Lawn Care Tips & Advice
Moles vs Voles
Each spring, we get several calls about moles and voles and turf damage caused by these pests. While the name ‘mole’ sounds very similar to the name ‘vole’ – the two are quite different animals. Even though both can damage your turf, it is important to understand their differences and the different methods needed to eradicate them. The Eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus) is the most numerous and widespread, and is responsible for most of the complaints concerning mole damage to lawns and gardens. Moles are not rodents. They belong to the group of mammals known as insectivores, and thus are related to the shrew. Eastern moles have pointed snouts, greatly enlarged, rounded front feet with stout claws, and a short, nearly naked tail. They are six to eight inches long with short, velvety fur that is usually gray to silvery-gray. The eyes and ears of moles are very small and are concealed in the fur. It is a common misconception that treating a lawn for grubs will prevent an infestation of moles. Moles feed primarily on earthworms, but may also feed on spiders, beetles, centipedes, grubs and other insect larvae or pupae. Moles make two types of underground burrows: Shallow surface runs, which they use to find food. These tunnels leave create pushed up ridges as the mole “swims” through the loose topsoil. While these surface tunnels may be used frequently at first, they are eventually allowed to collapse, leaving a cracked depression in the lawn. Deep burrows are also created as the mole’s main home. The deep burrow is marked by volcano-shaped mounds of dirt that the moles push up when digging. During their burrowing activities, they produce mounds and ridges that disfigure lawns and sometimes dislodge plants or injure plant roots. Their mounds also provide a medium for the germination of weed seeds. Moles’ tunneling can cause cracks in concrete sidewalks and can even affect your foundation. Long-term damage can also be extensive. Moles are exceptional diggers and can tunnel up to 12-15 ft per hour. This can cause deep tunnels that can sink your entire soil level or cause large sunken areas in your lawn. Gophers are burrowing rodents and members of the zoological family Geomyidae. The designation “pocket” before the word gopher refers to the pockets in the gopher’s cheeks which are used by the gopher to carry food, nesting materials and other small supplies into their tunnels. Sometimes, it can be hard to tell if you have a mole or a gopher! Mole hills tend to have a volcano-shape with a hole in the center of the top. Gophers, on the other hand, will kick out the dirt in a more oblong shape with a hole at one end. Your Quality Care technician can place mole baits in the runs to kill the moles and keep save your lawn from potential damage. Please call the Quality Care office for more information. Again, the Iowa State Extension office can provide you with alternatives to our bait-method of mole control. Their phone number is 319-337-2145. We highly recommend such alternative methods for dog owners- particularly for breeds that are likely to dig baits out of the runs. Our friends at the University of Missouri Extension have additional information on Controlling Nuisance Moles if you are interested. Voles are true rodents, and belong to the order Rodentia and family Arvicolidae . The word vole refers to “field”– earlier uses of the word were used as vole-mouse, and eventually became simply voles. People often refer to voles as meadow mice, or “field mice”. Voles are of pest significance in turf and landscaped areas for two reasons: They tunnel and burrow in turf areas They gnaw on the trunks and roots of various trees and ornamental plants In general, voles are compact rodents with stocky bodies, short legs, and short tails. Their eyes are small and their ears partially hidden. They usually are black, brown or gray, though many color variations exist. The adult vole ranges from 3.5 to 5 inches in length and weighs 1 to 2.5 ounces. Voles are herbivores. The stems and leaves of grasses comprise the majority of their diet, but they will also consume other green vegetation and fruits. Voles do not hibernate and are active throughout the year. During severe winters and snow cover, when green vegetation is scarce, voles often burrow around the roots of trees, which may cause damage to trees and shrubs. Voles are active during dawn and dusk, but may be seen active during the day and night as well. Vole runways in turf are formed by a combination of the vole eating the grass blades, and the constant traveling over the runway. Voles also spread excavated dirt from the burrow system in the runway, resulting in a dirt-bare path in some areas. One of the major keys to managing voles is to realize that, in many cases, voles are associated with dense cover. Inspections should begin along building exteriors. First inspect the immediate landscaping outside of the building looking for runways leading from any dense areas cutting through turf. Landscape plantings with low-lying plants such as arborvitae, creeping yews, junipers, and similar species are good candidates for vole activity. By eliminating weeds and dense ground cover around lawns the capacity of these areas to support voles is reduced. Lawn and turf should be mowed regularly. The meadow vole constructs well-defined, visible surface runways through turf areas, measuring about 1.5-2 in./4-5cm. in width. It is the sight of these paths that cause concern in March and April. Another alternative is trapping. Using mouse traps with peanut butter bait placed in the vole runs may take care of a small infestation, however, the Iowa State Extension Office can provide alternative methods or referrals for professional rodent control companies. For more information about Voles, please read this article from Purdue.
