SUPPORT & RESOURCES
Stuff that will help you
Included in this section you'll find reasons for common system troubles. Even if your not having problems, we suggest taking a quick look. The more you understand about what can go wrong, the easier it will be for you to operate and diagnose your system if something does go wrong!
Managing your lawn can be a tricky thing. Spring Irrigation isn't in the lawncare business specifically, but keeping your lawn lush and green is important to us. So anytime one of our customers has a lawncare question, we're happy to help! In this section you'll find answers to routine questions we answer most often.
There are two primary areas of concern when it comes to wet areas. The first is the possibility of a line being cut. The other is improper water management. If you suspect a break go to the "Low pressure" page, in this section. More likely your system has too much time programmed for the conditions. Sometimes "extra" time is scheduled to make up for a poor design or lack of understanding, when it comes to the actual water requirements of your lawn. Many times, the shortcomings of a design can be addressed with different nozzles and simple adjustments to eliminate wet areas. Unfortunately, many companies schedule their accounts with a "one size fits all" method. Your system should start out with a conservative program in the spring for example, then adjusted, as the demands of summer arrive. See our "water management" page for more information. If water seems to be collecting in a low area after the system runs, the line may be draining from the lowest head. To solve this, a check valve can be installed. Rain Bird and Hunter have sprinklers with check valves in them. The internal components can be exchanged with sprinklers of the same type, so the solution is simple and inexpensive. As a bonus, you'll be saving money on water as well!
Is the clock functioning? Try unplugging it. Is the system still running? If no, plug clock back in and check the program carefully. If this is not the problem, continue to the next line.
If the clock seems to be functioning properly, there may be some debris in a control valve. Sometimes activating the affected zone on and off several times quickly will flush the debris away. Try this by turning the zone on for 3 seconds then off for three seconds several times in succession. Even if this works, you should still call for service. The result may be temporary, and the problem could occur again when your not around. Continue if this doesn't solve your problem.
Try turning the water supply off at the backflow device. Leave it off for 30 seconds, then back on. Try this a few times with the clock on, then with the clock off.
Make sure the clock is in the off position. If the system continues to run there is probably debris in one of the control valves. If this is the case, you should turn the water off at the "RP" or " PVB" (pictured at right; note- shown with valves in the "on" position) on the outside of the house, and call for service.
Make sure all supply valves are in the "on" position. There is at least one in the basement and two outside on the backflow device.
Make sure the clock is on, reset it by turning it from auto to off; try to initiate system again.
Does the clock seem to be operating? Is there a read out? If your clock is electro-mechanical does it move or have the correct time? If the answer is yes, continue to the next line. If no, check the power to make sure there is current to the outlet. If there is no power, check the circuit breaker and all GFI outlets in the house. These are the outlets with the 2 buttons on them. Sometimes these outlets are wired on the same circuit as the controller and if tripped, will prevent operation. If these solutions don't work, call for service.
Does the clock itself have a fuse? if so, unplug the clock and check it. If it needs to be replaced, make sure the replacement is exactly the same amp.
Do you have a rain switch? If you do, has it rained recently? If you have a Rain Bird Rain Check it can be emptied if it's full. If the rain switch is not a possibility, continue to the next line.
When you turn the clock on and off can you hear water running? Check the meter, is water flowing? If the answer is yes it is likely a line is cut somewhere on the system causing a severe loss in pressure which may be preventing the heads from popping up.
If the above suggestions don't work you should call for service.
Generally, sprays tend to be more trouble-free than rotors because they don't move when they operate. They just pop up and down. That's not to say that they don't occasionally have problems. If the spray pattern looks irregular or plugged, there is probably debris in the nozzle opening. This is especially a problem if a filter hasn't been installed. With the sprinkler running run your fingernail (or paperclip) along the opening of the nozzle (A). If something has become lodged from the outside, most times this will free it. However, if the object has come from inside the line, the nozzle will have to be removed and cleaned. This can be a tedious task. It is extremely important to keep all parts clean. Dirt in the line or in the nozzle threads can exacerbate the problem. If your not sure, call for service.
Occasionally debris will interfere with the seal (B). This is rarely a problem with Rain Bird sprays because of their specially designed self-cleaning wiper seal. If you notice a large amount of water leaking/spraying from the seal, try stepping on the head quickly and squarely to flush out any obstructions.
Rain Bird Maxi PAW
The Maxi is designed and engineered to be fully flushable. It is water lubricated and all moving parts are exposed for simple cleaning, if necessary. If you have a head that is malfunctioning or sticking, try flushing it with a hose while the head is operating. Use a hose-end spray nozzle with a sharp stream; aim the stream directly at the head and spray/flush thoroughly. This should wash away any debris logged in the head's mechanism. If this technique doesn't solve you problem, you can try the following:
With the water on, hold the "flapper arm" (A) to prevent operation, and place your hand in front of the stream, directing the water back into the mechanism. With your free hand:
Move the "return mechanism" (B) back and forth.
