Winterizing Your Sprinkler System: How to Blow Out Your Sprinklers

blowing out your sprinkler system

If you have an automatic sprinkler system installed in your lawn and landscape and you live in an area where the ground can freeze during the winter months, the most important task to ensure the system will function properly next year is to winterize your sprinkler system. Not only are you removing the water from the pipes, you need to shut down the controller and remove and store the backflow preventer.

I did a search on how to winterize your sprinkler system and I found several YouTube videos and various instruction sheets with detailed and not-so-detailed instructions on performing this task. Winterizing a sprinkler system is not as easy as it seems. You may need to rent a commercial-sized air compressor unless you have one that can supply a minimum of 50 cubic feet per minute of air volume. Blowing out your sprinklers by attaching the air compressor to the pipes may require some type of adapter. You also have to have the correct type of wrenches to remove the backflow preventer, and you also need to know how to shut off the water supply to the system.

sprinkler system control box

Winterizing a sprinkler system is probably not the task that the average homeowner should tackle on their own. Contracting with a sprinkler maintenance service is often the best and safest choice to winterize your system. The company should be able to inform you of any possible breaks or malfunctions that they observe while blowing out the sprinkler lines. Most companies will also shut down your controller and remove the battery for the winter. The backflow preventer, once removed, should be stored in a location where it will not freeze during the winter.

Winterizing your sprinkler system is an important task that should be completed before the cold weather sets in. Don’t put off this task too long. There was snow falling on Halloween morning in the Chicago area. Winter could be right around the corner!

Contact Spring-Green Lawn Care today to set up your maintenance appointment!

How to Get Rid of Grubs: Identification and Treatment

A Spring-Green reader, concerned with which treatment options work best for which grub species, sent in the following question on grub control:

“Do I need to be sure what species of grub is in my lawn before I treat it? If so, how do I identify which grub it is? I was told that milky spore powder only works for the Japanese beetle grub? Is this true? I suspect a moth grub but can’t be sure. We are in Sedona, Arizona. Thank you for your time and expertise.”

Mr. Griffin,
Thank you for sending in your question on how to get rid of grubs. No, you don’t need to know what species of grub is in your lawn to treat for it with conventional methods. Grubs are the larval stage of adult beetles. You are correct that Milky Spore, Paenibacillus papillae, will only control Japanese beetle larvae. Identifying grubs is a little more complicated. This is done by looking at the pattern of hairs on their raster, or backside, such as you see in this picture. Japanese beetles have a v-shaped pattern of hairs. The trick is getting them to hold still long enough to examine them with a 10X hand lens. There are about 15 species of grubs that can attack a lawn. If you want to check, you can either place them in a formaldehyde solution or you can cut off the back half of the grub to inspect it. Suffice it to say that if you have grubs and they are damaging your lawn, the fastest way to get rid of grubs is to apply an insect control application. The product that works best on active grubs is called Dylox. Be sure to read and follow all label directions before using the product. Please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions on how to get rid of grubs.

grub identification

Want to ask Spring-Green expert Harold Enger a question about your unique lawn care situation? Submit your question to the blog today!

How and When to Prune Trees: Fall Pruning and Other Tips

how to not prune a tree

There are many questions surrounding when to prune trees. So if you’re looking for a good time… the time is NOW! Fall is a great time to prune many trees, shrubs and perennial plants. First things first, you have to ask yourself some quick questions before you start.

Do You Have the Right Tools?

Before you start thinking about when to prune trees, making sure you have the right tools for whatever job you’re doing is essential! If you plan to just prune back a few smaller branches or cut back a few perennial plants, a good pair of by-pass pruning shears will do the trick. If you plan to prune branches that are between ½ to 3 inches in diameter, then a pair of loppers is needed. Anything larger than 3 inches should be pruned with a good, sharp pruning saw.

What Are You Trying to Accomplish?

Knowing exactly what you’re trying to accomplish is important in pruning plants. Are you trying to control the size or shape? Are you pruning to remove limbs that are growing too low or pose a safety concern? Here’s a useful pruning tip: For the most part, smaller shrubs, especially ones that flower in the spring or summer, should not be pruned using hedge shears. The flowers for these shrubs are set during the summer. Shearing them in the fall will reduce the number of flowers for next spring.

Do You Have a Plan for the Waste?

