Whether or not you?re an art connoisseur, you would quickly know something was amiss if you strolled into a gallery and saw paintings strung haphazardly on crumbling, unattractive walls or placed within cheap frames. In the same way, the lawn is what provides the backdrop for many a landscape. A client can invest thousands in trees and gardens, but if the lawn is less than perfect, it?ll show.
Landscape perfection begins with the lawn. And if an insect attack on a client?s turf robs it of its aesthetic value, all the work that has gone into patios, walkways, trees, flowers and fountains is for naught. To keep lawns healthy ? as opposed to just looking good, since the two aren?t necessarily synonymous ? a contractor will sometimes have to take on certain turf-impacting pests. Usually, watering and fertilization will be the first line of defense.
?Working from the ground up is my preferred method,? says Todd Graus, president of Green Turf Lawnscapes in Worland, Wyoming, and a director for the Professional Lawn Care Association of America (PLCAA). ?If the plant has a healthy root system, it?s experiencing normal growth. This means a proper fertilization program of four to eight applications per season, depending on what part of the country you?re from and the type of grass you?ve been blessed with. Many homeowners think a shot in the spring and one in the fall is enough fertilizer for the entire year. I normally ask a customer what shape they would be in if they only got fed once or twice a year.?
Phil Fogarty, president of Crowleys and franchise owner for Weedman in Cleveland, Ohio, emphasizes proper watering as the best method for eluding turf pests. ?An old adage that I heard when I first got into the business was that 90 percent of the plants? problems out there could boil down to water ? either too little or too much,? he says.
He also recommends long soakings of water in early morning hours and, for residential lawns in his part of the country, watering every other day. Such methods will encourage grass to develop healthy root systems and thereby make the lawn a not-so-easy target for pests.
Improper watering or fertilization may weaken turf to the point that invaders move in, invaders such as chinchbugs, white grubs, banks grass mites, billbugs, armyworms, sod webworms or others. Fogarty says that the most precarious state for turf in terms of insect infestation is that interval between a weed-infested lawn and a strong one. When turf has been neglected, there?s actually not a lot of insect activity. On the other end of the spectrum, when the lawn is well-established with good maintenance regimes in place, natural resistance comes into play. Therefore, when it comes to monitoring for turf pests, a contractor should be most concerned with those lawns in transition.
One insect pest common in turf settings is the chinchbug. Chinchbugs are difficult to diagnose, explains Graus, because symptoms mimic drought damage. This is due to the fact that these insects feed by sucking fluids from grass shoots and injecting salivary fluids that disrupt water flow in the plant.
Irregular patches of yellow or dead turf are good first indications of the presence of chinchbugs, and if such symptoms are evident, you can push a cylinder (such as a coffee can open at both ends) into the turf, fill it with water and wait to see if bugs emerge. If caught early enough, chinchbug damage is usually reversible, and treatments may include such materials as Merit 75 WP (imidacloprid) or Diazinon.
A relatively new product being used for chinchbug control is Talstar (bifenthrin) from FMC. According to Jim Walter, FMC segment manager for turf and ornamentals, one-tenth of a pound of bifenthrin per acre will give the contractor 60 to 90 days of preventative chinchbug control. On the curative side, Walter says two-tenths of a pound per acre of bifenthrin will wipe out a chinchbug population in about a week.
The number one turf pest that Fogarty?s company deals with on a regular basis is the grub, which devours turfgrass roots. Grubs are actually the larval stage of any of a number of beetle species such as June beetles, Japanese beetles or European chafers. ?Grub damage has two different stages to it,? says Fogarty. ?There?s the damage that the insect itself does. Then, the animals that go after the larvae to feed on them ? especially skunks ? do even more damage than the insect does.?
To combat grubs, Fogarty relies on MACH 2 (halofenozide) or Merit on the preventative side, and Dylox (trichlorfon) as a curative. Merit and MACH 2 can both be applied weeks before grubs hatch. Dylox is generally applied within two weeks of hatching.
Billbugs, which feed on both above-ground and subsurface parts of turf, have been remedied with Tempo SC (cyfluthrin), says Graus. He further recommends that clients irrigate lightly after application of the Tempo to ensure that the material is moved into the pest?s feeding zone.
Tom Delaney, executive vice president of PLCAA, reports growing numbers of armyworms in certain parts of the country. Last year, Massachusetts was hit pretty hard. This year, because of dry conditions, these pests are making a splash in Missouri. In both these areas, university Extensions have played a role in getting the word out about the armyworms. In fact, subscribing to local Extension newsletters would be a useful way for any contractor to keep abreast of expected turf pest arrivals, as well as management options.
A bit on ornamentals
?Tree pests are another problem, and a huge one for us in Wyoming,? says Graus. ?Again, an area that only gets a few inches of rain each summer is a harsh place to grow a tree. Trees that are on health care programs that address several issues (fertilization, preventative pest control and client cooperation) always have fewer problems.?
For Green Turf Lawnscapes? clientele, common ornamental pests include aphids, western tent caterpillars, sawflies, ash and cottonwood borers, leafminers, eriophyid mites, spidermites and two-spotted mites.
?The hardest pest to control is the two-spotted mite, when the tree is suffering from drought stress,? explains Graus. ?It?s a fine line between helping the tree get better by spraying it with a miticide and helping the tree cast half its leaves because the stress was too much to handle.?
