Lawn Care

Cultural and Environmental Problems

Healthy vigorous lawns are proven to have less pest problems. Proper horticultural practices are a key part of a beautiful plush lawn.

Cultural Problems

  • Mower Damage
  • Sprinkler Coverage
  • Watering Practices
  • Thatch
  • Dog Spots
  • Bare Spots
  • Traffic Wear

Basic Turf Maintenance Maintaining a quality lawn area involves more than irrigation, fertilization, and pesticide applications.

Healthy grass demands proper mowing techniques, occasional de-thatching, and aeration, in addition to fertilization and pest management. Knowing when and how to apply these cultural practices will lead to a dense, vigorous grass area. Mowing Height Proper mowing has many benefits.

Mowing height depends on the grass species, for example:

  • Kentucky Bluegrass or any mix containing Kentucky bluegrass, should be mowed at 2.5”–3.5”
  • Perennial Ryegrass and Fine Fescue should be mowed at 2.5”–3.5”•
  • Tall Fescue should be mowed at 3”–4”•
  • Zoysia should be mowed at 1”

Mowing below the optimum height restricts root growth and increases susceptibility to damage fromweeds, insects, disease, drought, and traffic.

Shady areas should be mowed at .5”–1” higher than therecommended height.

Mowing Frequency

• Mowing frequency depends on how fast the grass is growing. Some lawns need mowing twice aweek during spring and fall and only once every two weeks during summer. Mow frequentlyenough so as not to remove more than 1/3 of the leaf blade during a single mowing.

• Avoid mowing during midday when the temperature is above 90ºF and the soil is too dry, becauseyou may damage the grass. We recommend mowing the grass in the morning or in the eveningwhen the temperature is lower.

• Remove grass clippings if they are thick enough to shade the grass underneath; otherwise leavethem on the lawn to decompose, as the clippings will add nutrients.

Mower Maintenance Clean the mower after each use and sharpen the blades at least two to three times a year. Cutting the grasswith sharp blades results in a cleaner and healthier cut, leaving a more attractive and vigorous lawn.

To prevent under or over-watering, make sure your sprinkler heads are spaced uniformly. The spray should barely reach the next sprinkler head for head-to head coverage. Use part or half-circle sprinkler heads for corners to prevent watering pavement.

Make sure your sprinkler heads, when extended, rise above the height of the grass for uniform coverage. Use taller heads in flower and shrub beds.

Uneven sprinkler head sprays within a zone can be a result of pressure problems. Make sure all sprinkler heads in a zone have the same precipitation rate. If problems persist, have a irrigation professional check the system’s design for water pressure and uniformity problems. 

Turf - Watering Plants must have water to survive. Water in a plant is like blood in an animal. Water carries dissolved nutrients, sugars and hormones throughout the plant’s system. Some plants can go for long periods receiving only minimal water. Others require water every day. Here are some guidelines to help you determine when, where and how much to water. Common turfgrasses vary in their drought tolerance.

Drought tolerance (highest to lowest):

  • Bermudagrass
  • St. Augustine grass
  • Centipedegrass, Fescue grass, Emerald zoysiagrass and El Toro zoysiagrass
  • Meyer zoysiagrass

Turfgrasses vary in the amount of water they must have in order to remain green. Water needed per week to remain green (inches of water):

Dormancy Some grasses have the ability to go dormant when suffering from drought. During dormancy, the grass will turn yellow but, if healthy to begin with, it can recover when water becomes available.Time grass can go without substantial harm (weeks):

Using the facts above:

•Take into account personal and professional predictions regarding local weather for the next two months.

•Consider whether or not a total water ban may be imposed in your area.

•Decide if a small area can be watered or if the entire lawn should be left dry.

•Estimate the cost of replacing your lawn if it becomes severely damaged.

Proper Turf Watering Nine out of every ten problems in the landscape are related to water - not enough water and too frequently applied. In turf, daily watering or watering on alternate days can be one of the most harmful of garden practices. Light, frequent waterings cause the turf to develop shallow root systems. Shallow roots have a limited area to obtain the nutrients they need and are more prone to drought stress. Deep, infrequent watering stimulates roots to grow deep in search of water as the soil dries out. Deep-rooted turf is stronger, healthier turf. The timing of waterings is very important. The ideal time to apply water is between midnight to 9 am. Mid-day watering results in 60 percent of the water either lost through evaporation or effectively taken up by heat-stressed turf.

•Apply 1 - 1 1/2 inches of water as quickly as possible without runoff.

•Overlap the area being covered between one sprinkler station and the next by 30-40%.

•Water turf separately from shrubs, ground covers and other beds.

•Avoid watering in windy conditions which cause water to drift.

•A rainfall of 1 inch or greater will substitute for a watering.

