Q: How much topsoil do I need for a good lawn? A: We suggest a minimum of 4-5 inches of good quality topsoil. The deeper the topsoil the longer the roots can grow and the less watering your lawn will need.
Q: How many yards of topsoil do I need to cover my lawn area 4-5 inches deep? A: For every 1,000 square feet of lawn you will need approximately 12-15 yards of topsoil to make 4-5 inches. (take the square footage of your lawn, divide it by 324, and that will give you how many yards you will need for every inch of topsoil. ex: 1,000 sq. ft. / 324 = 3 yards x 4 inches = 12 yards for 4 inches of topsoil)
Q: What is hydroseed and how is it different from hand seeding, spreading hay, or installing sod? A: Hydroseed is a blend of wood and/or paper mulch, grass seed, water soluble fertilizer, and tackifier which are mixed in a slurry and sprayed through a large hose on topsoil. The mulch helps maintain the moisture level of the seed and seedlings. It also helps with erosion of the soil. The fertilizer is typically a time release blend that will last until it is ready to be mowed for the first time. Tackifier is a sticky substance often made from guar gum (a food product) that helps bind the mixture together and prevent erosion. Because of the acidic nature of much of the topsoil on Martha's Vineyard we often mix in liquid lime to help neutralize the pH of the soil. Hand seeding is certainly less expensive than hydroseeding and can be good for very small areas but without any erosion control or material to help hold moisture it can be difficult to grow over larger areas and often takes multiple re-seeding for good results. Spreading hay can help (make sure it is the right kind and does not contain any hay seed) but it does not compare with the erosion control and moisture holding of hydroseed mulch. Spreading hay is also very time intesive. Sod is always the ultimate solution to a new lawn though even it has drawbacks. Sod growers only offer a few different blends of grass mixtures so you are limited with what type of grass you can plant. Sod is grown on farms with irrigation systems, fertilizer, and soil that is constantly monitored and adjusted. This is great while it is on the farm but harder to match at your home. It is also far more expensive to install than having your lawn hydroseeded. That being said sod is still an excellent solution for the right application. If you have or are having an irrigation system installed for your lawn and plan on having a good fertilizing program then sod can be a great choice.
Q: What kind of care does my lawn need after being hydroseeded and what results should I expect? A: Hydroseed is a great economical choice for a new lawn but it will not create a perfect lawn without good care. Typically you will have to lightly seed some areas that do not come in as well as others (could be from being washed out by rain, walked on by animals, not watered enough or too much, or in a shady area that takes more time to germinate). Take care to walk on the hydroseed as little as possible and very gingerly before the first mowing as it could stick to your feet or damage the new seedlings. You will want to mow your lawn once it has reached about 3 inches in height. If you wait longer the grass will tend to bend over and matt together which can lead to die off, mildew, and lawn disease. After the first mowing apply a good quality new seeding fertilizer. Don't worry about any weeds that have sprouted. This is a normal process with a new lawn and they can easily be dealt with later. You will see your lawn start to thicken up after the third or fourth mowing. Like with most plants cutting helps produce horizontal growth. After about four mowings its a good time to apply a high quality weed and feed fertilizer to take care of any pesky weeds that have begun to grow. Any earlier than that and it could damage the young tender grass seedlings. From there just follow a good lawn care program (see below). It typically takes a full season after hydroseeding to create a lawn that resembles sod.
Q: What do you suggest for a good lawn care program? A: We suggest fertilizing at least 3 times per year with a high quality fertilizer. In early spring (first few weeks of April) you should apply either a chemical fertilizer with crabgrass control or a corn gluten based organic fertilizer (corn gluten helps prevent crabgrass and other weed seeds from germinating). In the late spring or early summer apply a good weed & feed chemical fertilizer or basic organic fertilizer. In the fall apply a fall specific fertilizer (usually low in nitrogen so it does not promote top growth in the lawn but instead root growth which will get it ready for the winter). For higher quality lawns we suggest raising it to 5 applications per year using a fertilizer with insect control in the early summer and a second weed & feed application late in the summer. You should also consider applying a season long grub control in the spring as the Vineyard is highly prone to those pesky critters which can quickly damage your lawn and invite our favorite black and white friends over for supper (skunks love to eat grubs and will make quite a mess). In the more humid months of the year some lawns will show signs of fungus (red thread is the most common, you will see reddish coloring near the base of some of the grass blades) which may have to be treated with a fungicide and a change to your watering and fertilizing schedule. It is also a good idea to have a soil test in various locations of your lawn to determine any particular deficiencies in your soil.
