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Spills

Okay, so you are an over achiever.  Obviously you are if you read this blog.  You do everything yourself.  Not only are you a premier Turfgrass Warrior, you are a do-it-yourself mechanic too.  You do a great majority of the work on your automobiles, ATVs, boats and lawn tractors out in your turfgrass.  A nice, thick stand of turfgrass feels good against your back while you are doing preventive maintenance.  And a big part of that preventive maintenance program is draining and filling fluids.  But, this Saturday in particular is not your day.  You’ve managed to spill a petroleum product on your turfgrass.  You kicked over a bucket, dropped a hose or just didn’t place that collection pan in the exact, correct spot.  Now you’ve got some serious problems.
 
Dr. James B. Beard and Mr. D. Johns, Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Texas A&M University, have done some fascinating research on the mitigation of spills on turfgrass.  Believe me; information like this is posted in and around all the equipment and maintenance shops at a golf course.  When you have a high number of sophisticated equipment all over a golf course on any given day, this becomes a critical subject and a major training topic.  And, if you are pulling equipment maintenance out on or adjacent to your lawn, you need to probably have this information close by or committed to memory.
 
A spill of a petroleum product on your turfgrass is going to do something.  Something’s gonna happen and the impact to your lawn will not be favorable.  There will be some sort of impact.  And, there really is no easy way to “remove” a spill from your lawn.  The best you can hope for is to somehow mitigate the impact.  In fact, that’s kind of the goal of the research that those Aggies I mentioned earlier were doing.  Those Aggies developed some ways we can alleviate these stresses, mitigating some of the impacts, and maybe even lessen the “Recovery Time” of the turf.  In many cases, the Aggies were able to cut the recovery time in half.
 
Let me list the fluids that I’m talking about: Gasoline, Motor Oil, Hydraulic Fluid, Brake Fluid and Grease.  These items can do horrible things to your lawn and your landscape shrubs and trees as well.  Leaf burn in your lawn begins almost immediately when gasoline is spilled on your turf.  Gasoline can completely kill the turf in the area in less than an hour.  Motor oil has a shiny appearance and takes more time than gasoline (maybe up to 48 hours) to do damage.  Hydraulic fluid is more like gasoline but the leaf kill is not as quick as gasoline.  Most hydraulic fluids also have an odor.  Brake fluid has an odor but turns the turf into a grey color then a yellow color but total leaf kill occurred within 24 hours.  Luckily, grease is usually deposited in small spots and can be removed…to some extent.  Grease has real high viscosity.  Grease does not flow (or percolate) as well as the other petroleum products.
 
The first thing you must do is REACT QUICKLY.  You need to do your activity within the first 20 minutes after the spill.  That’s why in some places you will see materials always standing by for immediate use in case there is a spill.  You need to be able to start working on the spill immediately.  Do not wait for any length of time because the fluid will percolate into the soil and be sucked into the stomates of the plants very quickly.  Both plants and soil are impacted.  All spills, regardless of type, must be dealt with immediately.
 
Next, the question is:  What material do I need to use?  Again we turn to our Aggie researchers.  They discovered that granular detergent is a good active ingredient to offset the effects of a spill.  It was able to reduce the recovery time from 8 weeks to about 4 weeks.  The turf still got messed up.  But, the turf did not stay messed up for 8 weeks and was able to recover in about 4 weeks.  Turf managers were able to take further action (tilling, seeding, sodding, plugging, etc.) in a much shorter period of time.  The Aggies said that the detergent needed to be thoroughly drenched with water once the detergent was applied.  They also said the recovery was even better if the suds that were created were removed.  They recommended using a vacuum to remove the suds.  In some of my research, I’ve seen authors refer specifically to “dish soap” versus some other types of detergents; like maybe for laundry or vehicles.  Now, detergent will “disperse” the fluid.  It may reduce the severity of the spill but it may also increase the spread of the problem, over a larger area.
 
Unfortunately, detergent is not that useful against gasoline or grease.  Another “disclaimer” – nothing is really effective on gasoline or grease.  But, detergent is very helpful against motor oil, hydraulic fluid and brake fluid.  Some other materials used on the spills were activated charcoal and calcined clay.  The activated charcoal and calcined clay were not very useful on motor oil and brake fluid spills.  Using activated charcoal and calcined clay on hydraulic fluid is fairly effective, but not as good as detergent.  But, like I said, neither detergent, activated charcoal or calcined clay works well against gasoline or grease.
 
Well, while I’m on the topic, might as well discuss some other spills on turfgrass.  Perhaps spills which are more likely to happen to a homeowner.
 
How about a fertilizer spill?  Treating a fertilizer spill would be somewhat the same as treating your lawn if you “over fertilize”.  I advise homeowners all the time when they have burned their lawn with too much fertilizer.  There’s not much you can do; except water and wait.  All fertilizers may burn lawn grasses if improperly applied.  Fertilizers are made up of mineral salts.  Those salts can literally suck the moisture out of the plants and the soil.  If you’ve spilled granular fertilizer on your lawn, see if you can scoop it up, vacuum it up or rake it out as much as you can.  Physically remove as much as you can and/or spread it out as much you can.  Then drench the area.  Soak it the first day.  Then water it every day for a week.  If you’ve spilled (or over applied) a liquid fertilizer, water and wait.  If your spill is with liquid or granules, you may be done for the season.  Live to fight another day.  Remember, like I said above, you’re probably not going to fix it.  You’re trying to mitigate the damage.
 
How about an herbicide spill?  Or a pesticide spill?  Just like above, if its granular, try to physically scoop up and remove as much of the spill as possible.  If its liquid, watering is good to dilute it.  But, that will also make it spread.  I also spoke about activated charcoal earlier.  Some gardeners say activated charcoal is like using a “de – tox” (detoxification) material for your soil.  It can remove toxins and other bad stuff from the soil.  Using activated charcoal for an herbicide or pesticide spill is a good idea.  Apply it at 5 to 7 pounds per 1,000 square feet.  You need to water that too.  When that operation is complete, you’ll need to scoop up what is left and dispose of it properly. 
 
Here’s the bottom line:  If you spill something, its gonna hurt your lawn.  Don’t just stand there and scratch your head.  Take immediate action.  Try to be prepared to execute some of these tips.  Doing some of the things I have laid out in this blog post will not make the area look like nothing happened.  Get real.  But, these activities should MINIMIZE the damage to a certain degree AND cut some of the recovery time.  The level of effectiveness of these actions depends on what you spilled, how much you spilled, what species of turfgrass you have, how quickly you take action and how you try to treat the area. 
 
If there is no chance any of these bad things will ever happen in your lawn, then you didn’t need to read all this.  But, if there is a chance these things could happen, you didn’t waste your time reading this.

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