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Thank God that spring upon us once again with the prospects of long, hot, lazy summer days just around the corner!  I must be getting old because despite the allure of skiing I really don't "get up" for winter anymore preferring to hide in warmer places as much as possible.  Also, it seems to me that winters are wetter than I can recall as a youth growing up on Auckland's North Shore. Nowadays the rain seems to starts in mid-May and continue through to October as one long shower somewhat reminiscent of the monsoons of Asia! .........or am I just getting old and grumpy!!
   
So, if these conditions are tough for us human beings that have some ability to manage our environmental conditions then it is undoubtedly tougher for our plants that are stuck outside in all conditions! And obviously, these conditions come at a cost and these include nutrients lost as they are leached through the topsoil, decreased plant population as a result of lowered light incidence over winter and diseases such as "red thread".  So here are some recommendations for having your lawn looking great at this time of the year;
 
- A spring fertiliser application is recommended to help drive plants out of their winter dormancy.  Turf Gold applied at 4.0kgs per 100m2 of lawn area is suggested.
 
- Mowing management is important as this time of the year to mitigate the risk of disease and plant losses. It is preferable to ensure that the plants are dry prior to mowing.  This may mean waiting until the afternoon or for a windy day when dew is less of a factor.   Cuts to leaf blades are far easier for the plant to seal if they are dry rather than wet. These take longer to seal and this extended period just increases the risk of fungal invasion. 
 
- Note that mowing your lawn (at the correct height for your lawn species) will actually stimulate it to start growing at this time of the year.
 
- Remember that it is important to remove litter so that clumps of wet clipping do not lie on the surface suffocating plants.
 
- Red thread is a common disease at this time of the year. It is indicative of nitrogen deficiency but treating it can be complicated.  I cover more about this later in this edition.
 
- This is a good time to control broadleaf weeds in your lawn. Remember to always follow the label recommendations particularly with respect to safety.  Again, I remind you not to use selective herbicides that contain Triclopyr and Picloram to control broadleaf weeds on warm season grasses such as kikuyu and couch. Instead use alternatives that contain products such as Mecoprop, 2,4 D or dicamba. 
 
- Moss control is also recommended at this time of the year.  Adequate control can be achieved by either using a solution of Sulphate of Iron or using a proprietary product for moss control.  Products that contain the active ingredient Benzalkonium chloride are very effective.  The best level of control is achieved if the dead moss is raked and removed after it has died which usually will take a couple of weeks. If the areas are extensive they may also need to be re-sown or replaced with fresh turf.
For many Americans George Washington was regarded as the father of lawns as he laid down large lawns around his home known as Mount Vernon overlooking the Potomac River on his 4,200acre Virginian plantation.  He commenced the redevelopment of his home on this property in earnest from 1758 onwards. As part of this process he began to develop an interest in landscaping the grounds.  Subsequently he became quite an expert on grass and grass species during his efforts in trying to create a bowling green.  As with Capability Brown’s efforts he also used ha-ha walls to separate the grounds from the working farm and to ensure that livestock were kept away from his beloved landscaped grounds.
George Washington's home - known as 'Mount Vernon'.
However, urban lawns associated with suburban houses were not really a feature of the early 19th Century because of the time and costs associated with lawn maintenance. These garden spaces were generally kept as flower or vegetable gardens. However, in 1827 a chap by the name of Edwin Budding from the charming sounding town of Thrupp in Glocestershire invented the first lawn mower. It was granted a patent in 1830 however it was a further 10 years before it was capable of being drawn by horses and a further 60 years before a steam powered lawn mower was built. These early mowers were not only sizable but also extremely heavy machines. Indeed, it wasn’t until 1902 that English company Ransome Automation produced the first commercially available lawn mower powered by an internal combustion engine.  The production of these machines made lawns accessible to the masses and the middle classes pounced upon the idea of having a lawn on their property as a display of their newly created wealth. These early machines were all reel mowers and the first rotary bladed lawn mowers were not produced until the 1930’s.
 
The American Garden Club which first formed in 1891 also promoted lawns by stating that it was a home owners’ civic duty to maintain a beautiful and healthy lawn. So effective was their campaign that  lawns were soon the accepted form of landscaping. The garden club further stipulated that the appropriate type of lawn was a single species with no weeds, kept mown at a height of an inch and a half, uniformly green and neatly edged. America thus entered the age of lawn care.
 
The company Masport (NZ) Ltd started in 1910 as a family owned manufacturing company with an iron foundry which opened in Auckland in 1911. They produced their first hand push mower in 1930 and in 1938 produced their first petrol powered lawn mower. Later on they also developed the Morrison brand as a cheaper branded product. No discussion of this company would be complete without the tale of the veritable Mr. Moa from the Central North Island who upon hearing that his wife has just delivered twins announced to the thronged mass in a crowded pub that his new twin sons would be called Morrison and Masport! It is hard to determine whether this is folklore and fable or whether there was any truth in this rumoured occurrence. However, it makes for a humorous anecdote.
 

