Does it seem like no matter what treatment you place on your grass, you still end up with unsightly lawn problems? There are so many things that can go wrong with one’s lawn that it can be difficult to sort out what the real root of the problem is. Everything from weeds to animals can have a negative effect on a lawn which might otherwise be in perfect health. We are going to talk about a few of the most common lawn problems from lawn weeds to lawn insects.
Our goal is to provide the right nutrients at the right time to help the grasses grow on a healthy course while also preventing weeds such as crabgrass, poa annua from merging in your turf and keeping broad leaf weeds like clover, dandelions, chickweed and others from invading your landscape.
Broadleaf Lawn Weed Control:
Black medic is normally a summer annual, but can act as a perennial in some conditions. It has a tap root, and spreads low to the ground, but it does not root from nodes on the stems. Black medic is more active on soils low in nitrogen fertility.
The leaf is similar to clover and other legumes, having three leaflets. Black medic’s center leaflet is on a separate petiole.
The flower of black medic is a compressed cluster of bright yellow flowers in the shape of a globular spike on short branches. The seed pod will turn black at maturity. Black medic produces viable seed under normal mowing conditions.
Buttonweed is a prostrate-growing perennial with branching hairy stems. The leaves are elongated, lance-shaped and grow opposite one another on the stems and are joined by a membrane. Virginia buttonweed prefers moist, wet conditions.
The tubular flowers of Virginia buttonweed are white to purplish, and grow in the leaf axis along the stem.
Flowers resemble four-pointed stars. Virginia buttonweed spreads by seed and plant segments.
Chamber Bitter is a warm season annual. The stems of Chamber Bitter are upright and grooved. The leaves are small and have smooth margins which are arranged oppositely on branchlets.
Flowers are inconspicuous and form in warm weather. The fruit of Chamber Bitter is green and form on the underside of the branchlets. The seed explodes and spread seeds in the surrounding area. Chamber Bitter reproduces from seed.
Chickweed is a winter perennial. The leaves are opposite, oblong and covered with hair. Chickweed grows prostrate but will have several upright stems, and can tolerate close mowing. Chickweed has a fibrous root system.
The flowers of chickweed are white and contain 5 petals which are notched at the tip.
Clover, found throughout the United States, is a shallow rooted winter perennial legume which spreads by stolons or above ground runners. The plant takes root from the stolons at nodes along the stems when they come in contact with the soil.
The white clover plant has compound leaves divided into three leaflets which are all joined at a central point and originate at the nodes along the stems.
Leaves may contain a white ‘watermark’. White clover is adapted to many soils but tends to grow best in soils that are moist and low in nitrogen.
The flowers are an aggregate of 20 – 40 individual flowers. They are white in color, although some have a slight pink tint. White clover flowers from May through September.
Curly dock is a winter perennial. It contains a deep fleshy tap root. In a turf situation the leaves appear in a rosette form. The leaves are actually alternate at the top of the tap root. The oblong leaves have a wavy appearance on their edges.
The flower of curly dock is almost never found in mowed turf situations. The flowers are long green spikes which turn reddish brown on maturity. The flower grows 2 – 3 feet in height and appears from April to July. Due to the lack of viable seed in turf areas, curly dock spreads by root fragments.
Dandelion is a winter perennial. The dandelion has thick fleshy tap root which often branches. New plants come from the root and root segments. Leaves form in a rosette, are deeply lobed, with the lobes pointing toward the base. Both the leaves and flower stems contain a white milky fluid.
The flowers are yellow and are individual stems. The seeds are brown with tip containing white hairs. The yellow flower will turn to a white globular puff ball. The seeds are disseminated by wind. Dandelions spread by both seed and stems from the root.
Fennel is a short-lived summer perennial. The leaves of dog fennel are divided into thread-like segments, giving a fern like appearance. The leaves will omit a foul odor. The stems of dog fennel are reddish in color, hairy and arise from a woody base.
The flowers of dog fennel are small and white in color. The flowers are numerous and are borne on branched panicles. Dog fennel spreads by seed, and re-growth from the woody base.