Do not water your turf again until it shows signs of stress. Signs may include curling of leaf blades, turf turning gray-green in color, or foot prints remaining on the turf after it has been waked on. When you see these signs, it is time to water again. Finally, to decrease your turf's demand for water, raise the mowing height 1/2 inch in the summer, avoid summer fertilization and remove no more than 1/3 of the total height of your turf when you mow.

Excessive thatch accumulation is a problem on many turfgrass sites. Thatch is a layer of organic material consisting of tightly intermingled, living and dead plant tissues derived from crowns, stems, and roots. These parts of a turfgrass plant have a relatively high lignin content. Lignin is an organic compound that is highly resistant to microbial breakdown. Accumulation of a thatch layer occurs when the production of organic material (such as lignin) exceeds the rate of decomposition within the zone between green leaf tissue and the soil surface.

To assess thatch accumulation, remove a section of grass and soil from the turf using a knife, soil probe or shovel, and measure the depth of accumulated thatch. Depths greater than 1/2 inch indicate that corrective measures may be needed to reduce the thatch layer. Measurements from several locations through the turf area are needed because of the variable nature of thatch. A thatch depth less than 1/2 inch can be beneficial because it improves turf resiliency and wear tolerance, and insulates the soil from extremes in air temperature. However, as thatch accumulates beyond 1/2 inch, the disadvantages begin to outweigh the benefits. Excessive accumulation tends to increase the susceptibility of a turf to heat, cold, and drought stress. Localized dry spots, scalping, disease, and insects may also be enhanced by excessive thatch.

Such difficultiesmay develop as excessive thatch accumulates because the turfgrass plants will tend to have a greater portion of their crowns, rhizomes, and roots growing within the thatch rather than the soil. A weakened, poorly rooted turf is also more prone to injury and requires increased management. Turfgrass species differ in their tendency to accumulate thatch because they have different growth rates, growth habits, and percentage of various cell wall components (Table 1). Lignin is one cell wall component that resists microbial breakdown. Vigorous species and cultivars with high lignin content accumulate thatch more readily than those with slower growth rates and lower lignin content.

Table 1



Zoyia Grass
Bermuda Grass
Kentucky bluegrass*
Medium to High
Strong creeping red fescue
Creeping bentgrass
Hard fescue
Chewings fescue
Perennial ryegrass
Tall fescue

Straw-colored grass or dead spots with dark green borders are common in lawns of dog owners.

The concentrated salts in the urine of dogs, particularly female dogs, cause these spots.

There are only a couple of solutions to this problem. Some dog owners follow the dog with a hose and wash the spots, a labor-intensive solution to the problem.

A better solution is to retrain the dog to go to a specific, out-of-the-way area, perhaps a graveled, remote corner of the property.

Water is the only thing that can reverse the effects of dog urine on grass. Do not apply baking soda, dish washing detergent, or products claiming to dissolve or leach the salts. They will be ineffective and may compound the problem.

Sometimes the damaged grass can't be revived, making re seeding necessary. The damaged spots should be heavily watered with a hose for a few days before re seeding or resoding.

Spring or Fall are good times to reseed (depending on grass varieties) bare spots in the lawn, no matter what their cause. Before seeding, remove rocks, twigs, branches, and other debris from the lawn. Mow the grass shorter than usual, approximately one-half inch high to allow light and water penetration to emerging seedlings.

Loosen the dirt, especially important for clay, cement-like soil. This allows seedlings to penetrate the ground and establish a strong root system. The amount of seed to apply will vary depending on variety, but a general rule is 1 1/2 pounds seed per thousand square feet.

Family Tree offers seeding and overseeding programs that take care of these cultural problems as well as diagnostics to find out any prevalent disease issues.

Before planting seeds, rake a high phosphorous fertilizer into the soil. The phosphorous will help establish a strong, healthy root system to encourage winter survival. Cover the seed with one-quarter inch mulch of peat moss or grass clippings that have not been treated with herbicides.

Next, a critical step: Water 3 to 4 times a day, until the seedlings are established, for about 2 weeks.

Mow the reseeded area when plants have grown 3 to 4 inches tall.

Effects from vehicular or foot traffic can cause injury to turfgrass in two ways. The first site of injury is grass shoot tissue, where physical damage to leaf blades is manifested by abrasion, tearing, or stripping of the leaf tissue. This injury results in death of the leaves and a reduction in photosynthetic capacity. The second site of damage from traffic is the root system. Damage to the root system results from soil compaction due to weight of the traffic. Root growth and viability is greatly reduced, resulting in less capacity for roots to seek out water or nutrients. Often damage from traffic will cause both types of injury simultaneously. Rates of recovery of the grass vary based on: a) the capacity of the grass to tolerate traffic injury; b) growth rate of the turf, which will determine how long it will take the grass to grow out of the injury; and c) degree of severity of the injury. In addition, there are specific management and maintenance practices that will improve the wear tolerance of your turfgrass.