All About Aeration
Lawn aeration involves the removal of small soil plugs or cores out of the lawn. Quality Care provides aeration done with a machine that has hollow tines mounted on a drum. Known as a core aerator, it extracts 1/2 to 3/4 inch diameter cores of soil and deposits them on your lawn. Soil cores are best left on the lawn surface; they typically work back into the grass in 2-4 weeks. Aeration holes are typically 1-6 inches deep and 2-6 inches apart. Aeration relieves soil compaction, improves water and nutrient movement in the soil, increases rooting, and prevents thatch accumulation. Aeration improves the growing conditions for the turfgrass plants and results in a healthier, more vigorous lawn. If your property has an irrigation system or invisible pet fence please contact us so that your technician can properly mark these utilities prior to service in order to avoid any possible damage. As lawns age or sustain heavy use from play, sports activities, pets, vehicle traffic and parking, soil compaction can result. Soil compacting forces are most severe in poorly drained or wet sites. Compaction greatly reduces the pore space within the soil that would normally hold air. Roots require oxygen to grow and absorb nutrients and water. Compaction reduces total pore space and the amount of air within the soil. It has a negative impact on nutrient uptake and water infiltration, in addition to being a physical barrier to root growth. This results in poor top growth and lawn deterioration. Core aeration can benefit your lawn by: Increasing the activity of soil microorganisms that decompose thatch. Increasing water, nutrient and oxygen movement into the soil. Improving rooting. Enhancing infiltration of rainfall or irrigation. Helping prevent fertilizer and pesticide run-off from overly compacted areas. The frequency of aeration is largely determined by the soil type and the amount of use. Lawns growing in heavy, clay soils and those subject to heavy foot or pet traffic should be aerated twice a year. Once a year should be sufficient for lawns that are established on well-drained soils and experience little traffic. In Iowa, September and April are the best times to aerate Kentucky bluegrass and other cool-season lawns. While the overall results are beneficial, core aeration does cause some initial damage. Aerating in September or April allows the grass to quickly recover during the favorable growing conditions in early fall and spring. Lawns may be fertilized and seeded either before or quickly-following aeration.
Soil Quality Restoration
Giving Life Back to Your Soil Iowa soils have been significantly altered by tillage for farming and grading practices associated with urban development. Years of tillage and soil erosion has caused the loss of more than half of Iowa’s topsoil. The organic matter content has been reduced from a healthy, sponge-like 10% to less than 2%. Often remaining topsoil is completely removed during development for urban growth. Little to no organic matter remains and the graded soils are compacted, leaving a near-impassible barrier to grass root growth. Compacted soils with no organic matter cause nearly all the water to run off during rainfall. When this happens, storm-water runoff flows untreated to storm sewers, and washes associated pollutants directly into nearby streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands. A compacted, nutrient-poor soil with low organic matter content also requires more time and money to stay green! However, there are ways to fight soil erosion, and we are proud to offer Soil Quality Restoration (SQR), one of the highest recommended solutions — a completely organic three-step process that enriches the soil and reintroduces vital organic matter and micro-organisms to your soil. The cities of Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty subsidize SQR costs up to 100% — contact your community for more information! Step 1 – Deep Tine Aeration: Aeration helps to improve soil quality by facilitating the movement of organic matter into the soil profile. Perhaps you already get your lawn aerated on a regular basis, which is an excellent practice! Aeration reduces compaction and breaks the thatch layer, which can result in increased availability of nutrients in the root zone, so you can enjoy a healthy turf under your feet and lower long-term maintenance costs. A typical aeration pulls cores that are about three inches long from your turf. However, for Soil Quality Restoration we use a deep tine aerator designed for athletic field maintenance and high quality residential lawn restorations, which pulls 4-inch cores. That extra inch makes all the difference! Our deep tine aeration machines will reduce the compaction of your soil and leaves room for us to add organic compost material. Step 2 – Addition of organic compost material and seed: Soils rich in organic matter support an entire ecosystem of microorganisms that contribute to the soil health. After your lawn has been aerated, we will return to add a topdressing of organic compost mixed with high-quality grass seed to create a favorable soil profile for your lawn. Compost improves lawn and landscape health by increasing porosity and organic matter content, breaking down nutrients and making