The Second 10 Tips for Maintaining Lawns and Gardens

  1. Watering to establish turf

    Turf is a natural product, that has been ripped out of the ground via a harvester, stacked on pallets, and generally delivered within 12 hours of harvest. Sometimes 24 to 36 hours. It is then laid on the ground, usually on hot dry ground that tends to suck the moisture out of the turf. Sometimes it’s a windy hot day and the turf dries out quickly. No wonder turf sometimes gets transplant shock. Some parts of the turf get holes or thin out and leave bare areas. Well is it so strange that this happens? What you are really doing when you transplant turf, is after it is laid, you are helping it recover. Think about it, plant cuttings and transplants need misting in a green house, whilst the turf you lay is simply asking to be kept moist for the first week or two after laying. The key to success for transplant, is not to let the turf dry out at least for the first 10 days. In some cooler climatic conditions this may simply mean a water every day or so, where as in a hot dry windy 40 degree day, it may mean up to 6 waters per day for the first week. When I transplant turf, I simply water it if the turf even looks like drying out. I am particularly fussy until I see little white roots shooting from the turf. To check this, simply lift a section a few days after laying the turf, and keep monitoring it until you see them. Once you see lots of white roots, you can reduce watering slightly, and then once it is difficult to lift the turf up, you can reduce watering appropriately. Always be a fussy waterer when you first lay turf.

    If you can not water to these requirements, due to water restrictions etc, try lightly top dressing the turf at establishment time. This should halve the amount of water required to allow the lawn to strike. Only do this for warm season grasses, and not cool season lawns such as Fescue and Rye.
  2. What chemicals can I use on Buffalo

    A lot of contractors are unsure what chemicals can be used on Buffalo turf varieties, partly due to the fact that some Buffalo varieties can be harmed by some chemicals and others not. There are currently trials under way in Queensland that may help clear up this situation. Until then, the following limited information may be of help. The main chemical used to kill broad leaf weeds in Buffalo is Bromicide MA. This chemical works well on most types including Palmetto, Sapphire and Sir Walter. You have to be more careful with the rates, and also expect some burning of the Buffalo if you have either ST85, ST91, or ST26. The ST varieties growth rate after spraying with this chemical is also significantly slowed down, which can cause problems in some areas. I recommend not spraying this chemical on a hot day. It is better to spray in the cool of the evening, or wait for a cooler day. Ronstar G can be used on all the varieties of Buffalo. This chemical is a pre-emergent, which basically means it stops weed seed from germinating. This can be invaluable for use in areas disturbed by construction, or for the planting of Viro-Cell lawn, or runners, or for the use on recently laid turf, or established turf in weedy areas. Pentamethylene is another pre-emergent, but this chemical can only be used in well established turf, as it does tend to slow the growth rate down, and on young turf it does encourage aerial runners. Poa Chek can also be used on Buffalo, which can help remove winter grass.
  3. Controlling root rot in landscape plants

    In humid climates such as Queensland, and even in locations such as Sydney, root rot can be a major problem for certain plants.

    Disease Causing Organism: The primary pathogenic fungi causing this problem is Phytophthora (Root Rot Fungus). A fungus with a well publicised history. Once the plant is in a weakened state, other pathogenic fungi i.e. Rhizoctonia, Colletotrichum, Fusarium can invade to complete the continuing decline of the plant.

    Symptoms: Initially, the first visual symptoms are that the plant ‘appears’ to be dry. The leaves are curled inward and hanging limply on the plant. A simple test to check is gently tug the central leaves. If the disease is well advanced, these leaves will come away and have blacken, smelly ends. If doesn’t happen, closely inspect the crown for black discolouration.

    Before I talk about treatments, there are ways to avoid the problem in the first place. One way is to use better plant varieties that have resistance to these root diseases. For example, use resistant varieties of Lomandra longifolia such as Tanika or Katrinus, rather than the common form. With the common form you never know what you will get, for instance a third may be resistant and the other two thirds may be prone. You may even get sand dune varieties, which will quickly die when exposed to root rot in heavy soils. Another suggestion is to reduce the conditions which cause root rot.

