We often spend time trying to figure out ways to keep critters out of our yards. Not all critters are bad, however, and landscaping for some of them can be beneficial. Take the birds and bees, for instance. In recent years, pollinator gardens have risen in popularity; for good reason. Pollinators, such as hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, moths, and beetles are a tremendous part of the ecosystem—contributing to the food chain of about 1/3 of the food we eat. Through contemporary development and agriculture practices around the world, though, these animals are losing their primary food sources.
Pollinator gardens help to replenish some of that food source and make your landscaping a more robust and colorful environment at the same time. When planning a pollinator garden, here are key factors to keep in mind.
Caring for Pollinator Gardens
Choosing the plants/flowers and getting them in the ground is just the first step. Once completed, you’ll need to shift your focus to maintenance. We mentioned native plants a moment ago. While they will attract native pollinators, they will also require less maintenance that most other plants. That said, your entire garden will still require care.
Share Your Pollinator Garden
When your pollinator garden is all set up, consider registering it with the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, where you can also find other resources on pollinator gardens. Also, if you are thinking about installing a pollinator garden or any other landscaping, feel free to call E.P.M. of Michigan at (517) 990-0110 or contact us online.
Sure, it might just look like dirt, but your soil is actually a complex blend of air, water, minerals, and organic matter (both living and dead). It’s in this way that soil creates a growing opportunity for your lawn, plants, shrubs, and trees. If you can improve your soil quality, you can, by extension, improve the overall health of your lawn, plants, etc.
Why a Soil Test is Important
Some of you may remember the discussion of potential Hydrogen (pH) from your high school chemistry class. In short, pH is the measure of how acidic or alkaline something is. The pH of your soil is measured on a scale ranging from 1 to 14, with a number below 7 being considered acidic. A number above 7 is alkaline. A 7.0 is considered neutral. By and large, plants thrive in soil that registers a pH score between 6.2 and 7.2. There are, naturally, some exceptions. Azaleas, for example, grow best in soil that is a little more acidic than the norm.
Determining the pH level of your soil is just one function of a soil test. A good soil test can also show you which other elements (e.g., nutrients) are in short supply and how much to you need to replace to create a better growing environment. You can find simple soil tests at many local home improvement stores. These do an adequate job of analyzing the pH and general nutrient levels of your soil. Beyond that, you can also find testing meters that will measure your pH and other factors, like light exposure and moisture.
You can also take a soil sample to your local co-op extension office to have pH and nutrient levels tested. Depending upon where you live, there can be various fees for this service, so call ahead. Because this type of test is more in-depth than a home testing kit, it can take several weeks to get your results. In addition to very detailed results, this type of soil test will also offer amendments to address your particular area.
Testing Your Soil
There can be variation from test to test, so you’ll want to refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for your particular home-testing solution. That said, most function in very similar ways. A soil test kit comes with vials and tablets for the actual soil testing. It also comes with a handy chart to help you make sense of your test results. If you opt for a test meter, you will just stick the probe in the ground and read the results.
If you are preparing a soil sample to be tested elsewhere, the process is a little different. You will need a trowel, a clean bucket, and a plastic container. Note: It must be a plastic container, as a metal container could influence the test results.
Before your collect your sample, make sure you clean all of the tools you will be using. A clean sample is important. Next, dig five holes, all about 6-8 inches deep. Then, collect a “slice” of soil measuring about 1/2-inch from the side of the hole and put it in your plastic bucket. Keep doing this to get samples from each hole. If you have different parts of your yard where you plan to grow similar plants, you will want to grab samples from each location. After all the soil is collected, mix it all up in the bucket. Lay the mixed soil out on a newspaper to let it dry. Once it is dry, collect about a pint of it as your sample.
It’s important that the soil is dry before you collect it, as a wet sample can lead to a false reading. In fact, it might be a worthwhile endeavor to check your soil several times to ensure consistent readings.
Tip: While you can test your soil at any time, fall and early spring are the preferred times of year, as it allows you time to make soil adjustments before planting.
How to Improve Acidic Soil
Different parts of the country naturally have more acidic soil. These areas include much of the Eastern United States, Alaska, Hawaii, and select parts of the Pacific Northwest. The ill-effects of soil that is too acidic include diseases, weeds, thatch, and compromised effectiveness of herbicides and fertilizers.
To reduce soil acidity, garden lime (limestone) is usually the go-to solution. In addition to balancing the pH levels in acidic soil, garden lime is also rich in magnesium and calcium, both of which are needed for healthy plants. The ideal time to use garden lime is in the fall, but you can use it any time of year… and you may very well have to. Balancing acidic soil is a long-term project. Just applying the garden lime once is not going to be enough.
