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Thatch beyond belief

Posted by weedyg Zone 5 (My Page) on
Thu, Apr 16, 09 at 22:46

I have been a lurker for a few years. I feel Ive learned a great deal, but now it seams I am beyond help. I am in zone 5 south of Kansas city. We had our home built in 2006, the sod was laid in October. I believe the landscaper said the sod was from Minnesota due to local shortages. It was laid in a very wet and muddy condition. We also have an irrigation system with 6 Zones. Early in 2007 I began a Tru-green treatment (6 applications) for an entire year. That year I watered way to much, several times a week, for short durations. The grass was the greenest in our neighborhood!


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I know now, that I was far from doing the right thing. I should have watered deep ounce a week. I should not have been doing the Tru-green. As a result my yard is thick and brown. It feels like a crunchy carpet. The Thatch is so thick I have to rip the "yard rug" up to see the soil. I really have not seen it this bad on this site.


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Mid spring 2008 I realized what I had done. I began reading this website as well as researching my problem. I went cold turkey on the chemical treatment. I used two applications of soybean meal that year. Things were really never as green. The yard was so thick with thatch I couldnt see any soil. I used a rental aerator and made several passes. The plugs were 70% thatch and 30% soil, not cool. I tried a dethatcher as well. It almost rolled the sod back up. Mind you, it has been two years since the sod was laid, and the roots are weak and no deeper than the thatch. I reseeded the spots where the sod totally came up.


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My yard is the last in the neighborhood to green up. I cut the lawn short.I put down a treatment of soybean meal last week. The truth is, I dont know hom much of the grain even penetrated the grass to the soil. Its that bad. Below ive pulled up some of the grass to see the soil.


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What should I expect? I am at a loss. I hope the grass comes up. Although it seems it will be choked out like the weeds.

This is all I can think of. I hope I didnt miss anything. Any thoughts, comments or suggestions are appreciated. Thanks

Brandon


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Thatch beyond belief

I'm thinking deep, infrequent watering and weekly organic sprays. Have you tried compost tea, seaweed, or molasses?


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RE: Thatch beyond belief

It may still be dormant from the cold weather. You've got at least some green throughout the lawn and it's probably KBG, so once it starts to grow, if there are bare spots, the surrounding grass will fill them in.

It looks like the grass is really short. It will be healthier if you mow it tall. I keep my mower deck at the highest setting unless I'm scalping to overseed.

A certain amount of thatch can be good, but if it's more than 1/2 inch thick, it can be a problem. You can do one of two things to get rid of thick thatch. You can either dethatch it with a dethatching rake or you can core aerate the lawn. If you dethatch, you remove all the thatch completely. If you core aerate, you basically punch through it and give it a chance to decompose. I prefer the core aeration because my soil is so low in organic matter that I hate the idea of removing any organic matter.

The key to getting a lawn to green up earlier is to get the grass to have deep healthy roots. You already know that you need to water less often and you're working on the thatch. The next step is to make sure it goes into winter with plenty of fertilizer. With a synthetic program, that would entail hitting it with fast release nitrogen after the top growth stops. With an organic program, it just means making sure you give it plenty of food (SBM, UCG, etc) from the time the summer heat breaks until it gets too cold for the soil microbes to be active.

I've used both approaches and my lawn usually stays green all winter. It's a little trickier with organics, but it can be done.


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RE: Thatch beyond belief

You are dealing with a very common issue with sod; mostly kentucky blue grass sod. I always say that you should take a picture on the day the landscaper finishes the job because it will never look that good again. Thatch becomes a major problem, which makes watering difficult and becomes a safe haven for chinch bugs, sod web worm and bill bugs. Many times the lawn experiences drought stress quickly (early signs in your first pic) and you start to water like crazy, usually using incorrect methods. Watering incorrectly creates plenty of disease problems, especially when you water at night in the humidity, which makes the lawn look more drought stressed so you water more. Along comes the Trugreen guy who is working really hard for you but not particularly knowledgeable in proper turf care and he cranks up his rate of fertilizer thinking it will help and the nitrogen makes things worse. (Really bad if you are dealing with a summer patch disease.) A massive cycle of bad things goes on and on and on and on.

