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How to Grow a Healthy Lawn Without Chemicals

6/10/2019 5:00:00 AM

Natural, organic and sus​tainable approaches to residential lawn care.


​Why lawns ar​e important​

Lawns are natural filters that remove pollutants from the air and account for a 12-million-ton reduction in dust and dirt, as well as carbon dioxide emissions. ​Grass alone captures 5% of the carbon in the atmosphere annually and recycles it back into the soils.

Additionally, lawns work the same way carpets do in a home by reducing ambient noise, muffling the sound from traffic and other noise pollution. Grasses and their roots control soil erosion, and of course, lawns make a great place for families to enjoy together and for kids to play.​

Reaping the rewards from a lawn all starts with building a healthy one.​

What i​​s an eco-friendly lawn care program?

Eco-friendly lawn care programs are environmental approaches to caring for your lawn while being conscientious for the ecosystems beyond your yard. The goal of an eco-friendly lawn care program is to create a healthy and sustainable environment for your grass, plants and family to grow without the use of conventional herbicides, pesticides, as well as unsustainable lawn care practices.

Building an all natural lawn

Why consider having a​​n eco-friendly lawn?

Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, fertilizers and many other store-bought lawncare products can do wonders for the look of your lawn, but their warning labels will show there is some risk associated with their use. Pesticides can affect more living organisms than they target, herbicides can impact helpful insects like bees, and water-soluble nitrogen fertilizers can runoff into the waters we drink and recreate in.​

Continue reading to learn about natural and sustainable ways that you can care for your lawn.​

Natural and organic lawn​ care ​​​practices

 

Strengthen yo​ur grass​ roots                                                                                                          

Like all plants, the health of your lawn starts at its roots, which is why it's extremely important to nourish and care for the roots. The easiest way to tell the health of your roots is by looking at the soil and its pH level, or its measure of acidity or alkalinity. Different plants prefer soils with varying pH levels, which is why it's important to learn where your grass stands. For example, dandelions prefer a pH level of 7.5, which is mostly neutral. Most grass thrives with a soil pH of 6.5 to 7.0, which is in the slightly acidic to neutral range.

Testing your lawn's pH level can be done on your own with a testing kit from a gardening store. Test your soil by taking three to five soil samples from about four to six inches below the soil surface in different areas of your lawn. Remove the grass so you're left with nothing but soil. Mix the dirt together and spread around on a disposable surface so it can dry out over a 24-hour period and test according to the instructions of your kit.

If the soil is too acidic (pH 0 – 6), add organic options like wood ash to your soil. It may take several applications over a few years to take effect, but it will put your roots on a track to becoming healthier.​

If the soil is too basic (pH 8 – 14), add sphagnum peat to your lawn. Just be aware that it may require some tilling to fully incorporate the sphagnum peat into the soil and for it to take effect. Another option is to add fine mulch and compost to your lawn.

How to grow a lush, green lawn

Natural ways to fertilize your lawn

Fertilizer alternatives for your lawn

Grass itself contains rich nutrients like nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. When grass is mulched into tiny clippings, microorganisms living on the soil bed break down the mulch and release those nutrients back into the soil – feeding your lawn. Additionally, creating a habitable ecosystem for those useful microorganisms enhances the ability for a lawn to fight off lawn disease and mold.

Mulching will require a mulch kit to cut your grass clippings into fine, highly decomposable grass clippings. Read more about mulching in a blog we published earlier this year.

Aside from mulched grass, natural compost can return nutrients back into your landscape and help thicken your grass and fill in brown spots. Remember to apply lightly because you don't want to completely cover your lawn and choke your grass.​

How to use less water o​n your lawn

The EPA estimates that lawn irrigation accounts for anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of water consumption during the summer in the U.S. When responsible irrigation practices are overlooked, overwatering can occur, drowning grass roots, inviting weeds and promoting lawn fungus growth.

A general rule of thumb is to water deeply, less often and during a cool time of day. When watering, the moisture needs to access the roots to be effective. That means you should remove excess layers of thatch, which is dead grass buildup on the top of the soil bed, before watering. Too much thatch will prevent water from reaching the roots.

