Nature is full of wonders, and especially if you’re a home gardener, you know that we share the earth with all manner of other creatures, some of which are nearly invisible. Every living thing has a purpose, but when it comes to your lawn, it does seem that the purpose of some of them is to chew on your grass and your ankles, as well as leave brown patches in it.
Common outdoor pests can be more than annoying, though. Some can transmit diseases and cause allergic reactions in both you and your pets.
While The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest using a professional company to do lawn pest control for you, there are three cheap and easy tests you can do first to see what’s eating your lawn:
Floatation test for chinch bugs: Begin by removing both ends of a large can like an empty paint can, a large coffee can, or one of those giant food cans you got at a warehouse store and finally finished the contents of. Locate a spot on your lawn where yellowed problem grass borders healthy lawn, and push the can two to three inches deep into the soil. Now fill the can with water and wait about five minutes until you see the bugs floating on the surface. Compare what you find to this online identification chart to see what species of chinch bug you have..
Beetles, Mole Crickets, Worms
Drench test for beetles, mole crickets, cutworms, sod webworms and army worms: Regular soapy water will flush these bugs to the surface. Dissolve 2 tablespoons of dish washing liquid (lemon scent, if you have it) in 2 gallons of water. Then pour the solution over an area of lawn about one yard square and you should see the bugs hurrying to the surface in just a few minutes.
Sod test for grubs: In several sections of lawn you suspect has grubs, cut 3 sides of a 1-foot square piece of turf about 2 inches deep and lay the sod flap back. An otherwise healthy lawn can take care of itself if there are fewer than five grub worms in each section, but there’s a problem if the average count is ten or more.
Once infestations have been dealt with, the best defense going forward is to make sure your grass is thick and healthy without weak spots that encourage pests to make their homes in it. The best way to do that is to follow a regular maintenance schedule.
Water and Mow
Grass grows more slowly in the fall, but it’s important to keep to a regular watering schedule. Just base it on the weather. You’re fine if a combination of rain and irrigation allows your lawn an inch of water a week.
As for mowing, regardless of how fast the grass is growing, when it gets between 2 and 4 inches, get to work and mow the grass down one-third of its height. Since you’re not cutting a lot at a time, you can leave the clippings in place where they’ll become soil-enhancing mulch.
Dethatch and Pull Weeks
While you’re raking up fallen leaves and surface debris, apply enough pressure to remove that tangled mess of dead plant material under the grass that’s known as thatch. Be careful not to rake with so much vigor that you damage healthy roots along with everything else.
Just like grass that’s storing up energy now for a beautiful spring display, weeds are doing the same thing. Now’s the time to use a pre-emergent herbicide and thwart their efforts.
Aerate the Soil
Fall is the perfect time to aerate the soil, particularly if it’s compacted or you’ve got clay. And really it’s worth it to hire a professional. You can rent a gas-powered core aerator at your neighborhood garden center, they’re heavy and hard to handle.
Overseed and Fertilize
Overseeding the entire lawn will ensure a healthy crop of thick grass that will fend off weeds. Doing this in the fall is best because the ground is still warm but the sun isn’t blazing to burn tender shoots.
Fall is a good time to fertilize if you’re on a once-a-year schedule. And if you do it twice a year and you did it in spring, now’s the time to go it again.