Here at Gardening Know How we get lots of questions, and our goal is to provide answers to those inquiries to the best of our knowledge. A velvety, green lawn, for instance, is many a gardener’s goal. Few things set off a perfectly manicured landscape like a healthy stretch of turf, but even the most adaptable grass has problems. Fungal issues and other diseases, weeds, pests, outside influences like pets and many other problems can occur in turfgrass. Keeping a balance of nutrients and irrigation can solve many of these issues but some require expert advice. We’re here to answer your questions and help you achieve the lawn of your dreams. The following information includes the 10 most commonly asked questions regarding issues in the lawn.
Insects are the most prevalent cause of holes in turfgrass. Cicada killers, many types of larvae and even certain soil-dwelling bees make small, pencil sized holes in the earth. Contact your local extension office to see what soil dwelling pests might be most common in your area. Depending upon the size of the hole, it may also be earthworms, a worthy addition to any soil. Birds will peck into soil trying to access their food sources, leaving behind divots. Slightly larger holes can be the result of vole, mole, rat, snake or even crawfish activity. Traps and certain repellents may be the solution.
Moss appears in lawns where compaction occurs, pH is low, light is inadequate or drainage is poor. It is most likely to appear in temperate regions with plenty of moisture. It also appears in blank areas of the sod, where opportunistic moss can get a good foothold. Control moss in the lawn by using a product formulated for such a purpose. After the product takes effect, rake out dead moss and reseed the area to prevent a repeat in the same space. Good cultivation practices and annual fertilization will keep a lawn healthy and minimize moss issues.
Mushrooms are actually a good fungus. They grow in areas with high concentrations of organic matter and plenty of moisture. However, they are unsightly in the lawn and difficult to mow over, so mushroom control is often necessary, especially when there is a carpet of the fungi taking over. Increasing drainage, removing old mulch by thatching and enhancing light penetration, if possible, are all cultural fixes for the problem. You may also opt for a fungicide but without treating the underlying causes, mushrooms will be a returning feature of the spring lawn.
The first step to growing a beautiful lawn is preparing the area, which should be free of weeds, rocks and other impediments where soil has been loosened to a depth of several inches (7 cm). Increase drainage if necessary with horticultural sand and amend soil by mixing in plenty of compost. Select a turfgrass seed that is right for your region. Once seeded, keep the area moist and apply a light mulch of straw to preserve moisture, hold in seed and prevent competitive weeds. Avoid fertilizing until the sod is well established and mow only after all the grass seed has germinated.
Fido is one of our favorite animals but he can really do a number on the lawn. Between digging and natural evacuation, entire sections of the lawn can be destroyed. Training the animal to vary its routine and not dig are a start. You can also water the lawn after the animal has used the toilet to avoid those burnt, brown spots from urination. Building solid paths is a solution to prevent pacing damage. There isn’t really a turf grass designed to stand up to heavy dog use, but you may also decide to make your best friend his own area of the garden where consistent habits won’t make a mess and the turf is spared his not so tender usage.
Starting a lawn with seed requires a bit of patience and a lot of prep. First, make sure there are no competitive weeds. A well prepared seed bed will encourage germination and speed the growth of the lawn. Second, choose an appropriate seed variety. Shady areas will require a blend created for low light situations, while some regions need a cool season turf grass and others a warm season variety. The rate at which you seed is also important. Most seeds will tell you the rate at which to seed, so the lawn ends up thick but not too crowded or sparse. Finally, maintain the seed bed while seeds germinate and baby the new seedlings for several months as they establish and the area fills in with glorious, soft on the feet, grass.
Many insects lay eggs in turfgrass. These become the larvae or grubs of the species. Encouraging birds to the site is a non-toxic and free method of control. Safe treatments such as Neem oil, beneficial nematodes or milky spore applications keep the lawn chemical free and are effective in most cases. Grub damage in lawns is usually confined to small areas and is a recurring problem. Apply your chosen pest treatment in late summer to early fall when grubs are tiny and at their most susceptible.
Most likely a fungus is the problem. Fungal issues occur in sod that is overly wet, poorly aerated and is overly fertilized. Good mechanical and cultural care should stamp out the problem of brown patches in the lawn. Mow at the right height for your grass variety, increase drainage, and remove thatch. Water the lawn in the morning where the leaf blades will have time to dry. In widespread infections, use a good fungicide labeled for use in turfgrass. Apply in the manner and rate the manufacturer recommends. Reseed or replace areas of susceptibility with a fungus resistant strain of grass.
Without a bit more information is hard to decide if the problem is insect related or fungal. The feeding activities of several species of grubs can cause dead spots in the sod. In periods of warm, wet weather fungal problems are common. If grubs are suspected, dig up a small patch of soil and look for the offensive creatures. Use a pesticide labeled for grub control in late summer or very early spring. For fungal diseases, increase drainage, thatch, mow at the right height and avoid watering the lawn when it won’t have time to dry before nightfall. You may also choose to use a grass fungicide for chemical control.
Compacted or clay soil are common causes of ponding. Encouraging drainage and increasing porosity can help the area drain better. Adding organic matter such as compost, leaf mold or well-rotted manure to the soil can help break down clay soils and increase drainage. Compacted areas of turf may benefit from aerating, either with a garden fork or an aerating machine, as well as thatching. In heavy rain sites, a French drain or even a berm are useful to circumvent water and cause it to redirect. If all else fails, embrace the site by creating a rain garden or even a water feature.
We all have questions now and then, whether long-time gardeners or those just starting out. So if you have a gardening question, get a gardening answer. We’re always here to help.