Swing the "flapper arm" back and forth.
In a circular motion, gently manipulate "return actuator" (C) up and down. By moving these parts while flushing, any foreign objects that may be preventing operation will be washed away. If you choose, you may find it easier to use a hose to flush, rather than directing water back with your hand.
Occasionally, debris will become lodged in the "flapper arm" (C) channel (this is where the water exits when the arm engages the stream). To dislodge; with the water running, simply place your thumb over the opening and engage the arm into the stream. This will force the debris out the back of the channel. If the object remains, it may be necessary to use a paper clip to very carefully dislodge it.
If the head is bound (will not swivel freely), then it's likely there is grit or sand in thebearing. The "bearing" (D) is where the actual head fits into the shaft allowing the head to turn. To flush the bearing, push down gently on the head while it's running and turn back and forth at the same time. You will see water spraying out at the bearing (E, in red). The bearing is designed to flush out debris in this fashion. Carefully work the head in this way until it moves freely.
If water appears to be "flooding" from out of the case while running, debris may be interfering with the seal. Carefully step on the head, quickly and squarely to flush.
Single Stream, Gear Driven Sprinklers (i.e. Hunter-PGP)
Because of the nature of gear driven sprinklers, there are few remedies once they stop moving. It is usually due to gear failure because of wear or debris. Unlike the Maxi PAW, gear drives are closed case rotors and impossible to clean. Unfortunately, replacement is usually the only option. However, if you step on the head quickly and squarely, you can sometimes flush away debris lodged in the gear system.
When you notice low pressure it almost always indicates a cut line. If you see a noticeable lack of power or if the sprinklers aren't functioning correctly on a particular zone, check the other zones on the system. If the other zones look fine, then the break is isolated to the one zone. However, if all zones seem to be suffering, shut the main supply off immediately (outside at the backflow device). Chances are good that you have a main line break. If this is the case, the water will continue to run all of the time despite the operation of the controller. Inspect your yard to see if you can locate the breach. Look for pooling water or washout.
Have you had telephone or cable installed recently? Has there been any landscape or construction at your home? These are common culprits in line cuts. Don't bother calling your cable company or landscaper, they may try to repair it themselves. It's always best to have a professional irrigation contractor do these repairs to avoid headaches or damage down the road. The usual course of action is for the homeowner to submit the repair bill to the guilty party for compensation. Any time you have a line break you should call for service.
The most common reason for widespread dry areas is inadequate water due to scheduling, especially during high stress periods (little rain, high temps). If the problem seems to localized (one particular spot across a zone), adjustments to individual sprinkler precipitation rates (increasing nozzles sizes) and simple adjustment (diffusing the stream) can provide a solution. With rotors, try interrupting the stream with the "break-down screw", a little at a time. Be careful not to adjust the break-down too much. This will shorten the distance the sprinkler throws, thus compromising the design. Add just enough break-down to even the distribution of water. Sometimes this simple adjustment can solve such problems. Watch the heads in the affected area. Are the heads traveling to the left/right far enough? Try adjusting the circle's arc. Maxi PAWs can be easily adjusted without tools, but most gear driven sprinklers (including Hunter PGPs) require a special tool. Trying to adjust such heads with force will only result in irreversible damage. It may be helpful to review our section on "Understanding Water Management" (under the "Scheduling Help" section) to fully grasp the scope of these concepts. However, brown areas in your lawn can also be symptomatic of another problem like malfunctioning heads or line cuts. Make sure you consider these possibilities by taking a close look at your system in operation.
The governing rule in scheduling is water conservation; keeping your lawn healthy (and green) with the least amount of water. There are many variables involved, so it's important to understand some basics. First of all, each lawn has unique characteristics like soil composition and exposure to sun. As you may expect, clay soils and shady areas require less water than sunny, sandy areas. For the sake of this discussion, we'll be addressing conditions somewhere in between. So when assessing your situation, make sure you consider these conditions and adjust accordingly. To establish a healthy, drought resistant lawn the roots have to be driven deep into the soil. To accomplish this, your system should be programmed to water consistently and evenly. If you simply turn your system off when it rains, then back on when it's starts to dry out, the roots don't get a chance to dive deeper. Further, during times of stress, they actually regress. A rain sensor is the only way to capitalize on mother nature's generosity. Grass roots will go where the water is. If you establish and maintain a moisture level in the soil the plant will get stronger (don't forget to feed it!). By spending some time establishing a strong root zone, you will find that later on your lawn will need much less water, even during dry times. Hopefully, the following scheduling guidelines will give you the tools you need for a beautiful, hassle-free lawn.