It’s important to think about what you will do with the material you remove. Depending on where you live, there may be an extra charge from your waste removal company to haul away branches and other brush. There may also be time limits on when you can have them removed, so taking that time frame into consideration is essential. In the city where I live, yard waste pickup stops in late November. I also need to tie up all branches so that they are no longer than 6 feet in length, and the bundle cannot exceed 4 feet in diameter. Knowing this in advance and planning accordingly could save you a lot of headache.

when a tree needs pruning

How to Prune Trees

Trees: Most of the pruning you do will help the tree grow better and have a better form. Our first tip on how to prune trees is to look for branches that are crossing each other or are growing into the middle of the tree. When making the cut, don’t cut in the middle of the branch. Prune just above a growth point, like near a bud, stem or branch. The cut should be made at a 30 to 45 degree angle. Take care not to leave stubs. The end of the branch will not produce new growth and eventually it will die, leaving it open for invasion of wood decaying organisms.

Shrubs: If you want to shape a spring or summer flowering shrub or small tree instead of just cutting it back, it’s important to not try and shape it with pruning shears. Taking off a cross branch or one that may be damaged is okay. There may be a few less flowers, but it will be better for the plant in the long run.

What if My Tree Needs Major Pruning?

If your trees need major pruning or you are not sure what needs to be pruned, contact a licensed arborist to do the work for you. Pruning can be a dangerous task and major work should be left up to the professionals.

Now that you’ve got your problem branches under control, let’s talk about fertilizing your trees and protecting them against insects. Get in touch with your local Spring-Green owner today!

Dormant Seeding Dos and Don’ts

lawn that needs dormant seeding

If you live in the south, dormant seeding is not something you can do to help your existing lawn. Seeding for warm season grasses is generally completed in the early summer. Although seed is available for many warm season grasses, getting it to germinate can be a real challenge. Most repair work is done using sprigs or by resodding bare areas. If you live farther north, where cool season grasses like bluegrass, perennial ryegrass and fescue make up the majority of lawns, you can still lay dormant seeds at this time of year. The one consideration is that you have to live in an area where the winter is normally cold and damp. It is important that the new dormant seeds do not have the chance to germinate and then be exposed to freezing temperatures that can damage the seedlings.

You have to wait until the chance for warm weather to return is minimal. In northern Illinois, late October is about the earliest you want to dormant seed a lawn. Personally, I have dormant seeded a lawn in the Chicago area as late as early December and had fairly good results. Dormant grass seeding is pretty straight forward. You follow the same procedures as you would for seeding in the late summer or early fall. Dormant seeding works best in areas where the grass has thinned out due to adverse weather conditions, excessive traffic or from disease or insect damage.

Thick, dense lawns will have to be core aerated first to make sure that there is a place for good soil to seed contact. Thin lawns also require some prep work prior to seeding. If the area is not too large, using a good hand raking to loosen the soil at the surface is the best approach. If the area is larger, it is best to core aerate it in several directions to provide areas for the seed to germinate. Most rental companies, home improvement centers and hardware stores have core aeration machines for rent. Lawn care companies, like Spring-Green, offer core aeration as an optional service. This may be the best way to go as a core aerator will not fit in most cars or even SUVs.

Once the site preparation is completed, spread the dormant seed across the areas that need to be seeded. For a bluegrass/ryegrass blend, spread about 4 to 5 pounds of seed per 1,000 sq. ft. For Turf Type Tall Fescue, you will want to use about 6 pounds of seed per 1,000 sq. ft. One thing to keep in mind is the number of seeds per pound.

  • Bluegrass: 1,500,000 seeds per pound
  • Ryegrass and Turf Type Tall Fescue: 250,000 to 400,000 seeds per pound

If you purchase a 10-pound bag of seed that is 50% bluegrass and 50% ryegrass, you are getting about 7,500,000 bluegrass seeds and about 1,250,000 ryegrass seeds. If you want more bluegrass than ryegrass, this blend would work fine.

Once you have finished dormant grass seeding, you will have to wait until spring to see the results. The dormant seed will not germinate until soil temperatures reach about 55 degrees. You do not want to apply any crabgrass preventer to the areas in the spring since that material will also prevent your new seed from germinating. If you do get crabgrass, you may have to hand-pull it next summer. The same is true with broadleaf weed control. Hopefully, your lawn will fill in enough that these weeds will not be a problem.

Along with core aeration services, Spring-Green can also treat your lawn for crabgrass and broadleaf weed control. Click here to contact your neighborhood Spring-Green Lawn Care professional.