them available to plants, improving plant hardiness and vigor, and retaining more water in the landscape, while the seed we use is common for turfgrass in the area and will mix well with any existing lawn. Step Three – Next Steps: After we have made our final Soil Quality Restoration visit and your lawn is growing at a healthy rate, remember to leave the grass clippings on your lawn to increase the organic matter content. Grass clippings do not contribute to thatch in yards with active soil microbes and healthy soils. Remember to follow the watering instructions included with your estimate for Soil Quality Restoration to maximize newly-applied seed germination! If you’d like to take a look at our watering instructions, visit our Watering Instruction Page. Call Quality Care today, or request a quote online, and we can make your lawn the envy of the neighborhood! For more information on Soil Quality Restoration: Soil Quality, Better Lawns Made Easy New construction often has compacted soil with low topsoil content. Soil Quality Restoration loosens the soil and reintroduces what your plants need. New sod on clay soil in North Liberty. It didn’t take very well because roots couldn’t penetrate the dense clay soil. We added organic matter to the soil profile with a Soil Quality Restoration, and visited this home a handful of times throughout the season to suppress weeds and fertilize existing turf! Guess which neighbor hired us to add organic matter to their clay soil profile this season… The newest lawn on the block is the healthiest thanks to Soil Quality Restoration! We welcome the opportunity to answer any questions you have about Soil Quality Restoration and your lawn! [Revised 8/2016 – original post 11/2014]
The Language of Lawn Care
How many lawn applications do I need per year? Will my application prevent grubs? Should I look for liquid or granular fertilizer? These are just a few of the questions we encounter when the time comes to choose a lawn health care program. So what should you be asking? Lawn Care Programs There are three main components to lawn care: fertilization, weed control, and pest control. Most often offered as a program, lawn care visits typically include a certain number of applications of both fertilizer and weed control over the course of the growing season. When reviewing an offer or estimate, always make sure to check that each application includes both, as some companies split weed control and fertilizer into two separate visits. Another important factor in choosing a lawn care program is the type of product used. Liquid fertilizers will provide a quicker green-up, but tend to be short lived. Slow-release granular fertilizer is more cost effective, providing you with a more sustained green-up (up to 8 weeks!), prevents “overfeeding”, as well as safeguarding against burning your lawn during the dryer summer months. Preemergence Crabgrass Control Usually included with the first application of the year (and sometimes the second), preemergence crabgrass control prevents the germination of crabgrass seeds. It’s important to remember that this does not prevent dandelions! Dandelions are a perennial weed, which will show up year after year. They will be treated after they emerge, typically in mid to late spring. One more really important note on preemergence: it prevents good seed from germinating, too; so if you are seeding your lawn in the spring, it’s important to let your lawn care company know so they can plan accordingly. In this case, a standard starter fertilizer is used without crabgrass control. How many applications do I need? The easy answer? It depends. Irrigated lawns in sunny locations use the most nutrients, so it’s not unusual to see as many as seven applications each growing season. If you have a shady lawn and your lawn health care provider is pushing that many visits, ask why; chances are four or five applications will suit your needs just fine. Remember, thin lawns are more susceptible to weed infestation, so take the time to discuss with your provider what each visit includes! What about grubs? Grub preventive is a separate product from standard granular fertilizer. Usually applied in mid-summer during the larva stage of Japanese beetles, a preventive grub control application stops grubs before they start feeding on the grass roots. While we generally see grubs in open, sunny lawns, no one can say with 100% certainty where they will appear, but chances are if you’ve had grub damage before, they’ve found something they like! Grubs can be treated post emergence as well, but it’s always more cost effective (and healthier for the lawn!) to treat them prior to full development. My estimate has a quote for liming – do I need this? Lime is applied to lawns to raise the pH, but since most of our soils tend to be neutral or a little on the high side, we don’t typically need to apply lime to lawns in our area. If your lawn care company is recommending a liming, ask why, and if the recommendation is based on a soil test or some other factor. Don’t hesitate to ask questions! Creating and maintaining a healthy, vibrant landscape is a long-term partnership/ The more you know, the more cost effective your program will be! Have a question? Send it to us here.
Protection from Pests!