Wild geranium, also called Carolina geranium, is a semi-erect winter annual. The erect stems are branching and covered with hair. The alternate leaves are on long petioles and are divided into segmented leaflets which are blunt toothed.
The flowers have 5 white to pink petals and form in clusters. The seed forms in a fruit capsule that forms a “stork's bill”.
Henbit, a member of the mint family, is an upright winter annual that blooms in the spring. The leaves are rounded on the end with rounded toothed edges that grow opposite one another on square stems Upper leaves lack petioles. Henbit can grow from 4 to 12 inches tall on weak stems. Although an upright plant, weak stems sprouting from the bottom may lay almost horizontal.
Henbit can be confused with purple deadnettle. The leaves of purple deadnettle, however, are more pointed at the end and are slightly scalloped. The lower leaves of purple deadnettle are on long petioles, the upper leaves are on short petioles.
The flowers of henbit are purple, tubular shaped and form in the whorls of the upper leaves. Henbit spreads only by seed and is generally not a problem in dense, vigorous turf grass sites.
Lespedeza is a prostrate growing summer annual. Three oblong, smooth leaflets, all joining on a common petiole, have a prominent mid-vein. Stems are wiry, prostrate and freely branching.
The flowers of common lespedeza are pink to purple and are found in the leaf axils. Lespedeza is commonly found on soils with low fertility.
Moss is a primitive plant; most species are perennial. Moss has a filamentous growth pattern and produces a felt-like mat over the soil surface. This moss mat can become thick under good growing conditions. There are two main groups of moss species. The first contains chlorophyll and grows on the soil surface; the second lacks chlorophyll and spreads underground. These groups can be divided again by their growth habits. Moss is different from higher plants such as turfgrass, because it does not contain conductive tissue and lacks phloem and xylem. Due to not having conductive tissue, moss also lacks true roots, but absorb moisture and nutrients through root like structures called rhozoids. Leaves of most moss species are only a few millimeter long and lack petioles.
Moss does not produce seeds, but develops spores. The spores are produced in capsules at the tip leafless stems. Spores are spread by wind and by moisture. Moss also spreads vegetatively.
Oxalis is a summer annual that can be perennial in some areas. Yellow Woodsorrel grows on weak stems that branch at the base and may root at the nodes. The leaves form in groups of three leaflets on long petioles, and are alternate on the stems. Although sometimes mistaken for clover when not in flower, the leaves differ from clover in that they are distinctly heart shaped.
The Yellow Woodsorrel flower is yellow with five petals and occurs in clusters. The seed pods range from 1/2 – 1 inch in length, have 5 ridges and are pointed. Yellow Woodsorrel spreads by seeds which burst from the pods at maturity and may be scatted several feet.
Plantain is a shallow mostly fibrous rooted perennial. The leaves which develop in a rosette are large oval shaped with predominant veins. Broadleaf plantain is similar to several other plantain species, but does not have the purple color at the petiole of the leaves.
The main growth period for broadleaf plantain is from June through September.
The seed head is described as a rat-tail like seed head with flowers along the upper half of the seed head. Broadleaf plantain spreads by both seed and shoots from the roots.
Poison ivy can be an erect woody shrub or a climbing vine. The leaves alternate on red stems. They are glossy and have 3 leaflets 2 – 3 inches long that can be smooth or toothed; leaves turn red in the autumn. As with other members of the Rhus family (poison oak and poison sumac), poison ivy can cause severe skin irritation.
The yellowish flowers of poison ivy form in clusters in the axis. The flowers have five green petals and are usually inconspicuous. Poison ivy forms a small creamy white berry in the fall containing a single seed. Berries generally remain attached to the stem through the winter. Poison ivy spreads by rhizomes and seeds and prefers shaded areas. Poison ivy has a fibrous root system.
Purslane is a summer annual with prostrate growth from a tap root and fibrous surface roots. The leaves are thick and waxy, resembling a Jade plant. The leaves usually alternate, with a cluster at the tip of the stem. Stems are thick, red in color, and branch out from a central point, forming a mat up to 1 foot in diameter.
