Secondary Cultural Practices
Hey everyone. You're listening to The Shed with Micah and Andrew, where we talk lawn turf tips and tricks. As always, today I have with me Micah. Hey Micah.
Today we're going to be talking about cultural practices. We've kind of talked about the primary cultural practices in the past couple of podcasts. Today we're going to be talking about secondary cultural practices and yeah, I'll let Micah kind of summarize what we've talked about and then we can get into the secondary stuff.
Yeah. So kind of the gist of this is we split these turf management principles into like the primary and secondary cultural practices. So we've kind of covered the primary cultural practices, that we call them now, mowing, fertilization, irrigation. So with each of those podcasts, we kind of went into the details, the nitty gritty of each of those, kind of handing out certain tips like the one third rule mowing frequency in the mowing category, different things to look out in the fertility section like N, P, and K different ratios, kind of when to apply how much to apply. Then we went through some irrigation kind of that how much do I apply? How do I know how much you are applying and kind of setting up some scheduling. So just kind of some basic principles in each of those.
Yeah, so now we'll kind of get into the secondary cultural practices and we'll pretty much do it all on one episode, as there's not too many of them, and they all kind of serve certain purposes. As far as like a home lawn goes, most people aren't really A, needing to go through a whole bunch of secondary cultural practices or, if they are, they're doing very specific ones for certain solutions for problems that they have.
So, okay. Okay. I mean, just a question right out of the bat. Are they called primary cultural practices because they're the most important ones? And then their secondary just because like they fall afterwards? Or is it, in the past, just these three cultural practices were practiced and as we've progressed, we've introduced additional cultural practices?
You know, I have to let the audience know that we are not really going off a script and that is literally what I was about to say ...
So thank you Andrew.
Oh geez, okay, cool.
Episode five, we're clicking. Is this episode five? I don't even remember.
It is, it is. Yeah.
So yeah, primary cultural practices, when I would often go recommend some of the lowest budget end users in like schools and landscapes where they don't have so much to spend, they would ask like, "Well, what do I put it into?" We'd be telling them put it into your mowing fertilization, irrigation practices first and foremost. Putting it into those will really turn around the landscape more so than ignoring them completely and then going with some secondary cultural practices.
So yeah, our general recommendation is get mowing, fertilization, and irrigation under control. Then if you still have room in the budget or if you're like a turf nerd and just want to like pour more into your lawn, then start assessing what you can do with the secondary cultural practices. Yep. So they're still very important for turf grass health, obviously, but some people A, can, or can't, or don't want to, get into the nitty gritty of the real details of what your lawn might need and kind of like what it's telling you.
So yeah, I mean, there's pretty much a couple right off the bat that are kind of most applicable to home loans. I'm just trying to think from like a homeowner point of view with some turf grass knowledge now, but like probably less background than obviously like someone who's going to school for this sort of thing. Like what's your like perspective on what the lawn may or may not need outside of the primary? So getting into the secondary cultural practices, what do you see in your lawn that might tell you, "Hey, something's wrong or that might need fixing?" Because I know it can be a little daunting or like hard to tell what other inputs or variables might be required of management in it.
"Our general recommendation is get mowing, fertilization, and irrigation under control. Then if you still have room in the budget or if you're like a turf nerd and just want to like pour more into your lawn, then start assessing what you can do with the secondary cultural practices."
Yeah. Yeah. The only thing that immediately comes to mind are pests in my lawn. Yeah. Mainly I have a big moss problem in my lawn, I have a lot of clover in my lawn, and then it seems as if there's a lot of beetles too, but that's immediately what comes to mind, pest management.
Yep. Yep. I mean, when we talk about these primary and secondary cultural practices, actually, the greater, I guess, word for the relationship between all these practices is integrated pest management. Like you just nailed it right there. So literally when you said pests, and you'd literally just listed, it could be moss, it could be an actual insect or pest. Like it doesn't have to be just a living insect or mammal, like a mole or whatever it might be. But yeah, I mean, I think you're going down the right track here as far as like leading me into thatch management as a cultural practice.
