Archive for the ‘Turf Disease’ Category

Spring Lawns After a Harsh Winter

Unusually large amounts of snow and a late winter thaw can spell trouble for home lawns in VT and NH.  Massive piles of snow and ancient icy banks are determined to persist well into late April.  Slow melting ice and snow is anything but good news for grass buried deep beneath the arctic wasteland we call home as temperatures remain far below average in the last days of March.  The real damage from the copious use of rock salt will become apparent as the snow recedes, exposing brown and yellow patches along walkways and driveways.  Pieces of turf now flipped upside down lie like fish out of water from plow damage after each successive storm in what has been called a “real winter”.  Cue the spotlight on snow mold as the cold temperatures, with just the right amount of humidity, are ideal for this disease to thrive.  Pink and gray snow mold may be widespread and hamper the ability of your lawn to recover successfully from the trauma dealt by Mother Nature.  If I had a batman lamp, I would surely turn it on and point it into the night sky; our lawns need help.

Help our lawns
Fear not, Mr. Grass is here and although not a super hero, I am well versed in the green art of lawn care and helping the innocent lawns which have been beaten down from a harsh winter.  You can help your lawn immediately by breaking up piles of ice and snow, scattering the chunks onto warmer surfaces to melt; a driveway or patio perhaps.  The faster the snow goes, the quicker the soil will warm and awaken your dormant lawn into recovery mode.  If there are excessive leaves, debris, branches and other objects, try and remove them before the lawn begins growing to prevent mulching and unnecessary damage.  This is especially true of gravel and rocks that may have been pushed up and onto lawn surfaces from winter plowing.  Rake and remove any gravel and sand from your lawn.  If you do have visible turf chunks, help them by flipping the root surface over and put it back on the ground so when growth occurs, some root regeneration can occur.  Leaving chunks of lawn in pieces lying on each other will also damage the healthy lawn below; acting as mulch.  This phenomenon is especially true as things really warm up and the grass begins to grow again.

Big pile of snow
Additional winter recovery can be obtained by firing up the friendly soil micro-organisms with compost tea, a high quality lime, or fertilizers.  I do not recommend heavy dethatching because the damage inflicted may well thin out or even kill portions of your lawn under such stress.  I do recommend lightly raking out any matted snow mold and ice damage which will speed up the drying process, warm the soil, and promote new root and shoot growth.  Your lawn will need extra help this spring so plan on doing your part.  As your lawn recovers, using crabgrass or other broadleaf weed controls become more practical as tools to protect future infestations.  Good luck and may the temperature rise in your neighborhood creating more green and less white!

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Snow Mold Prevention

Published by mrgrass on November 15th, 2013 - in Cultural Practices, Turf Disease
Typical matted appearance of snow mold in a lawn.

Typical matted appearance of snow mold in a lawn.

Gray and pink snow molds are the two most widely known snow mold diseases in our geographic region.  Gray and pink snow mold can become established under moist, wet weather common in the late winter or early spring.  Most snow molds become visible in March and can grow well into April manifesting themselves as discolored patches ranging from 1-2 feet to mere inches in diameter.  These patches can take on the appearance of cotton candy with colors ranging from gray, to pink, to white depending upon the time of day and type.  Pink snow mold can cause moderate damage, especially in new lawns under ideal wet weather conditions.  Gray snow mold requires snow to develop properly while pink can manifest itself without snow cover and in wide range of temperatures ranging from freezing up to nearly sixty.  Pink snow mold’s ability to develop without snow and under such a wide range of temperatures means it is a very common disease.  Damage can occur from either snow mold disease, especially new lawns or those prone to staying wet.  The actual snow mold damage results from the plants inability to recover quickly enough and appears as thinning within the infected patches.
Regular raking and mowing are effective practices to reduce snow mold.  However, do not be tempted to cease mowing in October; a final cut should be done in November as the grass enters dormancy.  Not allowing leaf litter to accumulate or remain on the lawn as winter approaches is a great way to help minimize snow mold problems.  Cut your lawn a little shorter in November, as low as 1.5 inches to minimize matted grass and leaves without scalping the lawn on uneven surfaces.
Aerating will help reduce compaction and maintaining a slightly acidic soil pH will also help reduce pink snow mold.  Minimizing the amount of highly soluble nitrogen is also an important factor as succulent leaf blades are more susceptible as fall becomes winter.  Use of a slow release fertilizer while applying lower rates of nitrogen is a great solution if you have experienced snow mold problems in the past.
Reducing snow along your driveway, walkways, or minimizing large piles will help minimize gray snow mold at your home.  Fungicides should only be used as a last resort in a lawn but can offer some protection with proper timing (late fall and or early spring).  Snow mold sprays can be done in November or December in our market area. Creating a healthy lawn with a diverse turf grass population and proper raking and mowing practices is your best asset toward snow mold prevention.  If you do experience visible snow mold next spring, be sure to have it examined as treatment may be required by your locally certified and licensed lawn care professional.