Sprinklers are not created equal. Brands aside, there are 2 major types of heads; sprays and rotors. Sprays are the smaller of the two, you'll find that they are usually covering areas that are smaller and segmented, like a side yard. They have a misting action and are available in different patterns. Rotors, on the other hand, cover large turf areas and move from side to side. Other than the obvious physical differences, these two types have very distinct watering characteristics. As a general rule, sprays put out 2 to 3 times as much water, per square inch, as do rotors. This comes as a surprise to many folks, but remember rotors are moving during their operation, while sprays simply remain static- spraying. Lastly, designs can vary greatly between contractors. In a well designed system there should be uniform, overlapping coverage with matched precipitation nozzles on all heads. Matched precipitation refers to the amount of water a head puts out in relation to the other heads on the same zone. In the case of rotors, a sprinkler covering a corner (1/4 circle) should have a nozzle about half the size of a head covering a half circle because the 1/4 circle head is moving across it's designated area twice as often. Since you have to water to your driest spot, you'll be using more water than you need in the other areas if all of the nozzles are the same size. The goal is to apply even amounts of water over the entire area (because of this, it is important to note that rotors and sprays should NEVER be on the same zone). This is the most important area in watering savings. If your system doesn't meet these standards, you should contact your contractor.
How Much To Water
A properly programmed system should start with a base schedule. That is a schedule that distributes a know quantity of water, evenly across all zones. A common benchmark would be applying a 1/2" per week on an every other day schedule. Generally, this translates to around a half hour on a rotor zone and 12 minutes on a spray zone. However, you'll need to factor in all of the variables of your particular lawn. So use these times as your median and work your way up or down in minutes. In order to arrive at the optimal amount, adjusting up or down in increments of 20% will provide the best results at fine tuning a particular area. For example, if you have a spray zone up the side of your drive, it's sunny and sandy, try increasing the set time from 12 minutes to 15 minutes. After a week, if you find this zone is still dry, add a few more minutes. Give your changes a little time to take effect. Even professionals have to use this trial and error to calibrate some tricky areas. Fortunately you'll only have to go through this process one time. Once you've determine how much water is actually needed for a each zone, it's just a matter of adjusting the these times in blocks or percentage based on the time of year or weather conditions. Let's go back to our example. It's spring time, the lawn doesn't require as much water as it does in the summer. Along with our "drive zone", we have a open front yard with rotors. This zone, we have found needs to be run for 30 minutes each day in the middle of summer (drive zone for 15 minutes). If you determine that you'll only need half the water, simply cut the time in half for the zones (15 minutes on the rotors, 7 minutes on the sprays). The key is figuring out how much time is needed on each zone under the same conditions. It is extremely useful to use a log when calibrating your system. Write down your times, changes and conditions. Things will become obvious once you can see a history of cause and effect. Since the weather is constantly changing you must be able to easily change with it to effectively manage your watering. Most controller have a global percentage adjustment feature. This allows you to simply increase or decrease the amount of time all zones run by simply adjusting the overall percentage of the run times. Another way to adjust for spring/fall seasonal changes is to reduce the operating days per week, and leave the station settings set the same all of the time. As the weather gets warmer/drier, you can simply begin adding days.
When To Water
All things considered the optimum time to water is early morning (4am to 7am). There are several reasons for this. Grass absorbs water through it's roots and as you've read, the deeper those roots are, the better. Because grass uses water through the roots, it's important that the water is at root level when photosynthesis occurs. Watering in the early morning allows time for the water to perk into the ground ready for the sun. Not only is the water in the root zone where it can be utilized, it's also beyond where the sun can evaporate it away. The idea is to maintain a moisture level in the soil, not simply to get the grass wet every day. Since this is the case it's easy to see why watering in the middle of the day is such a bad idea. During the height of summer when evaporation rates soar, over half the water you put down never makes it to the root zone. This means that you need to water at least twice as much as you do when you water in the early morning. It is important to note that this is also the time of day when water is at peak demand. Since this trend of daytime watering has begun, field observations have confirmed a higher occurrence of "ring spot" in lawns that have followed this regimen. Possible reasons could include higher soil temperatures in combination with lingering water may provide a suitable environment for these diseases. While it is poor practice to attempt regular watering in the afternoon, a brief "syringe" cycle is a good idea when high stress is noted in the lawn. Stress is indicated where "silvery" patches can be seen in the lawn and is a sign that these areas haven't developed the desired root structure. Because these areas are showing stress, they need special attention. Like us, if grass is relieved of stress (given a drink!), the long term health will be improved. A syringe cycle is a short program that runs separately from your morning cycle. Each affected zone should run approximately 1/2 the time of the morning cycle during the hot part of the day. Remember, this cycle cools it does not water. Many people find it beneficial to run a syringe program after mowing, when stress is high. We recommend using this technique only when necessary and not on a continual basis. Watering in the evening or overnight is also not recommended because much of the water has past through the root zone by the time sun comes up the next day. Also, allowing water to sit on the lawn while the grass isn't active overnight may make your lawn a desirable host for disease.