Water during the cooler parts of the day like at night or early in the morning. Watering at noon on a hot summer day will not only evaporate water coming from your sprinklers, but it encourages fungal growth and shallow root systems, which can make a lawn more susceptible to disease. Watering at cooler parts of the day gives water a chance to soak into the roots, meaning less water is used and a lower water bill.

Inspect your sprinkler system. Ensure the sprinkler heads aren't clogged or broken and that they're pointed in an effective direction. According to the EPA, even very small leaks can waste 6,300 gallons of water per month.

Don't water when it's not needed. If your area receives enough rainfall, turn off the automatic timer on your irrigation system. Also consider collecting rainwater in barrels at the base of your gutters and recycling that water for irrigation. Learn how much water your grass needs by reading a blog post we published earlier this year.​

Finally, cut your grass at a taller height. Taller grasses promote longer roots, and longer roots can thrive with less watering.

How to kill weeds

Natural weed killers you can make at home

Natural weed killers you can make at home

If you'd rather not use conventional herbicides, try these natural options:

1.     Vinegar

Acetic acid, or vinegar, has been proven to be an effective and eco-friendly weed killer. Vinegar works by drawing moisture from the weeds and dehydrating them. Using vinegar to kill weeds can be a quick and effective method, but it may require multiple treatments because the solution will not work its way into the root system. To create a stronger solution, add dish soap and salt. Dish soap helps the mixture bind to weeds and its leaves and the salt will pull additional moisture from them.

2.     Essential oils

Essential oils work like the vinegar and soap solution. Oils such as clove, orange, peppermint and pine can be used for small weeding.

  • Clove damages the cellular structures in vegetation
  • Orange will help intensify the effect of the sun's ultraviolet rays and burn the weed's leaves
  • Pine and Peppermint can help hinder the germination abilities of vegetation

Mix a few drops of these oils into your vinegar / soap / salt solution and monitor your results to see which work best with the weeds in your yard.

3.     Corn gluten

Corn gluten is available as a powder and can be applied to a lawn twice a year. It works by preventing the growth of new dandelions and will even add nitrogen to the soil, fertilizing your lawn. Corn gluten is a safe alternative, but will not be effective on mature weeds.

4.     Hand weeding

Hand weeding is an effective way to get rid of annual weeds and can also help control perennial weeds before they establish a large root system. The largest benefit to hand weeding is the cost – it's free. Although hand weeding is time consuming and requires manual labor, it's one of the most effective eco-friendly options toward a weed-free yard.​

5.     Cutting at an appropriate height

Mowing your lawn too short, or scalping, stresses lawns. By keeping your lawn taller, you not only avoid scalping it, but you discourage weed growth. The extra length of the grass blades helps shade the soil, prevent weed germination, encourage deeper and stronger root growth and absorb rainfall more effectively.

Keeping bugs out of y​​our lawn

Natural ways to kill bugs

Natural ways to kill bugs

Mosquitos love moisture, and their gangs congregate anywhere near standing water and in areas with tall grass. Help keep mosquitos out with effective drainage in low spots in your yard, keeping any fixture, lawn ornament or tool free of standing water, and by mowing frequently. Also, light a few citronella candles when you want to spend time outside – mosquitoes hate them.

Anthills invading your yard? Coating an anthill with baking soda and dousing in white vinegar will destroy it. If ants are still getting into entertainment areas around your yard, the Farmer's Almanac suggests mixing four ounces of water, two tablespoons of vodka, 15 drops of peppermint oil and five drops of cinnamon oil in a spray bottle and applying to patios, picnic tables swing sets and more. If you want to get aggressive with your ant problem, leave out equal parts of Borax (toxic) and powdered sugar in an ant-accessible container. If you're lucky, they'll take it back to the colony and share with their friends.

Arachnophobia (fear of spiders) is a nationwide epidemic. If you're one of many individuals who don't like spiders, make your own natural, industrial-use, outdoor repellent by combining one package of chewing tobacco with one gallon of boiling water. Allow the tobacco to soak until the water cools and strain the mixture into a container. Put one cup of the tobacco juice and one-half cup of mint dish soap into a hose sprayer and spray around your yard. This mixture will also repel other bugs and mosquitos, so if you hate them all, this is the solution for you.​

Additionally, you can plant mint, lemon grass, eucalyptus, lemon balm and lavender around your yard to deter spiders from entering.