How to Start Composting

composting at home

I try to do my part for the environment. Anything I can do to lessen my “footprint” is a priority to me. No one is perfect, but I strive to make the right choices and decisions. So when it comes to composting, I try to do the right thing. I’ve tried a compost pile, but I never seemed to find the time to go outside and turn it over as much as it required. Since that wasn’t the best solution, I asked for a compost tumbler for my birthday a couple of years ago and I’ve been using it ever since. I have to say, it works great!

compost tumbler

What do Compost Tumblers and Bins Look Like?

A compost tumbler has a ratcheted locking handle and geared handle, which allows for easy turning. A compost bin will sit on the ground and will require manual turning of the compost with a shovel.

How to Start Composting

To compost, moisten your pile occasionally through the summer, if you live in an area where rain is infrequent. The pile should feel slightly damp for decomposition to take place at a normal rate. Cover your pile with a tarp, if necessary, to help minimize moisture loss. Bury food scraps at least 10 inches below the surface of the pile and cover them with compost and brown materials such as dead leaves. This helps minimize odor as the food scraps decompose in the summer’s heat.

In the fall, bag up dead leaves to use in your compost the following summer. This makes it less likely you’ll have to pay for sawdust or straw during the summer.

Food waste composting is hit or miss during the winter time for me. Since discovering these difficulties my first winter, I looked into other composting ideas that could be brought into the house. I have yet to convince my wife that worm composting is a good idea, since we can store the container in the cabinet directly below the kitchen sink. For some reason, she finds that less than appealing!

compost

What Can Go in My Compost Bin?

What I put in my compost tumbler is…

Food waste from the kitchen: Mostly vegetable and fruit peels and waste along with coffee grounds, including the filter

Composting leaves: I usually stick to composting dried leaves. Although most of the leaves that come down in the fall are mulched back into the lawn, there are a fair number that are picked up with a leaf vacuum that grinds them up. I put some of these in the compost tumbler, but I also just spread a bunch of them across the garden.

Any other dried plant material: I try to use more dried plant material than green leaves. It seems that the green or fresher leaves and stems take longer to compost, so I try to stick with dried material.

Cardboard: Shoe boxes, brown cardboard or other such paper products are ripped into strips before putting them in the tumbler.

Soil: If I have some leftover soil from potting a plant or digging a hole, I just add it to the tumbler

Water: It’s important to keep the compost moist, but not soggy. If it begins to dry out, I add a gallon or so of water.

The rest of the plant materials are gathered up and placed in paper recycling bags and offered up for recycling. The city where I live has a yard waste composting service that collects these bags and takes them to a recycling facility. At least I know that it is not going to the local landfill and is instead serving a good purpose.

Where to Store Your Compost Bin?

I store my compost tumbler outside in the backyard near my vegetable garden. Throughout the entire year I add all sorts of food waste and compostable products, although it can get more difficult to use in the winter. So think long and hard about where you place your bin so it doesn’t cause inconvenience throughout your less than desirable weather months.

I hope this has taught you some valuable tips on how to start composting. When done right, your home compost can be rich source of nutrients for your lawn or garden. For even more lawn tips, head over to our lawn care guide. Your yard will thank you!

Mulching Leaves: Why Mowing Is Better Than Raking

Leaves Covering a Backyard

Let me start this post with a fact: I hate raking leaves.

Being a homeowner with several large trees on my property and in neighboring properties, I always looked upon fall with anger and loathing as I knew I had to rake up all those leaves that came dancing down this time of year. The amount is consistently extensive… one day I wake up to find a sea of leaves where my once beautiful lawn resided! I always tell people that I have the world’s largest Silver Maple. Its diameter is 4 feet! If I’m being realistic, it most likely is NOT the world’s largest… but we don’t have to tell anyone else that!

The Silver Maple is truly huge and beautiful and provides excellent shade during the summer. In the fall, every one of those beautiful shade-casting leaves drops onto my lawn causing such a mess. I used to spend hours raking up all the leaves, putting them in plastic bags so that they could be shipped off to the local landfill. As time went on, laws changed and I had to put the leaves in a special paper bag so that the yard waste could be taken to the local recycling center. Not only did I have to buy special bags, but each bag had to have a sticker attached to it and each sticker cost about $1.75. I would easily fill thirty or forty of the special yard waste bags each fall. Such an expense!

Then, about five years ago, I attended a turf conference that changed my fall yard duties forever! The speaking professor said that there was really no reason to rake up all those leaves. Just mulch them up with your mower and they will decompose over the winter. His advice about mulching leaves was one of those AH-HA moments we occasionally have in our life, and I felt a renewed desire to like fall again.

I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical about mulching leaves, especially when the layer of mulched leaves in certain sections of my lawn reached about 6 inches in depth. I thought that the grass underneath would be suffocated by the thick layer of leaves, but I figured the professor would not lead me astray and waited to see what happened to my beautiful lawn the following spring.