How Often To Water
Consistency is the key to determining how many days to water. If your lawn is healthy with decent soil, every other day should be sufficient even during hot/dry conditions. However, you may find that you can't seem to maintain a proper moisture level at every other day. Some soils are simply too sandy to hold the water at a proper level and need to be "topped off" more often (every day). This can also apply to a newer lawn that hasn't matured it's root zone yet. If you water each day, expect to water for shorter periods than you would on a every other day routine. Either way, with a little attention you can have a beautiful lawn while managing your watering successfully and responsibly.
*these estimates are based on typical Mid-Michigan climatic conditions.
Please keep in mind that all municipalities have unique rate schedules. Many have various surcharges and fees that are applied to accounts for many different scenarios. Some have flat rate fees added to your total. Some have a different rate applied for use past a certain amount. It seems no two are the same, so check your bill/rate carefully. You may have to do a little extra math to get an accurate total, but this calculator will give you the difficult part, or at least an idea of what you should be spending.
Potential Evapotranspiration Rates
This table clearly illustrates the different watering requirements needed for different weather conditions. A properly set schedule for springtime obviously can't keep up with the demands of summer, thus resulting in brown areas due to lack of water. While faulty design can be blamed (spacing too wide), scheduling is usually the culprit. Keep in mind, a system should be designed to maintain a moisture level in your lawn evenly, not simply getting the lawn wet.
For example; watering a hypothetical area for say, 15 minutes a day, during cool weather (like in spring) would never be able to maintain a moisture level with conditions being hot (like in summer). The water would be evaporated before it had a chance to perk into the root zone where it can be used. During times of high stress, grass uses more water to stay healthy. Therefore, it is necessary to simply water more to overcome the high rate of evapotranspiration. Using the table, we should at least double the time for the hot conditions to 30 minutes for our area.
This is also the reason we advocate an early morning watering start time. It avoids the high evaporation loss found in the day time, it also gives the water time to perk into the soil, out of reach of the sun and putting it at root level where it can be used by the plant.
Rate per Day
|Cool||under 70º||.04" to .06"|
|Warm||70º to 80º||.08" to .10"|
|Hot||80º to 90º||.10" to .15"|
|Very Hot||over 90º||.15" to .30"|
The use of water by plants can be estimated by calculating what is known as potential evapotranspiration (pET). This is the possible loss of water (or use) through evaporation and transpiration. Transpiration is the movement of water through a plant from the soil into the roots, up the stem, and out through the leaves. Simple calculations of pET can be based on sun, wind, temperature, and humidity.
True water use varies depending upon many other factors. When calculated daily, the accuracy of estimates will change from day to day. However, these will usually average out over a week to ten days, and the sum over that period may be quite accurate. Persons using pET to estimate water use and schedule irrigation also must adjust pET values based on their experience with their own specific conditions, especially including soil type.
Sky Conditions (sunlight):
The value of daily solar radiation is dependent on day length, angle of the sun from the horizon throughout the day, and the amount of clouds the sunlight must penetrate. To estimate sunlight, select cloud cover and time of year. The calculator will automatically calculate the solar radiation value.
Remember, this must be an average daily temperature. At least it should be an average of the maximum and minimum for the day.
Average Relative Humidity:
Enter the average daily relative humidity or have the calculator find the relative humidity from the dew point. A rough approximation of dew point is the minimum overnight temperature.
Average Wind Speed:
Once again, this is the average wind speed. We often think of the gustier winds as being average because they are most noticeable, but they are not average. Also this is a daily average, wind conditions vary through the day.
(inches per hour)
Use this table to determine how much water your soil type can handle before saturation/run-off occurs. As a point of reference, notice the large difference between sandy and clay soils, these factors will help to guide you as to your watering technique.
Keep in mind that this table also reflects each soil's ability to retain water as well. For example, sandy soils don't retain water very well, thus the higher number until saturation. You may decide that you need to water a sandy area more frequently. At the other end of the spectrum, clay soils retain water very well and it takes much less to saturate a given area. It also takes longer to dry out. Because clay is more dense it takes longer for water to be absorbed, or to perk into the soil, thus it holds water better or longer.
