AMES-Tim VanLoo has been through plenty of turf wars.
No, not the office squabbles of the work-a-day world, but honest-to-goodness struggles with seeding, growing and maintaining the 1-inch-high natural grass at Jack Trice Stadium and other Iowa State University athletics fields.
VanLoo, athletic field manager for ISU, maintains perhaps the most scrutinized lawn in the state, a 1.3-acre field of turf that sometimes even gets rave reviews from Cyclone fans on Coach Paul Rhoads' radio show. The Kentucky bluegrass turf is so uniformly dark green and spongy beneath one's feet that VanLoo said he has often overheard fans on the sideline debate whether the grass is real during Cyclone game days.
-Messenger photo by Dave DeValois
Tim Vanloo, ISU’s athletic field manager, said the turf at Jack Trice Stadium requires him and eight others to keep in game-ready condition.
In spite of all the attention paid to the ISU fields, VanLoo said a homeowner can follow the same turfgrass maintenance concepts he uses to bolster their own lawns. VanLoo is an expert in his field. He holds a master's degree in turfgrass science from Michigan State University.
VanLoo offered several tips for homeowners to improve their lawns.
"Most homeowners don't fertilize throughout the year. You need to make sure you're feeding the turf," he said. "An easy way to think about it is to follow the holiday plan - Easter, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day and before Halloween," he said.
While several applications are needed, he also urged homeowners to not apply too much at any one time. Simply follow the label, VanLoo advised.
Let your grass grow
While the near-record drought and heat of the summer of 2012 would have been too much for almost any lawn to endure without regular irrigation, VanLoo said there are steps homeowners can take to help their lawns endure moderate drought.
"If you don't have irrigation, mow your lawn as high as you possibly can. It will help with weed control and maintain a greener yard longer (in) drought conditions," he said.
There are two main advantages to letting your grass grow higher before mowing. First, the taller the grass, the deeper the roots are. Also, taller grass shades the canopy, which helps prevent weeds and retains moisture.
Although he keeps Jack Trice Stadium's turf at an inch tall, at home in Huxley, VanLoo said he always mows at the highest setting.
During a dry period, homeowners need to either let their lawns go dormant or irrigate on at least a weekly basis. Doing something in between is not good for the long-term health of one's lawn, according to VanLoo. "If you're going to irrigate, don't let it go dormant and then come back. It takes a lot of the vitality from the turf."
Finally, VanLoo recommends aerating one's lawn only if there's a lot of compaction, such as with a newly constructed home.