The Agronomist: Cultivate a Healthy Lawn to Control Weeds - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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The Agronomist: Cultivate a Healthy Lawn to Control Weeds

Wild violets proliferating in a thin, weak stand of turfgrass.

This coming Labor Day will mark the sixth anniversary of my second career of government relations. Before that, I was in lawn care, working for myself and for others over the course of thirty seasons. I use the word ‘season’ instead of ‘years’ because, in the lawn care industry, we mark time in terms of seasons made up of rounds. A round depicts each of the several visits made to a customer’s lawn. So, instead of asking a colleague how her July is going, a lawn care person would wonder if she was finished with round three yet. It’s a quirky business sometimes.

Before I came on board at NALP, I was responsible for training lawn specialists not only within my own company, but I did a fair amount of it for different trade associations. I have grown to really enjoy public speaking. It’s very challenging and takes a fair amount of time and research to put things together.

This past week I did some agronomic training for a lawn care company in New Hampshire, staffed with some colleagues from my former position. With springtime training, I typically will start at the very beginning – this is a crown, this is a stolon, here’s a rhizome, bluegrasses have boat-shaped leaf tips – you know the drill.

Then I delve into weeds, insects and diseases. I like to start by asking the group I am speaking to what they think the very best pesticide of all might be. I’ll get answers saying that this herbicide or that insecticide is fantastic, the best they have ever used and that their lawns look spectacular. And they are not wrong. The fertilizers, pesticides and other inputs that we use in our work are light-years ahead of anything that was available when I first started in the business. But that wasn’t my point. This is:

The very best pesticide of all is a healthy stand of vigorously growing turfgrass.

I have no idea who first said that, but I do know that it has been repeated often enough to become a fundamental maxim of our industry. If you do not adhere to the maxim, you can buy the very best products on the market, yet you will not be successful in the long run. I challenged those attending my training session to look closely at the photos that I was showing of weeds growing in turfgrass. In almost every case where weeds proliferate, the surrounding turfgrass is not healthy or vigorous.

Am I suggesting that you shouldn’t be using herbicides, or any other pesticide for that matter? Absolutely not. But note well that if you haven’t followed the basics by performing periodic soil tests, performing cultivation services such as aeration and overseeding, and teaching your customer to handle the weekly tasks such as mowing and watering in a way that enhances the services that you perform instead of detracting from it, you’ve got your cart out in front of your horse.

Personally, I think it’s a mistake for us to think of springtime as the beginning of the lawn care season. Oh, sure, that’s when everyone comes back to work after a long winter (except y’all down south that work all year long – #jealous) and sales are popping. But in terms of agronomy, the season starts right around Labor Day when the worst of the summer stresses begin to break. Everything that you do during the season should be aimed at preparing the lawn for what you’ll be doing in the early fall, and everything you do during the fall should be aimed toward high performance during the following season.

Given the difficulty of growing grass in the current climate – both environmental and political – the more heat and drought-resistant turfgrass cultivars you can sow in your customers’ lawns, the better. It is money well spent.

This article was published in the May/June issue of the magazine. To read more stories from The Edge magazine, click here to subscribe to the digital edition.

Bob Mann

Bob Mann is the director of state and local government relations for NALP.