Factors that Enhance Wear Tolerance

The factors, other than genetics, that are important in determining wear tolerance are:

  • Amount of shoot tissue present to absorb the injury

  • Proper hydration status. A lawn which is adequately (not overly) irrigated allows leaf tissue to better absorb the impact of the injury

  • Proper fertilization practices, which will impart greater overall stress tolerance and will best allow the lawn to outgrow the injury. Potassium is particularly important in improving wear tolerance.

How You Can Improve the Wear Tolerance of Your Lawn

The first step to improving wear tolerance is to avoid the injury if possible. If vehicular or foot traffic is ongoing, then pavement, bricks, or stone would provide a better ground cover than grass. Avoidance of repeated paths from traffic will also alleviate injury, and will provide the grass with time to revive. Another tool is selection of wear-tolerant turfgrasses. Centipedegrass or bahiagrass are poor choices for high-traffic areas, while zoysiagrass or seashore paspalum would be better suited in these locations.


Fertilization regimes strongly influence the ability of the grass to withstand injury, as well as to outgrow it. Excess nitrogen fertilization (in amounts higher than indicated in the Florida Lawn Handbook) will reduce wear tolerance. This occurs because the nitrogen causes rapid growth of the grass, which results in lush, succulent tissue that is less able to withstand the injury. Proper nitrogen fertilization, however, will improve wear tolerance in two ways. First, it will promote greater shoot density (number of shoots per unit area) of the grass, thereby providing more shoot tissue to absorb the injury. Secondly, it will allow for faster regrowth following the injury and will promote new lateral growth to help the grass cover any bare ground resulting from the injury.

Potassium fertilization also strongly influences tolerance to many stresses, including wear injury. Adequate potassium fertilization will allow the grass to survive with less injury and to retain adequate carbohydrates for subsequent regrowth. Potassium should be applied to traffic-stressed turf in an amount ranging from one-half to equal amounts of potassium to nitrogen. For example, a 16-4-8 fertilizer would supply half the amount of potassium to nitrogen.


Proper mowing practices influence your grass wear tolerance. Higher mowing heights will improve tolerance, because: a) this increases the amount of shoot tissue available to absorb the injury; and b) this results in deeper rooting than you would find in a closely mowed turf. Deeper rooting provides greater stress resistance. Scalping, or low mowing, of a stressed turf will result in greater damage, slower recovery, and possible death of the turf.


Irrigation also can influence wear tolerance. Deep rooting is encouraged by infrequent, longer irrigations, applied only when the turf shows signs of wilt. Daily or frequent watering results in roots that remain in the top few inches of soil, and a grass plant with less capacity to withstand any environmental or biotic stress. It is important, however, to apply adequate irrigation to wear-stressed turf. As mentioned above, this allows the turf to better absorb the injury and results in less damage than would occur on dry turf.


If soil compaction is the primary problem, there are several steps to be taken. First, compaction can be alleviated by aeration of the soil, which helps loosen the soil and allows oxygen to reach the roots. Aeration can be as simple as using a small foot-press aerator in small areas to a job requiring commercial equipment to drill holes in the soil. This procedure should be followed by topdressing, which is application of soil over the top of the turfgrass. Over time, topdressing may alleviate compaction, reduce thatch, and improve the drainage or water retention of the site.

Remember that some traffic may be unavoidable on your lawn. In these cases, adopting a "wear-tolerant" attitude may be helpful.


Environmental Problems

  • Chlorosis (Color)
  • Drought Stress
  • Bad Grade
  • Poor Drainage
  • Too Shady
  • Soil Compaction
  • Moles
  • Voles
  • Variable Soils (PH Problems)
  • Root Competition (Trees)
  • Moss
  • Acid Areas

Iron chlorosis results when green chlorophyll in leaf tissue fails to develop. Although iron is not part of the chlorophyll molecule, it is one of the nutrients essential for chlorophyll synthesis. Iron chlorosis first develops in new growth and appears as yellowish-green leaves, usually as an intervene yellowing, giving the leaf a striped appearance. As the condition worsens leaves appear yellow to almost white. In severe cases of iron chlorosis, loss of turf grass and other plants occur in irregular patterns.

Iron chlorosis is attributed to reduced availability of iron in calcareous soils and may also be associated with high levels of bicarbonate and phosphate in plant tissue.

Management practices can also contribute to iron deficiencies. Well aerated soil is needed for plants to take up iron. Excessive irrigation and soil compaction result in poorly aerated soils and reduced iron uptake. High phosphorus levels resulting from excessive fertilization and high levels of bicarbonate in irrigation water also interfere with iron uptake by plants.