I live in the Chicagoland area, and winters can be brutal to say the least. It can be bone-chilling cold, it can be cloudy for weeks at a time, and the snow can range in depth from a couple of inches to several feet. It may not seem like the best weather to encourage the decomposition of organic matter. I was pleasantly surprised the following spring to see that the layers of leaves were gone and my lawn looked fine. In fact it seemed greener and grew better the following year!

Hopefully, you figured out the lesson here – you don’t have to rake your leaves, just mulch them. Of course, there are always exceptions. If a tree or shrub on your property suffered from a leaf disease, it is advisable to rake up and dispose of those leaves. Diseases like apple scab, powdery mildew, bacterial leaf scorch and tar spot on maples will leave behind spores on the leaves that can re-infect your trees if they are left on the lawn.
Fall is a great time of year and you should enjoy it, not spend every weekend raking leaves.

Mulching leaves is pretty easy, but there are other projects you should leave to the professionals for a healthy, weed-free lawn. Ready to get started with your customized lawn care plan? Talk to your local franchise owner today!

Fertilizing Your Lawn in the Fall: Cool vs. Warm Season Grasses

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Is Fall a Good Time to Fertilize?

It all depends on what type of grass you have growing in your lawn.

If your lawn has warm-season grasses in it like Centipede, St. Augustine, Bermuda or Zoysia, you are at the latest possible time to fertilize your lawn. Many universities recommend that these grasses not be fertilized after the end of September since you don’t want to stimulate new, tender growth that could be damaged by frost. These warm-season grasses need to “harden off” or slowdown in growth as they begin to enter into their dormant period. If you still want to fertilize your lawn now, you could cause damage to your lawn that may not become apparent until next spring.

If your lawn has one of the cool-season grasses, like bluegrass, ryegrass, fine fescue or tall fescue, this is the best time of year to fertilize it. Fall is the time of most active root growth for these cool-season grasses. They need the food that the fertilizer provides to grow new roots. These grasses are better adapted to the cooler temperatures of fall and actually grow better at this time of year. In addition to lawn fertilization, fall is also a good time to core aerate your lawn as this process will help the roots grow better as well.

How Much Fertilizer Do I Need?

Depending on where you live, there may still be enough time to apply two applications of fertilizer this fall. You should space the applications apart by about 4 to 6 weeks. As far as the amount of fertilizer you should apply, generally speaking you should apply between three-quarters to one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. Determining how much fertilizer product you need to deliver requires the use of some mathematical equations.

The three numbers on a bag of fertilizer represent the percent by weight of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium that is in the bag. So, if the bag has an analysis of 28-0-3, the bag contains 28% nitrogen, 0% phosphorus and 4% potassium. If your goal is to provide three-quarters of a pound of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft., then divide .75 by .28, which equals 2.68 pounds of product applied per 1,000 sq. ft. If your lawn is 10,000 sq. ft. you will need about 27 pounds of product to supply three-quarters of a pound of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft.
Fall is rapidly approaching, which means that leaves will be falling soon and before we know it, we will be switching from lawn mowers to snow blowers. For this, I can wait.

If you hate math, leave fertilizer application to the pros. Get in touch with your local Spring-Green today!

Squirrel Damage: The Feeding Habits of Red Squirrels

A colleague of mine recently sent me an article from Michigan State University on squirrel damage and what the Red Squirrel can do to a tree, specifically, to the buds of numerous trees in their unending search for food. Often times, they will chew off the last foot or so of a branch, feed on newly emerging buds and throw away the limb after feeding. I have seen this occur on my own tree, usually in the early spring, just as the tree is beginning to bud out.

Red squirrels, also called pine squirrels, and are native to the U.S. They can be found from Alaska, throughout Canada, south to the Appalachians and west to the Rocky Mountains. They mainly feed on the seeds of conifer cones and usually stay near areas where those trees are growing.

Red squirrels are very territorial and will aggressively defend their realm from encroachment of other squirrels. They don’t like any intruders wandering into their territory and will bark or chatter at any and all intruders. I can attest to the fact that they will sit on a bird feeder and stuff themselves with sunflower seeds for a good portion of the day.

I have not found a way to keep these voracious feeders off my bird feeders. I guess I could purchase one of the “squirrel-proof” bird feeders, but I enjoy watching them feed. In fact, I built a little perch that I attached to the side of my tree so I can watch them as they feed. I know some people call them tree rats, but they are still cute and fun to watch as they scamper about from bird feeder to bird feeder.