    Causes:
    • Planting too deep. Many grasses, grass like plants, and numerous other forms of plants have only one growing point (the crown). If this is buried too deep and covered with soil, problems will arise.
    • Mulching practices. The number 1 cause. Covering the foliage and crown with mulch. Mulch should be kept away a min. of 75 mm away from the crown of plant and under the foliage. Keep the mulch out of the foliage. Try to use mulch that is of a coarse grade with no fines, such as hard wood chip. Mulch with a lot of leaf litter or fines, become a haven for such diseases, and when they get wet they tend to not breathe, and act as a breeding ground for root rot.
    • Over-watering after planting. This disease spreads via ‘free’ water. Over-watering with irrigation systems coupled with poor drainage particularly along garden edges during the establishment phase generally leads to soggy areas in the gardens. Ideal breeding grounds for this disease particularly in the hot, summer months
    Simple Management Tips: Check for the above causes and undertake ‘fix-up’ program. One of the best and most cost effective chemicals is Phosphoric acid, which will help with Phytophthora. Another safe chemical program that can be used to overcome the disease is two applications of a heavy drench of Fosject and Thiram mixed together at recommended rates, five days apart. Apply to the crown and foliage to the point of run off. If the problem is Fusarium or Rhizocktonia, Baycor from Nuturf is a good option. Often it is necessary to alternate between different treatments to achieve the desired results. Root rot generally occurs in the first summer after planting, and generally as a result of bad planting practices, so by following these guidelines, you should be able to solve or avoid the problem.
  4. Management of thatch build up in Turf

    Thatchy spongy turf can be quite annoying to walk on, and when mown it leads to scalping. Hopefully by reading this you will discover ways to avoid too much thatch, or at least to control and fix the problem. Probably the best way to avoid thatch is to install a lawn that thatches less. Some good varieties that thatch less are Palmetto and Sapphire Buffalo, Greenlees Park couch, Empire Zoysia and even the humble Kikuyu, although Kikuyu has many other reasons why it should be avoided. Some really bad varieties when it comes to thatch are Shade Master Buffalo and Santa Ana couch. In cooler climates such as Melbourne, Santa Ana for example makes a reasonable lawn, but in warmer areas it thatches like crazy. Even the good lawns can sometimes get thatch given the right conditions, so what are the best management practices to avoid thatch?
    • Regular frequent short mowing. If you can mown at about 30mm to 40mm, at least once per week in the summer periods (10 to 14 days with Empire Zoysia), you will find less thatch build up. In shade a much taller mowing regime is required.
    • Try to avoid use of excess nitrogen, and where ever possible use a good slow release fertiliser, and try to limit fertilizing to twice per year.
    • An occasional application of seaweed extract, such as Kelpak, which is low in nitrogen, will stimulate microbial activity, which helps breakdown the dead organic matter.
    • Try not to over water, as this unnecessarily increase lawn growth and thatch development.
    • Some people believe an application of Primo Max, will not only slow the growth of the lawn down, resulting in less mowing, but will also reduce thatch build up.
    If you ever find yourself with a spongy, highly thatched lawn, there are procedures that can fix the problem. Firstly, you could hire a dethatching machine, which will quickly take care of the problem. Another way is to simply severely scalp the lawn, and remove the clippings. Generally after a couple of weeks the lawn will start to look good again. Avoid doing this in winter in cooler climates, and off course this can only be done to warm season grasses, and not cool season grasses such as Fescue and Rye.
    Another old time recipe that still works today is to lightly top dress with a sandy soil, making sure the leaf is still poking through the topdressing. Avoid doing this every year, as eventually levels around paths etc will be changed
  5. Soils for less water

    In the past garden and turf experts would generally suggest people use a free draining soil in there landscapes. These sandy soils often with organics in them are generally great for the plants and the turf, provided you use enough water. Well this is the problem, not enough water. With Australia wide water shortages, free draining soils all of a sudden are not the answer. Sure, on sports fields it is a must, but in the general landscape a heavy soil that stays moist for a long time after rain makes much more sense. So next time you are landscaping, try to use a good balanced heavier soil that will hold water. For a lawn, this may be the difference between watering every second day in summer as apposed to every second week. Heavier soils can be bad for some plants and turf, so you will have to be selective about which plants and turf are used. For example; Kikuyu in Queensland gets a lot of disease in heavy soils in summer after a lot of rain, whilst Empire Zoysia is very disease resistant. Also Common Lomandra often fails in heavy soils, whilst Lomandra Tanika, and Katinus do very well. I would also recommend using coarse grade mulch with no fines, as this will reduce the chance of disease in the plants.
  6. Is there any such thing as a NO IRRIGATION, no maintenance landscape?

