The Agronomist: Seek Out Turfgrass Research to Improve Your Lawn Care Operations - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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The Agronomist: Seek Out Turfgrass Research to Improve Your Lawn Care Operations

I always looked forward to the time of year when all of the hard work that you put into your customers’ lawns has finally paid off.

If you’ve timed your fertilizer correctly – and your customer hasn’t scalped the lawn down to putting green height – the color will last until about Christmas. Hopefully. I always enjoyed watching my lawns that were on my way to and from the office to see how long they would hold out.

But what a trial it is getting to that point! There was one particular season that just didn’t seem to want to end. The last lawn of the year was a shopping center and the date of the application was well after Dec. 1. I just need to get this one property finished. Just one more and I’m done.

And then the wheels fell off. No, not metaphorically, literally. I finished with fertilizing and was driving the machine back to the trailer. I didn’t have more than ten feet to go when the front caster just fell apart and dug into the pavement.


It took about an hour to travel that final ten feet. It seemed like a hundred miles. But about 24 hours later, I was already excited about the next spring. I guess I am weird like that.

I try to keep up with reading as much turfgrass research as I can get my hands on. In the government relations world, I need solid facts and reliable sources to back up supporting the green industry. One particular subject that intrigues me is reducing inputs. You know, how do we get the same quality and performance from our turf with less fertilizer, less pesticides, less water, less mowing. I am a recovering agricultural economist, so all of those things appeal to me.

How can you incorporate a low-input philosophy into your business? The first point I like to make is that we think of our lawn care season all wrong. I mean, I get it. The dead, frozen brown of winter yields to spring and people can’t wait to get outside and make things green again. If you don’t act upon that from the perspective of marketing and sales, you’re lost.

I don’t think the agronomy works that way. For me, the season begins as soon as the blast furnace of summer shuts off. In New England, that is right around Labor Day. For you, it might be a little earlier, a little later or not apply to you at all. Seasons are funny that way. Between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, I can perform magic if you give me a soil test, nutrients, an aerifier and some seed. I want soil structure, the right level of fertility and water, and new and vigorous plants. I want to drill roots down as deep as I can get them and fill them full of starch for the next spring. And I want to do all of that using less of everything.

By far, the biggest change that I have witnessed is the incredible progress in turfgrass breeding. As an example, researchers have taken a perfectly awful plant – tall fescue – and turned it into what can only be described as a supergrass. Walking across the research plots at Rutgers University a couple of years back, I saw new cultivars that blow Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass away and they looked like that on a starvation diet, no water and on a day that was nearly 100 degrees. When these cultivars make it to market, they will make a huge difference in the quality of our service.

What do you need to do this winter to capitalize upon this progress? Don’t miss out on a single opportunity to learn. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of training sessions happening all across the country in the off-season. Yeah, some of the content is dull stuff that you’ve heard before, but that’s not why you’re there or what you’re looking for. What you are looking for is that one tidbit, that one nugget of information that will be transformative.

This article was published in the January/February 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.