The flower is solitary, yellow in color and has 5 petals. The flower is found in the leaf axis or at the tip of the stem. Purslane flowers from May to November and spreads by seeds, which germinate in the spring, or by stem fragments.
Thistle is a biennial. It grows over the summer months. The leaves are alternate; blades are simple and form in a rosette. The leaves are un-lobed to pinnately lobed. The bladetip is pointed and the margins are toothed with spines. The root is a fleshly taproot the first year and a fibrous root system forms the second year.
In the second year of growth, thistle stems elongate. The elongated stems have alternating leaves. Flowers are present from June through October on the elongated stems. The disk flowers are dark pink to purple with spined bracts. Bull thistle spreads by seeds.
Wild violet is a winter perennial, growing 2 – 5 inches tall. It can have a tap root or a fibrous root system, and also can produce rooting stolons and rhizomes. The leaves can vary but usually are heart shaped, on long petioles with scalloped to shallow rounded margins.
The flowers of wild violet range in color from white to purple. They appear from March to June. Wild violet flowers are pansy-like with three lower petals and two lateral petals on long single flower stalks.
Wild violets are found throughout the United States, except for the Rocky Mountains. Wild violets are more common where they are sold as ornamental ground covers.
Creeping Woodsorrel is similar to yellow woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta), but is a creeping summer perennial. The leaves of Creeping Woodsorrel are deeply lobed, heart shaped, and may be green to reddish purple. Creeping Woodsorrel contains a slender taproot, and roots at nodes along slightly hairy stems.
The flowers of oxalis corniculata are yellow, contain 5 petals, and form in clusters of 1 – 5 at the end of slender stems. Creeping Woodsorrel spreads by seeds.
Atlanta Lawn Diseases:
This disease is most common in Fescue lawns. The disease causes irregular brown shapes in the grass. Symptoms of Brown Patch can be observed on individual leaves and not necessarily in patches. Symptoms on leaves appear as irregular tan or light brown lesions surrounded by dark brown borders. In severe cases the entire strand might look discolored and thinned. The fungus is capable of surviving in soil for years in the absence of a susceptible grass. Disease activity is prevalent when surface and humidity are high, night temperatures are above 68 degrees Fahrenheit and daytime temperatures average 80 degrees Fahrenheit or above. Rainy weather and a saturated atmosphere (100 percent relative humidity) greatly speed disease development. Disease severity is greater on lush, succulent turfgrass maintained with moderate levels. Once active in a lawn a fungicide must be applied to control. We suggest our 3 application preventative fungicide program to help with this disease.
This disease is most common on Bermuda lawns and causes dead areas from 2 to 4 inches in diameter. These spots may run together, producing large areas of dead turf. Affected leaves initially show yellow-green blotches, which progress to a light straw color with a reddish-brown margin. Occasionally, white mycelium can be seen covering affected leaves in early morning dew-covered grass. Dollar Spot symptoms occur anytime from early to late summer. The disease usually reaches peak activity when air temperatures are in the 80 degrees Fahrenheit range and under high humidity. Symptoms also appear in the Fall. The most severe cases of Dollar Spot occur on turf receiving closely-spaced summer irrigation. The disease may also occur on non-irrigated turf when humidity is high from prolonged muggy summer weather. Dollar Spot is more severe under nitrogen deficiency or when grass grows slowly. The best treatment for this disease is applying a high nitrogen fertilizer. In severe cases a fungicide may also be needed.