As the slope increases, the relevancy of the soil decreases because gravity allows the water to run off (or down) before it has a chance to soak into the ground. Based on your conditions, you can begin to decide how much time to water a particular area.
|Soil Type||0% to 5% Slope||5% to 8% Slope||8% to 12% Slope||12%+
|Course sandy soils||2.00"||2.00"||2.00"||1.50"||1.50"||1.00"||1.00"||.50"|
|Course sandy soils over compact subsoils||1.75"||1.50"||1.25"||1.00"||1.00"||.75"||.75"||.40"|
|Light sandy/loam soils||1.75"||1.00"||1.25"||.80"||1.00"||.60"||.75"||.40"|
|Light sandy/loam soils over compacted subsoils||1.25"||.75"||1.00"||.50"||.75"||.40"||.50"||.30"|
|Silt/loam soils over compacted subsoils||.60"||.30"||.50"||.25"||.40"||.15"||.30"||.10"|
|Heavy clay or clay/loam soil||.20"||.15"||.15"||.10"||.12"||.08"||.10"||.06"|
There are many weed control agents on the market today that can take care of just about any undesirables you may have. However, if your weed problem isn't out of control, try this. Purchase a weed and feed fertilizer, fill a container (1/2 gallon will do) with it. Then, next time you mow, take your container along; when you run across a weed, sprinkler some of your weed and feed on it! Also, it's important to note that nothing keeps weeds out of your yard like a healthy lawn. Once you reclaim your lawn with the help of chemicals, you'll find that a consistent regimen of fertilizer and water will be enough to be weed-free.
This is #1 question asked of us each year! Unfortunately there is no simple answer. First, a little info on the mole. The vertical hole they dig is the nest and horizontal tunnels or runs are their feeding routes. They like all types of worms and grubs. Mom and Dad moles will bring about 15 to 20 offspring a year. That is why they become increasingly troublesome each year. We know that moles are after the grubs and bugs in your lawn, but if you eliminate all of them, your lawn will suffer. Besides, the bugs will return. Even if you simply reduce the number of pests, this doesn't mean the mole will leave. Traps will work somewhat as do many of the tricks passed from neighbor to neighbor. It doesn't seem any one solution works for everyone. Among these home remedies are chewing gum in the tunnels, "flood 'n hunt", and "the martini method". This method involves a pitcher of adult beverage, a lawn chair and a steak knife. Take an afternoon, set up camp and watch for the ground to move... eventually it will. If nothing else you'll sleep well and believe you accomplished something! Seriously, a new product is now available that has received good reviews from several of our customers. Look for a castor-oil based mole repellent (Scoot-Mole is one brand) that is sprayed through a hose applicator over the entire lawn.
The following home-brew version has been used successfully by hundreds of homeowners in the Midwest. This potion will not kill the mole, but they do not like to tunnel in soil treated with the formula. Now, the formula. In your blender, whip 3 oz. of castor oil and 3 tablespoons liquid detergent. Blend till frothy. Add 8 tablespoons of water and blend again till frothy. Using a 15 gal. Ortho hose end sprayer, put 15 tablespoons of castor oil mix in jar. Fill remainder of jar with water. Attach sprayer to your hose and spray castor oil solution to the entire lawn and garden area. Apply while walking at a slow pace. After you've finished spraying, start your system and water the solution into the soil (about 20 min. to an area). Repeat when you observe new mole activity. One to two applications per year are average. Spring is the best time to apply as the ground is usually soft. Then, you better warn your neighbors they will be the benefactors of your moles. ...happy hunting!
Which is better seed or sod? The answer depends upon what you would like and expect. With sod you'll get an instant lawn. However, it is more expensive to install and maintain (water costs) at first. Sod is also made up mostly of bluegrass which gives it that deep green color, but it tends to be a little less drought resistant. Seeded lawns call for more patience. Most seed is a combination of fescue (which tends to be more pale in color), bluegrass, and rye. The rye dies off after the first year. Rye grows quickly and helps to establish a seed bed for the other two varieties. Because of the fescue, seeded lawns tend not to have the deep green color of sod, however after a year or so of good care, few people can tell the difference. Keep in mind, even sod was seed at one time! The truth is both types will flourish if you maintain and water them correctly. It really comes down to 2 factors; speed and expense.
If you have irrigation we usually recommend against using straw on a new lawn. Straw serves 2 purposes. 1. To retain moisture 2. Preventing wash-out or erosion. If you have a system you have moisture on demand. It still may be a good idea to use straw on uneven or sloping contours to prevent erosion. Straw can prevent needed sunlight from reaching new seedlings, therefore inhibiting growth.
At first, water your new seed 2 or 3 times daily during the daylight hours for brief periods. The idea is to keep the soil moist (not wet) to encourage germination.
