The Agronomist: Take a Leaf Out of a Farmer’s Book and Till Your Customers’ Properties - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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The Agronomist: Take a Leaf Out of a Farmer’s Book and Till Your Customers’ Properties

Photo: Bob Mann

I must admit that I really enjoy watching farming videos on YouTube. The Millennium Farmer and Farmhand Mike are some of my favorites. I live in a part of the country where my food comes from a supermarket so seeing how crops are tended on such an enormous scale is something that fascinates me.  

What stands out in these videos is something that is true across all cropping systems, the importance of proper tillage. Skip the tillage and weeds will completely consume what you are trying to grow. Till improperly and your topsoil will vanish in the wind and the rain. So, that got me to thinking about tillage as it applies to lawn care, you know, dethatching, aerating and such. I don’t think that we do anywhere near as much tillage as we should.  

As responsible stewards of the environment, we need to be thinking upstream of the fertilizers and pesticides that we use on our lawns and landscapes. Integrated pest management is an excellent tool as far as it goes to tell us whether utilizing a pesticide is the right choice. Sometimes it is, but I think you’ll agree with me that we as professional applicators talk our customers out of pesticide applications every bit as much, if not more, than talking them into one. 

But what comes before integrated pest management, you might ask? That would be our best management practices, documents that lay out how best to establish and manage our landscapes to optimize their performance. As the old yarn goes, the very best pesticide of all is a thick stand of vigorously growing turfgrass.  

So now I have two topics that I have broached, tillage and best management practices. How do we knit those two things together? If you ask one of your customers when the lawn care season begins, nine out of ten would incorrectly answer “spring.” Oh, spring is important, no doubt, but so much of the success of a lawn during a growing season can be traced back to the activities of the previous autumn.  

Years ago, I recall a very uncomfortable meeting with my company’s most important client one spring. He called me into his second-story office and asked me to look out the window and explain why the lawn in the entrance circle was deep green, but only in a strip that was about 20 feet in from the curb. Long story short, the employee that aerated the lawn the previous fall decided to skimp on the job, only aerating those 20 feet and not the entire lawn. And what a huge difference that aeration made in the quality of the turfgrass. 

A best management practice that we should all be focused on is getting top-quality turfgrasses planted into our customers’ lawns as often as we can. 

Autumn is the ideal time of year to do this because weed pressure and competition are significantly reduced and the weather can be reliably counted on to be cooler and damper the further we retreat from the blast furnace of summer. 

Seeding works best when you achieve seed/soil contact; the first root must almost immediately encounter soil so that water and nutrients can be taken up. 

So how to achieve this seed/soil contact? Tillage, of course! Depending upon your business model, you may offer slice seeding on the high end of the price spectrum or you may offer core aeration as a less expensive alternative.

Either way, loosening the soil to allow atmospheric gasses to exchange more freely, water to infiltrate more quickly, and reducing the bulk density of the soil all result in significant benefits to the quality of the lawn over time. If it were up to me, I would core aerate and overseed all my customers’ lawns every autumn, just as farmers never pass up the opportunity to till their fields. 

This article was published in the July/August issue of the magazine. To read more stories from The Landscape Professional magazine, click here to subscribe to the digital edition.

Bob Mann

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