Note: Pay careful attention to manufacturer’s instructions regarding clothing, protective equipment, safety warnings, and proper application procedures when applying any type of lawn-care product, regardless of how harmless it may seem.
How to Improve Alkaline Soil
Just as acidic soil is prevalent in certain parts of the country, so too is alkaline soil, which is most common in the Central and Southwestern United States. Alkaline soil’s biggest threat to plant growth is in the way it cripples a plant’s ability to absorb nutrients.
To improve the pH balance of alkaline soil, conditioners that are loaded with gypsum or sulfur are the usual prescription. Another option is sphagnum peat moss, which is a naturally-acidic (and organic) choice. That said, sphagnum peat moss can become costly very quickly if you are looking at application to large areas. Yet another option to increase the acidity of the soil is the regular application of organic compost.
Box it Up
Trying to correct the pH balance of an entire yard at once can be large project. One alternative is to use raised flower beds or vegetable gardens. In this manner, you can actually customize the soil pH balance to best match the needs of whichever plants you have in each select bed.
If you are looking for commercial lawn care solutions, trust the professionals at E.P.M. of Michigan. Contact us online or give us a call at (517) 990-0110 today!
You may have heard mention of tall fescue lawns with regards to lawn resiliency. That’s because it is highly-adaptable to most climates because of its cold, heat, shade, and drought tolerance. For this reason, tall fescue makes a great option if you are looking to increase your lawn’s durability and resilience. Some of its characteristics include:
Tall fescue is not native to North America. Originally native to Europe, it was brought to the U.S. in early 19th century. Lawns, as we know them today, weren’t always in fashion. That said, tall fescue was still primarily used for pastures and other agricultural applications until about the 1950s. It was at that time that a specific type of tall fescue, known as Kentucky 31 (also K-31 or KY-31) start seeing use for turf purposes rather than just for pastures.
Since that time, quite a few more types of tall fescue have been developed. These lawn-specific varieties are often referred to as Contemporary tall fescues and include variations, such as: slimmer blades; better cold-, heat-, and drought-tolerance; and, deeper shades of green. All of this together leads to a forgiving lawn that is fairly low-maintenance when compared to other types of turf.
As a cool-season grass, tall fescue thrives in spring and fall. For this reason, it’s a fairly popular in northern locations, such as Michigan. Further, because Michigan is a full-on four season state, tall fescue’s ability to tolerate heat and cold better than many other grasses makes it an ideal choice as a primary grass or as part of a blend.
Tall fescue germinates rapidly when compared to other popular grasses like Kentucky bluegrass. This lends to its varying tolerances. Further, reaching two-to-three feet underground, its root system is strong and more resilient to pests, such as grubs.
With regards to shade tolerance, no grass is more shade-tolerant than tall fescue, except for fine fescue.
Many grasses spread via above- and below-ground stems. These stems are called stolons and rhizomes, respectively. Tall fescue is different in that it is what is called a “bunch-forming” grass. Tall fescue produces short rhizomes; however, there is a very limited capacity for spreading. Rather, tall fescue grows in bunches and spreads via vertical shoots. These shoots, known as “tillers,” generate from the base of the plant instead of the horizontal stems, as you find with many other grasses. Because of this, tall fescue is much easier to keep out of flower beds and other landscaping. On the other hand, it reduces the ability to self repair in cases of damage.
As they are cool season grasses, you’ll want to plant tall fescue in the cooler seasons, such as spring or fall. In addition, if you will be undertaking any significant landscaping tasks that will disrupt a tall fescue lawn, you’ll also want schedule those for spring and fall, as well, to help ensure the grass grows back to its full potential. Another benefit of tall fescue being a bunch-forming grass is that you almost never need to dethatch it. For the same reason, however, tall fescue should be overseeded from time to time to ensure proper density and to avoid the appearance of “clumps.”
Because tall fescue has deep roots, it is able to absorb moisture and nutrients in the soil better than many other grasses. For this reason, you’ll need to water a tall fescue lawn a little differently. You don’t need to water as frequently, but you do need to water more deeply. Soaking the ground will set up the tall fescue’s roots to really do their job. Also, with regards to maintenance, you should set the deck of your mower to two-to-three inches for mowing tall fescue.
Since tall fescue is highly adaptive to a variety of different soil types, many home-owners and businesses are looking to this hardy, resilient grass as a staple of their lawns.
If you are looking for a solution to problem lawns, consider E.P.M.’s commercial lawn services. Call us today at (517) 990-0110 or contact us online.