Lawn Issues: How to keep a nice thick healthy lawn
A nice thick healthy lawn can be easy to keep if you just know what happens when things start going wrong and attend to them. Most lawn issues start out looking the same- and are described as brown or dead spots in the yard. You have to decide what the problem is before you can fix it—and you have to fix the problem before you can restore a healthy look to the damaged area. Diagnosis can be difficult and often treating for the wrong problem just makes things worse. (For example if the problem is really a low spot that is holding water and has created a fungal problem and you think that you need to water more-you will just make the problem escalate. This newsletter is to help you make a good diagnosis and fix the lawn issue as soon as possible with the least effort so that you can get back to enjoying your lawn and stop stressing over it.
Most lawn issues start out looking like this.
The first thing that I do is to rule out what I find it often is—some kind of watering problem. If it is just a watering problem –that can be the easiest thing to fix by adjusting your system or changing how & when you water. So as you read about all the other things it could be—keep that in mind and do the test at the end of this article before you do anything else.
The Most Common Lawn Issues
I want to address the most common lawn issues for this area first…
St. Augustine Decline (SAD): Something caused the problem in the first place. Many of us that have old Saint Augustine Lawns –don’t have Raleigh—if your lawn precedes 1981 that is a real probability. ( until then we used several other varieties that many lost in the unusually cold weather and ice storms that occurred that year) . Because of the loss of so many of those lawns we started using Raleigh Saint Augustine in our yards which was more cold hardy. We also noticed that Raliegh was more resistant to SAD ( Saint Augustine Decline) and that it was a much better choice for this area for that reason as well. SAD usually starts showing up with light green streaks in the early spring and then suffers and declines as soon as the heat kicks in. After several years you will have many bare spots that have been taken over by weeds. Plugging in Raleigh Saint Augustine plugs or laying down new Raleigh sod will be of great benefit –it is resistant to SAD and will spread over the damaged areas that have suffered the most. Aeration is of great benefit as well. It is best to do this in mild temperatures when the lawn is actively growing—(in high temperatures the grass doesn’t spread as fast).
Some lawns that have SAD are controlling it with aeration and several applications of the green bag of Humalfa Humore for turf –at the rate of 1 bag for every 100 square feet of surface. SAD can also be caused by over applying high nitrogen fertilizers too early in the Spring. If you determine that you have SAD be careful about using any high nitrogen fertilizers in the early Spring-and wait until temperatures warm up to at least above 70 degrees at night to start your program—and back off of the corn gluten meal application for weeds in the Spring until your lawn is replaced by the new Raliegh. You can still do the fall application to control weeds. Otherwise follow the Pick Your Program schedule and use the watering and mowing tips at the end of this article. The Green bag of Humalfa Humore may be applied any time and is of great benefit to any lawn issues.
Brown Patch or Other Fungal Lawn Issues: choices are GP for Turf (a garlic spray) or Natures Guide Garlic Spray-
use either choice –follow the directions- until the weather dries up and fix drainage issues and / or monitor your watering schedule.
If you determine that you have an actual fungal disease in your lawn—remember what I wrote earlier about how something caused that problem in the first place—it could be that you have poor drainage—if so -you will need to fix it. If you don’t have gutters I would recommend that you add them as soon as possible . And be sure that the damaged area does not hold water for any reason—if you have low spots fill them in with some top soil and let the grass grow over the new soil from around the edges.
Fill in low spots with top soil to remove low spots where fungal problems start.
Fungal problems can also be caused by watering too often- Always water deeply and as infrequently as you determine your soil can handle based on the watering test at the end of this article. Also be sure that the area is not receiving water from several stations-keeping it too wet. Another frequent cause of fungal lawn issues is watering in the evening during the cooler temperatures of March- June and October- November. The best time to water during these months is as close to 6AM as you can start-and finish by 10AM due to watering restrictions. Early Morning Is The Best Time To Water!
If it is late summer– and after you have taken the simple watering test at the end of this article –and determined that your brown spot is due to low watering conditions– you could have a secondary problem caused by the soil being too dry. After fixing the watering problem- water the area well for one week. If the brown spots don’t start turning green after the week is up- but continue to get larger –you may have chinch bugs due to the dryness of the area. Chinch bugs like hot and dry conditions. They often show up in late July- August and appear as dead circles, usually in areas where the sprinkler system is not wetting the soil down deep. To treat chinch bugs, pull up the dead grass area, sprinkle Natures Guide Fire Ant Killer (same thing as used on fire ants) over the dead area and at least 1 foot out from the damaged area because the active insect moves out past the edge of the damage to feed on new fresh grass. Then cover the powder with 1” of compost or Humalfa Humore for Turf and water well to get the powder into the soil.