Q: Something is digging in my lawn, what can I do? A: Usually the digging is from skunks which is a good indication you may have grubs. If its in the spring apply a season long grub control treatment (imidacloprid). If its mid-summer or in the fall apply a 24-hour grub control (trichlorfon). The skunks may linger for a few days once the grubs are gone but they will eventually wander off to someone elses yard. We now also have European Crane Flies that are burrowing into island lawns. They leave the same telltale signs as grubs but are much more difficult to treat. At this time they can only be treated during the spring when the larvae is most fragile.
Q: Do I need to lime my lawn? How much and when? A: We highly suggest doing a soil test to see if your lawn needs lime. It is a popular misconception that most lawns on the island need liming due to the pine and oak trees nearby.
Q: What are thatching, overseeding, topdressing, and aerating and do I need them for my lawn? A: Thatching is the mechanical action of removing thatch from your lawn. Thatch is a layer of living and dead organic matter that occurs between the green grass and soil surface. Small amounts of thatch is good for your lawn as it helps hold moisture and breaks down into nutrients for the grass. Excessive thatch however creates a favorable environment pests and disease, an unfavorable environment for grass roots, and can prevent fertilizer and lime from properly reaching the soil. If you see a lot of brown dead looking grass between the green grass blades chances are that thatching could benefit your lawn. Overseeding is a process in which a mechanical device creates small slices in the soil and drops seed into these slices. This results in a much higher and even germination than just spreading seed on the surface. This is a good practice for all lawns as it helps will in thin areas and keeps the varieties of grass species diverse (a good lawn has multiple varieties of grass types, even bluegrass lawns will have several different types of bluegrass). Topdressing is the process whereby a thin layer of soil is spread and raked into your lawn. Typical soils used are compost and cow manure. This helps add rich organics to your soil and greatly helps with overseeding. Aerating is the process of mechanically removing plugs of soil from your lawn to help with soil compaction and drainage. Many lawns become compacted over time due to foot traffic, settling of the soil, or other factors. Aerating your lawn opens up the soil layers to allow better drainage and for any fertilizer or topdressing to better reach the roots of the lawn where they are most needed.
Q: Do I need irrigation for my lawns and/or plants? A: If you are looking to have a lush green lawn, especially during July and August, in most cases having an irrigation system is highly suggested. Unless you have very deep topsoil (8-12 inches or more like you find on a farm) or are very dedicated to putting out hoses and manually watering then chances are your lawn will be very brown and crispy come July and August. This also stresses your lawn and will invite weeds to take over as they have much deeper roots and can handle drought conditions better. Irrigation is also important for shrubs, trees, and flowers. For the first few years after planting they need consistent watering which nature often does not provide.
Q: What types of irrigation are there? A: Lawns are typically watered by either rotory type of fixed spray pop-up sprinkler heads. Rotory types can cover much larger areas from 15 ft out to 75 ft. Spray sprinklers have a fixed pattern and are usually used to cover smaller areas, oddly shaped areas, and narrow strips of lawn. Sprays are also used in some plant irrigation applications. Plants can be watered with either drip pipe, drip emitters, soaker hose, or spray sprinklers. The most efficient is drip pipe and drip emitters often called xerigation. These types of irrigation deliver very specific amounts of water right at the base of the plants and minimize wasted water through runoff and evaporation. Drip lines are flexible plastic pipes with water emitters spaced every 6, 12, 18, or 24 inches apart. These emitters deliver either 0.5, 1.0, 1.5, or 2.0 gallons of water per hour. The emitters are not simply holes punched in the pipe but complex little plastic marvels that drip water out slowly at a specific rate regardless of the pressure in the pipe and have one way valves which prevent dirt and fertilizer from getting back into the pipe. Another practice is to run a solid pipe with smaller 1/4" pipes running off of it so that emitters can be placed precisely at the base of the plant. These stand alone emitters are more varied and come in flows anywehere from 0.5 to 25 gallons per hour and are great solutions for trees, larger plants, or less densely planted areas. This way you are not wasting water irrigation areas that are not planted. You may also hear of drip lines being used or advertised for watering lawns. This is a very new technology and while it does have promise it is not well suited for many applications. While it is true that it will deliver water very efficiently to the roots of the lawn and reduce water consumption it also has many drawbacks. For lawns drip lines are run 12-24 inches apart about 4-6 inches below the soil over the entire lawn. If you ever want to dig in your yard for anything, a new bed, a septic system, or something else this can cause quite a mess with all those pipes in the way. If you get grubs in your yard and skunks start digging for them, well you can imagine the results. If your putting in a new lawn drip lines will not be very helpful in the beginning and you will still have to provide surface irrigation until the roots of the grass grow long enough to reach down to the moisture below. The same goes for seeding bare or thin spots in your lawn. Soaker hose is a common method of irrigation but being used less and less by professionals. It is a water permeable rubber hose that lets water out its entire length. It has many drawbacks though: the rubber breaks down over time and eventually bursts without warning, water is released unevenly along the pipe (the further from the water source the less water comes out of the hose), and because it releases water along its entire length much water is wasted where it is not needed. Soaker hose is inexpensive and easy to find at stores so it is still a great solution for homeowners for short term irrigation of newly planted trees and shrubs.