A bloke by the name of Mervyn Victor Richardson working out of his garage at Mortlake, Sydney made one of the first light weight rotary mowers out of scrap metal in 1952. He soon moved to a shed at the back of the St. Mary’s Church of England where he established the company Victa Lawnmowers Pty Ltd in 1953. The venture was so successful that in 1958 it moved to larger premises in Parramatta Road, Concord, had 3,000 employees, built 143,000 mowers per year and exported to 28 countries. Today Victa Mowers is regarded as an Australian icon and today they sell and distribute lawn mowers around the world. As a testament to this enterprise there was an entire routine dedicated to the Victa mower during the opening ceremony at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. The dawn of light lawn mowers made moderate sized lawns not only accessible for all to own, but relatively inexpensive and manageable within the confines of limited time. Lawns were now no longer simply the realm of the privileged few.
Today, gardening is synonymous with lawns and it is very trendy to have a great looking lawn. It is estimated that lawns cover more land in the United States than any other single agricultural crop. It is further estimated that 50% of all municipal water is used to irrigate lawns. Lawn perfection appears to be desirable amongst homeowners and this had led to a vast array of fertilisers, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides being applied to lawns on an annual basis.  Sadly, how many of those products are applied judiciously or with any degree of efficacy is a moot point but recently imposed restrictions in the availability of these types of products for householders may improve the level of constraint applied. 
I have published this article previously in this newsletter but have elected to include it again this year because of the exceedingly wet conditions that have prevailed over much of the north island for the past few months.  The outcome is that many lawns are now suffering from this disease.
 
This disease is also sometimes referred to as pink patch and is probably the most common and troublesome disease on domestic lawns in New Zealand. It is easily identified as reddish or pinky threads or fungal filaments attached to the top of the leaves of temperate grasses. Red thread is most often a problem from autumn until late spring.
Once the disease abates it leaves the characteristically brown circles of dead and decaying leaf litter making the lawn look as though it has had a case of measles!  The causal agent is Laetisaria fuciformis and it is generally caused as a function of nitrogen deficiency during humid & damp conditions. It can be particularly severe on rye grass and fine fescue lawns that are either shady, well sheltered or consistently damp, though it tends to be quite site specific. Once the disease abates the plants will fully recover as this disease only affects the leaf tissue rather that the crown or the root zone. A number of management practises are recommended for lawns that are affected. Firstly, add nitrogen in a soluble form and in many circumstances additional potassium has also been known to be of assistance. Potassium will add strength to the leaf tissue and the outcome is that the leaf cut during mowing is cleaner and this clean wound is far easier for the plant to repair than an uneven tear.  Ensure that your mower blades are sharp and restrict traffic on the lawn until the disease has abated so as to avoid walking the spores around the lawn.  This recommendation is designed to prevent the infection of other parts of the lawn.  Mow when the grass leaf blades are dry and always remove the cut litter.  It is recommended that a second dressing of a slow release nitrogenous fertiliser is applied within a month of the first application to assist in preventing re-emergence if damp conditions prevail.
 
If these management practises are not working then a broad spectrum fungicide will need to be applied at label rates.  I regard fungicides as a tool of last resort.  However, given that most turf grass plants are open prairie species the sheltered and shady environment that characterises many home lawns does provide a substantial challenge for these species and tools such as fungicides are occasionally required.  Fungicides are normally classified as poisonous and all appropriate care should be used with their application.
You can keep up to date on the supply of our various turf products via our website. We update any supply issues on the “price guide" page.  To check this out go to our website at www.finelawn.co.nz for up to date supply alerts.
A brief supply summary is as follows;
Tall Fescue   Available now.
Fine Fescue  Available now. 
Creeping Ryegrass Is now available.  
Kikuyu Will be available again in December.
Couchgrass is expected to be available from December weather permitting
KENTUCKY BLUEGRASS (Poa pratensis) TRIAL
This is a new product for us that we have been trialling for the past 18 months.  These trials have been developed in order for us to develop some confidence over its performance and at this stage we are optimistic about it as a turf variety.  Previously, Kentucky Bluegrass (poa pratensis) was disease prone in a wet and humid climate such as that experienced in the top half of the north island.  However, plant breeders have made huge advances with this species in the past couple of decades.  The outcome is a handsome, dark green, strap leaf bladed plant.. It also has a strong layer of underground roots or rhizomes so it holds together very, very well as turf. It is truly a transition zone species and as a result it tolerates drought far better when compared to other cool season grasses, however it doesn't like shade in the cooler regions that are experienced here in New Zealand. 
It has a colour that is comparable to tall fescue and for that reason we see it as potentially beneficial to blend with tall fescue to increase sod roll strength.  Additionally, it grows quite slowly when compared to other lawn species which is always a characteristic that appeals to home owners!
 
Poa pratensis or Kentucky Bluegrass
In August we shifted into our new office which is located at 406 Tauwhare Road just west of the Matangi Village Centre.  We are all very excited to be in these sparkling new interior.  Now we have had some issues with getting sufficient new phone lines installed.  So, we apologise for any inconvenience you may have experienced over the past month or so.  I can assure you however that this matter has now been resolved.
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