Residential turf grasses can be a perfect way to enhance the appearance of your property , however, all turf grasses require some amount of regular care to maximize their health and beauty.
St. Augustine grass is the most common, higher end turf grass and is very well suited to Florida’s soil and climate. It is relatively easy to care for if watered and treated regularly. It is susceptible to chinch bugs, sod webworms and sometimes mole crickets, but with the right preventative insecticide treatment these pests can be minimized to an insignificant degree. At Sunshine Spray Service we always use both a contact insecticide as well as a systemic pesticide to control lawn damaging insects. In some cases the addition of a specialty insecticide may be used if the presence of chemically resistant chinch bugs is detected.
Sunshine Spray Service guarantees against lawn damaging insects on all the yards we service on a quarterly basis. If any of these insects are observed, the affected area, or in some cases the entire property, will be retreated until the problem is eliminated.
There are side benefits as well of treating for lawn damaging insect. Fire ants are usually eliminated from the yard once regular servicing is started. Pests such as roaches, spiders, fleas, ticks, and other more common nonbiting ants are greatly reduced. The following is general information regarding the top three lawn damaging insects:
Chinch bugs are very small, but very damaging insects. They range in size from the half the size of a pin head, when they are in the nymph stage, and the size of a pen tip when in the mature stage. Chinch bugs reproduce rapidly, especially in the summer months. They prefer yards that are stress, whether by drought or by being mowed to low. In these conditions it is not uncommon for an infestation to exponentially grow in a matter of weeks.
Chinch bugs have piercing, sucking mouthpieces and damage the grass by piercing the sheaths of the blades and sucking the nutrients from the plants. That’s where the use of a systemic insecticide comes into play. A systemic insecticide is drawn into the plant and available to the pest when pierced or chewed on. It is an essential secondary chemical to be added to the contact insecticide.
There has been an increase in cases where chinch bugs have grown immune to even the best, traditional insecticides. These situations require the application of an insecticide from a different class of chemical than both the traditional contact and systemic insecticides. A follow up inspection after the initial treatment is recommended to ensure that the infestation has been eradicated and that there is no evidence of resistant chinch bugs remaining. With regular treatments with the proper amount and types of insecticides, turf should be able to remain chinch bug free.
Sod webworms are the offspring of a small white moth which is prevalent in the summer months. They can damage a lawn almost overnight. They normally feed at night and vigorously chew on the blades giving it a scalped, chewed on appearance. The chewing and eating of the blades is not the only damaging part to the plant. The lack of foliage makes the respiration of the plant struggle as well as leaving the roots exposed to potentially even more damaging sun burn.
Sod webworms are relatively easy to kill, however re-infestations are not uncommon. Early detection and a proper, regular treatment program is the best method to reduce the chance of an outbreak.
Mole crickets are rather larger insects that range in size from ½ inch to a little over 1 inch. They have powerful front legs with large, shovel shaped claws. They cause damage, not only by chewing on the roots, but by aggressively tunneling in the upper layers of the soil. This tunneling can cause the turf to dry out from the roots up.
Thanks to the inception of certain insecticides, mole crickets are rarely ever seen in St. Augustine grass in numbers large enough to cause damage.
Don’t let the possibilities of these pests discourage you against higher end turf grasses. All grasses, even low maintenance grasses, have issues that have to be dealt with in order to maintain a pleasing appearance. Some grasses may be more insect tolerant but are more fungus prone. Some grasses may be more drought tolerant but are not resistant to weeds. Some grasses may be nicer to walk on but have low drought tolerance, bug problems, fungus issues, and are difficult to treat for weeds.
Careful thought must be used to choose a grass that fits your requirements. All must be maintained so it usually comes down to what most is pleasing to the eye. It’s a good idea to contact a professional for advice before choosing and investing in your turf.
Weeds are a common battle for anyone trying to maintain a uniform, manicured lawn. Florida’s hot summers and mild winters coupled with periods of drought followed by frequent heavy rains make controlling weeds a year around battle.
Unlike other areas of the country where weeds only germinate once or twice a year, here in Florida weeds have the ability to germinate almost year around. This makes the normal use of a pre-emergent almost futile. To use the amount of pre-emergent necessary to try to control year around seeding and germination would seriously interfere with the grasses ability to put down its own runners required for growth and sustenance. Instead of runners rooting into the soil, they will grow topically causing an unsightly, unhealthy root system.
The healthier and more disease and insect free turf is, the better it is naturally able to resist weed infestation, or at least withstand weed treatments, and then spread to quickly fill in the bare spots. Some weeds such as dollar weed can persist in growing in even the thickest of turf. When this occurs the weeds may be treated and the grass can remain unharmed.
There are three main categories of weeds. They are broadleaf weeds, grassy weeds, and sedges. All three groups require different herbicides, so proper identification of the target weed is essential.
Broadleaf weeds are normally a problem during the fall through the late spring. In excessively wet areas these weeds can be present all year. There are hundreds of types of broadleaf weeds. The most notable are dollar weed, clover, oxalis, spurge, and spreading dayflower. Fortunately most broadleaf weeds are controlled using the same chemical or combination of different chemicals.
It is important to be familiar with what are your target weeds, what chemical should be used and what type of turf the weeds are located in. Some broadleaf herbicides are only safe to use in certain types of turf. For example, the herbicide to treat broadleaf weeds in Bahia grass is not safe to use in St. Augustine or Zoysia grass, the chemicals used in Zoysia and St. Augustine are not safe to use in Bahia grass.