    Most gardens and landscapes need some yearly maintenance, and usually a little top up watering, but for most populated areas in Australia there are some plants that will provide you with a no irrigation, almost no maintenance garden. Unfortunately even these plants may need the odd older leaf removed every 4 or 5 years, but that is very close to no maintenance. Most of the garden plants that fall into this category are strappy leaf plants. Plants such as Liriope, Agapanthus, better varieties of Lomandra, such as Tanika and Katrinus, and Dianellas. Some of the best Dianellas are Little Rev, Little Jess, Cassa Blue and Breeze. To become an almost no maintenance garden, these plants must be planted close together, so that when they are about 8 months old, there are no gaps. I call this planting for weed control. Sometimes spaces or gaps are needed to highlight plants, or simply to create a great design. If this is the case try using rock, or pieces of treated timber or something else to cover the ground in those areas. The main rule is that there should be no bare dirt or open mulch areas left in the design once the plants have grown. If you have an existing garden you are maintaining, you can often retro fit these concepts to it. Add rock, or low maintenance plants thickly planted to weedy areas of the garden. If it is a particularly weedy area, Ronstar G can be used with many ornamentals (See Label). This is a pre-emergent which will stop weed seeds from germinating. Doing this may just give the plants time to grow and from then on out compete the weeds.
  7. Are you having trouble keeping mulch or gravel in the garden?

    This is one annoying problem. Wind, dogs, people, garden edges or even rain can move the mulch or pebbles from the garden on to paths or lawns. Don’t you hate it when the mower hits a pebble or hardwood chip, or even worse when kids with bare feet get a sore foot. If the landscapes that you are looking after are having this problem, then garden edging can help. You can either use hard garden edging, like pavers, rock , or concrete, or you can use soft garden edging in the form of border plants. The easiest way to install the plants is by using Instant Border. Instant Border is a unique ready to use border product that provides you with the means to instantly install an established plant border. It is ideal for a wide variety of uses in curving, winding, and straight areas. It provides excellent erosion control, presenting a solid continuous mass of plants that can be ‘instantly’ aligned and installed, with no grow in time required. The plants grown in this system will help stop the mulch or pebbles from crossing the line.
    The best type of plants available in Instant Border that solve the problem are Mondo grass, Mini mondo, and Liriope. So next time you are have cross border problems when maintaining landscapes, mention to your clients possible fixes.
  8. How to get couch or Kikuyu out of other lawns

    You have a beautiful Palmetto Buffalo lawn, or some other wonderful type of turf, and unfortunately some untidy couch or Kikuyu has crept in. What can you do about it? Apart from getting frustrated, about the only thing you can do is spray that section of the lawn dead with Round Up (Glyphosate). So where ever the couch or Kikuyu is, spray that area, ensuring that every bit of the target plant is sprayed. It is better to water the lawn a few days before spraying, to ensure the target grass is healthy. You get a much better kill with Round Up when the plant is healthy. After a couple of weeks you will find a dead area. Now the fun part begins. If it was Palmetto Buffalo, Empire Zoysia, or Sapphire Buffalo, you can simple purchase Viro-Cell lawn and patch up the Area. This method of patch up is simple and quick. Viro-Cells are cell grown trays of turf. If you have another variety, or if you can’t get Viro-Cells, a slower but still successful option is to simply pull out some runners from other parts of the lawn, and plant them in the bare areas. You can also use turf, and fully patch the areas instantly. If you have a cool season grass, such as Fescue, you can turf the patch, or re-seed. If you have Kikuyu in a lawn that needs less mowing, or example in Palmetto, you will find the Kikuyu will grow taller than the Buffalo. In this case you can use a wick wiper on the Kikuyu ensuring none is spilt on the Buffalo. This way only the Kikuyu dies. This process may need repeating a few times first. There are bar type wick wipers available that have a wide spread for larger areas. For Kikuyu in Couch lawns, some people have been successful taking out the Kikuyu with DSMA, being used as a selective herbicide. This generally needs at least a couple of follow up applications. Personally, I prefer to simply use the Round Up spot spraying method.
  9. Keeping grass weeds out of gardens and Landscape Planting

    Note; If you undertake garden care or Landscape maintenance, make sure you read this one.