Environmental factors such as temperature, rainfall and light intensity also impact iron uptake and assimilation by plants. Low soil temperatures reduce soil microbial activity which, in turn, reduces iron uptake. Wet soils, or excessively dry soils, and low light intensities also reduce iron uptake. For example, iron chlorosis is common in St. Augustine grass under shaded conditions.

Plant genetics is a dominant factor influencing the plant's ability to take up iron. Grasses of the same species may differ considerably in their ability to take up iron. Floratam St. Augustine grass, for example, is much less likely to show iron chlorosis than other varieties of St. Augustine grass. Bermuda Grass varieties also differ in their ability to take up iron.

Correcting Iron Chlorosis One approach to correcting iron chlorosis has been to reduce soil alkalinity with acidifying materials such as elemental sulfur and sulfuric acid. In soils, elemental sulfur is oxidized by microorganisms to form sulfuric acid. Under acid conditions iron is more soluble and, consequently, may be more available to the plant.

In turf grasses, 5 to 20 pounds of elemental sulfur per 1,000 sq. ft. are applied to reduce soil pH and iron chlorosis. Also, sulfuric acid may be added through the irrigation system in dilute concentrations to lower soil pH. Both methods of acidification have been shown to reduce iron chlorosis in some soils. However, both methods have as an additional effect, increased soluble salts.

On poorly drained sites, where salts would accumulate, these methods should not be used without first correcting the drainage problem. Also, care must be taken not to over acidify the soil. The application of products containing iron to the soil or directly to the plant is the most widely used method to correct iron chlorosis. The problem with this method is the short longevity of the effect. Typically, iron applications improve the color of turf grasses for only 3 to 4 weeks. In soils, iron is rapidly oxidized to form insoluble iron oxides. In grasses, iron is immobile and is removed with the clippings. Thus, the response is of short duration.

The obvious answer to drought stress on lawns is to apply water. Deep, infrequent watering to the depth of the root system is the ideal situation. This should be done when lawns show the first signs of drought stress, such as wilting, darkening color, and footprints remaining after walking across the lawn.

A variety of factors, including budgets, site factors, and watering restrictions all might make this impossible.

Once cool-season turf grasses have gone dormant (stopped active growth, turned off-color) it's best to leave them in that condition rather than watering heavily to cause the grass to green-up again. Breaking dormancy actually drains reserves within the plant, and if conditions remain dry and the weather is hot, the plant is not likely to replace those reserves.

In a 'typical' summer, lawns go dormant and resume active growth when conditions improve. The downside of dormancy is the appearance of the lawn and the risk of problems arising on the inactive lawn, such as weed invasions.

The common question is how much water is enough to keep the turf alive?

  • Applying 1/4 to 1/2 inch every 2 to 4 weeks should be enough to maintain moisture in the stems and roots so the turf can survive and resume growing when conditions improve.
  • Mow lawns higher for the summer. A range of 2.5 to 3 inches would be suggested for most turf stands where Kentucky bluegrass is the primary species. As always, mowing should be on a frequent basis so that no more than one-third of the leaf blade is removed in any one cutting.
  • Avoid applying excess nitrogen fertilizer during hot, dry conditions. Turf grasses will respond by putting out excessive growth when they should be going dormant.
  • Wait until the early September period for fertilizing most lawns, rather than summer.
  • Use fertilizers providing adequate potassium, in addition to nitrogen. Whenever possible, limit traffic of any type on the lawn.

Drought stress will occur faster on turf stands with poor soil conditions underneath. Soil compaction, clay fill, high pH, and general poor conditions for root growth becomes very evident under stress conditions such as drought. Although immediate corrections may not be possible, make notes of problem areas that will need to be addressed later. Work on improving rooting of the lawn grasses. Turfs with problem thatch layers will experience drought stress sooner. Many of the same soil factors just mentioned are likely to be the cause. In addition, take a close look at management practices that may contribute to thatch, such as over fertilizing or over watering.

Proper Grade:

If you must change the grade of your lawn area, remove the top 6 inches of soil, make the grade changes, then replace the topsoil. This conserves topsoil and helps reduce unevenness in the growth and appearance of the lawn due to the presence of mixed soils. If you must raise the grade around trees and shrubs more than 2 inches, well the plant at the dripline to allow for proper aeration of the root system.

Roll, fill and rake low spots to level the surface after grading and before seeding.

The land should have a general slope away from the house. Land not properly sloped should be graded so water drains away from the house and doesn´t stand around the foundation. If the slope of the land is steep, it may have to be graded into a series of terraces. In some cases a retaining wall must be built to make the land more attractive, usable and to prevent erosion.

DRAINAGE FIXES for LAWNS: IF you have a top-soil containg lots of silt-clay or one that is compacted, you may have continual drainage problems. Excavating away some of the hard clayish soil and replacing it with better top-soil may be the least costly remedy for some high-clay soils.