How to Change Lawn Mower Hydro Belts

5/15/2019 5:00:00 AM

​Check your transaxle belts often and replace as necessary

What's a transaxle belt?

Transaxle drive belts, hydro belts, transmission belts, hydrostatic belts, and pump belts are varying terminology for the same belt that powers the transaxles of a zero turn lawn mower. Without getting too far into the technical weeds, transaxles are the motors that operate the drive wheels of a zero turn lawn mower. When the steering levers are pushed forward on a zero turn lawn mower, the shafts on the transaxles turn the wheels forward. It's as simple as that.​

The Hydro-Gear® transaxles on an Ariens® zero turn lawn mower are not directly driven by the lawn mower engine itself, but by a belt. The transaxle drive belt is routed through an engine pulley, idler pulleys and the pulleys on the top of the transaxles. When the engine is running, the belt is turned by the engine pulley and the belt then turns the transaxle pulleys, supplying power to the transaxles and allowing them to drive the wheels when the steering levers are moved by the operator.

What happens whe​​n a transaxle belt breaks?

Belt wear is unavoidable. Depending on the frequency and degree of use, belts eventually wear out until they're pushed to the point where they break. When a transaxle drive belt breaks, the drive wheels of the lawn mower stop turning, leaving the lawnmower stranded wherever it sits, even if it's in the middle of your yard.

Imagine this scenario: You're nearly finished with your lawn and have just a few rows left to cut. You're deep in the back 40 enjoying the sunshine of a perfect day. You're looking forward to spending the rest of your weekend with the family and a few friends you're hosting for a backyard cookout in just a few hours, when suddenly and unexpectedly, the transaxle drive belt on your mower breaks. The signs of wear were there, but you didn't remember to check the belt before cutting, and consequently, you're now stranded with a mower that needs to either be towed from your yard or repaired in your yard. Your sense of calm has quickly turned into frustration, rage and disdain for the lawn mower manufacturer (that's us).

Don't let this happen to you. Check your belt regularly for these signs of wear:

1.     The belt has sidewall damage

Mower belt edges should be smooth and even throughout the entire length of the belt. If even a small portion of the belt is worn, it's at risk of breaking and should be replaced.

2.     The belt has a glazed or burned sidewall.

Look at the belt edge that contacts the pulleys. If it appears shiny, glazed or burned, it will need to be replaced.

3.     The belt is cracked.

If the belt appears brittle and is deteriorating to the point that it has cracks, even shallow cracks, it's at high risk of breaking and needs to be replaced.​

How to repl​​ace a hydro belt

If it's been a while on the same hydro belt or your belt is showing signs of wear, replace it. There's no way getting around the need for this belt to be replaced, so we recommend either learning how to replace the belt yourself or scheduling the service to be completed by a nearby Ariens dealer. If you prefer to do it yourself, follow our easy-to-understand instructions and pictures below.

If you're doing the work yourself, park the unit on a flat, level surface, stop the engine, remove the key and wait for all moving parts to stop and for hot parts to cool before starting service. Additionally, reread all the safety information in the operator's manual for your unit and follow along with the procedure as outlined in the manual.​

Hydro belt removal:

1.     Remove the left belt cover from t​he deck and gently pull the PTO belt out of the left spindle pulley.Remove left mower belt cover.

2.     Disengage the PTO belt from the clutch.

Remove PTO belt from clutch. 

3.     With a pliers, hold the hooked end of the tensioner bolt located under the gas tank while loosening the nut on the other end of the bolt. Loosen the nut as much as possible without removing the nut from the bolt.Loosen hydro idler tensioner.

​4.     Remove the heat shield from the rear of the mower.

Remove heat shield 

5.     Remove the two self-tapping screws securing the clutch stop bracket to the transaxle brace above it and remove the clutch stop bracket from the clutch stop.Remove clutch stop bracket

6.     With a small flathead screwdriver, gently pry the wire harness clasp away from the wire harness port on the clutch and disconnect the wire harness from the clutch.Disconnect clutch wire harness

7.     For your reference, take a picture of the transaxle drive belt routing.​Take picture of belt routing for your reference

8.     Remove the transaxle drive belt from all pulleys and remove from the unit.Remove transaxle drive belt

Hydro ​​belt installation:

1.     Install the transaxle drive ​​belt and route around the engine pulley, transaxle pulleys and idler pulleys as shown in the belt routing diagram in the operator's manual.Reinstall transaxle drive belt

2.     Reinstall the clutch stop bracket onto the clutch stop and secure to the transaxle brace. For best results, secure the bracket to the brace from behind the unit with your fingers. Tighten as much as finger tightening allows, then use a socket wrench to secure.