Mosquito Control and Perimeter Pest Control As temperatures become consistently warm, bugs of all kinds become more active. Already you may have seen flies, ladybugs, and spiders in your yard and around buildings. We certainly have! Reduce Mosquito Pressure Are you or your kids outside on warm summer nights? West Nile Virus, spread by mosquitoes, is common to the state of Iowa, and can be deadly. Protect yourself and loved ones from disease and discomfort with Mosquito Control! This application is a spray applied to your grass up to 3 times over the course of the active mosquito season. If you live near water, woods, or other mosquito breeding grounds, you will love this treatment! Like all applications, we would recommend that you keep pets and kids off the lawn until it dries, but after it’s dry the only ones that have to worry are the mosquitoes. Be Proactive – Keep Bugs Outside! Do you find your home plagued with ants, spiders, centipedes, ladybugs or box elder (potato) bugs? Once they get in, they range from annoying to impossible to get out. Be proactive this year with our Perimeter Pest Program. This spray is applied up to four times from spring to fall to the foundation of your home, three feet up and three feet out, forming a protective barrier that discourages many-legged invaders from entering your home. You will notice an immediate effect! Contact us with questions, or request a proposal today!
Your Thirsty Lawn
Keeping Your Lawn and Landscape Green All Season Long Like any plant in your garden or window box, your turf grass needs water to survive. While Iowa’s frequent rainshowers often fit the bill in spring, in summer it’s not so simple. With temperatures in the 80s and 90s, Iowa summers can be sweltering, and dry spells are common. While it’s normal for your turf grass to go into dormancy during this time, that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice a great-looking lawn and landscape! Keep your lawn ready for a summer cookout all season with these lawn care tips. Lawn Health Care in Summer Some of our friends have asked us whether they should stop their fertilization and weed control applications if the grass isn’t growing. On the contrary, since our fertilizers are slow-release, water-activated granules rather than a spray, your lawn will get the feeding it needs with the morning dew and summer storms, without the risk of burning. We also adjust the amount of fertilizer we put down. This will help your lawn rebound at the end of the season when temperatures cool down. Also, weeds take advantage of stressed lawns; leaving off your applications now might mean sacrificing your weed-free lawn or losing ground to tenacious weeds. Our technicians spot-spray in these conditions, meaning we target your weeds where they are, when they arise. When Should I Water? A period of dormancy during the hottest part of the summer is normal and natural for your grass — however, more than a month with scant rainfall means the ground around the grass roots is drying out and may result in some die-off. During very dry periods, water your lawn to about half an inch twice a week. However, don’t waste your water! If you water between 4 and 9 am, you won’t lose it to evaporation under the sun. I Have an Irrigation System… Excellent! Set your timer for that early morning time. There are rain-detector devices available for irrigation systems so your system will recognize and not turn on after a storm, or if your lawn has sufficient moisture, and we offer water-saving irrigation heads to keep money in your wallet and protect our natural resources! We also offer a full service irrigation maintenance program! This includes: Irrigation Start-Up: In the spring we will re-attach your backflow prevention device (if removed for winter), turn water on for your system, run through each zone to check for broken heads, adjust sprinkler coverage, and make repairs as needed. At the same time, we help you customize your program so your system runs the desired amount of water and time. Backflow Certification: It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law! City code requires yearly testing of your backflow prevention device to ensure that it’s working properly and protecting your city water supply. Our state-certified technicians perform mandatory backflow prevention tests as required by city and state regulations. Midseason Checks: We offer midseason checks to help manage your irrigation system. This includes running through the system midseason to check for broken heads and leaks, adjusting sprinkler coverage and making repairs as needed. We can also help you adjust your controller to run the system based on weather needs– typically this is a drier time of the year when your irrigation system is required to run more often. This is helpful because irrigation systems typically run early in the morning when you might not see it run– therefore, you might not be aware of issues that need repaired. Irrigation Shut-Down/Winterization: In autumn, after your water is turned off to the system, we will blow out all remaining water in the system with compressed air to prevent freezing damage. If your backflow device is located outside we will remove the device and leave it with you to store in a heated area over the winter. If your backflow prevention device can be removed, it’s a very good idea to do so and keep it somewhere that will not freeze. Even if all water has been blown from the device, the plastic inner parts are subject to freeze damage and can break over the winter– and are surprisingly costly to repair! Repairs: We can make repairs to irrigation systems– as soon as you notice something looks wrong, give us a call! The sooner your system is in good repair, the better your lawn will look and the less money you will spend on wasted water. What About My Flowers, Trees and Shrubs? Mulch! If you didn’t take advantage of mulch for your landscaping in the spring, it’s not too late. Mulch helps protect your plants from the dry conditions by creating a moisture-retaining buffer, and slowly breaking down to enrich the soil. It’s also a good idea to mimic the conditions of the average rainfall, same as for your lawn — a half inch once or twice a week. A good way to test the amount of water reaching your plantings is to place an inexpensive rain gauge in the area and stop at the half-inch mark. Also, keep an eye out! Make sure all your plants are receiving that water. For trees, try placing a hose on the ‘upstream’ side of your trees and set to trickle for a few hours. This slow, deep and heavy watering, once a week, should help protect your trees from stress. We Can Help! We can supply mulch for your landscaping and we can start up, maintain and repair your irrigation system. Should a severe drought set in, we’ve done it before and we can do it again: our watering trucks are ready and waiting to protect your lawn from die-off. We’re happy to answer any questions that you have!
