Friday, August 22, 2008

What happened to my lawn this summer?

This is the time of year that the true health of a lawn is exposed. By end of summer a number of factors have conspired against our lawns. A combination of activity on the lawn, shade and drought stress have helped to decrease the health of the lawn which increases the susceptibility to insect damage. And, weather conditions this summer encouraged certain lawn diseases which may have had an impact. All of the potential stresses add up to a lawn that could look better and be much healthier.

Heights area yards are often saddled with shade from the wonderful mature trees that are so plentiful. However, turf grass needs at least four hours of sunlight for the grass to be healthy. Shade also impacts available moisture – generally contributing to increased drought conditions as trees soak up available moisture.

Fortunately for homeowners, fall is generally the best time to rehabilitate your lawn. Now is not the time to try and perk your lawn back up with fertilizers – the magic cure is not contained in an easy to apply bag.

In the long run, practicing proper cultural practices will have the biggest impact on the health of your lawn. Cultural practices include mowing, irrigation, aerating, de-thatching and top dressing. For do-it-yourselfers you can make a big impact on your lawn with a little effort and time, or you can hire a service provider to help you with the items that you may not be equipped or able to handle yourself.

Keeping it simple is important. Mow your grass tall. You don’t always have to cut lots of grass each time. Raise the mowing height to three inches or taller. Skip a mowing or two if the lawn doesn’t need it. Cutting the lawn too short encourages weeds and reduces the health of your existing grass. Sharpen your mower blades at least twice a year if not more regularly and leave the clippings on the lawn as long as you don’t create piles and clumps of grass.

Heights area lawns will benefit tremendously from aeration at least once per year, either in the spring or fall. Aeration is the process of removing cores of soil throughout the lawn allowing air to get to the roots of the turf grass. It helps to alleviate compacted soil and encourages better surface drainage to minimize the potential for moss growth. You can rent an aerator for $50 to $60 for a half day or hire a service provider to do it for you. Shady lawns that have moss or those that have not been aerated recently will benefit tremendously from aeration twice a year – both spring and fall. The soil should be slightly moist for good penetration. Aerating the lawn twice in two directions will not hurt the lawn.

Thatch build up occurs in lawns that are actively growing or that have been under maintained over the years. Thatch is the layer of dead bio-mass that has not decomposed between the crowns of the turf grass plant and the soil. It builds up and creates an impermeable layer that prevents moisture, fertilizer and other lawn applications from getting to the soil. Some thatch is good as it helps to stabilize and cool the soil, but more than ½” of thatch becomes problematic. Removing thatch can be done by hand with a rake and lots of effort or with a power dethatcher or verti-cutter which can also be rented like an aerator. Rake up the thatch and compost it or bag it for the city to pick up. Aggressively removing thatch may require some spot seeding in areas that become very thin.

Healthy soil is the vital building block for a lush and full lawn. Any lawn can be improved by top dressing with organic materials like compost or leaf humus. Heights area lawns have heavy clay which anyone who has tried putting a shovel in the ground knows is hard to dig in and thus difficult to get plants to grow in. Gardeners top dress their vegetable gardens and flower beds with leaf humus and compost products to build the soil and help feed the plants. Consider doing the same for your lawn. There is very little organic matter left in the clay soil of our lawns. Adding organic matter like compost improves the soil composition which results in healthier grass. When top dressing, a little bit goes a long way to helping your lawn. Over application will smoother the grass, so applying a very thin layer will be more beneficial. Plan to buy material in bulk quantity if possible. Measure your lawn area and determine the square footage (length x width = square feet). ¼” of compost spread out over 3,000 square feet will require approximately 3 cubic yards of material (or about forty five 2 cubic foot bags of product).

Instant cures are for late night infomercials. Good maintenance practices applied over time, like exercise and diet, will provide the best results. Not all lawns need to be dethatched, so check first. All lawns will benefit from aeration, top dressing and mowing the grass taller. The work you put into your lawn this fall will pay big dividends next year, helping your lawn to better survive next summers heat and drought.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Caution: Increased insect activity this summer

In a letter dated August 4th to our current customers:

We’ve had a rainy summer which has increased soil moisture, providing a more desirable habitat for lawn insects. We are seeing signs that there may be more damage to lawns this summer than we have seen in years past from these little invaders.

Larger than normal adult Japanese Beetle populations have been noted by Ohio State University Extension service in multiple areas of the state. The large adult populations may result in a large new white grub population. One major factor contributing to the success of the grub is current soil moisture conditions. Soil moisture levels are high which will make it easier for the female Japanese Beetles to find suitable locations to deposit their eggs which will hatch into the larvae or white grub.

We have also seen increased incidence of sod webworm and are beginning to see evidence of chinch bug in some lawns, particularly those lawns that have a history of chinch bug activity.

How are insects controlled?
Traditionally we wait and monitor sites to evaluate pest populations and potential for damage before determining if a curative insecticide application is warranted. The benefit to this approach is that we do not simply apply insecticides on a broad basis – we only apply where and when necessary. Often this results in some lawn damage that needs to be repaired as the presence of insects is not known until symptoms of damaged turf begin to appear.

Preventative applications can be made and are generally scheduled earlier in the summer on those lawns that have a history of insect problems and where the homeowner’s threshold for damaged turf is low. In these cases the homeowner has determined that the risk of damage has a bigger impact and is less desirable than applying a preventative insecticide application.

What should you do now?
We need your help to be on the look out for areas of your lawn that are in the process of turning brown or that have turned brown already. Alert us to these conditions so we may investigate further to determine the cause – as not all brown areas are the result of insect damage.

Option 1: Watch and wait to see if insect damage appears and then evaluate the need for an insecticide application based on insect population and potential damage of the lawn. The benefit to this approach is that in hindsight an application may not be necessary, lowering cost and reducing the use of pesticides. However, the wait and see approach may result in increased turf damage requiring more expensive lawn renovation work to correct the problem.

Option 2: Contact Lawn Lad today to discuss the appropriate course of action and if a preventative application is warranted for your lawn. We do not make blanket recommendations for pesticide use – so if you are concerned and want to be proactive – please contact us to discuss your options so that the potential for damage is minimized.

More information about Integrated Pest Management.