Spring Dead Spot
Spring dead spot appears as circular areas of dead grass, 6 to 12 inches in diameter when turf resumes growth in spring. The spots may coalesce to form large areas. On Affected plants dark elliptical sclerotia are often visible on stolons. Dark sunken lesions can be seen on affected crown buds, roots and stolons; these areas may become black, necrotic, and brittle in advance stages of infection. Sometimes the symptoms are not evident until 2 or more years after the establishment of the disease. Overseeding Bermuda grass with another turf species may mask the symptoms of the disease. The pathogen survives in debris (old thatch and roots) as fungal threads and sclerotia, which are tiny, hard, often dark, resting bodies. Spring dead spot is spread by sclerotia and infected plants parts, as well as through infested sod. Initial infections of new tissue begin in late summer or fall when air temperatures range between 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. When the Bermuda grass goes into dormancy (daily air temperatures of 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit or lower), the fungus continues to colonize and kill the affected tissue. Damage to the affected plants is usually only visible when the Bermuda grass emerges from dormancy. The best treatment for this disease is to apply a fungicide in the fall.
Rust is most common on Fescue lawns. Early infection appears as a light yellow flecking of leaves. As these flecks enlarge, they may become somewhat longer than broad and when numerous they are arranged in rows parallel with the veins of the leaves. Soon, the epidermis ruptures and the spots develop into reddish-brown pustules. Severely infected plants have an appearance similar to rusty iron, hence the name rust. When infected leaves are rubbed between your fingers or walked upon a red powder collects on fingers and shoes. The powder is composed of millions of tiny spores of the fungus. Rust is normally a late summer or early fall problem and does not occur other times of the year. A fungicide needs to be applied to control this disease.
Fairy rings typically appear as rings of dark green and fast-growing turf. They may also appear as rings of slow-growing or killed turf. The bands of affected turf are from 4 inches to a foot in width, forming more or less continuous rings ranging from 3 to 200 feet across. In some instances, the center of a stimulated band may contain weakened or dead grass, or bands may have an inner zone of stimulated grass edged with dead or stunted turf on either side. The first visible evidence of a new fairy ring is usually a cluster of mushrooms or toadstools. They usually appear at the outer edge of rings in the late summer or early fall, during periods of high soil moisture. A fungicide needs to be applied to control this disease.
Atlanta Lawn Insects:
The fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugipeda) is a good example of a pest that can sneak up on you. When it does, the results can be disastrous. Mature larvae reach 1-1/2" - 2" in length. Larvae are a dull yellow to gray with stripes running lengthwise along the body. The larvae feed at night on grass blades. The caterpillars feed on a variety of plants. Notably, warm-season grasses such as Bermuda grass. St. Augustine grass and some others are commonly attacked. Among the cool-season grasses, ryegrass, fine fescue and bentgrass are preferred cool-season turfgrasses. During the day the larvae hide in silk lined tunnels or burrows at or slightly into the soil surface. Some species damage plant crowns or roots as well as blades. Heavy infestations may seriously damage large areas of turf. Look for dew sparkling on the webs in early morning or at dusk. Use the flotation method to force the caterpillars to the surface, where they can be counted. In the flotation method, a soapy solution is poured inside a topless and bottomless can. The soapy solution is made by adding one ounce of mild dishwashing detergent to one gallon of water. It is best to scout for army worms in June and again in early August since the armyworms have two generations per year.
Chinch bug damage is usually first detected when irregular patches of turf begin to turn yellow then straw colored. The straw colored areas may be completely dead. These patches continue to become larger in spite of watering. Apparently, feeding by chinch bugs blocks the water and food conducting vessels of grass stems. By blocking the water, the leaves wither as in drought and the manufactured food doesn't get to the roots. The result is plant death. Damage generally occurs during hot, dry weather from June to September.
Cutworms are large, hairless surface feeding moth larvae which can destroy patches of turf. Cutworms feed at night and damage the turf by snipping plants off at ground level, hiding in thatch by day. Birds feeding extensively in a turf area may indicate a high population of cutworms. Cutworms often appear in the early spring when temperatures are slightly above freezing. Damage appears as closely clipped grass in patterns radiating from their tunnel or hiding place. Cutworms leave small 1-2" wide patches of brown grass in newly seeded and established lawns; the plants are eaten off at soil level. Cutworms don't seriously damage grass unless there is a severe infestation. More damage may be done by birds scratching at the surface to feed on the larvae.