Reinstall clutch stop bracket 

3.     Reconnect the wire harness to the clutch.Reconnect wire harness to clutch

4.     Ensure the idler spring is still hooked around the tensioner bolt.Reconnect spring hook

5.     With a pliers, hold the hooked end of the tensioner bolt while tightening the nut on the other end of the bolt. Tighten the nut completely.Tighten hydro idler tensioner

6.     Ensure the transaxle drive belt has tension and is aligned in all pulleys.Ensure transaxle belt has tension

​7.     Gently pull the PTO belt into the left spindle pulley.Reinstall belt into pulley

8.     Reinstall the PTO belt into the clutch pulley.Reinstall belt into clutch pulley

9.     Ensure the PTO belt has tension and is aligned in all pulleys.Ensure belt has tension

10.  Reinstall the belt cover to the deck.​Reinstall belt cover

11.  Reinstall the h​​​eat shield.Reinstall heat shield

To find replacement transaxle drive belts for your mower, visit your nearest Ariens dealer or find them at parts.ariens.com.​​

What's My Grass Type?

5/6/2019 5:00:00 AM

​How to care for the grass in you​​r yard

What's my grass type?

Grass is grass, right? It's green, it grows, and it needs to be cut. While all of that may be true, lawn care shouldn't be approached with a one-size-fits-all mentality. Though all grass may be green, grass in North America com​es in more varieties than are known to the average homeowner. All grass types, or breeds, are unique to certain regions, have specialized characteristics, grow differently and have exclusive care needs. From Bermuda grass to Kentucky bluegrass to Zoysia grass, and more, we compiled a rundown of seven common North American grass types and how to care for them so you can learn how to get a healthy lawn naturally.​

Seasonal grass

Grass is no different than plants in a garden. It needs water, sunlight and has a growing season. Like plants, all grass types, except St. Augustine grass, grow only between spring and fall and go dormant in winter as temperatures cool, even in the far southern portions of the U.S. Depending on the season of the grass breed, the dormancy schedule varies.

Grass breeds are classified as either a warm-season grass or a cool-season grass. Warm-season grasses have low tolerance to cooler temperatures and grow only in southern parts of the U.S. and up through the nation's midsection, known as the transition zone, where both warm-season and cool-season grasses can survive. When winter closes in and temperatures start dipping below a certain temperature on a consistent basis, the grass becomes dormant, or stops growing, until it comes back to life when temperatures rise in the spring.

Warm-season grasses like Zoysia and St. Augustine thrive in the warmer, subtropical climates of the southern U.S. and need lots of water. Cool-season grass are grasses that grow well in cooler temperatures of the transition zone and north. Their typically shallow root systems grow best in the spring and fall, don't fare well in heat or droughts, but are more resilient to winter and don't become dormant until late in the season.​

War​m season grass


Bermuda​​​ ​grass

What is Bermu​​​da g​​rass?​​

Bermuda grass is often confused with crabgrass because of its similar, sprawling look. Bermuda grass​ grows low and dense, has dark green blades with cream-colored stems, and has one very distinguishable feature that makes it easier to identify over crabgrass and other grass species, which are its nodes. Nodes, or "runners" crawl over lawn beds and dig back into the soil, establishing a very strong root system that spreads and reproduces rapidly. In fact, Bermuda is almost too good at growing that it can become invasive.

Bermuda grass, which is one of the most resilient types of grasses in the country, is technically classified as a weed, however, it's a useful weed. Bermuda grass is widely used for turf in sports fields and golf courses, as well as in residential yards because of its durability and ability to withstand drought, salt air and foot traffic. In fact, Bermuda grass is one of few grass species that can even repair itself.