So pests in general, like I guess getting specifically into like insects, most of them typically live in the thatch layers or just below the soil surface, they're actually kind of feeding in that region. So like lawns with really excessive amounts of thatch, that's actually kind of a breeding ground or pretty much their habitat. So the more thatch you've pretty much have a more inviting lawn to live in than maybe your neighbors, if it has less thatch. So moss can add to that certainly, as well as like certain species can tend to produce more thatch than others, but a lot of it can also be environmental.
How do I go out in my lawn and assess, "Oh, my lawn has a thatch problem?
I would say you can typically tell just going out and walking on it really. The other method would be just like take a normal Flathead shovel, I think they're usually like six inches or more wide, but just cut out a little square of the lawn, kind of dig a little deep so you can get into the soil profile and pretty much just like dig that out. You can easily put it back when you're done, but you can see the side profile and literally feel and see how much thatch is there. It's going to look pretty much like off-colored, spongy, but simply just walking on your lawn, like once you get experienced with thatch versus no thatch. I mean, you can immediately feel it, if it has give, if it's a little spongy, you're quickly going to know if you have a thatch problem or not.
Also, if you kind of peel away the grass, kind of move it with your hands back and forth, I mean, you're going to be able to see either the soil pretty easily, or it's going to take a lot more work to kind of wiggle apart all the stuff. If you don't even see any soil at all, you probably have at least a little thatch layer impeding you. For, I we didn't really cover, thatch in general is mostly made up of stems and kind of the harder to degrade parts of the plant. So most of the times leaves, that kind of just like degrade and kind of go back into the soil, like if you mulch your grass. Most of the thatch doesn't come from the leaves themselves, but if they're seeding out and then the stems are, obviously a little harder than the leaves, they all get put back into the soil or just other debris like I was mentioning moss growing, all that kind of contributes to thatch.
Okay. Okay. What would be your recommendation for a homeowner to remove the thatch? Like a metal tined rake? is there a specific tool that a homeowner should rent or actually purchase?
Yeah. I mean, they make kind of like manual rakes where they have those tines or teeth to kind of help rip this stuff out. Those can be very labor intensive, and the more I work on my lawn, even though it's pretty small, I'm finding out ... I'm not even that old, but it feels like it. When you paid the money to rent the equipment or find and source and buy the equipment itself, it saves a lot of headache. I mean, not just the effort doing it once a year, but then you can easily do it year in year out. So for thatch management itself, I mean, I even got ... Went on YouTube and there's this product called Sun Joe that has a little dethatcher unit. It kind of feels very plasticky and kind of rinky dinky like a toy. But I mean, for how much it costs, it works perfectly.
I've probably used it about five or six times now, mostly on family friends yards that then hear about this thing, like, "Oh, you should try it on mine." Then it kind of becomes a competition to see who has the most thatch. But I mean generally if you don't want to even purchase a unit, which that one was like, less than 150 bucks, maybe 120, you can rent them at like home Depot, or other tool rental places pretty inexpensively, I think. But for the most part, it's really obvious when you probably need to dethatch, when it gets like really, really thick. Not many people do it as a regular basis, more of like not as much preventative, but curative application of thatch management and-
A what application of thatch management?
Curative. So like you have a problem, you're going to go out and cure the solution or problem. Preventative being regularly doing thatch management practices maybe once a year, or like for example, golf courses, a curative thing would be bentgrass fairways where you could definitely tell it's a really, really spongy, thicker, thatch layer. They go thatch it really, really heavy and you've got just fluff everywhere after that and then you've got to kind of deal with it on a large scale basis. But if you're regularly kind of doing it, tickling it, as we would sometimes say, slowly removing the thatch so it doesn't become a big problem. So preventative versus curative kind of, are you working on it ahead of time to prevent it from being a big problem and just kind of deal with it as it comes or you let it build up? Or which often is the case, is, you inherit something that has become out of control already and then you're just fixing it.
Okay. Okay. Now, you said previously that like insects will live in that thatch layer, and let's say my lawn has a large thatch layer, is removing the thatch all I need to do to deal with those insects, or should I remove the thatch and apply something to the lawn? I mean, like what would be your recommendation for dealing with actual like insect pests?
So there's a few things for that. First, yeah, you want to make sure you kind of remove the thatch, do that practice. My first thing to look at, before I even removed the thatch, is know what pest you're dealing with, honestly. If it's moss, then that's kind of another route, but say it is an actual insect pest. I mean, you really want to know what, like, even down to the species, what insect is this? And then you can research the pest problem online pretty easily.