Q: How much water does my lawn need and when should it be watered? A: This is one of the hardest questions to answer. Lawns require different amounts of water depending on the season, weather, temperature, and soil type. A common rule of thumb is to provide at least 1 inch of water per week. In the hot summer you will need much more while in the spring and fall you may need less. With the typical sandy soils on Martha's Vineyard most lawns require more rather than less. For an established lawn we usually suggest watering once per day in the early morning hours. For lawns with deeper topsoil you can often reduce the watering to once every 2-3 days but if you have been watering daily be careful to transition slowly so as not to stress your lawn. Morning is the best time to water as the water can be absorbed into the soil before the heat of the day. If you water in the afternoon a good portion of the water will evaporate before it reaches deep enough into the soil. The water droplets can also act like tiny magnifying glasses and damage your lawn. Watering in the evening or middle of the night is also not advised as the soil will remain moist throughout the night which can invite disease and fungus into your lawn. For a new lawn you will need to water at least 2-3 times per day until the lawn fills in. You can usually cut it back to once per day after the first or second mowing. For a new lawn it is better to water frequently and lightly to keep the soil moist so the seed can germinate well. Heavier watering can create puddling which can cause the seed to float up and become unevenly dispersed. Heavy watering can also cause diseases and moss and mildew to grow.
Q: Is all irrigation the same? Do all irrigation companies use the same products? A: Just with all products and services the quality of the company and products used can greatly vary. There are many irrigation brands available: Hunter, Rainbird, Irritrol, Toro, Weathermatic, Nelson, and more. The best and most common are Hunter and Rainbird which are what our company use. The quality and durability also ranges greatly from homeowner models to residential, light commercial, and heavy commercial. There are huge differences between them. The most common components are the sprinklers and the controller. Cheaper sprinklers will use thinner plastic and have 2 year or less warranties. The sprinklers we us have stainless steel bodies and are warrantied to 5 years. Cheaper controllers will have very limited options for programming, may not allow for a rain sensor to be installed, and usually come with a set number of zones available. The controllers we use allow the option of integrating rain sensors, moisture sensors, weather monitors, and remote controls. They come standard with 3 zones but can be easily and inexpensively expanded up to 15 zones by adding snap in module blocks inside the controller.
Q: Can irrigation be installed at a house with very lowwater pressure? A: Yes. There are two ways of approaching water pressure. One is to have a plumber install a pressure booster. This works well if you have plenty of water volume but low pressure. The other option is installing a low pressure irrigation system. This can be a combination of using less sprinklers per zone and using low pressure type sprinkler heads.
Q: What are the basic components of a typical irrigation system? A: A typical irrigation system is composed of a controller which regulates the watering times and durations, valves which open and close to let the water through each zone, and either sprinkler heads or drip irrigation which releases the water at specific locations. The controller is a small box which is mounted on the outside or inside of the house which has wires which run to the valves. The valves are located in plastic boxes to shield them from the elements. Pipes then run from the valves to either sprinkler heads or drip lines. The water source is through a backflow device which is connected to your water main either next to the meter for town water or near your pump for well water. This device is installed by a licensed plumber and mandated by law in Massachusetts. The device prevents any lawn chemicals from leaching back into you water supply. It is also the access point we hook up to to blow out the water from the irrigation lines with a compressor in the fall. Irrigation systems may also have several other components: a rain sensor which automcatically shuts off the irrigation system when it rains and turns it back on when it dries out, pressure reducers for drip lines which operate at a lower pressure than sprinkler heads, and filters to prevent debris from the water supply clogging up drip lines.
Q: I have a rain sensor but it just started raining and my sprinklers are still running, is something wrong? A: Rain sensors are usually very simple devices. They have a piece or stack of cork discs which sit on top of a button. When it rains the cork absorbs moisture, expands, and pushes the button which sends a signal to the controller to stop watering. Once the cork dries out after it stops raining the cork contracts, the button is released, and a signal is sent for watering to resume. The cork takes time to absorb the moisture so your irrigation will not shut off until it has been raining for a little while and may not shut off at all after a brief rain shower.