**Note—All of the above lawn issues are very often misdiagnosed.
Many times, the brown areas you see are caused by the sprinkler system not wetting the area thoroughly enough in the summer– causing it to dry out and incur stress damage. You cannot determine this by watching the system run. The only way to determine this is to perform a watering test. Capture the water by putting several small cans (such as a cat food or tuna can) in the damaged spot and also in areas where the grass is green. Run the sprinkler system cycle and check to see if all cans are filling up to 1 inch. (You should run the sprinklers long enough to fill cans to 1 inch deep—no matter what size of can or small bowl you use) If the cans in the damaged area are not getting as much water as the cans placed in the greener areas- then that could be the problem and you may only need to adjust a sprinkler head or add to your system. This is truly the easiest problem to fix.
If you water long enough to get an inch of water in a can- you will usually get the soil wet past 6 Inches deep—then you want to let that soil dry out until it is almost dry to let air into the root system and then water deeply again. (If your soil is very compacted and water runs off before you can water long enough to get an inch in a can– then water every station 10 minutes on program A to open the pores of the soil and set Program B to follow it with settings that would allow that much
water to fall.) + 1 inch of water above ground = 6 Inches depth in soil
Another way to really improve turf health, weed control and other lawn issues is mowing your lawn correctly.
Mowing Your Lawn: Lawns should be mowed at 2 ½” – 3”height on a 5 – 7 day cycle. You never want to remove more than 1/3 of the grass blade- so don’t allow enough time to lapse between mowings to let the grass grow so high
that you would need to cut more then 1/3 of the top off at once. Lawn grasses hold their nutrients in the top of the blade– so cutting more than 1/3 of the blade off weakens the grass and sets it up for all sorts of problems including suddenly looking burned the next day after mowing (especially in Summer). Mowing higher also aids in moisture retention and weed control because it shades the soil.
I’m sure that you have guessed that I do really like the effects of Humalfa Humore for Turf ( green bag) Green Bag of Humalfa Humore for Turf – used at the rate of 1 bag per 100 square feet, applied in three consecutive seasons will control the problem of SAD. The affects of this product can be harmed by the application of any bactericide or fungicide, such as Cornmeal. FYI Cornmeal is never allowed on my projects because in my opinion it kills all fungus; good and bad. Even though It does seem to give some fast fungal control with wilt at first–I have noticed long term lawn issues on my projects when clients have used it and it will kill the effects of the green bag of Humalfa Humore for Turf . The Green Bag is expensive because of the rate -but it is a good control. Cover the damaged area with the Green Bag of Humalfa Humore for Turf and it will green up quickly.
If you need a second choice because of the cost then apply any good compost at the rate of ½-1 inch depth. You’ll need one -2 cubic foot bag per 50 sq ft or 1 cubic yard per 650 sq ft to cover ½” deep. If you have any kind of lawn damage- the above recommendations of Humalfa Humore or a good compost will repair the damaged areas once the reason for the problem has been correctly diagnosed and treated. The real trick is- to monitor your lawns often enough and close enough to catch a problem in the very beginning ( this only requires that you check it out every couple of weeks- address any areas that are showing signs of stress-and diagnose the problem so that you can fix it quickly before the damage spreads) If it is a mystery-send me a picture and a description of what you see and I will help you with diagnosis.
A few other lawn issues….
Another insect problem that is not too usual –but occurs every once in a while-especially after mild winters is army worm infestation—they rarely occur on organic properties because thatch is not present after the program is built and natural predators of the army worm have moved back in. However if you are new to organics or have used chemical pesticides up to now- it could happen. If you had them last year- spray the lawn late in the evening with liquid BT as soon as possible (May) and then repeat as often as the bottle recommends until the first of June. This will get any leftovers from last year when they are small. If you have an outbreak this June-it will be hard to control then– spray in July with light horticultural oil to kill the second generation which usually leads to the infestation which causes so much lawn damage. ( This damage is sometimes blamed on grub worms which is not a problem here-because our grubs come from June Bugs –not Japanese Beetles-which do not live here in large numbers yet-they do appear to be coming-but for now I do not find grubs that we have to be a problem—so I keep looking and so far have always found it to be something else)
If you do wish to control grubs – beneficial nematodes will give you control for one season-but you will have to reapply every year-because beneficial nematode strains ( so far) do not live through the aridity and drought that we suffer here. If you go to the expense of applying beneficial nematodes –for best results-be sure to do it during a rainy time- mix them in rain water or water that has been set out for 24 hours –and slosh them out during a rain( if it isn’t lightening or dangerous in any other way for you to be outside). They must have moisture to be washed deep enough into the soil to survive at all- and hose end sprayers must use treated tap water which has chlorine– that will harm the nematodes. Love & Luck, Lucy
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