Last Updated on August 29, 2023 by ILGM Ninjas
Welcome to 2023, a new year and a fresh opportunity to make changes and drive innovation and improvement. We are certainly excited to enter this year with a more developed program with lessons learned from last year and the implementation of new technologies that will make the landscape experience only better for you. I developed a stepping stone approach for my clients about 15 years ago called the “9 steps” for landscape success. Much of this is common sense but I wanted to provide a path for someone that did not know where to start a reference point from which to start. While this has largely remained the same the meaning behind these steps has gotten much deeper as I have discovered the universe of soil biology and chemistry. This has been profound for us and finally allowed me to offer true solutions to a flawed paradigm rather than perpetuating it and wasting time and money treating symptoms. I wanted to revisit these steps in light of this newly found mindset so I can project our vison, our philosophy and our passion.
1.Soil- The purpose of soil is to provide nutrients for plant life
so that may grow, heal and produce. In a biological
system (that which is natural) the soil and the plant
should be thought of as one and not separate items.
A soil that is high in organic matter (the battery of
the soil) will attract biology that will cycle nutrients
from the soil aiding in plant health, disease resistance
and hardiness as well as water management. The
attention of a health soil is paramount and is the soul
of our program. We have relied heavily on soil tests over the past two years to objectively measure what is good and what is bad with ours soils. In the past this was viewed as a luxury. Now we understand it to be a crucial requirement in establishing a point of reference with the soil. Anything else is an educated guess at best.
So, what do I mean when I use the words ” The Objective Landscape”. Listen very carefully because this is the secret to having a truly successful lawn. For the Biological system to work you must understand the forces that work with and against the lawn. There are basically 5 components to any plant life. There is the sun, the air, the soil, the water and the nutrients. We cannot change the sun, that’s fixed. The air is the same that everyone else is using no no way to improve that. There are nutrients that are presents in the soil and the ones that we apply that are needed, the soil itself and it’s condition and the hydration, that is not prevalent in this climate so we must irrigate to make ends meet and be consistent. If we cancel out the sun and the air and we know that the products we apply at a fixed rate are the same for everyone there are just two components that are left, the soil and the irrigation. Once we address the preexisting conditions in the soil and nail down the irrigation we can start to make the magic happen. When the biology in the soil is enabled and the plant is able to carry nutrients to the cells the plant will increasingly begin to heal and grow. It is really that simple!
2. Hydration/Irrigation- Water is the lifeblood of the plant. It is
what enables life to exist and is responsible for every
biological action in the soil and within the plant.
Adequate amounts of hydration will enable the plant
and the biology in the soil to function properly. Due to
climate, poor soils, cost of water and poor irrigation
habits the subject of water is largely a contentious
issue. A lot of water has been wasted on simple
misunderstandings. The system that we are
developing will potentially save on the low end 20-30%
and 40-50% on the high just by altering some basic
habits and implementing some new technologies. The very biggest mistake that we find when it comes to irrigation is not watering often enough, it is not watering deep enough!
I cannot tell you how many people tell me “Hey that worked!” Water deep…
3.Mowing- Mowing is not only a necessary mechanical
requirement but also an important horticultural
component. The paradigm of the once per week
mowing cycle is largely based on human capability,
economic compromise and logistical possibility. It is
not the perfect way to manage turf. The current model
of maintenance is undergoing a radical change that
reached its zenith. You can only build mowers so big
and so fast to compensate for the economic pressures
that are required to render service. Automation will be
the solution for this and has presented some other
benefits that will add value and a pressure relief for an
outdated business model. What is the value of your lawn always having that “Just mowed on Friday look?”
4.Aeration- Natural soils that have high amounts of biology
do not require mechanical intervention to achieve soil
porosity. The affect of mechanical aeration is short
lived and does not answer the fundamental problem
of addressing soil chemistry and biology. This can be
solved and changed by the adoption of a biological
approach and enabling the biology in the soil.
5.Thatch- Overgrown thatch is a major obstacle to the health
of the turf. Thatch simply defined is the dead root growth that occurs with some turf varieties. It is a thermal and moisture barrier for the turf. When it is in between 1/4″-1/2″ it works for the plant. When it is above this it works against the plant and wastes resources. It is a sigh of a failing soil that is either low or devoid of biology and can be solved by adding biology and the energy that it requires. Once corrected this excess can be returned to the soil as nutrient rather than spending enormous amounts of energy removing it mechanically.
6.Fertilization- The fundamental reason why we manually administer nutrients to lawns is that it is an artificial manmade construct. In nature where there is diversity an abundance is available to the plants as different plants give and take different nutrients out of the soil and through their death and life cycle along with the microbiology cycle nutrients with the aid of the fungal networks and bacterial populations. In a turf lawn this diversity is not present and thus manual supplementation is required. Our program differs from the typical fertilization programs in that we are addressing the needs of the soil as well as the plant which is not present in a synthetic model. A biological system can cycle nutrients from the soil and from the atmosphere that is not possible in a synthetic model.
7.Weed Control- There is a lot of confusion surrounding weeds and why they are present in the lawn. Simply put nature gravitates towards balance and weeds tend to grow where there is imbalance. This imbalance is usually a pH, compaction or nutrient issue. Different weeds will grow in different areas where there are problems in the soil. Once these problems are understood and addressed the weeds will subside greatly without the need or lessened need for herbicides. Lawns do not have a pesticide shortage, they have a nutrient deficiency.
8.Repair & Rehabilitation- An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Ever heard that phrase? A proactive approach to prevent problems before they become [expensive] monsters is much more efficient. Once one achieves balance and consistency one can avoid the cost of repair or at least mitigate it tremendously. Our strategy is to achieve peak health in September before the first hard freeze, enable an early emergence of green in early April and a late transition into dormancy in early December. A healthy lawn will have some presence of green the entire year. Brown lawns are actually a sigh of massive stress, driven largely by poor hydration and subsequent nutrient uptake into the grass blade. This will be the true test of a soil and what is in it. We would much rather put our resources into maintaining this consistency rather than resorting to measures that are expensive to execute.
9.Clean and Clear- Timely pruning and seasonal debris removal is required as we have engineered landscapes and not native or natural ones where the discarded wasted would be returned to the forest floor and eventually to the soil. That doesn’t go over too well with HOA’s or Code Compliance. Once or twice per year is typically adequate to accomplish this and keep the peace with the powers to be.
While there is a ton of detail surrounding this outline of information. This would get the average person with no understanding of what to do pretty close to the ten yard line where things become difficult and technical. We are constantly looking for ways to improve, innovate and better our craft. We certainly appreciate the support, patience and understanding as we continue down this road. Remember that a truly successful landscape is not an event but a process.
Spring will be here before long. Keep up with that hydration! Have a great week!