This week we learn about lawns. For many of us our lawn is the
cornerstone of our landscape. Beautiful turf demands an understanding
of the fundamentals of nutrition, irrigation and maintenance. We visit
with the experts at East Lake Golf Course in Atlanta Georgia and learn
their secrets for success.
Eastlake Golf Course is the centerpiece of an effort to revitalize a
community. Originally this club, founded in 1898, was the Atlanta
Athletic Club. Its' most famous member was Bobby Jones, perhaps the
greatest amateur player ever. He retired from golf when he was 28
years old. East Lake has many of Jones' artifacts, for example his
double locker made possible when members welded two lockers together
after he won the grand slam. This club takes its' profits and
reinvests it in the community. They have 93 founding sponsor members.
These members, when they join the club get a membership in the club
and also give a donation to the East Lake Community Foundation which
is charged with redeveloping the area through different programs and
services that benefit the people that live in the neighborhood, many
in the new housing development nearby. East Lake is trying to be a
model for other cities. They try to get corporate America involved in
revitalizing in-town areas. Their motto is "golf with a purpose."
Ralph Kepple is the golf course superintendent and started in the job
in 1992. In 1994 the entire course went through a major renovation,
they totally re-grassed, sodded, even rebuilt the greens. They sodded
about 35 acres of Myers Zoysia and 90 acres of 419 Bermuda. Ralph
likes turf because if something is done the results are immediate. He
likes the thrill of playing with Mother Nature and seeing the results
of his labor.
Many ask the difference between cool season grass and warm season
grass. A warm season grass grows in the summertime. They go dormant in
the winter, they turn brown, they're not dead, just dormant. As soon
as it warms up they green up and start growing. Cool season grasses
stay green all year. They don't particularly like hot weather and tend
to not grow as much in the summertime, but grow a lot in the fall and
Warm season grasses would include Zoysia, Bermuda and St. Augustine,
for example. Cool season grasses in the south are primarily Fescues.
Warm season grasses in the fall need a pre-emergent. People know to
pre-emerge in the spring but usually don't think about a pre
emergent in the fall. Pre-emergents are chemical barriers put on
the surface - when a weed-seed germinates and starts sending out its'
roots, when the roots get into the barrier, it kills the plant. It
doesn't keep it from germinating, instead kills it once it sends out
roots. It is a safe product, killing the plant before it gets started.
It is applied in the fall because that is when weeds are germinating,
they are winter annuals. This includes weeds like Clover, Wamburn,
plants that have big wide leaves.
The decision between a warm or cool season grass is determined by where
one lives and how cold it gets. There are different zones, Atlanta
Georgia is a transition zone. Warm and cool season grasses will grow in
this climate. North of Atlanta some warm season grasses will grow but
the chance of getting winter kill increases. Sunlight is another
consideration. Warm season grasses in general need 8 hours of sunlight
per day. Cool season grasses do better in the shade. In Atlanta, for
example, they can't handle the heat. In situations with partial sun or
shade, don't try warm season grasses, Bermudas and Zoysias don't hold
This course utilizes a low maintenance, low growing Hard Fescue. This
isn't a grass a home owner would normally use unless they have a
heavily shaded area. It is a cool season grass and under a huge Oak
tree, thrives. It requires very little fertility and not much water
which is good under a tree since both the tree and grass are competing
for water. It doesn't provide a nice manicured look, but in the shade
may be the only option. They mow it once a month and that is mainly to
knock down the weeds because weeds tend to grow over this grass.
Ralph generally prefers sod versus seed because of erosion concerns.
With sod, roots will form within a few days making erosion unimportant.
With seed, once sown, it then needs watered to get the seed up. If on a
slope the seed may wash away. Several states have basically said that
they prefer sod and contractors are pushing sod. However if seed is
used there are now several covers that are effective. A seed blanket is
put on top of the seeds and keeps moisture in. It biodegrades and just
goes away with time. Hay or straw are also often times used and both
will hold moisture. Hay is mainly made from grasses and field straw is
wheat. Both are full of weed seed causing weed problems for homeowners.
There is very little difference in soil preparation for sod versus
seed. Either way have the land graded to preference, have the top inch
or two fairly loose, yet not too loose or it might wash away. Send soil
samples to your local county extension agent and they can tell how much
fertilizer or lime, etc. to put out. If sodding lay the sod down. If
seeding it is helpful to run a roller over the top to ensure a good
seed/soil contact. If starting with seed the ground preparation is very
important. If the ground isn't broken up it will be like putting seed
on top of concrete.
Many gardeners have mature trees and want grass underneath. This isn't
a good idea, grasses don't like shade and they compete with trees for
water and nutrients. Trees are more efficient in this area and win the
war every time. The area can be watered and fertilized more, the tree
will just take the majority of these nutrients. Ralph has raised the
canopy of the trees which helps get more sunlight in. Mainly he has
mulched around theses trees, that and ground covers are the best
options for areas like this.
If one is serious about weed control one of the easiest and most
effective ways to keep weeds under control is to apply a pre emergent.