How to care f​​o​​​​r Bermuda grass

As could be assumed from its name, Bermuda grass grows only in tropical and sub-tropical regions of the southern U.S. It thrives in hot temperatures, needs plenty of sunlight and requires as much as one to 1.25 inches of water per week. This high-maintenance grass grows fast and needs to be kept short, meaning that it requires more haircuts.​

Cut Bermuda grass to a length of just one to two inches, and never cut more than one-third of its height in a mowing. For example, if the grass grows to a length of 2.5 inches, cut the grass no shorter than a height of about 1.7 inches. However, remember to cut Bermuda grass as short as three-quarters to just one inch in the first cutting after winter dormancy. Leading up to winter dormancy, Bermuda should be cut about one-half inch higher than normal.​

Zoysia​ grass

What is Zo​​​ysi​​a grass?

Zoysia is not only a fancy-sounding name, but it's an extremely desirable grass breed. Introduced to North America in the late 19th century, its tolerant characteristics leaves a thick, moderately green-colored hue in lawns of warmer climates in the deep south and all the way through the northern portions of the transition zone.

Zoysia, which is the last to go brown during winter dormancy and the first to turn green in the early spring, is popular among homeowners who value family time over chores. Zoysia's low-maintenance, deep root systems require as little as one inch of rainfall per week and can withstand a brief drought without turning brown. Zoysia's high density does well in both sunny and moderately shady areas and is naturally effective at choking off sunlight to weeds, reducing time spent on lawn maintenance and increasing time spent entertaining. Zoysia can withstand foot traffic, so feel free to show it off at your outdoor party.

How to care for Zoysia grass

Zoysia is a slow grower. When it reaches a height around 1.5 to two inches, it can be cut down to one to 1.5 inches. Though Zoysia won't require as much mowing as other grasses, the time saved in outdoor chores should be reinvested to aerate and dethatch in the early spring to improve the air exchange with the root system and help it access nutrients more easily.

Mowing with an Ariens® ZOOM

St. Augustine grass

What is St. Augustine grass?

St. Augustine grass likes heat, all 80 to 100 degrees of it, plus humidity. Mainly present in the Gulf states, St. Augustine is strictly a tropical grass breed, but can still survive in areas as far north as South Carolina where it won't get below 55 degrees and put the grass into dormancy until late in the season. In certain regions like Florida, St. Augustine and its extremely dense, wide-blade texture grows year-round in both sunny and shady areas.

This course-textured grass breed has extreme sensitivities to cold and dry weather. In other words, it's needy. It only takes a consistent spell of sub-55-degree weather to put St. Augustine into dormancy. Additionally, these lawns are susceptible to two main threats: St. Augustine Decline (SAD), a viral disease, and the chinch bug.

How to care for St. Augustine grass

Trying to plant St. Augustine is a fruitless effort. St. Augustine takes a solid three months for the root system to take hold, which is why it's typically only planted in sod farms. If you want St. Augustine, you'll need to order it rather than plant it.

Again, this grass is high-maintenance. St. Augustine likes to be wet, and it will tell you when you're not giving it enough attention. St. Augustine will turn a bluish color and its texture will harden when it needs a good watering, enough to penetrate three to four inches into the soil and reach the extent of its root system. Even though it's suggested to leave St. Augustine lengthy and cut to a height between three and four inches, it will still need to be cut at least once per week to keep it healthy.​

Bahia grass​

What is Bahia grass?

Bahai (buh-HAY-uh) only grows in a very exclusive Southeastern region of the U.S., despite being a more tolerant grass breed that thrives well in many places, especially very hot and dry climates and in sandy soils. In fact, its reputation as a highly tolerant grass breed is the best choice for areas with poor soil quality. Its resiliency is well-suited for the occasional heavy rains in the Southeast because Bahia and its highly coarse blades can tolerate saturated soils and short periods of flooding.

Bahia germination is slower compared to other grass breeds. That slow, open growth pattern can leave it vulnerable for weeds to take hold, however once it becomes established, it requires little maintenance. Bahia doesn't require much water and will only go dormant and turn dark or tan during prolonged droughts. Its deep root systems give it tolerance to both warm and cooler temperature spells.

Bahia should be cut to heights between two and three inches to help keep its roots long, preserving its resilient qualities. Though relatively low-maintenance, the unsightly V-shaped seed stalks that grow faster than Bahia's grass blades may require more frequent mowing – not because those stalks need to be cut, but because your aesthetic preferences may not be able to stand the sight of them.​

Cool​​ season grass


Kentucky blue​grass

What is Kentucky bluegrass?

