green if you have any questions related to core aeration or your lawn in general.

9 Ilene Ct, Suite 14, Hillsborough, NJ 08844 United States | (908) 281-7888
Phone: (908) 281-7888