It utilizes a gas barrier on the soil surface and that keeps weeds from
germinating. However if you've just seeded your lawn the worst thing
that can be done is to apply a pre emergent. The pre emergent doesn't
know the difference between weed seeds and grass seeds and grass seeds
just won't come up.
Proper equipment is one of the keys to great turf. Most homeowners
won't have as expensive a mower as Ralph uses at East Lake. It mows at
thousands of an inch, it is very precise. A reel type mower has blades
that turn. They're at an angle and cut against the bed knife on the
bottom creating a scissors type action. Most people utilize a rotary
mower but if a really manicured lawn is required use a reel mower. In
either case a sharp blade is important. A good sharp cut makes it less
likely for disease to spread versus a jagged cut. Also insects will be
more likely to enter jagged cuts. Ralph has their blades sharpened
about once a week. A good rule of thumb is to sharpen the blade every
10-15 hours of use. Ralph also thinks it important to change direction
when mowing, at least every other time out, if not every time. This is
more important with a reel mower than a rotary mower. Never remove more
than 1/3 of the leaf of the plant at any one time. If cut more it tends
to put the plant in shock, then the grass plant tends to shut down and
doesn't want to grow. It isn't good to scalp the grass to the ground,
this cuts into the crown of the plant which is the growing center of
the plant. If the crown is damaged the plant is damaged. To keep from
scalping the turf cut your grass more frequently. Mowing twice a week
is better for the turf. Ralph has the greens mowed often once a day and
the fairways every other day, the rough one of two times per week.
Most people utilize a rotary mower. When purchasing this type mower
look for height variances, a range from 1 inch to 3 or 3 and 1/2 inches
is good. Make sure a mower has enough horse power to run a mulching
unit. This means that the mower has the ability to cut the clippings up
finer and drop them back into the turf. It cuts them so fine that they
don't sit there, brown and look ugly. Those clippings act as a nitrogen
fertilizer in the turf. Since mowing is a critical ingredient in the
success of the lawn make sure that you choose a mower that is
comfortable for you, that way it will be used more frequently.
In areas of the country where the soil is heavy, aeration is important.
On their greens Ralph uses solid, quarter inch tines. A quad block has
four tines and provides holes almost every inch square. They don't
remove anything just poke holes, allowing air into the greens. There
are different types of tines. Another is a side eject. It comes down,
the plug comes up, pushing up the front. Or a top eject comes through
the top, pulling cores out of the ground, opening the soil, providing
more air space, removing the compaction and allowing water to get in. A
better root environment holds more moisture. Ralph believes that core
aeration should be done at least once a year. Those with cool season
grass, like Fescue, should aerate in the fall and seed behind to get a
better stand because Fescue is always lost during summers. With warm
season turf do it in the summer when the grass can grow back over the
holes fairly quickly. Ralph aerates the fairways twice a year, the
roughs once a year and the greens between 4 and 5 times a year. Shoes
with spikes aren't effective in aerating the grass, even if someone
were 300 pounds the spikes would barely get into the ground.
Fertilization is a key ingredient to the success of a beautiful lawn.
One of the worst ways to do this is to apply an enormous amount in the
spring, then nothing else for the rest of the year, this is a feast or
famine approach. It is better to feed regularly throughout the entire
year. Fall is a great time if using a winterizer fertilizer, when doing
this look at the last number. It needs to be a high number, which
indicates the Potassium. Potassium is for strength and produces a very
cold tolerant, drought tolerant turf that will do well during the cold
time of year. Ralph believes that in the fall a fertilizer with a
roughly equal ratio of Nitrogen and Potassium, something like a 19-0-19
is needed. The Nitrogen is responsible for the green color, the leaf
growth and the Potassium is responsible for insect and disease control
and heat tolerance. The Potassium will help the plant structure, giving
it a stronger leaf and drought and cold tolerance. In the spring a
similar fertilizer combination can be used. Possibly a little more
Nitrogen should be utilized to give the grass a kick and get it to
green a little quicker. Again soil testing is important to determine
your soil needs.
Water is also an important consideration. During the height of the
growing season an inch per week should be sufficient. Water once or
twice per week thoroughly, let it dry out, then water again. This will
help the roots grow deeper.
Ralph believes that there are a lot of places where turf can be
utilized. There are a lot of benefits to turf including giving children
a place to play, erosion control is a plus which can't be obtained from
trees and turf provides a lot of oxygen to the atmosphere. Current
trends include products that have lower use rates, thus the soil isn't
being poisoned. Very minute amounts of product are needed to kill
anything and these products shouldn't be used at the first trace of a
problem. Wait until threshold levels are reached, if common sense is
utilized you can have a good lawn without a lot of excess.
Thank you Ralph, this has been fascinating, useful information. What
Ralph does on the golf course often applies to the homeowner. Turf
grows the same way - golf courses are just doing it on a finer level.
And Ralph has done a remarkable job at East Lake Golf Course. Thank
East Lake Golf Club
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