CHEMICAL HOTLINE: Getting it right

Billy Styles started his lawn and ornamental care company 12 years ago to “correct some of the misunderstandings” the public has about turfgrass management. A fifth-generation farmer in west central North Carolina, Styles has an in-depth understanding of soil structure and fertilization.

“Often, when people put lime on their yards, they are actually damaging the turf, not correcting the pH,” says Styles, founder of Secure Turf Inc., in Indian Trail, N.C., just outside Charlotte. “There are two types of lime — dolomitic and calcitic. While many people purchase and apply dolomitic lime to their yards, it isn't the right type of lime for this region of the country. We use calcitic lime to bring down the levels of calcium and manganese, which are tremendously high in this area.”

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A certified master gardener and state-certified, licensed applicator, Styles also holds patents on several irrigation systems. “I apply applied science to turf,” says Styles. “There is no guesswork in what I do.”

With primarily residential and small-business customers, Secure Turf Inc. covers a 60-mile radius of Charlotte. The company offers a variety of services, starting with the traditional six-application program and moving up to the enhanced conditioning program (ECP), which allows Secure Turf to make three additional treatments as needed throughout the season.

Other programs include: Fire Ant Prevention, Tree-Injection, Bluegrass Prevention and Multiple Fungus Control. The top-of-the-line program is the We Care Program, which provides an additional visit free of charge. “Our technician goes through a route, then comes back and checks on everyone again,” says Styles.

PROVIDING BALANCED TURF CARE

Too often, homeowners don't understand the basics of turf maintenance, according to Styles. “But there's no magic in a bag of fertilizer or pesticides,” he notes. “Providing balanced care is the key to maintaining healthy turf and ornamentals.”

To achieve that balance, Secure Turf Inc. treats each customer on an individual basis. Disease problems are intense in the Charlotte area, which sits squarely in the Transition Zone. Brown patch is one of the main problems Styles encounters in homeowner lawns, which are primarily fescue turf.

“Symptoms are irregular turf, dieback of individual tillers and circular patches of dead and dying grass,” explains Styles. “Brown patch is often mistaken for leaf spot or red thread, but it is so obvious to me that I can see it from a block away. It sometimes starts to form in seepage areas coming off the sidewalk or the side of a hill. Humidity and moisture bring it on.”

Secure Turf technicians apply preventive treatments for customers on the ECP, Multiple Fungus and We Care programs. Last year, Styles switched fungicides for preventive treatments, starting at the end of May or early June.

“We started using Compass because the price was right, but continued with it because of the quick knockdown and lasting control it gives us,” says Styles. “I like the ease of mixing and applying it along with my other formulas.”

After the switch last year, Styles plans to use the fungicide again as his main preventive disease application this spring for both turfgrass and ornamental plants. “I can apply it once and get three to four weeks worth of control,” he adds. “To me, that's great value for the customer.”

DISEASE CONTROL, FERTILIZATION EQUALLY IMPORTANT

Styles further notes that disease control equals fertilization in importance to turf health. Part of his disease-control program is instructing his customers to keep their mowers and blades clean and to properly manage watering.

Mowing and watering are two of the main misconceptions about lawn care that Styles strives to correct with his customers. “Most people mow without thinking about their blades,” he says. “But using a mower without sharpening the blades first and moving mowers from one area to another without cleaning down the blades is a sure way to spread disease.

“Irrigation systems are the enemy of the lawn-care business,” he adds. “Overwatering brings on the disease problems like nothing else. In our area we get slime mold, smuts, leaf spot, red thread and other fungus problems, in addition to brown patch. We can help customers manage irrigation, but we can't do anything about late afternoon rain showers and high humidity.”

After recently merging with an area maintenance company, Styles and his partner, Ryan Ray, have planned an extensive advertising campaign for Charlotte and surrounding areas. They have 12 full-time employees, all highly trained through a program on in-house seminars and on-the-job experience.

They offer balanced programs for their customers, use top of the line equipment and carefully select the products used on the properties they service. “We set high standards and expect the industry to follow our lead,” Styles concludes.

Becky Talbot is a freelance writer based in Ambler, Pa.

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