LAWN PEST PREVENTION
Here are some strategies to help prevent pest infestations and to establish and maintain a healthy lawn with minimal or no use of pesticides. The key to preventing pest infestations and having a beautiful lawn is to create an environment that allows grass plants to have every advantage for vigorous growth.
Choose an Adapted Grass with Pest Resistance
When planting new turf, select grass species that are insect and disease resistant. Chose grass mixtures that are best adapted to your landscape. For example, if you live in a warm, sunny area of the country choose a grass mixture that is designed to grow best in a sunny environment. If you live in an area where your lawn will receive mostly shade or you have a lot of shade trees on your property, you need to select a grass species adapted to grow in shady places. Another important factor in determining the right grass species to plant include the intended use of the lawn.
Always blend two or three cultivars (a variety of a plant that was produced from a natural species and is maintained by cultivation) of each species included in a mixture of seed for lawn turf to provide better disease resistance and adaptation to the site. Planting a single cultivar invites problems.
Seed the Lawn When Conditions are Favorable
It’s common to plant grass seed year-round in Florida, but according to University of Florida Extension, the best time to plant warm-season grass is in the spring or summer. The grass will grow fast and become strong before winter. Sowing grass seed in the spring and summer takes advantage of Florida’s rainy season, reducing the need for you to water your new lawn. If you’re experiencing a dry season, however, make sure you provide supplemental waterings for your lawn.
Determine the Lawn’s Needs with a Soil Test
Lawn grass requires ample nutrients in order to promote healthy growth and pest resistance. It is advisable to test your soil about every three years to identify any nutrient deficiencies or changes in soil acidity. Many lawn care provider can do a soil test. A routine soil test determines the soil’s pH (acidity or alkalinity) levels, its lime index and the levels of phosphorous and potassium. Based on the results of the soil test your lawn care provider will make recommendations for fertilizing your lawn. It is important that you DO NOT add lime or to your lawn unless a soil test confirms there is a need for additional lime.
Fertilize the Lawn for sustainable growth and pest prevention
It is important to understand how nutrients are packaged and identified in fertilizer products. The three numbers on the fertilizer label are required by law to inform the purchaser of the percentage (by weight) of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium that are in the packaged fertilizer. The following numerical sequence 24-6-12 on a fertilizer label indicates that the product contains 24% nitrogen, 6% phosphorous and 12% potassium. A good lawn fertilizer should contain a nutrient ratio of approximately 4 parts nitrogen, 1 part phosphorous and 2 parts potassium. A general rule of thumb is that the fertilizer product you use for routine maintenance should provide two to four pounds of nitrogen per thousand square feet of lawn per year.
Although no two ;awns are exactly alike it is recommended to fertilize your lawn at least four times a year:
Early Spring (February-April)
Late Spring (April -June)
Summer (June -August)
Check with your lawn care provider about lawn fertilization for your specific geographic region.
Poor mowing practices result in more damage to lawns than any other cultural factor. Many lawns are mowed too short, mowed with a dull blade or not mowed often enough. When a lawn is improperly mowed or not mowed often enough it restricts root growth and increases insect, disease and drought damage that contribute to an increased number of weeds.
The grass species itself should determine the mowing height. For fine fescues, Kentucky bluegrass and turf-type perennial ryegrass the mowing height should be 2.5 inches high. For turf-type tall fescues you should mow to a height of 3 inches.
It is important to mow frequently so that no more than 1/3 of each leaf blade is removed each time the grass is cut. During the spring and fall this can mean mowing 2-3 times a week, but normally only weekly or once every two weeks in the summer. During the summer leave an extra 1/2 inch in height to help grass plants tolerate the heat and dry weather. Always make sure you are mowing with sharp blades. It is best to leave clippings on the lawn. When you leave the clippings important nutrients are returned to the soil and used by the grass plants. Doing so will not build up thatch. If you have too many clippings that remain on the surface of the grass plants spread the clippings uniformly with a rake. Frequent mowing when the lawn is dry will help disperse the clippings evenly.
