When is the Best Time to Aerate Your Lawn?

If you aren’t familiar with what aeration is or why it is helpful for your lawn, you are not alone. It’s something that can easily go unattended because it happens under the the surface. In fact, only 25% of homeowners in the United States aerate their lawn.

What is Aeration and Why is it Important?

Aeration is a process by which air is allowed to circulate through a substance. You can aerate a wide variety of things, such as milk, blood and also soil. It allows air to circulate through the lawn, but also provides a pathway for water and nutrients to reach the roots in a more direct manner. Aeration is usually accomplished by poking holes in the soil or by taking plugs of soil out of the ground. Core aeration requires heavy machinery that has been designed specifically for this purpose. The use of aerators creates exposed roots and surfaces of the plant are cut open, this can result in the plant dying out a bit before it heals. This process can take up to a couple weeks. 

There are natural soil aerators, like bugs and other soil-loving creatures that dig in the dirt – but they are not as effective or as capable as humans are, especially professional lawn care technicians. Following the service, you will notice a stronger turf beneath your feet after a few weeks.

When is the Best Season to Aerate in Cedar Rapids & Iowa City?

Before you go and buy yourself a lawn aerator or hire someone to come out, you should know that there are better times to aerate your lawn than others. While the long-term effects of aeration are beneficial for your lawn, it is also stressful to the plants if not done a the right time. We want to target the times of the year when the lawn is healthy and growing. In Iowa (specifically Cedar Rapids & Iowa City), we have cool season grasses. So spring and fall are the best times to both aerate and seed your lawn.

Now that its narrowed down to the season, the other huge factor is the weather. We know how unpredictable Iowa weather can be and it has an impact on when your lawn entering its “growing” stage. Because we tailor our lawn care program to take advantage of the weather conditions, we have found that these ideal times present themselves in the spring and late summer/fall for Cedar Rapids & Iowa City.

Ideal Weather Conditions for Aeration

In the spring, it’s best to wait until the grass is starting to or is consistently growing. For this to happen, the soil needs to be approaching 50+ degrees. There are a couple indicators we can use tell when a lawn is fit for aeration:

  • Green Grass – Every fall/winter, the plant goes dormant. As a result, it tends to turn a yellowish/brown color. In the spring, the new growth pushes out the dormant material, which is eventually mowed off and decomposes. When a lawn has consistently green grass, we know it has grown out of dormancy and it healthy enough for aeration.
  • Mowing frequency –  Mowing should be done often enough that you remove no more than 1/3 of the leaf blade. When the lawn needs mowed more than once a week, it is a strong indicator it would recover quickly from aeration. Mowing frequently is also a great way to break up the cores that have been pulled during aeration, allowing the soil to fall back into the holes and decompose naturally. 

In the early fall (August through October), growth of the plant isn’t as rapid as it was in the spring. However, this is when the root growth is accelerated as the plant is recovering from the heat of the summer months. There is always a chance your lawn goes dormant in the summer months, so you may need to wait until the grass greens again before aerating. Also if there was a summer drought, the soil may be too hard to even penetrate well. So waiting for cooler temperatures, shorter daylight hours, and increased rainfall make the fall a perfect time of year for the lawn. 

Don’t have time to aerate your lawn?

Your time is valuable. We know you have family, hobbies and work so give us a call and we would be happy to provide you with a no obligation quote.

Brown & Yellow Streaks in Your Lawn May be Ascochyta Leaf Blight

Ascochyta leaf blight on iowa lawns

Do you see bleached tracks on your lawn that typically follow the path of your mower? It could be Ascochyta Leaf Blight, which is a grass fungus that is found primarily on Kentucky Bluegrass, the most common grass in Iowa. This disease causes irregular patches of straw-brown color and will make your grass appear dead. This can pop up overnight, having a great looking lawn one day and a streaky yellow lawn the next. Weather can have a factor in it as well, as it is typically preceded by wet weather that turns hot and dry. You will start seeing these damaged lawns near the beginning of June, but they can also occur anytime throughout the summer.

This is a foliar disease that kills the leaf tissue, not the root system. This also means that the disease is transferred by infectious spores that sit on the surface of the grass. The “dead” patches are commonly seen where your mower tires track because your tires will easily spread the spores as you mow your lawn. Given that the outbreaks are so random, you typically won’t notice your lawn is affected until after the patches are already there. Once they appear, there is little you can do to make them go away. The good news is that recovery should only take 3-4 weeks, depending on how the growing conditions are over that time. There also are some practices you can perform regularly to relieve stress on your lawn and lessen your chances of a yellow, patchy lawn appearing overnight.

The four main cultural practices you can do properly for a stress-free lawn are: fertilizingmowing, watering, and core-aerating. If you haven’t already, please consider our Weed and Feed fertilizing program. We apply the best products available in the correct amount at the right time. Mowing frequency, height of cutting, and blade sharpness are very important. Please be sure 2.5” – 3” of height remains after you’ve cut the lawn. Anything shorter than this causes stress on the lawn and allows weed infiltration. Never cut more than one third of the grass blade when mowing. And avoid mowing in the heat of the day, especially if the lawn appears to be wilting or starting to dry out. 