Drainage fixes for lawn pooling problems include:

  • Diverting and channeling rain water to maintain dryer areas.
  • Constructing various functional or static systems to temporarily collect volumes of excess water.
  • Engineering alternative landscaping scenarios that incorporate the water sources and excesses problems.

With a good fertile-loamy well draining top-soil, best quality hybrid grass type(s), 1-3 inches of water per week, plenty of sun-light, ...almost anyone can have an excellent lawn with a minimum maintenance effort


Turfs under the shade of trees are typically thin, weak, and of poor quality. Maintaining a quality stand of grass under the shade of trees can be difficult and requires modifications in lawn care practices. Shade-tolerant grasses still need an acceptable amount of light to grow. In addition, lawns in shade areas generally do not have the ability to tolerate or recover from stress problems as compared to lawns growing in full sun.

Choosing a shade-tolerant grass mixture is critical. Red fescue or other fine fescues are the primary lawn species in these mixtures.


Start improving shade areas for grass growth by pruning vegetation (trees and large shrubs) as much as feasible to allow the maximum amount of light to reach the soil surface. Care of established lawns in shade areas should be different than lawns located in full sun.

Mow higher (near 3 inches), and fertilize less in the shade, as too much nitrogen can be detrimental to shade lawn species. About 1 to 2 pounds of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per growing season is all that is needed. When watering shade lawns, do so as infrequently as possible, and water deeply.

Reduce traffic over lawns in the shade. If these practices have been followed but the lawn still fails, there probably is not enough light even for a shade-tolerant grass species. Often a shade lawn mix is seeded, comes up fine, but declines rapidly due to a lack of sufficient light. If lawn grasses have failed, try a shade-tolerant groundcover

Soil compaction occurs when soil particles are pressed together, reducing pore space between them . Heavily compacted soils contain few large pores and have a reduced rate of both water infiltration and drainage from the compacted layer. This occurs because large pores are the most effective in moving water through the soil when it is saturated. In addition, the exchange of gases slows down in compacted soils, causing an increase in the likelihood of aeration-related problems. Finally, while soil compaction increases soil strength the ability of soil to resist being moved by an applied force a compacted soil also means that roots must exert greater force to penetrate the compacted layer. Soil compaction changes pore space size, distribution, and soil strength. One way to quantify the change is by measuring the bulk density. As the pore space is decreased within a soil, the bulk density is increased. Soils with a higher percentage of clay and silt, which naturally have more pore space, have a lower bulk density than sandier soils.

Excessive soil compaction impedes root growth and therefore limits the amount of soil explored by roots. This, in turn, can decrease the plant's ability to take up nutrients and water. From the standpoint of crop production, the adverse effect of soil compaction on water flow and storage may be more serious than the direct effect of soil compaction on root growth. In dry years, soil compaction can lead to stunted, drought stressed plants due to decreased root growth. Without timely rains and well-placed fertilizers, yield reductions will occur. Soil compaction in wet years decreases soil aeration. This results in increased denitrification (loss of nitrate-nitrogen to the atmosphere). There can also be a soil compaction induced nitrogen and potassium deficiency Plants need to spend energy to take up potassium. Reduced soil aeration affects root metabolism. There can also be increased risk of lawn disease. All of these factors result in added stress to your lawn and ultimately, yield loss.

If soil is compacted, the solution is straightforward: aerify.

The practice of physically removing cores of soil and leaving holes or cavities in the lawn is defined as core aeration or aerification. Click HERE to find more about Family Tree Aeration and Core Aeration.

  • Benefits of Core Aeration Loosens compacted soil and increases the availability of water and nutrients.
  • Enhances oxygen levels in the soil, stimulating root growth and enhancing the activity of thatch-decomposing organisms.
  • While removing cores of soil, the spoons or tines also sever roots, rhizomes and stolons. Grass plants are stimulated to produce new shoots and roots that “fill up” the holes in the lawn and increase the density of the turf.
  • Reduces water runoff.
  • Increases the lawn's drought tolerance and improves its overall health.

Moles are burrowing mammals that can cause problems in turf areas and garden plots while foraging for earthworms or insects in the soil. There are several mole species in North America, but this fact sheet is primarily based on biology and control of the eastern mole (Scalopus quaticus) which causes most of the mole related damage in the eastern United States. The starnosed mole (Condylura cristata) is also found in New Jersey and surrounding areas but rarely causes damage due to its preference for moist soil near water.

  • Symptoms: Moles push up unsightly mounds or ridges as they borrow through the soil in search of food. The tunneling activity dislodges plants and damages roots, and the mounds provide a medium for weed seed germination. While moles are often blamed for the destruction of bulbs, seeds, and garden plants, this damage is usually caused by various species of mice and voles that may inhabit or use mole tunnels. Moles rarely consume plant material. 