There's a lot of research with entomology and even just turf grass pests online. So most of the case, you find a few bugs, even in some cases a handful of bugs crawling around it might look like, "Oh, they're probably doing something damaging to the plant." Well, there's usually a threshold of damage. For home lawns, that's much higher than a golf course because some damage is acceptable on a home lawn, golf courses, even some are okay. But all the threshold levels of what will cause monetary or aesthetic damage to your property can vary.
So you first want to kind of look at what's the pest> find online what the damage threshold might be, and when I say that, I literally mean like insects per unit of area. So one of the methods we would actually do in that scenario is, it could be Beatles for instance, where we would take that shovel, we'd cut out a square, we'd know exactly that measurement of that square area, surface area-
Would you recommend like a foot by a foot, like a one foot by one foot square?
Yeah, even six by six, six inches by six inches is fine. But if you do like a one by one foot, then like you got a square foot, it's pretty easy. But from there you take like a soap, water mixture, you know, a bucket of water, put in some dish soap, fairly easy. But you take that square, you cut it out of the ground and you kind of soak all that in that watery, soapy mixture and the will actually come out of the turf and you could like quite easily count them because they don't want to live in that kind of soapy wet solution.
It's like a Hitchcock movie.
Kind of, exactly. Like then you really see the problem right in front your face.
I mean, I would probably do that in a couple locations to get a good average because you never know if you just picked a spot that has a bunch more and then you freak out or there's none at all, and you're like, "I don't have a problem," and they're eating the rest of the other side of the yard. So you kind of get that count and you use that based on the recommendation of some of these turf grass professionals where you might not need to apply a pesticide or insecticide to that, which most of the time, you really don't. Some of the more damaging types are like crane fly, those sort of insects. But for the most part, just the average beetle, probably isn't doing a whole heck of a lot, unless if it's certain types of beetles.
Okay. So basically like you remove the habitat that they live in and then the problem will slowly fade away, in essence, for most insects is what I'm hearing you saying?
Yeah. So if you're like taking care of the habitat issue, that's one way to tackle it. If you actually dealt with the pest, that is adding to the success rate of your problem. You can look at it two ways, most often people see they have a problem, they treat the problem, being the pest itself, but they're not correcting the habitat issue. So then they just come back. So that's kind of like the preventative and curative. You might be preventing future outbreaks by taking care of the thatch, or you might be just doing a curative app if you're just getting rid of the pests that you currently have. So by doing both of them, I mean, you're going to be probably spending a lot less, in the long run, dealing with that issue over and over and over.
Yeah, no, that's a good way to think about it. Something that came to mind is, is it typical for people to take insects that they have in their lawn and bring to like a local lawn store to ask for assistance? Or is that something you recommend just purely looking up online?
"If you had a sample, like you collected one of the insect pests, and you weren't sure after just like identifying your own, take a bunch of pictures, really good photos, up close and all that, send it to someone like that, like via email, and they'd probably be able to help you pretty quick."
I would say yes to both in a way. I would tweak it to where, obviously, you want to stick to kind of your local area. For example, there's extension agents like throughout most universities to where, being an Oregon, we could go to oregonstate.com and kind of finding an extension agent. If you had a sample, like you collected one of the insect pests, and you weren't sure after just like identifying your own, "What is this?" Take a bunch of pictures, really good photos, up close and all that, send it to someone like that, like via email, and they'd probably be able to help you pretty quick. Yeah, a lawn care store. I mean, it'd be pretty hard I think, unless if that store was someone that had either just a lot of experience or kind of went to school and studied some of that stuff.
So yeah, that kind of tackled just the pest itself, but say you do have a big problem with thatch and that habitat for that insect or other pest, once you remove that, you want to make sure you replace it with something that can compete against A, other weeds, if that were your pest as well, which would be a grass. So most of the time when you're dethatching and kind of opening all that back up, it's typically a good time to actually go back in and seed and refill out the canopy. Or if you didn't really have a thatch problem really, to begin with, that's a good time to just open it back up for the desired plant that you've already got there. A good time to kind of ... I don't know if you're incorporating sand into the profile, kind of just smooth some areas that way, but typically a good time just to combine with other practices, maybe you're going to fertilize, overseed, all that sort of stuff.