Fogarty also ranks mites as the most difficult-to-control ornamental pest in his region. They multiply quickly, he says, so they have to be eradicated. However, he favors materials in the premethrin family, and horticultural oils, as opposed to harsh miticides, the reason being that he wants to avoid killing beneficial insects that prey upon mites.
When a broader spectrum product is required, Walter says, Talstar is effective against mites, azalea lace bugs, whiteflies, thrips, mealybugs, scales and other ornamental pests. A ratio between 5.4 and 40 ounces of Talstar per 100 gallons of water, he says, is the normal range, with the higher rate being ideal for mite control and the lower rate for pests like armyworms or gypsy moths.
5?9inability Systemic products continue to be the material of choice for quite a few contractors dealing with borers and defoliators in high-traffic, urban areas, simply because these materials stay confined to the treated tree?s tissues.
Trunk injections seem to be well-suited for the landscape contractor. It?s easy to make an application; simply drill a hole and install a pipe-like device containing the chemical or fertilizer. Micro-injections work by transporting chemicals via a trunk?s xylem and phloem tissue. Insects start feeding and the chemical is ingested.
Also, when using micro-injections, you?re working with a ?closed system.? Since you don?t have to handle the material and mix it with water, the chance of contamination is minimized. The ease of handling micro-injection gives the contractor another tool in his arsenal for treating such pests as Dutch elm disease, oak wilt, lerp psyllids, Asian longhorned beetle, etc. These are just a few of the pests that can be easily treated with micro-injection.
For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is public opinion,
a contractor may sometimes encounter an insect for which few, if any, ?store-bought? remedies can be found. Graus ranks nightcrawlers as the most difficult-to-control lawn pest in his region, namely because there?s no chemical control for them on the market.
?In our areas, with our soils, the problems are so bad that the castings that are left behind prevent the elderly from walking across their lawn for fear of falling,? says Graus. The argument is often made that nightcrawlers benefit turf more than they harm it because they provide aeration, but try telling this to a client whose yard (and sidewalk and driveway and carport...) is overrun with worms! Furthermore, Graus reports that lawns with heavy nightcrawler infestations tend to be more ?thinned out,? another reason that a client will want such a situation resolved.
It?s just a cold, hard fact that tighter restrictions are being placed upon pesticides, and by all predictions, this trend will continue into the foreseeable future. On one hand, this could mean more business for the contractor, since the average layperson lacks the knowledge to distinguish among the various chemicals on the marketplace and/or he doesn?t have the training and certifications required to use these materials effectively. On the other hand, the lawn care professional is becoming less and less likely to have one-size-fits-all solutions in his pesticide shed.
Says Graus, ?As the EPA continues to withdraw pesticides such as Dursban, Diazinon and Sevin, there seems to be the attitude of ?a different pesticide for every pest.? The days of one pesticide for everything are behind us. Before long, the EPA will put the homeowner out of the lawn business, and then it will be the commercial operator.?
Delaney predicts that the industry will also lose Orthene as a turf management tool, although it will still be usable in the tree care realm.
In some situations, newer chemicals are being recognized as ?replacements? for those products that have fallen prey to politics ? Talstar as an alternative to Dursban, for instance.
Should you, as a landscape professional, be more vocal in your support for certain products? It might not be a bad idea. Graus believes more landscape and lawn care companies should stand behind professional affiliations in the fight against pest management restrictions at the national and international levels. If the industry as a whole takes a more proactive approach in educating the public on the real and perceived hazards of specific treatments, perhaps the contractor will be able to keep a few of his more effective chemical tools.
Meanwhile, it would be wise for the landscape contractor to become versed in the myriad of solutions currently available, while keeping in mind that federal or state regulations may dictate what can and cannot be utilized in the future.
Furthermore, science is bringing us a greater number of genetically-engineered plant materials that can provide at least a piece of the overall solution. According to Delaney, for instance, Roundup-ready turfgrass, resistant to this otherwise grass-killing product, is now on the market, and researchers are constantly developing turf that requires less fertilization and fewer pesticide applications.
Genetically-engineered turf and trees, biological controls and chemicals can all fit into an integrated pest management (IPM) strategy, as long as the contractor looks at the big picture and makes recommendations accordingly. As Delaney and Graus have suggested, broad-spectrum insecticides won?t be as common five years hence as they are now, so it would pay the professional to adopt an IPM philosophy if he or she hasn?t already. Remember, though, that IPM doesn?t mean a strict adherence to non-chemical solutions. Rather, it?s all about balance. Monitor regularly. Weigh all potential solutions. Keep close tabs on each and every factor that may influence the landscape. In the case of turfgrass, this may involve adjustments to an irrigation system, mowing methodology or fertilization program.
Says Fogarty, ?Many times, I see an irrigation system installed with the idea that it?s going to be great for the lawn ? but it?s just a tool to deliver the water. And if water is delivered too frequently, or if not enough water is delivered, or if the irrigation system is programmed to be on at the wrong time of day, then you?re not going to get what you wanted ? a healthy lawn. The underground irrigation system is a great tool, but it has to be used at the right time and in the right way.?
In other words, there?s no substitute for your own level of experience and professionalism when it comes to keeping a lawn healthy and, thereby, defending it against pests. You are the most vital piece of the