Get back to basics. Don't water unless your lawn needs it. Water deeply and infrequently. Aerate twice a year....do not Dethatch mechanically. Begin using organic methods and products to drastically improve your soil. Many organic soil conditioners will begin to break down the thatch layer turning the thatch into usable nutrients. Soil test for pH levels.

The only way you will get that sleeping bluegrass to jump out of dormancy immediately is to blast it with nitrogen and that will help for the month of April but begin the vicious cycle of chemical addiction that will only complicate things for the rest of the year. Be patient and adjust your expectations.....your not in an easy situation.

Here is a link that might be useful: Organic Lawns for America


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RE: Thatch beyond belief

That looks like a truly beautiful lawn. It hasnt come out of winter dormancy yet. Looks like fine Kentucky Bluegrass. KBG is a little slower to green up in the Spring than Fescue, Rye grasses, and mixtures of KBG/rye/fescue. A little slower perhaps but by June 1 you will have a much nicer lawn than your neighbors do. By the looks of the pictures, your grass is way too short. This spring, start cutting at 2 inches and move the deck up to 4 inches in inch increments. That lawn soil is screaming out for organic material. Do use organic fertilizers five or six times a year for the best looking lawn. I see no trees in your pictures. Is there any way you could mulch mow autumn leaves into your lawn this fall? Could you spread a thin layer of screened compost on problem areas of your lawn? Could you spray some compost tea on the lawn after you feed it organically. Feed your lawn organically and the micro heard will eat what you feed it and the excess thatch as well. Again, increase the OM in the lawns soil. The worms will arrive and areate your lawn for you.
Bill Hill

Here is a link that might be useful: Organic lawncare FAQ


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RE: Thatch beyond belief

Going along with what DCHALL and BillHill are saying, get down some compost tea and then a week later hit it with a molasses treatment immediately after you do the deep watering. Do that every 5 weeks until you have done it four times, then do it every 8 weeks after that. The sugars in the molasses will make the microbes go nuts on the thatch.


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RE: Thatch beyond belief

Thanks for everyones replies. I mulch mowed the first time this year at a low setting. I thought this was what was suggested for the first cut of the year. I normally mow at the highest setting. From what I have gathered, I guess I need patience. It is just that I caused all of this in one season, I had hoped to reverse it all that quick. I tried the thatch rake, not only is it a pain in the back, but, If I am not carefull I will roll up the grass because of the weak root system. I will core aerate again twice this year as suggested. I am guessing once in the spring and once in the fall.
1. Do I wait until the yard is growing to Aerate?
2. Do I need to overseed after I do this?

I am going to do the tea and molasses as suggested.

3. Do I need to time the tea brewing to when I spray it? do I brew one day and prepare to spray it the next?
4. Where is the molasses purchased?
5. How is it spread?

I have a very helpful local lawn store nearby. I can buy some seed to fill in the bare spots from last years dethatching.
6. What type of seed is suggested for my zone and situation?

I plan to just be patient and do the above suggested applications.

Thanks again

Here is a link that might be useful: GrassPad


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RE: Thatch beyond belief

Thanks for everyones replies. I mulch mowed the first time this year at a low setting. I thought this was what was suggested for the first cut of the year. I normally mow at the highest setting. From what I have gathered, I guess I need patience. It is just that I caused all of this in one season, I had hoped to reverse it all that quick. I tried the thatch rake, not only is it a pain in the back, but, If I am not carefull I will roll up the grass because of the weak root system. I will core aerate again twice this year as suggested. I am guessing once in the spring and once in the fall.
1. Do I wait until the yard is growing to Aerate?
2. Do I need to overseed after I do this?

I am going to do the tea and molasses as suggested.

3. Do I need to time the tea brewing to when I spray it? do I brew one day and prepare to spray it the next?
4. Where is the molasses purchased?
5. How is it spread?

I have a very helpful local lawn store nearby. I can buy some seed to fill in the bare spots from last years dethatching.
6. What type of seed is suggested for my zone and situation?

I plan to just be patient and do the above suggested applications.

Thanks again ,
Brandon

A link to my local lawn store.

Here is a link that might be useful: GrassPad


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RE: Thatch beyond belief

About the molasses...