Okay. Okay. Now this brings up a good question because Memorial Day just passed. So that's the beginning of the holiday plan for fertilization. When should I dethatch my lawn? Is that something I should do before the beginning of the holiday plan? So I can dethatch, and then overseed, and fertilize all kind of in one weekend?
Yeah. Especially for the cool season plants, picture your two growth periods in spring and fall. There's actually a cool figure on that, just a simple wave, as far as, in spring, your growth rate is going to go up and it's going to peak back down when you head into summer when it's a little bit more stressful. So that's where those kind of too Memorial day weekend, 4th of July kind of come into play being the first end and the backend. So generally you want to do these cultural practices, which are damaging to the turf, you're kind of ripping it out, not being so gentle. So you generally want to do it in a time where growth will be coming as well. So you want it to still be kind of on the upwards peak in the spring or the fall for the most part so it does have some time to recover.
Now, if you were to do it like middle of July, past 4th of July, is that last kind of fertility time. I mean, depending on your system, you could be irrigating, growth is still occurring obviously, but it can be a bit more stressful. You could be introducing actually like summer annuals, that sort of stuff. So generally about now is a good time to dethatch, kind of do these other cultural practices that I'll also talk about now. But for the most part, if you were to pick one over the other, I'd probably go fall. Most often time that's the best time to seed too, and so we combine them all kind of for the most part in the best timing for each.
Okay. Okay. No, no, this is really helpful. Just kind of understanding when I should go about doing this with my lawn.
Yeah. It can be pretty tricky. We just already covered like the first three in mowing, fertilization, irrigation, and it's like, let's just dump all this extra stuff back on you.
Well, I mean, it's helpful because it all kind of comes back to what I've been hearing you say this whole time, is you want to do as much work as you can in those kind of upward growth trends to make sure your lawn is able to survive through the stressful period of summer. So basically, do as much work as you can and then summer comes and it's like, "Okay, lawn just live throughout the summer." Then again, do work in the fall to just have a healthy home lawn.
Yeah. The way I kind of picture it too, and that's how it kind of was I guess, raised in the turf grass industry, with our professor at Oregon State, you're pretty much building up for the stressful periods of the year. So summer and winter. I kind of picture spring as like jumping out of the gates, like, "Here we go." You want to become as healthy as you can heading into summer. So you can withstand a lot of that damage or stress. Fall is kind of like that recovery period. Then depending on your area, it kind of goes into quote unquote hibernation into winter. Some areas actually go dormant with some species and others, it'll just be a time of less growth, less sunlight, the days are shorter, it's colder.
So then coming full circle back to spring, that's when all the carbohydrates and other nutrients that these plants are kind of storing underground, that's when they start to come out of the gate, as I mentioned, kind of early spring. That's why we don't fertilize often until ... in these higher cut areas like home lawns, not until Memorial day weekend because they're naturally jumping out of the gate themselves. So if you fertilize too early, I mean, that's, what I mentioned at one point, you could be bailing hay. So it can really be coming out. You could be probably mowing two or more times a week even, if you hit it just wrong.
Is there anything else you want to cover for this episode, Micah?
I'd say there's only really one more major part and I could probably just list some of the other cultural practices just to state what they are. Besides thatch management, which is obviously dethatching, some people are scarifying, which is a different ... it's a different machinery than dethatching. It's basically blades that slice into the soil. That would be used to kind of open up the soil profile, get a little bit of gas exchange because you do want the plant to be able to breathe as well. So if you have compacted soils, the air to water ratio could be off. If it's really moist, especially, your plants could suffocate a bit. So that's another thing to think about, is your soil health and the aeration of the soil, I guess. So besides scarifying, there's also verticutting, which is kind of like dethatching, but a much more aggressive version.
When I mentioned that bentgrass example, that's probably what they're using, it has much more teeth per linear area across the unit. So verticutting might have a little kind of spring loaded little piece of wire or other method, maybe every half inch or so, whereas a verticutting unit, it's literally going to look like a bunch of teeth about to grind its way through the plant where it's like less than a quarter inch or so between each blade. So there's that. There's so many types. There's like verti-drain, which is kind of like verticutting, but with like longer flails that go deeper into the soil, kind of like knives that'll cut into the soil, that's also drainage, gas exchange.