A week or two after initial germination (which should take about a week with good conditions) change the watering regimen to encourage root growth. Watering once in the early morning for a longer period.
During this initial period, avoid walking on the yard.
After about a month, your new lawn may be ready to mow for the first time. You'll have to judge this based on it's growth. Make sure it is fairly dry so as to not make ruts or damage the grade. Set the mower to around 3".
Don't be discouraged if there are patches of bare soil here and there, this is normal.
Once you've mowed the grass for the first time, re-seed any areas that have been washed out or haven't come in.
It is highly recommended to fertilize the new lawn at this point. The lawn is in a state of transition and will benefit greatly from the boost. Use 12-12-12 for this application.
Within the next month you'll see your new lawn look more and more established, but be patient. It takes a full season of growth to truly establish a seeded lawn.
An irrigation system is a very good idea if you are going to sod your new lawn. Establishing new sod is very water intensive.
Sod needs to be watered as soon as it's installed. This first watering should completely saturate the turf and the soil below. You must insure that the sod doesn't dry out. Avoid walking on the yard for the first few weeks.
After the initial soak, you should begin watering 2 to 3 times during the daylight hours for moderate to heavy periods (rotors: 20 to 30 minutes/zone, sprays: 10 to 15 minutes/zone).
Approx. a week after installation, lift up a corner of the sod. You should see small white roots protruding from the underside of the sod. Over the next weeks these will begin to attach the sod to the soil. Maintain your watering program.
Keep checking the sod in this way (different places) until it begins to feel like "Velcro" when you lift it. There should be many roots visible at a length of 1/2" to 1" long. When you observe these conditions, it is time to reduce your watering to one early morning cycle at 40% of your total during the 3 times a day regimen (i.e. 3 x 30min. = 90min. 40% of this total which is 36min. once a day).
If the weather is hot and dry, a syringe cycle is recommended to cool the grass and prevent stress. If the lawn begins to turn a silvery/gray color, simply run a complete cycle manually.
The initial process should take 2 to 3 weeks, at this point you are ready for your first mow. If the yard still feels wet, reduce the time or stop watering for 1 day so you don't make ruts.
Do not wait too long to mow for the first time. This is a common mistake. If the lawn looks like it needs to be mowed, trust your instinct and mow it.
Try to anticipate when you should reduce the water in preparation for the first cutting. If you are not aggressive and wait too long, the grass will become too long, preventing moisture from escaping the thatch layer. Then it becomes very difficult to dry the lawn out without damaging it.
With sod you should fertilize 1 month after installation with 12-12-12, you want to maintain the fertilization that the sod came with from the sod farm.
You should try to mow your lawn at a height of around 3". Remember that grass is a plant. It has three parts; 1.roots 2.stalk 3. leaf. If you cut it to short, you'll be left with mostly stalk. It's important to leave enough leaf, otherwise the grass will be spending resources constantly trying to re-generate itself to it's natural state. A healthy leaf is important because this is the mechanism by which the plant photosynthesizes. Cutting too short will cause your lawn to be in constant state of stress, therefore jeopardizing it's long-term health. The lawn may look fine when the weather cooperates, but if it gets hot and dry you'll find the lawn goes into stress very quickly.
If you have a tendency to cut your lawn on the long side you can risk an overactive thatch layer. Every lawn has a thatch layer. It's the transition zone between the exposed plant and the roots. This provides the necessary function of converting spent grass material into a form of food that the roots can use. Sun and oxygen are needed to maintain a proper balance. If the grass is too long preventing these elements from reaching the layer, it can become host for disease.
Keep Your Blade Sharp
A dull lawn mower blade can cause an otherwise healthy lawn to look brown or patchy by "beating" the end off of the blade. The collective result is a brown fuzzy color. A shape blade will make a nice clean cut with little trauma. Pick a grass blade, if it looks like it has "split ends", it's time to sharpen. This tends to be more of a problem with some mowing services, since they cut so many lawns their blades dull more rapidly. If you mow your own lawn sharpen your blade every 8 to 10 times you mow, or once a month.
If you don't have a mulching mower, you should get one! Mulching is easier, better for the lawn and is a free source of fertilizer. Those clippings still have usable nutrients and if they are finely chopped they can re-enter the cycle through the thatch layer. If you remove your clippings you may be reducing the ability of your thatch layer as well. However, if your lawn gets too long, it is acceptable to remove the clippings.
Common names for this group of "Lawn Patch Diseases" are: Necrotic Ring Spot, Summer Patch, Frog-eye, Fusarium Blight. Patch diseases are most commonly seen Kentucky bluegrass lawns, almost always with more than 1/2 inch of thatch.
