A lush, healthy lawn is a huge factor in many irresistible landscapes – but spotting and addressing lawn problems can be difficult for even seasoned landscapers. Read on: our quick tips for troubleshooting lawn problems.
Insects are occasionally easy to diagnose -if they’re not evident on the surface, they’re typically visible after rolling back a bit of grass – but some are adept at hiding invisibly below any accessible areas, busily destroying your turf.
Common insect pests found on Colorado turf include: clover mites and other spider mites, billbugs and white grubs, and sod webworms and cutworms. Symptoms include large brown or dead patches, widespread thinning of the lawn, non-emergence of the lawn in spring, or “loose” sod – can be pulled straight up from the topsoil as if it were just laid.
Varying treatments exist for these parasites, usually in one of two flavors: insecticides, or natural predators.
Natural ways of attracting predators are aromatic plants, such as thyme, spearmint, dill, parsley, Russian sage, and purple coneflower. These plants smell great to insect predators and to us as well. If you don’t want to wait, you can order these predators online or at a local garden center.
There’s also the option of parasitic insect nematodes – small, round worms that complete part of their life cycle in insects. Several species can kill insects in this process, and some are marketed as a biological control agent. They can be purchased online, and sometimes at garden centers, and can be sold as predator nematodes, beneficial nematodes or entomogenous nematodes. They’re extremely effective at controlling soil insects, so if you’re averse to insectisides, give them a try.
It’s vital to be well-versed in any insecticide that you apply, and to protect children, edible vegetable areas, and pets from coming into contact with them. Consult your plant health care specialists or local extension office for the most current information on usage and recommendations.
You may see circular or irregular patches of browning grass, dead or light green rings or circular patches, or generalized thinning and browning in various parts of the lawn. Since these can also be symptoms of various insect infestations, you’ll need to rule out insect parasites first.
If your turf is shady or collects water, you may experience waves of mushrooms in your turf. Some fungi are beneficial to your lawn, but if you feel toadstools are a blemish, simply rake them away – fungicides aren’t much use on them and may harm other soil fungi.
See more on lawn toadstools and strategies for coping with them here.
We all know this one. Weeds are the most common lawn problem, and are clearly visible to the naked eye. Typical “broad-leaf” weeds of Colorado are crabgrass, dandelions, bindweed, clover and bull thistle; grassy weeds include foxtail, barnyardgrass and goosegrass. Bull thistle can be controlled with close mowing, or (properly armored with heavy gloves) simply pulling them up as they occur. Other weeds require herbicidal treatments that can address their extensive root systems, typically pre-emergent treatments followed by later post-emergent applications.
As above, if you choose to self-treat with herbicide, be sure you’re completely current on its usage, read the labels thoroughly, and protect children, pets, and edibles.
Special mention: Vole control
Voles, small rodents sometimes called field mice or pine mice, live underground and subsist on the roots of plants like your grass and shrubs. They only emerge briefly, where they leave clear holes in your turf. Turf will feel “spongy” where they’ve eaten the roots, and after a few weeks the “trails” where they’ve passed through your lawn will show up in long dead streaks with random offshoots. These trails in the lawn are completely dead and beyond recovery – grass on these “runways” will need to be reseeded.
Methods to prevent and control voles and their damage are: habitat modification, exclusion, repellents, trapping, and poison grain baits. See full details on remediation methods here.
Since the metro area is classed as a high plains desert, correct and regular irrigation is crucial to maintaining a healthy, visually appealing lawn. Many property managers and owners aren’t aware that watering for all landscape plantings is just as necessary during the winter as it is during the warm season. But too much water can do as much harm as too little: the soil has an upper limit to the amount of water it can hold without risking erosion, and overwatering can simply wash away any insecticides, herbicides or fertilization previously applied. Read about best practices here.
There’s good news! A strong healthy thriving lawn will resist most invasive pests and diseases. Your turf reflects the consistency of its prior care, so forethought is key – and experience often pays. If you’d rather not learn by trial and error, it’s best to consult a plant health care specialist for advice on creating and maintaining your best, most alluring lawn and landscape.