Annual rites

Since the beginning of civilization, the seasons have been used as life's markers. Spring? Time to plant. Summer? Tend the fields. Fall? Harvest the crops, store food for the winter. It's self-evident that these tasks must follow the seasons. After all, the seasons determine how crops grow.

Grounds care is not unlike these seasonal traditions, and for the same reasons. If you work with turf or ornamentals, seasonal changes dictate what you do. Each season has its unique flavor, defined, in part, by the tasks that you do at the time. Winter usually means repairing equipment, catching up on paperwork, pruning dormant trees or perhaps clearing snow. Springtime might mean planting annuals or applying pre-emergents. Summer almost certainly will mean mowing, and probably irrigating. Fall may mean dealing with leaves.

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But fall also is the time to renovate turf, an annual rite for turf managers in nearly every part of the United States, and the focus of this month's issue. Whether you live in the South or farther north, fall is likely to find you putting down seed.

Growing up in California, I remember well the annual process of overseeding. Most residential lawns in my town were bermudagrass, and many, if not most, were overseeded with annual ryegrass. It was typical to topdress with steer manure after seeding, and the odor, which obviously was not the best, would permeate the air. Strangely enough, I still associate that aroma with Halloween, which coincided with fall renovations. (I also remember angry homeowners chasing trick-or-treaters off their newly planted lawns!)

Aeration is another task that turf managers frequently perform in fall. In fact, many operators combine aeration with overseeding for better establishment. Though not tied quite so tightly to this time of year, agronomists agree that fall is usually the best time to aerate cool-season turf. But aeration can be more complicated than simply pulling cores once a year. There are many possible aerating strategies, and a variety of equipment from which to choose. Several university specialists share their knowledge of aeration in this month's featured article, “Pulling the plug on turf problems,” beginning on page 12.

Another piece of equipment you might get to know well this time of year is the vertical mower, more familiarly known as the verticutter. Often used in conjunction with overseeding, these machines also can be used simply to dethatch turf. Freelancer Gary Burchfield discusses vertical mowers and their uses in “Goin' vertical,” on page 17.

Before you do any serious renovations, it's a good idea to test your soil. Laboratories have soil analysis down to a science, but they can only work with what you give them. That's why it's so important to take proper soil samples. Though not difficult, it's a little more complicated than just shoveling a bit of soil into a bag. Find out why, in this month's “How to: Take a soil sample,” on page 27.

Fall is perhaps the most pleasant time of year to work outdoors. So, although the work load may not seem terribly light just yet, don't forget to take a moment “smell the roses.” Or whatever else may be in the air.

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