A healthy lawn needs 1” – 1.5” of moisture a week. It is best to water over night. Keep in mind, recovery will be slow and over-watering will not speed it up and may cause more problems. Keep up with fertility to promote re-growth. Core-aeration should be an annual practice especially for lawns that frequently have disease issues. Aeration reduces thatch levels and increases air movement, which allows the grass plants to dry more efficiently.

With this particular disease, curative fungicide treatments are not recommended. There are preventative fungicides available, but they must be applied before the problem appears. If we find a recurring problem, we may suggest preventative treatment(s) or over-seeding problem areas with varieties of grass resistant to the disease. We offer fertilization programs, aeration, and mowing services. Please contact our office if we can be of further assistance.

When is it Time to Hire a Lawn Care Professional?

hire a lawn care professional

Since establishing our business in 1985 and helping thousands of customers across the corridor, we’ve encountered a variety of reasons why people have trusted us with their lawn care. No matter the reasons, everyone has their own motivation, or breaking point, for letting professionals help. We’ll talk about the most common discussions we encounter when chatting with new customers.

“I Just Don’t Have Time to Worry About It!”

In a 2007 survey, 30% of American homeowners hired an outside firm to help care for their lawn and landscape. In 2017, that number had grown to 40% percent. More recent surveys would likely reflect an even larger percentage hiring lawn care companies. There are many factors leading to this; working more hours and more time spent commuting to and from work leaves less time during the week to work on the lawn and landscape. After a long day of work, it’s understandable that trying to get everything mowed before sunset is less of a priority. With less time during the week, that leaves the weekend for tackling the list of tasks. Sounds great! Well, maybe NOT so great. It’s going to be rainy all weekend? The kids have baseball and soccer games two hours away? We all work very hard to do things that we enjoy, and the purpose of a weekend is for relaxing and doing fun things. You can see where I’m going with this; our time is valuable, and taking care of a home (inside and outside) is time consuming. Our job is lawn care. We do during business hours what our customers cannot. If Mother Nature interferes with our day, we can adjust and complete things as soon as weather allows. Many homeowners don’t have that flexibility. There’s a limited time to do things, and bad luck can ruin the best of intentions.

“Am I Even Doing This Right?”

Turf management requires a great deal of technical knowledge and experience, like other skilled trades and professions. Many people don’t feel comfortable taking care of their lawn or don’t trust their own level of knowledge. A lot can go wrong if products are used incorrectly. Having been in business since 1985, the staff at UltraLawn has amassed an impressive resume of education and experience. This experience and knowledge has been used to come up with the best blend of fertilizers and weed control. We also have developed programs for controlling insects and disease on landscape plants and ornamental trees, mosquito control, preventing various insects from entering the home, and controlling vegetation in areas that aren’t mowed.

The products that we use are not the same as what can be bought at the “big box stores”. Raw materials used to create fertilizers vary greatly. Naturally, a better raw material demands a higher cost, and those products are usually used by professionals. Because of recent issues with manufacturing and suppliers, it’s becoming more difficult for homeowners and smaller lawn care companies to obtain high-level products. As one of the largest lawn care providers serving the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City area, we have developed relationships with vendors that have put us in a favorable position to make sure that we have the right ingredients to help your lawn.

One obstacle that may make a person hesitant is the cost; the equipment and products needed for DIY lawn care are fairly expensive. Unfortunately, those costs don’t appear to be coming down any time soon. By hiring UltraLawn to feed your lawn what it needs and to eliminate weeds, there’s no need to keep bulky equipment in the garage that may only be used for a few hours every year. You won’t have the hassle of keeping pesticides or fertilizers, let us worry about keeping that product safe and sound. Products and labor aren’t the only thing you’re buying when you are an UltraLawn customer. You’re buying over 250 years of experience taking care of turf in Iowa. That type of expertise isn’t easily found under one roof.

The turf industry is constantly changing, with new and improved products being released regularly. We are always looking for any way to improve results, and utilizing better science is an easy choice to make. As stewards of the land, we take very seriously our responsibility to care for the environment in a way that provides results for our customers and is kind to the ecosystem.

“The Work Has Become Too Difficult”

Lawn care is hard work. Mowing, mulching, raking, watering, pruning…not to mention an extremely rare hurricane-force weather event that turned everyone’s lives upside-down! As time marches on, we all slow down just a bit, and there is no shame in enlisting the help of others. “Many hands make light work”. We understand that some of our customers have taken meticulous care of their home for decades. The least we can do is approach their property with respect, care, and a keen eye for detail that leaves them satisfied and proud. We’re well-equipped and trained to do the job right!

 

No matter what reason someone has for calling in the lawn care cavalry, the dedicated staff at UltraLawn is here to provide help in any way possible. And if you’re not completely sure about it, our estimates are free!

