Sunday
Aug222010

7 Common Lawn Problems and How To Overcome Them

You are about to learn what 95% of homeowners do not know about their lawns, and many lawn professionals usually do not take the time to tell you. That being several simple steps you can take to enjoy thick, green grass. These items are crucial to understand if you like to take care of your own lawn, or if you are searching for a lawn service and want to find a company that is knowledgeable and knows what it takes to get the results you want. This document has been developed as a resource for dealing with common lawn issues after years of working on lawns and talking with many residential clients about their questions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me if you have any additional lawn questions.


How to deal with exposed tree roots on the surface.
Many common trees such as river birch and red maples have shallow feeder roots that will compete with grass roots. And guess who will win every time. Yes, the trees will quickly absorb all the moisture and nutrients, crowding out the grass. the problem gets worse when the bare soil starts to erode. In addition, these areas are usually pretty shady which will limit the survivability of grass.
The remedy: You can prune the tree branches to allow more sunlight into the area. In some cases, tree roots can also be pruned without damaging the tree. Please consult a Certified Arborist before pruning tree roots. Make sure you have a thick mulch bed 2’-4’ around the tree. Bring in some good organic topsoil before putting down your grass seed. Increase the watering in this area to reduce tree vs. turf competition.


How to deal with shady areas where grass is thin.
Tall fescue varieties will do much better in sunny areas. Fine fescues or shade mix fescues will work better but still like at least 4 hours of sunlight to thrive. The solution is to thin out the tree canopy to allow additional sunlight into the area. Usually these areas will stay moist so easing up on the irrigation in these areas will prevent erosion from over-watering. 


How to deal with areas that stay moist.
Grass that stays wet will experience problems including moss, erosion, and fungal disease. Obviously, the watering needs to be controlled in these areas. Again, thinning out surrounding tree branches will let more sunshine in to dry the area as well as allow more air movement to dry the grass. French drains can be installed to redirect surface water if standing water is present.


How to protect your lawn from pesky insects.
White grubs are a big problem in our area but frequently overlooked because they are not readily visible. They are the larvae of Japanese beetles and feed on grass roots. I have found white grubs almost every time I have dug into a turf area on all the properties I have worked on. White grubs usually will not kill your lawn; however, they will cause a great deal of stress on the turf. You will need to water even more to support a lawn with a poor root system, and drought/heat stress will be even more pronounced on the lawn. There are several products that will treat your lawn for grubs. Some are insecticides and kill all insects in the lawn. Another product I like is Mach II, it interferes with the life cycle of the grub, rather than killing all insects. Grub control products need to be applied at the right time in order to contact the grub at a vulnerable stage in the life cycle.


How to prevent and control common lawn disease.
Brown patch fungus is a very common turf disease that occurs in the Summer. The fungus will break out in Fescue lawns when the temperatures are hot & humid (especially above 85 deg.) and the grass stays wet for an extended period of time. A couple of evening thunderstorms in July or August will usually create the conditions for brown patch fungus to spread. Typically you will see small circular patches browning out in the lawn. These areas can get bigger and bigger if not treated. If you look closely, you will see brown lesions on the grass blades around these patches. It is best to be proactive and apply a preventative fungicide treatment to the lawn before the conditions described above (hot/humid, and wet grass overnight) occur. If you already notice brown patch fungus, the fungicide can still be applied to prevent further damage and cure mildly affected areas.


How to improve red clay soil.
Preparing the soil is just as important as feeding the grass. Organic fertilizer treatments are excellent to work into your lawn care program whenever possible. A great time to put down organics are when you aerate and seed the lawn in the fall. The organic matter is instantly worked down into the root zone of the soil and acts as a “supercharge” to new seed germination. Lime is used to increase the PH of your soil if necessary. If you have weed infestations or can’t achieve a deep green color, you may need to add some lime. I always recommend a soil analysis first so you know exactly how much lime is needed, if at all. Contact me for a professional soil analysis.


How to keep your lawn weed-free.
The most common use of pre-emergent is to prevent crabgrass germination in the spring (although it germinates in the Spring, we don’t actually see crabgrass in the lawn until summer). For the best control of crabgrass, 2 pre-emergent applications are recommended (Feb & April). If you experience weed infestations in the spring (such as chickweed or henbit), pre-emergent can be used in the Fall to control Spring infestations. The weeds you see in the Spring are actually germinating over the Fall and Winter. If you put down a pre-emergent application in late Fall (after your new seed has established in late October), you will prevent the germination of these cool-season weeds and have much better weed control in the Spring.
If your lawn currently has broadleaf weed infestations (clover, chickweed, henbit, to name a few) a selective herbicide  should be applied according to the product label. Selective herbicides will only kill the target weeds and will not harm desired turf grasses. This treatment may be in the form of a granular “weed & feed” or it could be a sprayable solution.


What to do RIGHT NOW to get maximum results with your lawn.
After learning these basics in lawn care, you are now armed with the knowledge to take care of your own lawn, or you can make an informed decision in hiring a quality lawn service. The first thing you should do is get your soil test. The results of the soil test will tell you how you need to proceed to get your soil conditions right as well as which nutrients you are lacking and need to add to feed your turf. If you can’t wait for the soil test and your lawn is thin and weedy, you could apply lime, fertilizer and seed (assuming you can water the lawn). Otherwise, apply pre-emergent in the Spring and control any present broadleaf weeds with a sprayable selective herbicide (kills the weeds but not the grass) or granular weed and feed.


This goes without saying but needs to be said anyway: Always read the label and follow instructions carefully before applying any products to the lawn. You should have a general idea of the square footage of your lawn before spreading any fertilizer products to make sure you do not over-apply. Mis-use of pesticides can be harmful to the environment as well as pets and children.