As cute as they may seem, squirrels are still wild animals and they will bite. A couple of years ago I took a trip to the Grand Canyon. I listened to a park ranger ask a group of visitors to name the most dangerous animal living at the Grand Canyon. The answer was the squirrel as many people will attempt to feed them. Unfortunately, squirrels cannot tell the difference between a cheese curl or other food item and a finger.

So, if you find a bunch of branches laying about the ground under a tree in the spring, you can thank your neighborhood squirrel. The tree won’t be harmed to any great extent. They are hungry and are just looking for food. Have fun watching them, but do so from a distance and don’t try to feed them by hand.

Why are There Still Leaves on my Tree?

I recently received a question from a person asking why their ash tree still has leaves on it at this late date. The person stated that some leaves were turning brown during the summer and that they figured it was due to the drought that much of the Midwest experienced this year.

There are some trees that keep leaves that turn a fall color for a long time. Some of them remain on the tree all the way until spring. Ironwood, certain oaks and beeches are a few of the trees that keep their leaves on for a longer time than most other deciduous trees. Sometimes this is just the quality of the tree and sometimes it can be the result of some other stress factors.

In the case of the tree in question, the first clue is that it is an ash tree and the leaves started turning brown in the summer. There is a good possibility that the tree has been inhabited by Emerald Ash Borer and the dying leaves are the result of the feeding habits of the insect. Emerald Ash Borer is a destructive insect that has killed several million trees throughout Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and many other states. The larval stage of the Emerald Ash Borer feeds on the soft tissue of the cambium layer, cutting off the supply of nutrients and water to the tree often resulting in the death of the entire tree. In this picture, you can see the result of the feeding by the larvae. You can also see how the bark easily peels away, leaving behind a complex pattern of feeding tunnels.

If you suspect your ash tree has Emerald Ash Borer, you need to have it inspected by a professional tree company or arborist. Some of the clues that the tree may be inhabited would be leaves that do not fall off in the fall, branches that are dying and the presence of “flagging”, or a large congregation of branches growing out of the trunk or major branch located at the base of a dead or dying branch.

There are treatments available that will help combat this destructive insect. Success depends on the extent of the damage.  In some cases, the only solution is to remove the tree.

Contact your local Spring-Green office and ask for someone to come out and inspect your ash tree to provide you with the best approach to saving it.

Maintaining Your Sprinkler System

Spring-Green is now offering sprinkler system services in select markets. We will be providing spring start ups, mid season system evaluations and repairs as well as fall blowouts of the system in markets where this is a requirement in the fall to prevent damage to the water lines when it freezes. I was very interested in a recent article in Lawn and Landscape magazine that referenced seven reasons why people hate sprinkler systems. I never thought about why someone would dislike having a sprinkler system since it seems like such a good idea – being able to water one’s lawn and landscape automatically without having to drag around hoses and setting up sprinklers.

In the article, the author, Alan Harris of ValleyCrest, describes issues, such issues as controllers that are more than 5 years old that do not offer the latest technology and are inefficient, replacing broken heads, and shrubs that have grown and now block spray patterns from reaching the intended area and leaking valves.

In regards to leaking valves, Mr. Harris explained that a valve that is leaking, allowing water to ooze out through the lowest spray head at the rate of ½ gallon of water per minute can ultimately end up wasting over 5,000 gallons of water per week. Even if you are losing only a cup of water per minute, this still equates to water losse of about 630 gallons per week. You multiplye that out by 30 weeks, which is about the average amount of time that a sprinkler system is active, that means adds up to 19,000 gallons of water that is wasted, as well as a good deal of money paying for water that is not providing a benefit.

If you have a sprinkler system, one of the best upgrades that will provide the most cost effective benefits is to invest in a new “smart” controller. These controllers can accurately determine how much water your lawn and landscape requires on a daily basis. Adding a rain sensor to the system along with in-ground soil sensors are well worth the money. Even something as simple as making sure the spray heads and rotors are properly working can save water and make your system more efficient.

Many people set their system to start early in the morning, so they will rarely know if it is truly functioning properly. That is why it is important to have it checked by a professional at least once during the summer. Spray heads and rotors can get clogged or go out of alignment. Sometimes this can be determined when a portion of the lawn does not stay green. It could also mean that the wrong type of head is installed. Having your system checked on a regular basis can save water and can save you money.

If you wish to read Mr. Harris article, you can click here. Look for more information regarding Spring-Green’s new irrigation service from your local Spring-Green Professional.