Tips for Seeding Lawns in Eastern Iowa

Seeding grass growing with UltraLawn

If you’ve been waiting to seed those thin or bare patches in your lawn, we suggest timing it between August and September to get optimal results for homeowners in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. Once the seed is down, it’s important to begin daily watering immediately. At least twice per day is a must in order to keep the surface soil moist. Depending on the heat, additional shots of water may be needed. If the seed has been properly irrigated, you should see germination (sprouting) within a couple weeks. Once the germination process has completed (around four weeks) you can begin to reduce your watering routine to two to three times per week – an application of 1.5” of water at a time is typically sufficient. Seeded areas will need to be watered and fertilized throughout the growing season to allow it to thicken. These first year seedlings will not take drought well and will require your attention to survive the remaining hot summer months.

Once seedlings reach around 3.5” tall, you can include those areas as you mow the lawn. Make sure to leave 2.5” to 3” of the blade remaining – mowing too short will stress this new grass which can allow weed infiltration. Remember, these areas of your lawn can’t receive weed control treatments at this time and you should expect some weeds to show up as the new grass matures.

Avoid heavy foot traffic on these new patches until they’ve been mowed four to fives times. It may take up to a couple full years until these seeded areas reach the full thickness and health of your existing lawn. The speed of recovery ultimately comes down to water access so keep this rhyme in mind – keep it wet to avoid regret!

Remember that Ultralawn is here to help. If you’d like us to assist you in seeding your lawn, give us a call or contact us online for a quote. Every invoice comes with tips and comments related to our visit. See why homeowners in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City know that the grass is always greener (and fuller) on the UltraLawn side of the fence!

What does Salt Damage look like on my lawn?

'Tis the Season For Salt...

As we wrap up our winter and prepare for spring, our attention turns to green grass and blooming flowers. Spring signals the season of regrowth and rejuvenation, but it can also pose many issues and problems left over from the winter. One of those problems is salt damage. Despite the necessity of using salt melt to keep us safe, there are downsides to its’ use as well! It’s use can be extremely damaging to turf and landscape plants. Salt granules will move off pavement to turf areas and landscape beds, where it dissolves and saturates the soil. This extremely concentrated saltwater dries out roots and makes the soil toxic to plants. Salt damage can also occur on bushes and shrubs when the foliage of these plants is covered in salt or salt water.

Salt-damaged turf and landscape plants damaged by salt show many of the same symptoms. In all cases of salt damage, moisture is lost from the plant or the soil. Salt absorbs incredible amounts of water, and the result is a plant leaf or soil that has had a great amount of moisture removed. That moisture is essential for plant health, so the effects are extremely detrimental! Salt-damaged turf is usually yellow/brown, accompanied by the turf having a very “crunchy” texture. Leaf edges on trees & shrubs will be discolored with curled/deformed edges.

Can Salt Damage be "Fixed"?

To a certain extent, yes. However, that extent usually isn’t known until late spring when plants have recovered from winter dormancy and are fully growing. Light salt damage will go away once spring rains begin, and salt is flushed from the soil. If salt damage is suspected, one could spray down the foliage of exposed plants, and saturate the soil to speed up this flushing process. New growth emerges and the damaged plant material falls or is mowed off. On slow-growing plants, this damage may take a few years to grow out, and be properly pruned off. However, part of that strategy being effective is making sure that no further salt damage is done (we’ll touch on that later). In our part of the country, where copious amounts of salt may be used in a bad winter season, the damage may not be so light. Plants may need to be replaced, and turf areas will require new seed or sod. Once the dead/damaged plant material is removed, new soil will need to be added in its place. In order to make sure salts are out of the soil, it is recommended that gypsum is applied. Gypsum contains calcium and sulfur, which help to counter the effects of salt. It is a good maintenance practice to apply gypsum in the spring and fall to areas where salt damage may occur, as building up calcium and sulfur in the soil will help mitigate further damage.

Can Salt Damage be prevented?

In a word, yes! In some instances, using ice melt products is unavoidable. The good news is that there are products available that are much safer to use around plants and turf. Our “typical” ice melt is made of sodium chloride. It’s inexpensive and effective, making it the most-used product. However, it is not kind to plants and can even corrode concrete and stone over time.  Magnesium chloride is much safer to use around plants and turf, but is more expensive and can be hard on certain flowers. It is a great option, as it is moderately priced compared to some other ice melt products while being gentle to most plants. Calcium chloride is a product that is effective at VERY low temperatures, and while it isn’t completely safe to plants, is a better option than sodium chloride. Potassium chloride is safe to use on plants but the cost of raw materials has risen over the last few years making this an expensive product to use. There are a few different Acetate products (containing calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium) that are “as corrosive as tapwater”, making them the safest products to use for plants, pets, and hard surfaces. Acetate products are used on airport runways and other critical areas where performance is paramount, but they are the most expensive products available.

 

While it probably isn’t feasible to treat our properties like an airport runway, plant damage can be avoided by using plant-safe products where necessary. The added cost for the right product is worth it, if it means saving time and avoiding the cost of replacing turf and landscape plants.