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Dead Spots in Lawn

Pest Control    Molecrickets    Lawn Fungus    Lawn Pests    Summary 

Dead spots in lawns are not always caused by obvious culprits.  As winter comes to its end, we know that spring is on its way due to changes in rainfall, temperatures and the welcome site of new growth in our landscaping.
In the early spring many people will jump to conclusions when they see something out of the ordinary occurring to their lawn or turf grass.  In areas or regions of the country where molecrickets are a common (and unwelcome) problem, any dead or dying grass is blamed on this insect that feeds on manicured turf.  In most cases, the molecricket diagnosis is incorrect.  The purpose of this article is to help focus on the symptoms seen in the early spring period which will help in diagnosis and treatment - if treatment is actually called for.
As discussed in the when to treat for molecrickets article, the molecricket nymphs are the blame for most damage to turf - not adult molecrickets that have survived the cold winter months.  Late winter or early spring is not the time to treat for molecrickets.  Those who believe that they just have to treat for molecrickets before the suggested time are wasting their time and money and also are at risk that their lawn will be subjected to further damage because the real problem was not correctly addressed in a timely manner.  (When it is time to treat for or prevent molecricket infestations, use Talstar PL, Talstar EZ or Talstar One.)

In the Gulf Coast region (for example) our customers often want to treat their lawns for bugs as early as February or March.  The only lawn pests that might need attention at this time are moles (or other burrowing animals), lawn fungus or insects such as ants that invade the home from outdoors.

The first question that needs to be answered might sound silly but it is very important and is often overlooked: are the dead spots in your lawn getting larger or are they the same size today as they were last week?  The primary reason for this question is that you need to know if the problem that is causing the dead spots is active or dormant.  The secondary reason is that if the spots are growing at a rapid pace you will need to take more aggressive action than when the spots are only spreading an inch or so every couple of days.

If you are not sure whether the spots are active, you can easily establish the status of the problem with the use of a few small sticks and a little patience.
You could, of course, measure the bad spots in your lawn today and again in another four of five days but there is an easier method.  Using a few sticks (prefabricated sticks found in ice cream bars, popsicles, etc. or old pencils work best) you can easily decide if the problem is active or dormant.
Insert the sticks in strategic spots on the outer edge of  your problem spots.  Every day or so, inspect the area to see if the spots are spreading past your indicator sticks.  If the spots do not seem to be expanding, go to dormant dead spots.  If you see that the spots are expanding (and therefore active), skip down to treatment of lawn.

Dormant Dead Spots in Lawns

When dead or damaged areas of your lawn are dormant (not getting larger or expanding) there are a few simple reasons for the damage.  During the summer months and fall of the year, there are many things that attack turf grass in lawns, golf courses and landscaping.  These enemies of lawns include insect pests, lawn fungus, stress due to drought or flood, improper irrigation, poor soil conditions and others.
Many times we do not see the damage being done but the lawn does feel the affects.  During the winter months the lawns go dormant and during this time period none of the lawn looks as lush and green as during the summer.  As your lawn goes through its spring time transition (coming out of dormancy) it will begin to green up.
If the summer and fall culprits did too much damage, certain parts of your lawn may simply not turn green due to damage done the previous season.

Active Spots in Lawn

When your "stick test" proves that your problem is active you obviously need to take action to keep the lawn healthy.  In areas where molecrickets are a major pest, lawn fungus problems usually occur a couple of months before the molecrickets actually begin to feed on the grass.  The most confusing problem is that adult molecrickets that are seen tunneling through the upper section of soil are not always causing the demise of your lawn.  The insect we see (molecrickets) are blamed for the damage caused by another, hidden culprit - lawn fungus.

Many times the grass looks healthy as it begins to slowly come out of dormancy.  In the Southeast regions (for example) many people get spring fever and cannot wait to put out their weed & feed fertilizers.  Most often, people who apply weed and feed (fertilizers that contain a high content of Nitrogen and a small amount of Atrazine) in February and early March will see there grass first green up then begin to die in patches.  If there is a lawn fungus lurking in your grass, it will show itself in as little as four days or it may be noticeable about two weeks after the weed and feed application.
Another problem is the amount of fertilizer applied.  Many people think that if 40 pounds of fertilizer per 10,000 square feet is recommended by the manufacturer, then 80 pounds will be even better.  This is not a good idea.

Lawn fungus thrives on nitrogen.  When a high nitrogen fertilizer (such as weed and feed) is applied to an area where a fungi is present, it is as if someone threw fuel on a fire.  If this has happened to your lawn, you need to immediately treat the area with a good fungicide.  Cheap fungicides might stem the tide a little but by using them you run the risk of losing your lawn to a fast moving fungus.

Preventing Fungus Problems        Curing Fungus Problems

When first introduced to reliable, professional fungicides most people are surprised at the cost of product.  Fungicides were invented and developed to prevent fungus problems on plants.  Most fungicides have a low rate and a higher rate.  The low rate is usually suggested for very slight problems and prevention of fungus problems.  The higher rate (usually double that of the low rate) is suggested for active fungus.   In professional lingo these rates are called preventative and curative.
 Once you measure the area that needs to be treated you might be surprised at the cost of product needed to get the job done.  The cost for healing your sick lawn is much lower than having several pallets of sod brought in to restore your home's landscaping.  Doing the job right the first time will save you a lot of headaches and a great deal of money.

Preventing Fungus Problems    

When the lawns in your area are known to have brown patch or other lawn diseases, using a systemic fungicide (at lower, preventative rate) at the same time that you apply your first round of fertilizer can stop a lot of problems before they can cause damage to your grass.   Another time to apply systemic fungicides to your lawn is in the fall of the year.  This application can be made at the same time that you apply winter fertilizers, also called "winterizers" by lawn care professionals.  A winterizer contains very little or no nitrogen.  Its purpose is to strengthen the stems and root system of your lawn in preparation for cold winter months when the lawn is dormant.  [It is important to remember that although a lawn might be dormant, it is still a living plant that needs certain nutrients and smaller amounts of water.]

Bayleton Systemic Granules are an excellent choice for lawn fungus problems and for prevention of problems.  This fungicide is taken up by the root system and protects the grass from the inside out.  Over the counter liquid fungicides only attack from the outside with very little residual protection.

Curing Fungus Problems

Once you have identified an active fungus problem you should not delay in taking care of the problem.  Fungi can spread quickly, devastating a gorgeous lawn in a matter of days.  The fungicide that is used with great success: Bayleton Systemic Granules.
Bayleton granules have a systemic action that is very thorough.

When using just one type of fungicide, you will need to use twice as much product (curative rate) and will probably need to apply a second application about two weeks after the first.  (Prevention costs 1/4 as much as curing a problem!)

Summary

  • When living in an area where molecrickets are a known pest, do not be too quick to blame molecrickets for lawn problems that occur in late winter or early spring - times that we know are too early for molecricket attacks.
  • Examine the damaged areas carefully.  You need to know if the damaged area are expanding.  Are the areas active or dormant?
  • Prevent lawn fungus problems with good cultural practices.  Do not use too much nitrogen on the lawn when conditions are right for development of fungus.
  • Use a systemic fungicide at low, preventative rates to save money in the long run.  Once you have a problem, it takes twice as much fungicide and two applications have to be made at two week intervals.  Curing a fungus costs four times more than preventing a fungus problem in lawns.

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