I mean, like the only thing that I've ever really seen is the aerification, I don't know if that's actually what it is
Is that similar?
Yeah. So that's the main one kind of leading to like, if you're a homeowner, I'd probably look into thatch management and aerification, and there's kind of two ways about that. So in aerification, you're either going like solid core or hollow core aerification. So you're either going to pull a plug out of the ground or you're just pretty much going to poke a hole in the ground. So both poke holes, one actually takes the core out, one just kind of like sticking your thumb in really saturated soil, you just make a hole.
Is there a benefit to one or the other?
Yes, they do differ in certain ways. So if you're actually pulling a core out of the ground ... I guess to say how they're both similar. First, I would say improving gas exchange, you're getting a hole in the ground to where gases can escape that can be replaced with oxygen. So you can oxygenate the soil and turf grass plant that way. Drainage, obviously. By poking the hole, the water can filter into the soil much easier. For the most part the relieving compaction, I'd say the best way to relieve the compaction though is to actually pull the core out. So if you're just poking a hole in the ground, I mean, you pretty much just squished the soil around it and to the other surrounding soil, I mean, where's it going? It's not going anywhere except sideways or down, honestly.
So if you're hollow core aerifying, yeah there might be some force downward still, but you're actually removing part of that soil out. Typically when you do either method, you're going to be filling the core holes, in the golf course world, sports turf world, with sand, and some homeowners do that as well. If you really get into it. Some others just actually they pulverize the cores back. So then it kind of fluffs them up, it gets that debris out of that soil core. Then they'll just kind of sweep it back into the holes and leave it. In the home lawn, you probably don't have to get too crazy. You can probably even just go over it, mulch it with your mower or a dethatcher even, and then you should be fine. It just gives you the different levels of some people actually really get into it, remove the cores, put sand back in and all that.
So hollow core aerification can be a bit more labor intensive. There's more steps involved because you've got to deal with that core. Solid core, yeah, you're just poking holes. You could still put top dressing in there, but you're not having to deal with the removal of the core or all that debris, which you have to blow around, sweep up, or just kind of be fine with, I guess.
Yeah. But it sounds like for longterm turf health, hollow core is better? Just like generally speaking?
Yeah. Generally speaking, I would say so. The thing you're really doing there is relieving compaction. So other methods like with the verti-drain or verticutting type stuff or ... Gosh, I'm always mixing these up. Yeah, you're still getting some improved drainage, some gas exchange, as well as with this core aerification, but you're really doing a dent on the compaction as well as taking a little bit of thatch out. You are just leaving an area for the grass just to fill in. So longterm, maybe it's not as big of a thatch remover as dethatching your verticutting, but you're really getting that compaction in, which I mean, when you look at sports fields with their repetitive localized traffic, like in a football field, it's going to be up to the middle where all the linemen are kind of pounding around the line, backers, your running backs, everyone's focused in the middle. Then they go away from the field.
Soccer is kind of like a diamond pattern from the goal kind of to the sides of the field, hard to describe these, not visually-
I can see it by picturing diagonal lines going from the goal to the basically like the edges of the field, back to the goal.
Yep, exactly. It's focusing in towards the goal, and once you get more towards the middle of the field, it's much more spread out, but I mean each field, or baseball fields the same way, you're going to get localized compaction where outfielders stand, infielders run to the infield over and over and over. Something needs to be fixing those to have ideal turf, grass growth and performance. So that's kind of where they're tackling it with a hollow or a solid core aerification.
Okay. Okay. No, that's all good to know. So today we've covered thatch management, we've covered insect pest management, and we've covered verticutting, aerification, increasing the gas exchange in soils. Is there any other secondary cultural practices that we should talk about?
No, honestly, these really kind of cover most of them. I mean, other than overseeding, which we might kind of address in the last episode of the series. You could get a little detailed and kind of selecting the seed you're going to pick and kind of the way about doing that. But I guess a little teaser would be, combine it with these opportunities when you're opening up the soil already, creating that chance to get the seed to soil contact. So that's kind of the main picture I'd say.
Cool. Cool. Well, thanks for your time, Micah.
Awesome. Thanks Andrew.