Q: What are the different types of grass for lawns and what are their best uses? A: There are many types of grasses but we will limit our discussion to the most common and best types for Martha's Vineyard. These varieties are: bluegrass, ryegrass, and fescue. Bluegrass is the most common and well known. It creates a very high quality lawn. Bluegrass has a moderate growth pattern and does spread and will fill in bare spots. Bluegrass will turn brown and go dormant in hot weather without irrigation and does poorly in shaded areas. It is not recommended for Martha's Vineyard without artificial irrigation or being blended with other grass types. It also germinates very slowly taking as long as 3 weeks from being planted. Because of this slow germination pure bluegrass lawns are usually installed with sod rather than seeding. Perennial ryegrass creates a very nice lawn, germinates very quickly, and does better in the shade, however it does not spread and fill bare spots like bluegrass. Fescue is usually a seed that is blended with eithe bluegrass and/or ryegrass. Fescue is very drought tolerant and does well in the shade but does not produce a high quality lawn by itself for the most part. For some application Tall Fescue used by itself can be a good option. It will not create nearly as nice a lawn as bluegrass or ryegrass but will do much better in poorer soil and low water conditions. Typical seed blends used on Martha's Vineyard combine bluegrass, ryegrass, and fescue together so you end up with the benefits of all three.
Q: What types of soil are there and what are their uses? A: Topsoil is the most common and can be used for anything from lawns to planting. There are 3 types of topsoi: sandy, loam, and clay. Sandy topsoil is the most common found on Martha's Vineyard and the best type for most applications. Loam is lower in sand and higher in clay and organics and works very well for gardens. Clay topsoil has very poor drainage properties and does not have many uses in landscape application aside from driveways and walkways. Compost is decayed matter (can be made from leaves, animal waste, plant waste, food waste, and anything else organic) that is very rich in nutrients and minerals. compost can be used in planting and ammending soil in a lawn or flower beds. Manure is composed animal waste and is used in the same ways as compost. Best manures are cow, chicken, and bat. It is best to avoid horse manure unless it has been composted very well because it will tend to be very high in weed seeds.
Q: How does an organic lawn care program work and what should I expect? A: An organic lawn care program emphasizes horticultural practices to make your lawn healthy and keep the weeds, pests, and diseases out rather than using chemical means. The program involves using organic fertilizers and properly managing soil quality and composition using topdressing, thatching, overseeding, and watering. Corn gluten based fertilizer is applied 1-2 times per year. Corn gluten has been proven to prevent seed germination. By preventing new weeds from gorwing in the lawn and thickening the grass with overseeding existing weeds are crowded out. It is hard to have a completely weed free organic lawn but you can get very close. Organic lawns typically have far better soil quality than chemically treated lawns. The addition of organic fertilizer and topdressing adds nutrients to the soil and makes it a better host for grass and beneficial insects such as worms. Chemical treatments are absorbed by the grass and must be consistently applied because they do not add much to the overall soil quality.
Q: How can I make good compost in my yard? A: Composting is all about achieving the right mixture or green and brown elements and making sure they have the right air and moisture content to help them break down quickly. The green part of your compost are nitrogen or protein rich things like grass clippings, manure, and food scraps. The brown part of your compost is carbon rich matter such as dried leaves, branches, mulch, saw dust, and wood ash. A healthy compost pile should have at least twice as much brown matter as green matter. Too much green matter makes for a heavy, smelly, slowly decomposting mass. It is important to keep your compost pile moist but not too wet. You may need to water it during dry spells. Oxygen is the main component in good composting. Higher oxygen content creates more organisms and bacteria which will break down the pile to usable compost more quickly. Turn over your pile frequently and keep a good green to brown ratio to keep plenty of oxygen in the pile. Temperature is also an important factor and the bacteria and organisms will not work quickly in colder temperatures. They will also die off if a pile heats up too much, often caused by too much green items or not turning your pile enough. When in doubt add more brown items and turn your pile.
Q: What types of gravel are available on Martha's Vineyard? A: There are 3 common colors of gravel available: brown, blue, and grey and they are available in many sizes. Brown gravel can be either locally quarried or imported and vary slightly in color. Blue and grey are both imported and readily available. Brown gravel is a tumbled and rounded stone as is the grey gravel. Blue gravel is a sharper edged stone. They come in size grades from stone dust (good for walkway and driveway bases), 3/8" (commonly called "pea stone"), 3/4", 1 1/4", and tailings (large 2-4" stones). RAP (recycled-asphalt-product) is often used as a base material. There are two versions available on the island. An inexpensive one which combines chunks of asphalt, concrete, and brick and a more expensive one which is stricly processed asphalt pieces. Crushed shell is also available and make a beautiful driveway.