There are a number of fungus diseases that affect turf grasses grown in our area. Most are more cosmetic nuisances than lawn killers, though there are a few that can devastate a lawn in short order if left unchecked. There are complex interrelating factors involved that can lead to the emergence of disease. Some of them are grass type, soil type, soil fertility level, soil acidity level, soil moisture levels, humidity, soil and air temperature levels, amount of thatch, mowing habits, and other factors as well. In general, fungus diseases are symptoms of some underlying problem. The fungi that cause lawn diseases are normally present in most lawns, but disease occurs only when environmental factors favor growth of the fungus and increase the susceptibility of the grass host.
In order to manage diseases in home lawns, it is important to understand the interaction among the fungus, the grass host, and the environment. How you manage your lawn affects the overall health of your lawn, which influences its resistance or susceptibility to lawn diseases. With rising temperatures and occasional dry spells, the first signs of patch diseases will start to surface in turf. Symptoms include circles, crescents, or streaks of brown turf and the most characteristic symptom is called a frog-eye which is a circle of dead turf with a live center of a tolerant grass. Patch diseases infect plants during the wet weather of late spring and fall, interfering with the plants ability to take up water. As the weather dries, infected plants turn brown and die rapidly.
Unfortunately, by the time damage from these diseases is visible, it is too late for successful control. The best you can do is reduce further immediate damage through cultural practices. Mow frequently and at least 3 inches high. Since root systems are damaged, irrigate frequently to prevent water stress. But at the same time, too much or too frequent irrigation will saturate the soil and may cause root rot and infection by other diseases. Long term control measures include mowing high and frequently, reducing excess thatch, watering deep and infrequently to promote deep rooting and stay with a balanced fertilizing regimen. Aeration may be a smart course of action as well, if compacted soil is in the picture. Over seeding can be attempted anytime, but will be most successful in the spring and fall.
Contact a professional lawn care applicator if fungicidal controls are desired, but remember these need to be applied in the late spring and are ineffective if applied after symptoms surface and will become less effective if applied too often.
In the field we have found that compacted lawns with a tendency towards acid soil seem to be most susceptible. In these conditions, the common factor which seems to trigger patch diseases is the presence of heavy moisture in the upper root zone and thatch layer during times of higher soil temperatures. These is why we strongly discourage an "afternoon only" watering regimen (a brief, non-saturating "syringe cycle" is still a good idea in times of high heat stress to cool the grass). Watering in early morning is suggested, however, over watering even at this time will produce the same results. Be conservative. Hang in there, and stay the course with a consistent fertilizing and watering regimen and the rest will begin to fall into place!
You can do this yourself with very little in time and money, or you can contract a service, either way follow these guidelines for success. First, make sure you use a granular product rather than a liquid based one. There are many advantages to granular; slow release, even distribution, and in the event of rain, retention. All you need to get started is a simple spreader. Stick with a broadcast ("whirly-bird") type versus a drop spreader. Drop spreaders don't distribute as well, and you may get areas (especially when turning) that receive too much, causing burns.
Brands don't matter in this case, your looking for balance. A generic fertilizer will serve you just as well as a name brand. Look for these numbers in the analysis, preferably 16-16-16 or 12-12-12. These number correspond to nutrients. The first number tells the amount of nitrogen, followed by potassium and phosphorus. You can get a 50# generic bag for under 10$. If you choose, there are "weed and feed" fertilizers available to help control weeds .However these generally aren't as balanced (28-3-3 for example). If you are looking for a deep green color, an application of 90-0-0 works great as a supplement, but be especially careful with high nitrogen products (90-0-0 for example) as they can severely burn your lawn if not applied correctly. Nitrogen invigorates blade growth, so count on mowing allot more, if you go this route.
When should I fertilize?
Set up an base annual program of 3 times a year; Spring, summer, and fall. Each application consisting of the balanced type fertilizer. You still may want to supplement this regimen with different selections (weed and feed or 90-0-0) or more applications, but don't over do it. The fall application is the one most homeowners neglect, yet it is probably most important. It gives your lawn the continuing nutrients through the slower growth of fall and a running start into spring.
Nearly always neglected, soil ph or acidity, is an important aspect to maintaining healthy turf in fescue and bluegrass lawns. Unfortunately, while research indicates acidity is an important factor, extended studies do not exist. Most of the information out there concerns sports turf and golf courses. Residential lawns generally do not benefit from the careful construction and management of the professional turf environment. Therefore, we end up with lawns grown with consideration to seed, water and fertilizer only. Little attention is devoted to soil composition. Most times it is little more than an afterthought as the basement excavation is distributed onto the rest of the lot. That is not to say that simply introducing topsoil is the answer either.