Temperature is also a factor in determining what herbicide is to be used and when it is safe to apply. Some broadleaf herbicides that are safe to use on St. Augustine in the winter are unsafe to use in the hotter months. Always read the label on the product to determine if it is the correct time of year to apply and the right chemical for the job.
Grassy weeds include weeds such as crabgrass, buffalo grass, and johnson grass. These weeds can difficult to treat since there are limitations to the effectiveness of current herbicides still available. It is suggested that the existing turf be kept properly fertilized and watered as well as kept free of pests which can damage grass and make room for weeds to fill in.
Sedges are very common in Florida turf grass. There are several varieties of sedge including glob sedge, purple nutsedge, and yellow nutsedge. There are a few chemicals that do a good job in killing sedge, however, you will have to treat sedge on a regular basis since the seeds are airborne and re-infestation is common.
Proper fertilization is essential to the overall health and appearance of the lawn. Knowing what nutrients to apply and how to adjust the amounts used is key to achieving the best results possible. Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are the main elements of a fertilizer blend. Other micro elements such as iron, calcium, sulfur, manganese, copper, and magnesium are also essential to a well balanced fertilizer blend.
To properly adjust the amount of each element in the fertilizer mix you must be aware of what each element actively promotes. Nitrogen primarily promotes growth. It directly controls leafy, vegetative growth. It is found in every protein in the plant and is essential for almost every action, from growing new leaves to defending against pest. It facilitates in photosynthesis, giving the plant the food it needs as well as giving it a dark green color. Too little nitrogen causes chlorosis (yellowing) of the blades and the turf gradually decline as it “starves”.
Phosphorus aids in the turfs ability to metabolize properly. It helps transfer energy from one area of the plant to another. It also stimulates root growth and flowering.
Potassium also aids the turfs metabolism and affects how water is held in the plant. it directly encourages strong root growth and is essential to stress tolerance.
Minor elements enable the turf maintain its color, root system, stress resistance and proper metabolism.
Proper fertilization is key to maximizing the beauty of the turf as well as creating a natural water filter for the environment. Unlike, stone, concrete and dirt, healthy turf improves air quality, reduces heat, and helps filter pollutants from entering our reservoirs. Thus, when properly used, fertilizer not only aids in beautifying our lawns, but also in improving our air and water quality.
MISCELLANEOUS TURF PROBLEMS
There are several other potential problems that can occur in turf as well. Fungus, nematodes, thatch, under/over watering, shade, compacted soil, traffic wear, low/high pH, and scalping due to improper mowing can all cause significant damage to turf.
Brown patch, large patch, and grey leaf spot are three major fungus that can affect St. Augustine and Zoysia grass. Large and brown patch are typically encountered in the Spring and Fall as the condition thrives in warm, humid environments. Excessive applications of nitrogen can worsen the problem so adjusting the nitrogen levels in the fertilizer mix at the appropriate time of year is essential. All three of these fungus can be controlled using fungicides.
There are several parasti nematodes which can infect St. Augustine grass. They can cause thining, less vigorous growth, slow recovery after rain or irrigating, as well as a weakened root system. There are no controls for nematodes on residential lawns, therefore cultural controls such as raising mower height, irrigating less frequently but more deeply, and providing ample soil potassium.
Thatch is the layer of undecomposed roots, stolons and crowns intertwined with the soil. It is more prevelent in overfertilized or over watered lawns. It can reduce water penetration and can bind fertilizers and pesticides. In some cases of excessive thatch, verticutting may be necessary.
Irrigating should ideally be done on an as needed basis as long as the proper amount of water is applied when needed. When leaf blades just begin to fold up, watering is necessary. Apply ½ to ¾ inch of water per application. To determine the amount of water being put out by the sprinkler system, place several straight sided cans, such as old cat food or tuna fish cans in the area being watered. This will tell you how long the timer should be set for.
The frequency of irrigation will change according to the season, however, the amount of water supplied should not be adjusted, only the frequency. Over watering encourages weeds, fungus and thatch problems, while under watering can cause poor root systems, turf thinning and turf death.
Traffic and Mower Height
St. Augustine grass, especially Floratam, Classic, and Bitterblue, should be maintained at a height of 3-1/2 to 4 inches. If consistently mowed too low, it can discourage the grass from putting down deep roots, increases stress on the lawn making it morfe susceptible to pest problems and could result in the turf being serverly scalped if mowing is skipped due to rain and then cut low again. Allowing grass to maintain the correct height helps encourage a deep root system as well as a better appearance of the turf.
Traffic wear can also cause turf to thin out. Repeatedly walking in the same patch of grass, mowing in the same direction, as well as pet traffic or play areas can result in the grass being beaten, therefore hindering its ability to properly take in sunlight and grow deep roots. Turf will appear ragged and complete loss of turf can occur.
When planting turf into full or partial shade, make sure to pick a grass that is well suited for these conditions. Palmetto, Seville, and Bitterblue are common St. Augustine culti ars that will do well in shade. Note, however, that all sod types are grown in full sun on sod farms so planting any St. Augustine into heavy shade could result in shock and stress to the turf due to the abrupt change in environment. In cases of heavy shade, starting from plugs is ideal so that the grass can mature and grow accustomed to the shade at the same time.