Q: What are the most common types of stone walls? A: Stone walls can be either free-standing or retaining and built as either dry stacked or with mortar. Free-standing walls are usually decorative or used to mark borders of areas or property lines. Retaining walls are used to hold back soil in elevation changes. Dry stacked walls are built without the use of mortar and can be either free-standing or retaining. Mortar walls use cement to adhere the stones to each other and in some cases mortar to fill the joints between the stones. Typical stone used is new england fieldstone (the most common you see), granite (can be smaller pieces or huge slabs), brick, and Pennsylvania wallstone (thin, small pieces stacked vertically with a darker color). Almost any type of stone can be used to build walls so the limits are only your imagination.
Q: What is bluestone? A: Bluestone is a very hard and dense building material and one of the most common used in walkways, patios, pools, and outdoor stair treads. Bluestone can be purchased in several different grades, thicknesses, sizes, and finishes. Bluestone can be either square, rectangular, or irregular (sometimes called broken bluestone). It is typically 1 1/2-2 inches thick. Finishes are either natural cleft or thermal treated (sandpaper like finish). For pools and stair treads the edges of the bluestone can be natural cut, rock-faced, bull-nosed, rolled, or cantilevered. Bluestone coloration can vary from a rich blue color to a mixture of earth and rust tones and are often separated and sold by coloring.
Q: How do you build a good gravel or shell driveway? A: A good driveway should have 3 components: the sub-base, the base, and the surface. Each layer should be the right thickness and well compacted. The sub-base is the native soil and on Martha's Vineyard is usually a mixture of sand, silt, and clay. For a flat driveway it should have a high sand content to allow for proper drainage. If sub-base is high in clay content and then the driveway may need to be pitched or crowned for proper drainage. The next layer is the base material which provides the structure and support for the surface layer and prevents it from sinking and getting lost in the sandy sub-base. The base material can be made from RAP, stone-dust, or a gravel/clay mixture. The surface layer is either gravel or crushed shell. Each layer should be well compacted to prevent mixing of layers and to provide a stable driveway that will not shift when driven on.
Q: What trees and bushes do you suggest for shady areas? A: For evergreen trees the best choices would be Pines (white, austrian, or black) and Hemlocks though Firs, Spruces, Junipers, Arborvitae, and Junipers will do well in light shade. For deciduous trees the best choices are Dogwoods, some Maples and Cherrys, and Redbuds. Evergeen shrubs that do well in the shade are rhododendron, euonymous, holly, mountain laurel, azalea, and skimmia. Deciduous shrub choices would be viburnum, clethra, enkianthus, fothergilla, rose of sharon, oakleaf hydrangea, and highbush blueberry. There are many choices for shade perennials but some of the best are hosta, astilbe, bleeding heart, cranesbill, heuchera, and veronica. The choices will depend on how much shade you have as some plants will tolerate more shade than others.
Q: Is there such a thing as a low maintenance lawn? A: A lawn will only be as good as what you put into it. For a good lawn you have to have good grass variety, deep enough quality topsoil, and adequate water. The deeper the topsoil and the better its quality the less watering it will need. Lawns treated organically with deep topsoil will require less fertilizing and be prone to less insect and disease problems. All lawns need consistent mowing. Tall fescue lawns have lower requirements for water and fertilizer but will not make as nice a lawn as bluegrass and ryegrass. There are plenty of advertisements for "no mow" or "no maintenance" grass seed varieties which are usually some type of fescue but for the most part they are not well suited for conditions on Martha's Vineyard and do not tolerate salt, sandy soil, and cold temperatures very well.
Q: What types of mulch and wood chips are available on Martha's Vineyard? A: Mulch and chips are available in bulk by the yard or in bags found at garden centers. By the yard you can find brown mulch which is usually a mixture of pine and oak, black mulch which is the same but treated with a dye, and hemlock mulch which has a slight reddish tint (not a bright red). You can also find either fresh wood chips which are great for covering bare areas or old wood chips which make great cover when planting new trees and shrubs. Bagged mulch and chips come in many more varieties but are much more costly than buying by the yard if you are covering a large area. Use the same calculations from our lawn section at the top to figure out how many yards of mulch you need for your application. We suggest spreading 3-4 inches for good weed prevention and water retention. Be careful not to spread it to thickly near the base of trees and shrubs as that can damage them.
Q: What is the difference between Hardscape and Softscape? A: Hardscape is the more permanent part of your landscape which includes: stonework, driveways, walkways, walls, patios, and irrigation systems. Softscape includes items that are less permanent and easily changes such as lawns and plantings.
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