Grubs in Your Lawn
Understanding and Preventing Grub Damage An established lawn is an investment into your home and community. Not only is a well-maintained lawn aesthetically pleasing, the grass plants filter storm water and reduce erosion of topsoil, which is good for everyone! It makes sense, then, to protect your investment. Grub damage is devastating to your grass and irreversible except through re-seeding. Preventing damage is easy, though, with the right information and tools. What are grubs? Grubs are, in a general sense, the larvae of beetles. White, small and thick, they have little better to do than eat from the moment they’ve hatched to the moment they begin to metamorphose into adults. While some beetles are actually fairly good for your lawn and garden, since they help dispose of decaying plant matter, the white grubs in your lawn are highly destructive. What should I look out for? The most telltale sign of grub damage is unfortunately the final stage of damage: after the roots of your grass have been completely eaten away. If you see patchy dead spots that can be pulled up like a rug with little resistance, with or without the white grubs still present underneath, you have had grubs. Other signs can be increased raccoon, mole or bird activity in certain areas of your lawn, as these all feed on grubs among other things. Preventing Grub Damage The healthier your lawn, the more attractive it is for beetles to lay eggs in it. June and early July are the pre-hatching season for these beetles – so if you’re going to put down preventive grub control, that is the time to do it! Preventive grub products keep the beetle eggs from hatching and do absolutely nothing once the eggs have hatched. After hatching, only insecticide can stop the grubs! Quality Care can help! We offer an affordable, annual Preventive Grub Control application that prevents beetle eggs from hatching and a Grub Curative application if the damage has already begun. Drop us a line for a free estimate. Preventive grub control is like an insurance policy on the investment you’ve made into your lawn, your home, and your community. A beetle may never lay a single egg in your lawn – but prevention that isn’t needed is far less expensive and time-consuming than curing and repairing the damage done.
At Quality Care, our staff and technicians are what some call “pet people.” We love our dogs and cats (and assorted gold fish and other pets too!) But we are aware that sometimes they can leave “spots,” and no, not the kind you find on your average Dalmatian. A pristine, evenly green lawn is a human invention that our pets have difficulty understanding. The brown spots caused by their urine are simply the result of too much nitrogen concentrated in a small area. You can recognize pet spots or burn spots by a small crater of brown grass surrounded by a ring of overly-green grass. Urine damage has nothing to do with acid, so canine dietary supplements that alter the urine’s pH have no effect on pet spots. For this same reason, lime treatments tend to be ineffective at treating or reducing burn spots caused by pet urine. Female dogs do not have more potent urine than males, but female dogs (and puppies) do tend to “squat” and concentrate their urine in one small spot. Watering the lawn will help flush excess nitrogen from concentrated areas and reduce the damage done by pet spots. Create a dog run, or fenced area on your property that is in a low-visibility part of your lawn. You can also train your pet to use a mulched area for their bathroom needs. Our friends at Purdue Extension have some great tips for pet owners who want to keep their lawns looking healthy and green! Animal Urine Damage In Turf (PDF).
Get It Growing – Partnering with KGAN
We’re proud to partner with KGAN CBS2/FOX28 on “Get It Growing,” a biweekly segment on our local morning news! Look out for Geoff Wilming every other Thursday morning in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City! Most Current 8/15/2019: Droughts and Grub Damage 4/25/2019: Spring Preparations 4/4/2019: Mulching 3/28/2019: Lawn Restoration 3/21/2019: Spring Lawn Care 1/10/2019: Winter Pruning 11/8/18: Tree Care and Pruning 10/25/18: Extended Growing Season 8/16/18: Naked Lady Lily and Lawn Rust 8/2/18: Grub Damage and Gardening Goods 7/12/18: Yard Abnormalities 6/29/18: Protect Your Yard 3/29/18: Spring Grasses 1/25/2018: Your Lawn Health Care Program 1/11/2018: Indoor Gardening 7/20/2017: Strange Landscape Encounters 7/6/2017: Wildflowers and Japanese Beetles 6/22/2017: Summer Challenges 6/8/2017: Soil 6/1/2017: Wild Parsnip Warning and All About Bugs 5/11/2017: Mother’s Day Bouquets 4/27/17: Happy Arbor Day! 4/13/17: Easter Lilies