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Turf Tips: Insects and Disease

by Nel Newman

Your lawn represents a sizable investment of time and money. Taking good care of it just makes sense; no one wants to watch grass die and then have to pay good money to replace it.

Insect and disease pests can present problems in any turfgrass; controlling their population begins with growing healthy sod. Choose locally grown, disease-resistant varieties and grow them right: Keep the mower deck and blades clean between mowings and mow regularly so you never remove more than half the leaf surface in one cutting. Water less frequently but more at one time to soak the root zone, and fertilize regularly but not excessively. Rake or bag the lawn clippings to encourage good air circulation. When dethatching, do so in the early fall for best results.

Put the principles of integrated pest management (IPM) into your lawn maintenance plan. Experts in the field tell us to walk the lawn at least weekly to notice any changes in its appearance. Sometimes grass may look pale and an insect is suspected. If you can walk across that lawn and your footprints remain visible, it needs water badly. Drought conditions do contribute to insect infestations, and treating a dry lawn with insecticides can cause additional damage. When selecting an insecticide, read its label carefully to be certain it will control the insect you've identified.

A host of insects live in every lawn, but only two types can do serious damage. One group, including white grubs, feed on grass roots; the others, such as sod webworms, eat the leaves. A third group of insects burrows around in the soil; if enough are present, the lawn dries out badly.

Lawn diseases result from fungus or virus infections delivered to the grass in water, air, by mowers, insects, or in the grass itself. Fungi damage many lawns annually, most often those that are overfertilized and kept too moist. Soil compaction plays a role, and it may become necessary to use fungicides to control the disease. Remember, these are often predictable diseases and fungicides work best to prevent infection, so timing is important.



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