Reduce Diseases and Weeds with Proper Irrigation
The second most common cause of lawn pest problems is caused by improper watering. When you irrigate an established lawn water it thoroughly so that with each watering the water reaches about 6 inches deep into the soil. Watering should not be repeated until the lawn starts to show signs of drought stress. Such symptoms can include a bluish-gray color or footprints that do not disappear when someone walks across the lawn. Grass can withstand mild stress and it will recover quickly once thoroughly watered again.
The best time to water is between 4 and 8 A.M. because the evaporation rate is low early in the morning. This allows most of the water to soak into the soil. Midday watering is generally less effective because of the strong sun and heat which increases the rate of evaporation. Watering late in the evening is not recommended because flowers and other landscape plantings are more likely to stay wet, making them more vulnerable to disease.
Control Thatch to reduce the number of lawn pests
The thatch layer in lawns is composed of both dead and living shoots, stems, grass plant roots. These parts of grass plants resist decay and accumulate on the soil surface, forming thatch. A small amount of thatch is okay but when it accumulates more than 1/2 inch thatch limits water and air movement, reducing the effects of fertilizer and pesticide applications. Thatch also causes shallow rooting and increases disease and insect damage. Excess thatch buildup can be managed with proper applications of moderate amounts of fertilizer and water.
It is important to manage thatch because removal of excessive thatch is difficult and expensive. Removing a thatch layer may require the use of aerification equipment or the physical removal of the sod (including the thatch layer) and the planting of a new lawn. Dethatching machines also known as power rakes are effective in minimizing thatch, but they are not effective if layers of thatch must be removed.
Renovate the Lawn to Correct Major Problems
Homeowners generally try to find simple, inexpensive solutions to major problems. However, a lawn that has been seriously damaged by insects or disease cannot be repaired with pesticides. Pesticides are formulated to manage pests. If serious pest damage occurs, pesticides have no effect on bringing back dead grass plants. Pesticides are also useless on neglected or poorly managed lawns. If more than 5 percent of a lawn consists of weeds and dead grass a total renovation of the lawn is highly recommended. The homeowner may choose to do the renovation with help from the local Cooperative Extension Service. For most however, it may be better to employ a professional firm to renovate the lawn. A lawn renovation is a major undertaking that needs to be done properly and completely. The optimum time to renovate a lawn is late summer. Preparations should begin in August so seed can be planted in the fall according to recommendations for your specific geographical region.
Pesticides Should only be used for Major Pest Infestations
Good lawn management practices result in healthy grass that can withstand some damage from insects, weeds, and diseases. Regular inspections will help detect early insect infestations, the presence of weeds, and symptoms of disease. It is important to closely monitor pest populations and the damage they cause. If it is determined there is a pest situation requiring pesticides it is essential that the person doing the work knows exactly what they are doing. Dealing with pest infestations is best handled by professionals. Lawn care specialists can provide safe and effective environmentally safe pest treatments that will keep children, adults and pets safe.
Most lawn diseases go essentially unnoticed until the disease is well advanced. Unfortunately, once diseases reach this late stage where you can recognize there is a problem they cannot be controlled. Although small damaged areas sometimes respond to good maintenance practices such as fertilization and watering, complete renovation is usually a wiser choice for larger damaged areas.
The best control for lawn weeds is to mow and fertilize appropriately. A dense lawn, mowed as needed and at the proper height, will prevent many annual weeds from becoming a problem.
When a weed does create a problem, a positive identification becomes the first step in achieving control. Some perennials are almost impossible to control and such problems are best addressed by a lawn care specialist. Don’t let disease and pest problems destroy your lawn. Call us at 561-248-4546 for a full evaluation, and treatment options for pest and disease problems. Our services are thorough, effective, safe and affordable.