What's wrong with my lawn?!?
Spring Lawn Care Overview for New Hanover County
Maintaining a lawn in New Hanover County has never been easy, but this winter and spring have left even experienced residents scratching their heads. Low temperatures over the winter followed by some early spring rains have left many lawns damaged by winter kill or disease. In addition, persistent problems like ground pearls continue to inflict damage on your lawn.
What's wrong with your lawn? It could be one of the following!
If your lawn looked great in the fall but terrible this spring, winter kill (cold damage) may be the culprit. Straw-brown grass, bleached, or dead grass (especially in windy areas) are indications of winter kill. Unfortunately there is not a quick fix for this problem. If the problem is not too bad, the grass will fill in over the summer. Raking out the dead area will allow light to penetrate, warm the soil, and speed recovery. Alternatively, you may want to renovate the area with seed or sod (for help with renovations, see the Carolina Lawns publication). To prevent winter kill next year, follow good practices over the summer and fall in order to develop a strong stand of grass. Links to the recommended maintenance calendar for each type of warm season grass are below in the Additional Information section. Practices that lead to shallow roots, thatch buildup, and excessive top growth will all make your lawn more susceptible to winter kill. Do not fertilize with nitrogen after August because it can delay dormancy and the grass will not be prepared for cold weather. Also, decrease the water you apply to your lawn in the fall because regular water will keep your grass awake. Keep cutting your grass until it is dormant. Cutting the grass keeps the growing points in the crown near the soil surface where it will be better sheltered from cool temperatures. Finally, prolonged dry periods throughout winter can lead to desiccation (drying out), so occasional irrigation can help.
Large patch disease is a chronic problem in our landscapes. It is especially problematic in the spring and fall during cool, wet weather like we experienced in the early spring. In the lawn, large patch typically looks like roughly circular areas that are yellow, tan, or straw-brown, anywhere from 2 to 10 ft in diameter, in which the grass "melts" away. It may look something like winter kill, but large patch will keep expanding during cool spring temperature. Large patch is caused by a fungus that attacks the grass blade, and when temperatures warm up, the grass will recover. However in the fall, the disease may return. Large patch is exacerbated by excessive nitrogen fertilization, poor soil drainage, over-irrigation, excessive thatch accumulations, and low mowing heights. The single best way for a homeowner to manage large patch is to cut way back on irrigation in the fall when the soil temperatures drop below 70 F (soil temperatures are about the same as the ocean temperature). The fungus needs water to spread, so eliminating the water will make a big difference. For more information on large patch, see www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/Diseases/Large_Patch.aspx.
Another nemesis of lawns in coastal areas is this tough little insect that feeds on the roots of all warm season grasses. The classic symptom of ground pearl damage is a circular dead area with only weeds growing in the center, although you may have ground pearls and not see exactly that in your lawn. Ground pearls steal energy from your grass and can make other problems (like winter kill and large patch) worse. It is especially problematic in centipedegrass lawns. There is NOTHING you can apply to your lawn to get rid of this native insect, so good management is your only defense. Providing good growing conditions will give your grass a chance to survive. Again, see the maintenance calendars at the end of this article. For more on ground pearls, see www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/Insects/Ground_Pearls.aspx.
All I See are Weeds!
The worst of the weeds right now are winter annuals and perennials that will fade as the temperature warms up. Of course, a new crop of summer weeds will move in to replace them, especially in thin areas of turf. Note that it is too late to apply a preemergent herbicide for summer weed control. These products need to be applied earlier (before the end of dogwood blooms) for effective control of weeds like crabgrass. As with winter kill and large patch, the best control for weeds is good cultural practices including mowing height and frequency, fertility, and irrigation management. To find out exactly what weed is in your lawn and get a control recommendation, check out the NC State TurfFiles weed identification guide at www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/turfid/itemselector.aspx.
Spring/Summer Task List
The first thing to do is start mowing at the recommended height for your grass. Grass loves to be mowed! It is the single best thing you can do for your lawn. With all that mowing, it is a good idea to get your mower tuned up and the blade sharpened so that it works at maximum efficiency. It will benefit your grass and the environment! May is the time to fertilize in New Hanover County. See the links to maintenance calendars below for information on how much to fertilize your lawn. Fertilizing before the grass is completely green is not recommended because the grass sloughs off odd roots in winter and spends the early spring regrowing new ones. During this period a Nitrogen fertilizer will encourage the plant to grow blades when the grass needs to be concentrating on root development so it can survive the hot summer. Note that the use of "weed and feeds" is not recommended for southern lawns because the proper time to apply preemergent herbicides and fertilizer are not the same. Late spring or early summer is also the ideal time also aerate or dethatch your lawn.
Insect Problems: Watch out for these critters!
Once the weather really heats up in June, keep a sharp eye out for things like Mole Crickets (pictured) and chinch bugs. Often when a pest becomes noticeable, it is too late to do anything about it. The key is early detection, so scout your lawn for problems, especially if you have had trouble in the past. For more information, see
Mole crickets: www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/Insects/Mole_Crickets.aspx#InfoSheet
Chinch bugs: www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/Insects/Chinch_Bugs.aspx
If you have additional questions about your lawn, consult the online resources below. Good luck with your lawn!
Master Gardener Plant Clinic
Stop by the New Hanover County Arboretum and talk to a Master Gardener about your specific situation.
10 am to 4 pm, Monday – Friday
Master Gardener Hotline
If you cannot come by the plant clinic in person, you can also call.
10 am to 4 pm, Monday – Friday
The best source of turf maintenance information on the web.
A classic reference booklet that was recently updated.
St. Augustinegrass: www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/PDFFiles/000023/St_Augustinegrass.pdf
Prepared By: John Wooldridge, Commercial Horticulture Agent, New Hanover County Cooperative Extension