Identifying fire ants can be a difficult task because they look much like ordinary ants. They're 1/8" - 1/4" long and reddish brown to black in color, and are probably best distinguished by their aggressive behavior and characteristic mound-shaped nests. The nests each contain several hundred-thousand ants, and can reach densities of up to 1,000 nests per acre. Generally mounds are 12' or more in diameter and height, although, mounds in excess of 2' in diameter and height are not uncommon in Georgia. The underground portion is a series of interlocking galleries, tunnels and chambers that may exceed depths of 1-5' or more depending on soil type, age and colony size. Tunnels just below the soil surface extend laterally several yards out from the mound, with regular exits where the ants come out for food or attack. The best control for fire ants is our one time application which will prevent fire ants for one full year.
White grubs may be the most damaging turf insect pests in the United States. White grubs are the larval stage of many different beetles, including the Japanese beetle. The grubs live below ground and feed on the roots of tender grass plants that soon kill the plant. They are most destructive mid-late summer, but damage they cause may not show up until early fall and by then it's too late. The best time to control grubs is in early summer, just after they hatch. At this time they are very susceptible to treatment just before they start to cause damage to your lawn.
Mole crickets feed at night during warm weather and after rain showers or irrigation. They come to the surface and feed on organic material, including grass, and other small organisms, including insects. During the day, and during periods of drought, they remain in their burrows, often for long periods of time.
Adult Sod Webworms
Adult sod webworms, called lawn moths, are typical snout moths; they have a sensory appendages called labial palps that extend in front of the head. The moth holds its wings close to and over its body at rest, giving it a slender appearance. When disturbed the moth makes a short flight close to the grass. At night these moths drop their eggs indiscriminatley onto the turf. The creamy larvae have a double row of brown or black spots down their backs, located at the base of long bristles. The Lucerne Moth larvae are somewhat larger than the other sod webworm larvae. During the day larvae resides in silk-lined burrows, writhing when disturbed. At night they emerge to feed.
Proper Mowing and Watering Practices:
Your lawn needs to be watered at least twice per week. Make sure to provide your lawn with 1 1/2 inch of water per week. Use a tuna or cat food can to measure the amount of water applied. Once the can is half full (3/4 inch of water) you know how long to water and you should do this twice per week. If your lawn is suffering from drought stress you will tend to see areas of your turf (normally in full sun) that begin to thin and turn a grayish color.
Dull mower blades will tear at the end of your grass blade causing your lawn to have a brownish look to it. Please sharpen or replace your blades to correct this concern. Blades should be sharpened every third mowing.
Bermuda and Zoysia lawns perform best if cut weekly and maintained at an inch to an inch and a half. Always scalp Bermuda and Zoysia lawns in the early spring to help with quick green-up. Fescue lawns however need to be mowed higher for best results. Keep your Fescue at three to four inches tall. Remember, never cut more than a third of your leaf blade off when mowing. It is best to always recycle clippings back into the ground and only bag clippings if they become excessive.
Thatch is the layer of dead grass clippings that form on top of the soil structure. Thatch is only a concern when it becomes more than 3/4 of an inch thick. Performing an aeration yearly is the best practice to keeping the thatch layer down. Another good practice is to always bag your third or fourth clipping and mow on a regular basis.
Bermuda grass is creeping perennial warm-season (C-4) turfgrass. Bermuda grass spreads by both rhizomes and stolons. Bermuda grass is grown as a fine turf throughout the tranistion zone and in the South. The ligule consists of a fringe of hair. Auricles are absent. The leaves of Bermuda grass are folded in the bud, and the sheath is strongly compressed. The leaf is short, approximatley 1/8 inch wide with rough edges. The roots of Bermuda grass are deep and fibrous allowing it to be highly drought tolerant. The stolens root at the nodes forming a thick dense mat. The seed head of Bermuda grass consists of 3-7 finger like spikes. Seed heads are present during the summer months. Common Bermuda grass can spread by seed. Bermuda grass requires additional treatments to control, which are not part of our normal service.