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The many causes of brown lawns

Brown lawns can spell trouble when the general assumption is drought is the cause.  While dry soil and heat exposure can certainly result in tan or brown grass; disease and insect infestation can mean an unpleasant surprise.  I have been seeing extensive second generation chinch bug damage in NH and VT lawns in 2013.  In some cases, the scope of the damage has been magnified by a population explosion which began in 2012.  Without proper diagnosis and action, chinch bug populations build exponentially month by month with two generations per year in most locations.  Since 2012 was so hot and dry, many assumed the browning in their lawn was the result of harsh weather.  While this may have been true in many cases, some browning masked chinch bugs.  If your lawn is brown now with an abundance of rain, you might have an insect and or disease problem.  Without looking up close, this small insect is difficult to identify.  A small pocket of chinch bug damage in your lawn can be as small as your fist or hand, while larger infestations can move like locusts across your lawn devouring a half acre or more over months.  I have seen both ends of the damage spectrum and everything in between over the last month.  Generally, you treat for chinch bugs because left alone, they will simply overwinter as adults, and start over again next spring; building in size and eating power with each successive generation.  The math is simple; a lawn treatment spraying for chinch bugs is much more cost effective than thousands in a lawn repair or renovation.

Brown patch and pythium disease

Both diseases damage and thin a lawn to varying degrees during the summer months under warm, humid weather.

While chinch bugs may reign supreme as surface lawn destroyers, disease can also pop up quickly with humid and warm weather.  Several diseases which can cause fast browning and turf loss are brown patch and pythium.  Like most fungal diseases, temperature and moisture are critical factors and can influence the likelihood your lawn will become infected.  Warm temperatures overnight, usually between 60 to 65 degrees and moisture due to an evening or late afternoon thunderstorm are a perfect storm for pythium and brown patch.  Ryegrass is especially susceptible to pythium fungus, a fast moving disease that usually kills grass when it appears.  Pythium damage can be seen as sunken, greasy, waterlogged patches of grass which appear matted.   Brown patch is best identified by lesions on the leaf blade with a tan interior and a brown or yellow perimeter.  Brown patch can appear as small blotches or patches up to several feet in diameter.

While fungicides can be helpful, best results are achieved proactively versus reactively and even then there is no guarantee.  Most fungicides only last a week or two under ideal conditions and if you look at the past weather this summer, an ideal spray program would equate to 4-6 proactive treatments; bordering on a golf course regime!  Your best bet to combat both pythuim and brown patch is to mow high (3”), mow when the lawn is dry, and use slow release fertilizers in the summer at reduced rates.  Run your irrigation only in the morning and keep the cycle deep and infrequent.  You can kill your lawn with kindness by watering too much or watering every day regardless of the weather.  A lawn with wet feet overnight is an ideal candidate for contracting brown patch or pythium.  If your lawn does contract brown patch, it may recover on its own depending upon the severity but some turf thinning is likely.  If your lawn succumbs to pythium, often reseeding or over seeding is the only solution in the fall to replace dead grass.

The weather never ceases to amaze me when it comes to throwing curve balls during a given summer.  While 2012 was one of the hottest and driest on record, 2013 may go down as the wettest and most humid!  Don’t let your lawn head into winter damaged; fall is the best time to fix things before 2014.  Aeration, over seeding and or lawn repairs are relevant and appropriate turf improvement services offered by your local lawn care professional.  Don’t despair, school starts soon!

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