    The best way to keep grass weeds out of gardens is to not let them come in. Try coarse grade mulch, Pre-emergents such as Ronstar G, and of coarse correct preparation techniques. After all this you still may get annual grass weeds, and even couch or Kikuyu growing in your garden or landscape. Well there is a chemical called Fusilade that may help you with this problem. Simplistically speaking Fusilade kills grasses out of non grass crops. This is off course a simplistic generalisation, and I would suggest reading the label off this chemical before using it. I use it around my large landscape plantings, to take grass weeds such as couch, kikuyu, crows foot, rye grass, paspalum etc, out of plants such as Mondo, Lomandra, Dianella, Liriope, shrubs and trees. Grass getting into my commercial landscape plantings never really bothers me, as I find this chemical controls the grass weeds successfully. One thing to remember here is that you can not use Fusilade on ornamental grasses, as they are true grasses and they would die. But for grass like plants, such as Lomandra, Dianella, Liriope etc, it is fine, as these are not really grasses, and technically I believe they fit into the shrub category on the label. The allowable crops to be sprayed on the label reads; potted and open grown ornamental shrubs and trees in: Roadside, farm, and fenceline plantings, nurseries, parks and gardens. The grass weeds listed on the label for control are Barnyard Grass, Crowsfoot Grass, Liverseed Grass, Summer Grass (Crabgrass), Stinkgrass, Guinea Grass, Annual (Wimmera) ryegrass, Wild Oats, Barley Grass, Brome Grasses, Annual Phalaris, Volunteer cereals, seedlings of Couch Grass, English Couch (rope twitch), and Water Couch, Johnson grass (seedling) and Paspalum (seedling) Couch grass, Paspalum, Bent Grass, Kikuyu Grass, Kentucky Bluegrass and more. This information is not comprehensive, so before use please read the label fully.
  10. Cleaning water on commercial landscape sites, to help water plants and Turf

    With the spread of water restrictions, landscape contractors and maintenance companies have been forced to find water wherever they can. Unfortunately, this often means filling water trucks, or for that matter pumping directly from dams, creeks, rivers, recycled water sources, or even ground water. Often many of these sources are providing water that has diseases such as Phytophthora etc, which can play havoc with plants and turf. Obviously, using plant and turf varieties that are more resistant to disease helps, but even these plants can surrender to large doses from contaminated water. Also salinity, or bad PH can all cause problems. The low cost easy way to treat this water for temporary watering on large scale landscapes, or even for continual watering on parks and ovals, is to pump the water into a tank, and then treat it, with simple and easy to understand methods. If you are using a water truck, then you can simply treat it in the tanker, if you are pumping directly from a water source, you can buy a water tank. To simplify things, I am going to assume you have bought a 22000 litre water tank. If you have bought differently, simply adjust figures accordingly. Now you have pumped the dam, river, or other water into your tank, now you can treat it. Firstly you can treat it for disease, by adding approximately 4 litres of Chlorine to your 22000 litres of water. You can simply use pool Chlorine, which will really keep the cost down. Now wait for 30 minutes, and then test the water with Low range Chlorine Dioxide test strips. I use Vibrex test strips available from Simple Grow (02) 9604 0469. The reading I want is 3ppm. If the water is not quite at this reading after adding the Chlorine, in future adjust the amount of chlorine added to achieve this result. You should at this time also have purchased an EC metre to test salinity. Suppliers such as Simple Grow can also help you with this. Obviously it is important to read the instructions, and make sure the water is not too saline for the plants. At this time it is also a good idea to check the PH levels of the water, which can also be done with a simple test kit. Read the instructions, and if you need to adjust the PH, ask your supplier. Once you have done all this once or twice, the whole process is easy and quick. Most days it is a simple matter of pouring approximately 4 litres of pool chlorine or so into your 22000 litre tank, or the appropriate amount into your water truck, and perhaps other stuff if necessary. Wait half an hour and water. You should get into the habit of checking PH, chlorine levels, and Salinity once every couple of weeks. This is a cheap relatively quick way of improving water quality. The information given here is a simplification of the process, so before you first attempt to clean your water I would suggest contacting Simple grow, or other companies like them, for more detailed product information.

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