Applying a layer of topsoil over construction compacted overburden can actually be a formula for a less healthy lawn, as the root structure can be restrained to the layer of topsoil only. Tilling or disking topsoil into the local soil is the best practice. It's is a misnomer that the 'darker' and 'richer' the topsoil, the better. These selections are often the source of high acidity. This is in defiance of convention and popular belief, but in the long run, the more 'peaty' the soil, the less healthy the lawn. While the initial germination and growth of the turf can inspire hope, it is likely the long term success will provide failure. Most likely the new plant is benefiting from the aeration of the soil, not the perceived nutrients. It's best not to count on the soil for nutrients. A better control strategy is to introduce nutrients in the form of fertilizing. New soil itself, should be non-compacted (loose and aerated to a depth of 3 to 4 inches) and 'neutral' in ph. Period.
The tendency of local soils tend to be acidic. Sandy and silty soils tend to alkaline (high ph, less acidic) in which case, need to amended to more acidic. Sulfur is generally used to achieve this. Performance wise, turf seems to suffer less from too alkaline soils than it does from too acidic. For one, fungals (which comprise most lawn diseases) tend to prosper in high acid environments. While turf will not absorb fertilizer and water as efficiently with alkaline soils, the negative results are more dramatic with acidic soil. Therefore, if the ph is undetermined and factors exist to imply acidity, it is advised to address the situation as acidic, as that is the least harmful course and most likely benefit. Where testing is concerned, ph can vary greatly from one area to another within the confines of a residential lawn. Also, testing practices from labs can provide results that conflict with evidence and observation. If lab results provide a different expectation than observation, unless results show alkaline, it is recommended to treat the situation as acidic despite the result. Results returned from a lab are only as good as the sample. Just as ph can vary from area to area, it can vary based on strata as well. A sample taken form the surface may differ from a 1" or 2" core taken from the same spot producing a inaccurate assessment. Which is more relevant, a surface sample or core sample? Is acidity more compelling at the thatch layer (surface) or the root zone? There is no solid evidence one way or the other. Because there is so little research as to the subject, there may be additional benefits to the application of neutralizing agents (such as pelletized lime) that are as of yet undiscovered. Among these could be increased surface tension within the plant and/or possible chemical oxygenation of the soil through chemical reaction.
Moss is a positive indicator of a low ph environment. If moss is observed in sunny conditions, a low ph is most likely the contributing factor. This also applies to shady conditions as well. Shady conditions are usually accompanied by factors that increase acidity; decaying leaves and plant fruits like acorns, walnuts. Some tree species actually acidify the soil via their root systems via a process called "auto-toxicification", even this can combated by applying a neutralizing agent such as lime.
Dethatching involves the removal of the matted layer of dead and decaying plant material between growing grass and the soil. Thatch is a necessary element in the cycle of a lawn, however, too much thatch is not good. If left untreated, thatch can develop into a nearly impenetrable disease-harboring mat between grass and the soil. With a balanced fertilization and watering regimen the thatch layer will remain under control. If there is an over-abundance of thatch noticed, it should be removed. Products containing natural enzymes and micronutrients can be added to the soil to aid in the natural breakdown of thatch materials. If you should decide to remove thatch with a rake or a machine, BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL! Machines can damage a lawn beyond repair and use of such devices are highly discouraged.
Lawn aeration involves the removal of hundreds of small soil "plugs" from a lawn. A machine extracts cores of soil roughly 1/2" in iameter by 1" to 3" long as it is driven or pushed over the turf. The holes poked into the turf provide a direct path for air, water, and nutrients to reach the grass roots. These soil plugs, which can be raked over the surface of the turf, will break down, thus accelerating thatch decomposition and the return of nutrients to the soil. Aerating helps to insure that air and water get down to the root zone. It is especially helpful during extremely dry and extremely wet conditions. For example, during periods of heavy rainfall, aerating allows air to penetrate deeply into the soil to disperse excess moisture. Aerating also helps to reduce thatch. The extracted soil cores contain microorganisms that "feed" on dead and decaying plant material (thatch). When the microorganisms come in direct contact with the thatch layer, they break it down, releasing valuable nutrients back into the soil. In our area dense, compacted, clay soils are common. These soils slowly reduce the amount of oxygen contained in the soil, thus retarding the penetration of both water and nutrients. The net result is off-color, thinning lawns that show stress in high temperatures, yet show no signs of insect or disease damage. However, beware of companies offering aeration services if you do not have the previously mentioned conditions. These services are often over-sold. That's not to say that if these conditions exist in isolated places in a lawn, they shouldn't be addressed, they should. However, in this case, only the affected areas should be aerated, not the entire lawn. Fall and spring are the best times to aerate. Aerating in the fall just prior to fertilizing helps insure that the fertilizer reaches deep down into the grass roots where needed.