How To Heal A Sick Lawn By Allan Storjohann

May is the best month of the year for my lawn. Just coming out of dormancy it is bright green and vibrant. Since I scalp it down in April, it is low to the ground and smooth. Few weeds are visible, and all the bugs, grubs and caterpillars have yet to start their feeding cycles. It’s just a fantastic time for turf!

It won’t be long however for the average Oklahoma lawn to take a turn toward the dark side. My experience tells me that in just a few weeks things will change. Out of nowhere crabgrass and goose grass will start muscling their way in wherever there is a thin spot in the lawn. Almost every year unusual dead spots appear. Occasionally mushrooms rise up and dark rings appear. As the days and nights warm up, conditions improve for lethal water mold fungi, which zap fescue and perennial rye when they are at their peak of beauty. And bugs of all types squirm up out of the thatch and start to chow down on the tender, tasty blades of grass.

There you have it, weeds, disease and bugs, all enemies of the finely manicured lawn. Back in my college days, I was required to take a full 16 week course for each of these subject areas, and another course in turf management for good measure. It was amazed at how many pests there are and how prolific they can be in the front and back yard!

In the following paragraphs I will give you tips for overcoming these pests, but there is one thing that is pretty much out of our control, the weather. We often experience wild swings of temperatures in our state. Warm conditions in the winter stimulate lawn growth which often is frozen back by late spring freezes. Long hot dry spells in the summer also stress the lawn, reduce growth and predispose it to attacks by bugs and disease. Rainfall is generally welcome when it comes to lawn care, but heavy downpours can obviously create havoc on slopes.

So the look of things can change from gorgeous green to brown at the drop of a hat, but these simple tips on watering, weed control, mowing and fertilization should keep your lawn in decent shape, until the next catastrophe comes along.

Let’s start with weed control. It goes without saying that weeds are in competition with the lawn grass for nutrients and water. Their whole goal is to dominate, so we have to declare war on them right from the start of the season. It might be a little late for this

but I highly recommend early spring scalping of the bermuda grass lawn. Right after accomplishing this, make an application of a pre-emergence herbicide before the middle of March. If you missed this important step, weeds will germinate, but can still get them with post emergence products labeled for grasses or broadleaf weeds like dandelions, henbit, chickweed and clover toward the end of this month. Use all sprays with care as they may harm vegetables, flowers and shrubs that are nearby. Broadleaf weed killer products are better applied in early spring before too many plants have leaved out. Always read and follow label directions before you buy, use and dispose of chemical products such as herbicides.

The next step is fertilization. For bermuda grass, the first fertilizer application should be in mid to late April. I always use one of the nursery recommended turf fertilizers, preferably those with a ratio of 3-1-1 or 3-1-2 for the numbers shown on the front of the bag. I try to keep the first number, which represents the percentage of nitrogen in the bag, somewhere in the lower 20′s and the second two numbers 1/3 of that. I particularly like formulations that are in the range of 22-7-7 or 18-6-6 with added iron and sulfur. With a low nitrogen fertilizer, I can fertilize once a month and still only have to mow once a week. The higher the nitrogen and the heavier I apply will increase my mowing frequency. So, if you don’t have much time on your hands, or if money is an issue, then don’t fertilize more than three times this summer. Once in early May, once in mid-June and the last near the first of August. A quick tip for fescue, fertilize it in fall and in spring, late September, early November, early March and late April. If the fescue lawn is thinning, reseed it between the middle of Sept. and the middle of October. Water the lawn two to three times a week with the amount adding up to 1 – 1 ½ in. per week depending on rain and heat.

Frequent mowing reduces stress and damage to lawn grasses. I suggest you mow the lawn at 2 inches for warm season grasses like bermuda and zoysia, and 3 inches for fescue and rye. Try to mow again before the grass has put on more than half it’s height in new growth. It really is a good idea to have your mower blades sharpened once a season to get a clean cut and avoid damage to the leaf blades.

If disease or insects appear, spray with an appropriate fungicide or insecticide only after you have clearly identified the problem. Diseases are usually the cause of blotches and dead spots in the lawn. Insects such as grubs are more difficult to detect, but they can cause major damage before you notice them. Brown patch, dollar spot, rusts and molds are commonly controlled with lawn fungicide products which you can find at the local lawn and garden store. Most garden centers will have problem-solver books which show pictures of pest problems. Bring in some of your sick lawn grass for the experts to see, or to compare to the pictures in the books, and then buy the suggested control product and use it according to the label.

If your lawn is loosing the battle with weeds, disease and insects then it may need a total makeover. Re-sodding open areas is the quickest way to start over, but seeding can also result in a thick stand of new grass over time. Once you have the new grass growing, then just follow the above tips to keep it healthy and happy over the years to come.

For answers to all of your landscape, lawn and gardening questions, tune in to News 102.3 and AM 740 KRMG, Saturdays 9 AM to 12PM





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