I use 2-3 oz of molasses per 1000 sq ft. You may be able to get horticultural grade molasses cheaper, but good ol' "Grandma's Molasses" from the grocery store is fine, although more expensive. I put the molasses and some hot water into a hose-end sprayer and go to town with it - the amount of dilution isn't all that important when you spray it as long as you get the entire 1000 sq ft. You'll be an expert by the end of the summer!

Compost tea does require a few items and a little planning. You'll need an aquarium air pump and a "bubble stone" to keep it aerobic, and you'll have to keep it aerobic (leave the air pump on the remainder while you're applying some). A bit of molasses in the compost tea maker will charge the microbes up but they'll eat it all if you wait too long. Look on this site or just google "compost tea maker" for more details.


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RE: Thatch beyond belief

  • Posted by rdak z5MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Apr 26, 09 at 10:11

There's no doubt that your lawn is in desperate need of orgainc matter IMHO.

You're doing good with the soybean meal, just give it time. But you need to do more IMHO.

In autumn, gather as many bags of curbside leaves and mulch mow them into your lawn each and every year. Just when you think that your lawn can't take anymore mulched leaves DO IT SOMEMORE!! LOL.

If you have the energy, buy some compost in bulk and rake in about 1/4 inch over the lawn and sprinkle in. (Same for spreading those large bales of Canadian peat lightly over the lawn.) You can do the compost or Canadian peat addition right now or anytime during the season before the ground freezes.

I use molasses alot and make compost tea a couple times a year for the lawn. Not sure it is even necessary any longer because I've built up alot of organic matter but it's fun for me to use that stuff in a sprayer.

If your neighbors put their grass clippings out for curbside pick up - STEAL them!! Spread them out over your lawn and mulch mow them in as often as you can. (This is where the molasses spray will help with healthy decomposition IMHO.)

My lawn was just like yours 22 years ago when we built our home. It ain't like that anymore!! It just takes time and diligence on your part. Plus, you'll find it is alot of fun to improve the lawn.

It will take time but you will get there. Good luck!!


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RE: Thatch beyond belief

Getting back to the cause of the issue, it was the frequent watering. That is necessary for thatch and usually results in shallow roots. With St Augustine I have seen the roots growing in the thatch instead of in the soil.


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RE: Thatch beyond belief

  • Posted by rdak z5MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Apr 27, 09 at 7:09

Dave: I think the MSU extension disagrees with you on the watering being the problem.

http://web1.msue.msu.edu/imp/modzz/00001565.html

It's the compaction, which can be alleviated by adding large amounts of organic matter and by core aeration.


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RE: Thatch beyond belief

rdak that's hilarious. In the first paragraph they say that too much water is part of the problem. In the third paragraph they claim the solution is to water for 20 minutes every day.

I disagree with several parts of the MSU suggestions. Core aerating might have some benefit if you water heavily and apply compost at the same time.

Top dressing with soil must be something that's done in certain regions like burning off the lawn in Iowa. The rest of the world top dresses with organic material to avoid getting the build up of soil that sometimes towers 8 inches above the surrounding concrete sidewalks (I have pictures).

The power rake should work if the grass has established roots in the soil. The OP has already tried raking and pulled up the turf so that's not an option.

The MSU site does not mention compaction. I would not think compaction would be an issue under a lot of thatch because the thatch would act like a mulch on top of the soil.


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RE: Thatch beyond belief

  • Posted by rdak z5MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Apr 28, 09 at 12:00

Here's another advice memo from MSU extension service that talks about compaction, core aerating, etc.

I just use organic matter to mainly keep thatch under control but apparently MSU doesn't think my way is the best?

I've got one of those hand held aerators I use on the dog paths but have never aerated my lawn and I have no thatch to speak of. So, for me, topdressing with organics, mulching leaves, etc., works.

http://web1.msue.msu.edu/msue/iac/greentip/gt1144.pdf


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RE: Thatch beyond belief

I like that link a lot better. It hits the highlights well. I might have put the emphasis in different places.

Hard soil should not be so impervious that roots cannot penetrate. There are other issues there. However, the core aeration should alleviate them if you follow up with puh-LENTY of deep watering. The idea is to get the roots back down into the soil. That is done with deep watering, not daily watering.


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