It's not just a unique blend of Appalachian-inspired music. Kentucky bluegrass, which ironically originated in Europe and Asia, is a fan favorite because of its ability to grow full, thick and lush. Its dark green to blue color and, fine to medium texture and dense root systems make it the ideal species for sod and is an attractive choice to those living in northern areas. Kentucky bluegrass is the best choice for cooler climates, does best during the spring and fall, but can also thrive in warmer climates if watered adequately.

Though KBG takes a strong foothold from its seed, its root systems are shallow, which is why it's sensitive. Hotter temperatures and drought will quickly show their effects on KBG and halt its root growth, but a good soaking rain on this water-loving species leads to a quick rebound. In the transition zone of the U.S. where temperatures can get hotter and more humid compared to northern and coastal areas, Kentucky Bluegrass will need about two inches of water per week to maintain its desired look and feel. In normal, cooler conditions, one inch of water per week is enough.

How to care for Kentucky bluegrass

Kentucky bluegrass is a thirsty grass and can be sensitive to its watering, which is why it should be given a regular dethatching at least every other year. By reducing the amount of thatch on the lawn bed, water can reach its root systems more easily.

Cool-season grasses are all meant to be cut higher, and Kentucky bluegrass is no exception. With regular rainfall and normal temperatures, Kentucky bluegrass should be cut to lengths of around 2.5 to three inches. However, if drought or a heat wave sets in, cutting heights should be increased to anywhere from three to four inches to encourage root growth and to provide more blade area for photosynthesis to occur and relieve stress from the heat and or dryness. Cool-season grasses do better when cut higher in the hottest summer months.​

Mowing with an Ariens® IKON XL.

Perennial Ryegr​a​ss

What is perennial Ryegrass?

Don't try to use these seeds to make beer. It won't work.​

Ryegrass comes in two common varieties, perennial and annual. Perennial meaning that it comes back after going dormant in the winter and annual meaning that it's only sticking around for one season. The reason Ryegrass is common in both varieties is because it's an extremely fast-growing grass breed that can help grow a temporary lawn quickly, making its application especially useful in the construction industry to help mitigate soil erosion. Ryegrass' fast growth also makes it useful in grass blends as a protector to other newly-planted, slower-growing grass breeds. Because Ryegrass germinates so quickly, it shields other grass breeds that take longer to establish their roots.

Ryegrass' tradeoff to its fast growth rate is that doesn't spread well. New Ryegrass will require reseeding, however, once established, it grows hearty and provides a low-maintenance solution to areas where its application is popular, such as the Pacific Northwest and other northern climates. Though Ryegrass is a cool-season grass, its fast-growing capabilities give it popularity in southern neighborhoods and on Georgia's Augusta National Golf Club, the home of the Masters. As the choice of one of the most iconic and beautiful landscapes in the world is enough to make anyone think more seriously in favor of its application on their own property.

Ryegrass, like other cool-season grasses, has shallow roots, doesn't fare well in hot and dry conditions, and will require moderate levels of water and a healthy dose of direct sunlight. Because Ryegrass grows in bunches, it's suggested that it be cut no shorter from 1.5 to 2.5 inches to maintain a full appearance.​

Tall Fescu​​e

What is tall Fescue grass?

Fescue has an enhanced adaptability to a wide range of climates, and though it's technically a cool-season grass, it can tolerate a heat drought and shade as well as the cold. Still, as a cool-season grass, it grows best at the beginning or the end of the growing season. Because it grows in bunches like Ryegrass, over seeding is suggested to give Fescue an attractive, uniform-looking lawn.

Overall, Fescue is a very low-maintenance grass that allows you to enjoy it more than maintain it. It's naturally resistant to disease, rarely needs dethatching and is easy to contain around flower beds, berms and other decorative landscaping. Fescue's deep root system that extends up to a whopping three feet, (yes, feet) means it needs heavy, but infrequent watering and can weather a moderate drought without losing its color.

Tall Fescue lawns should be cut at a height of two to three inches, and as is the rule with nearly every lawn, should not have more than one-third of its length cut at a time.

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