  • Description: Moles belong to the family Talpidae in the order Insectivora (‘insect-eaters’) and are thus related to shrews and hedgehogs. Eastern moles have a pointed snout with sharp, pointed teeth, small eyes, small ears concealed in the fur, a short, nearly hairless tail, and a velvety fur that varies from brownish to grayish with silver highlights. The large front feet with webbed toes and stout digging claws move laterally. Fully grown eastern moles measure 5" to 8" (13 to 20 cm) in length. The star-nosed mole can readily be identified by the fleshy tentacle-like projections on the tip of its nose.

  • Life history and habits: Eastern moles are found in pastures, meadows, woodlands, as well as lawns, cemeteries, parks, and golf courses. Their diet consists mainly of earthworms, white grubs, crickets, and other invertebrates that live in the soil. Rarely do they consume plant matter like a few weed seeds. They can consume 70 to 100% of their own body weight per day. Therefore, an acre of turf generally supports only 2 to 3 moles simultaneously

Control Measures

Trapping Basics: Trapping is the most effective method for controlling moles. The key to success is knowledge of mole habits, patience, and persistence. Because lawns support only low numbers of moles and moles have a low reproductive rate, it is practical to eliminate them by trapping. Because the borrow system of a particular mole may extend over more than one lawn and/or the burrow systems of several moles may interconnect, neighbors may need to cooperate for successful control. Also be aware that turf areas surrounded by woodlots, pastures, or weedy fields may be reinfested continually because those areas can support large mole populations.

Other methods of removal such as Reducing invertebrate prey, Mole barriers, Home remedies, Repellents and others can be found at:

The two most common types of voles found in New Jersey are the meadow vole (Microtuspennsylvanicus) and the pine vole (Microtuspinetorum). Meadow voles, also called meadowor field mice, are about 5 ½ to 7 ½ inches long(including tail length). They have variable col-ored fur—ranging from gray to yellow-brown—with black-tipped hairs, and a bi-colored tail.Pine voles, also called woodland voles, are about4 to 6 inches long (including tail length), and haveshort, soft reddish-brown fur. Their relativelyshort tail is about the same length as the hindfoot.

  • Habitat: Meadow voles are usually found in grassy areas,but can be seen in marsh areas as well. Pine volesare most often found in hardwood areas with thickleaf or ground cover. 

  • Food: A meadow vole can eat nearly its own weightdaily. Their diet consists primarily of grasses,clover, and plantain. Pine voles store food inunderground burrows, and eat a wider variety ofplant material than do meadow voles. Dietarymainstays include forbs, grasses, roots, and tu-bers. Additional diet items include seeds, fruit,bark, insects, and underground fungi

  • Life History: Voles do not hibernate, although they may slow theiractivity level when temperatures drop below freez-ing. The meadow vole is typically more activeduring the night than during daylight hours, whilethe pine vole can be active any time during the dayor night. A vole’s life span is short, ranging from 2to 16 months, with females maturing in 35 to 40days. Breeding occurs primarily in spring and sum-mer, and they may produce from 1 to 5 litters peryear, with each litter averaging 3 to 6 young.Voles routinely build tunnels and surface runwayswith many burrow entrances. Meadow voles build a network of surface runways linked to undergroundburrows, whereas pine voles spend most of theirtime in a tunnel and burrow system 1–4 inches belowground. Several adults and young may be found ina burrow network

The most recognizable sign that meadow voles arepresent is the presence of surface runways. Surface runways are 1–2 inches wide and often used run-ways may have grass and other nearby vegetation clipped close to the ground. Feces and small piecesof clipped vegetation can be found in surface run-ways. Although not as easily seen as the surfac erunways of meadow voles, shallow tunnels con-structed just under the ground’s surface by pinevoles may be detectable. Tunnel and burrow construction can cause damageto roots of plants and interfere with crop irrigation bydisplacing water and causing levees to wash out. Additional damage caused by voles includes girdling and gnawing damage to orchards, ornamen-tals, and tree plantings, and eating plant materialranging from field crops (i.e. grain, potatoes) toseeds, bulbs, and rhizomes. Girdling and gnawing damage can occur to seedlings and mature trees, and is often distinguished by non-uniform gnaw marks atvarious angles and in irregular patches. Gnaw marksare about 1/8 inch wide, 3/8 inch long, and 1/16 inchor more deep.

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To achieve healthy, vigorous plants for a pleasing landscape or a productive garden, the plants require optimum soil conditions that may be specific to the type of plant.