Crabgrass is a summer annual that germinates when soil temperatures reach a consistant 55 degrees Farenheit and is generally killed at the first frost. Crabgrass leaves are rolled in the bud; the first leaf appears short, wide and blunt-tipped. The ligule is tall and membranous with jagged edges, and the auricles are absent. The collar is broad with long hairs. Crabgrass is light in color, coarse bladed and will root at the nodes when they touch the ground. A single Crabgrass plant can produce up to 700 tillers. It is a bunch type grass. The inflorescence is a panicle of branches, with spikelets in two rows. A Crabgrass plant can produce 150,000 seeds. Crabgrass needs warm soils and sunlight to germinate. The best control is to prevent the weed from germinating by applying pre-emergent treatments Jan-April. To control this weed you will need our 3 application grassy weed control treatment.
Dallisgrass is a warm season coarse perennial which is light green in color. The leaves are rolled in the bud, flat and wide (1/2"). Auricles are absent and the ligule is tall, pointed, and membranous. Dallisgrass has hairs on the lower portion of the leaf near the ligule. The head of the seed contains 3-6 spikes, with seeds on both sides of the spike. Dallisgrass can form short thick rhizomes, but spread upright in clumps. This highly invasive plant germinates in soil temperatures of 60-65 degress Farenheit and thrives in the hot humid conditions of the southern states. This weed is hard to control because pre-emergent applications will not work. To control this weed, our 3 step grassy weed control program will need to be performed.
Goosegrass is a prostrate-growing summer annual. The leaves are folded in the bud. Goosegrass grows in a clump with the base of the leaves being distinctively white to silver in color. The ligule is toothed, membranous, and divided at the center. Goosegrass contains hairs on it at the base of the leaf. Goosegrass seedheads contain 3-7 spikes that form at the tip of the seed stalk. The seeds are attached in a zipper appearance on the spike. This weed will require our grassy weed control program.
Sedges have triangular stems with waxy grass-like leaves which alternate. Sedges are not grass plants, but seedlings may be mistaken for grass. The leaves on both sedges are waxy and have an up right growth habit and a prominent midrib. Both sedges have underground root systems containing rhizomes and underground tubers which accomplish most of the reproduction. On yellow nutsedge the tubers (nutlets) form at the end of the whitish rhizomes. Purple nutsedge forms chains of tubers along brownish rhizomes. The flowers of yellow nutsedge are yellowish; the seedhead color of purple nutsedge is red-purple to brown. Both seedheads are on triangular stems. Both spread mainly by germinating underground tubers, which are the only part of the plant that over-winters. A yellow nutsedge tuber can produce 1,900 plants and 7,000 new tubers in a single growing season. Sedges do well where soil has poor drainage. This weed is only controlled by our 3 step grassy weed control program.
Annual bluegrass (Poa Annua) contains both annual and perennial species. Annual bluegrass forms dense patches that can withstand low mowing heights. Annual bluegrass has a boat-shaped tip, folded in the bud. The ligule is membranous and auricles are absent. Annual bluegrass has a small panicle seedhead. Germinating occurs in the late summer and early spring. This weed is controlled by pre-emergent applications in the Fall and Winter. Otherwise our grassy weed control program will keep this weed at bay.
Wild Onion & Wild Garlic
Wild onion and wild garlic are both winter perennials. The leaves are waxy, upright and needle shaped growing 8-12 inches long. The leaves of wild garlic are hollow and round and have a strong odor. The leaves of wild onion are solid and flat and appear directly from the bulb. Both plants grow from underground bulbs. The membrane coated bulbs of wild garlic are flattened on one side and have bulb lets. Wild onion bulbs are white inside with a strong odor and are covered with a fibrous, scaly coat. The white to light green flowers of wild garlic develop on short stems above aerial bulbs. Wild onion does not have a stem; white to pink flowers with six elliptical segments. Both wild onion and wild garlic spread by bulbs, seed and bulb lets. Both plants flower April to June. This weed is not prevented with pre-emergent applications so it is difficult to control however, a selective herbicide applied a couple of times will control this weed.