Nutrient levels, drainage condition, and soil pH are examples of soil conditions that are important to consider when choosing plants and managing your landscape. Remember that many other factors are important for optimum growth. Soil pH is a value that refers to the acidity or alkalinity level in the soil. Values of pH range from 0 to 14. A pH value of 7.0 is neutral, pH less than 7.0 is acidic, and pH greater than 7.0 is alkaline. The pH of soil is usually in the range 4.5 to 8.5. Most soils in New Jersey are naturally acidic.

Some NJ soils are managed in such a way as to increase acidity - for optimum growth of acid-loving plant species, for example cranberry and blueberry crops. An extreme case of unintentional acidification may result from excavation & exposure of acid-producing sediments that lie in bands across NJ from NE to SW. On the other hand, some soils derived from limestone bedrock in the Ridge & Valley region of Northwest NJ may be near neutral or slightly alkaline. Furthermore, some NJ soils are alkaline because of excessive application of agricultural limestone or other liming amendment. The extreme cases of soil alkalinity in NJ usually result from excess (sodium) salt in the soil, either from de-icing salt, soluble fertilizer, or ocean water.


Any two plants growing in close proximity, above or below-ground, must compete for sunlight, water, and nutrients. Two similar plants competing for a limited supply of soil moisture and nutrients will each get a smaller share than if either one were growing alone, and the growth of both will be stunted. But what if they are not similar plants? Foresters and orchardists have known for years that grasses are able to compete more vigorously than trees for soil moisture and nutrients.

When grass and trees grow together, it is the growth of the trees that is most reduced. Landscape professionals and homeowners should also learn to understand tree-turf competition. The trees that we use in the urban landscape evolved in the forest with similar plants where moisture was generally plentiful. Grasses were found in the prairie which was intermittently dry. Grasses can go into a dormant state to cope with dry periods. There are few places in the natural landscape where both trees and grass thrive together. There is no reason we should expect them to thrive together in the landscape.

Grass roots are sometimes so vigorous that tree roots cannot grow in the same soil. Grass roots grow very fast compared to roots of trees. Grass root systems are composed of numerous long thread-like roots with many even-smaller branches so fine that they can be difficult to see without magnification. These roots can quickly and thoroughly penetrate every part of the soil extracting all available resources ahead of other plants. Roots of trees are slower growing, and even the finest roots of trees are coarsely branched compared to grass roots and also less efficient at extracting water and nutrients from the soil.

Organic mulch, like wood chips or composted leaves, is one of the best and most inexpensive soil and root enhancers available and a good alternative to turf around trees. It is very similar to the forest floor environment where leaves, branches, and other plant parts constantly accumulate and then decompose to enrich the soil. In the landscape, fallen leaves can be added to the mulch each autumn to recycle their nutrients. The layer of mulch covering the soil prevents water from evaporating before the trees can absorb it. A mulch layer also moderates extremes in soil temperature, which reduces root damage as well. With improved soil moisture and more available organic matter, the earthworms and soil insects will flourish. The tunneling activity of these creatures will help to incorporate the rich organic matter into the soil and provide improved aeration. Not only will more roots be able to grow in the improved soil beneath the mulch, the tree roots will grow up (yes! tree roots can grow up) into the lower layers of decomposing mulch, providing excellent additional rooting medium for more roots in the same amount of space. Many fear that if mulch is added on top of the soil surface, the changes in the soil environment will cause the tree roots to be shallower and more subject to injury during drought. Well-aerated mulch does not cause roots to migrate to the surface, but there can be an increase in the soil near the surface. Plastic sheeting used under the mulch should be avoided since it may reduce oxygen in the soil, killing deeper roots, leaving only very shallow roots

 When mulching a lawn area around a tree, care must be taken not to damage tree roots in any way. The sod can be removed with a sod-cutter, but it may be easier to just let the mulch smother the grass, and kill any grass that does come through the mulch with glyphosate herbicide (Round-up). Any material like wood chips, shredded bark, and leaf compost can be used for mulch. Ideally a layer of composted material is applied first with a layer of fresher layer chips on top. Apply up to a total of 6 inches of mulch, which will settle to about 4 inches. The practice of forming a small, deep mulch layer around the tree (often referred to as ‘volcano’ mulching) is seen more and more in the landscape. There is no good reason for this, and the moist mulch against the bark could harm the tree. A large shallow area is much better for the tree.

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Moss is associated with conditions which do not favor the growth of grass. Moss does not kill grass; it simply fills in the open spaces as the grass dies out. Mosses are one step above the algae, bacteria and fungi but are below the seed bearing plants. Moss has no supporting or conducting tissue or roots. It repro- duces by spores and vegetative parts. As the older parts die and partly decay, the terminal parts grow on from year to year so the patch may appear to die in spots but new growth will continue to spread from the edges.


  • Excessive Shade: In general, mosses are more tolerant of shade than are higher forms of plant life, and this in part accounts for their ability to invade lawns and replace grass in shady spots. Although moss can be found in full sun, if your moss is confined to shady spots, planting shade-tolerant grasses may help. In truly heavy shade, you might consider thinning or removing some trees, or planting a shade- tolerant ground cover such as pachysandra or myrtle.

  • Soil Compaction: This is often the culprit because grass roots have difficulty penetrating compacted soil. Deep compaction of heavy soils may require complete reconstruction of the lawn. However, soil aeration can be improved by annual use of a core aerator. You can rent them or hire a lawn service. Get the aerator which actually removes cores of soil and deposits them on the surface. There is no need to rake them up. They will disintegrate.

  • Low pH: Acid soil is sometimes but not always a factor. Contact your local Rutgers Cooperative Extension office about having a soil test done. Most lawn grasses grow best at a pH between 6.0 and 6.5. If your soil is acid, the grass will thin out and allow moss to move in.

  • Low Soil Fertility: The soil test mentioned above will also test for major soil nutrients. Our soil is often low in potassium, which is necessary for good root systems. The application of nitrogen at proper times can also encourage grasses to grow well. One pound of actual nitrogen (which would be applied in, for example, 10 pounds of 10% nitrogen fertilizer) can be applied three times per year, in late May, September and late November.

  • Poor Drainage: Moss grows in perfectly drained soils as well as in moist soils. However, poor drainage can interfere with the growth of grass, opening the door for moss.

  • Improper Watering: Most lawn grasses need 1 to 1-1/2 inches total water per week. If there is no rain, apply 1/2 to 3/4 inches every three or four days. You can set coffee cans under the sprinkler to estimate how long to leave it on

Carpets of moss plants possess a greater water retaining power than layers of dead leaves such as might occur in a forest. Moss, therefore, reduces soil erosion by slowing down the rapid run-off of rain water and melted snow. The major disadvantage of moss as a groundcover is that it will not tolerate foot traffic. Paths through moss lawns must be surfaced or they will turn into mud trails. In addition, moss rolls up easily and extra care must be taken when raking up leaves. However, there are situations in which moss is a perfectly appropriate ground cover, and maybe, if you thought it over, you could decide that moss is what you wanted all along.

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The soil pH value is a measure of soil acidity or alkalinity. Soil pH directly affects nutrient availability. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 as neutral. Numbers less than 7 indicate acidity while numbers greater than 7 indicate alkalinity. 
The pH value of soil is one of a number of environmental conditions that affects the quality of plant growth. The soil pH value directly affects nutrient availability. Plants thrive best in different soil pH ranges. Azaleas, rhododendrons, blueberries and conifers thrive best in acid soils (pH 5.0 to 5.5). Vegetables, grasses and most ornamentals do best in slightly acidic soils (pH 5.8 to 6.5). Soil pH values above or below these ranges may result in less vigorous growth and nutrient deficiencies. 

Nutrients for healthy plant growth are divided into three categories: primary, secondary and micronutrients.

  • Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) are primary nutrients which are needed in fairly large quantities compared to the other plant nutrients.
  • Calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and sulfur (S) are secondary nutrients which are required by the plant in lesser quantities but are no less essential for good plant growth than the primary nutrients.
  • Zinc (Zn) and manganese (Mn) are micronutrients, which are required by the plant in very small amounts.

Most secondary and micronutrient deficiencies are easily corrected by keeping the soil at the optimum pH value. The major impact that extremes in pH have on plant growth is related to the availability of plant nutrients or the soil concentration of plant-toxic minerals. In highly acid soils, aluminum and manganese can become more available and more toxic to the plant. Also at low pH values, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium are less available to the plant. At pH values of 6.5 and above, phosphorus and most of the micronutrients become less available.

FACTORS AFFECTING SOIL pH The pH value of a soil is influenced by the kinds of parent materials from which the soil was formed. Soils developed from basic rocks generally have higher pH values than those formed from acid rocks. Rainfall also affects soil pH. Water passing through the soil leaches basic nutrients such as calcium and magnesium from the soil. They are replaced by acidic elements such as aluminum and iron. For this reason, soils formed under high rainfall conditions are more acidic than those formed under arid (dry) conditions. Application of fertilizers containing ammonium or urea speeds up the rate at which acidity develops. The decomposition of organic matter also adds to soil acidity.

INCREASING THE SOIL pH To make soils less acidic, the common practice is to apply a material that contains some form of lime. Ground agricultural limestone is most frequently used. The finer the limestone particles, the more rapidly it becomes effective. Different soils will require a different amount of lime to adjust the soil pH value.

The texture of the soil, organic matter content and the plants to be grown are all factors to consider in adjusting the pH value. For example, soils low in clay require less lime than soils high in clay to make the same pH change.

Family Tree offers LIMING SERVICES that will re-establish the proper balance to your lawn.




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