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Articles within the Pests & Diseases Category

Not all lawn inhabitants are bad. A little understanding may result in an appreciation of the benefits of the inhabitant, an acceptance that little can be done or a solution based around sound lawn care practices rather than chemicals and poisons.

Worms & Worm Casts

There are about 27 species of worm in the UK but only three create worm casts at the surface of your lawn. These casts are waste soil that has passed through the worm as it moves around. This benefits the soil by increasing organic breakdown, improving aeration and fertility. They also ‘plug’ their holes with leaves and twiggs which can create an unusual landscape with upright leaves sticking up all over the lawn. In summary, a lawn with worms is much healthier and will have fewer problems than a lawn without worms.

The downside is that the cast is a great place for weed seeds to germinate; they also create bumps in the turf and can quite often be unsightly. In fine sports turf they are a major problem but in anything other than an ornamental lawn they should be able to be lived with requiring only minor management.

Quick Guide to Living with Worms

Worms are great for the lawn, soil and for attracting wildlife. If you can live with the mess but want to reduce it a little then try these:

  • Remove grass clippings whenever you mow
  • Do not use organic fertilisers or composts on your lawn
  • Try to keep off the lawn during the winter months
  • Clear autumn leaves immediately as this attracts worms
  • Avoid excessive or unnecessary watering of the lawn in summer
  • Keep the late autumn/winter mowing height on the high side
  • Brushing worm casts to disperse them helps but only works on dry casts

Quick Guide to Worm Management

Worm Casts

Worm killers are now banned as far as you are concerned. This means managing the situation is your only option. Start with all the points above plus:

  • Collect worms by applying a dilute mustard solution. This brings the worms to the surface for hand picking. Great if you’re a fisherman or have Koi!
  • Use an acidifier such as Ferrous Sulphate a.k.a. Soluble Iron on the lawn as this makes the conditions less inviting for the worms. There are added benefits to this as the moss doesn’t like the ferrous sulphate and the grass does. You’ll get a greener lawn and fewer muddy casts!
  • Call in the professionals. However, all they can do is spray Carbendazim, a fungicide unpalatable to the worms. The effect is only temporary.

Toadstools

Without wishing to sound like Ray Mears I do find toadstools quite interesting, and, if you get your identification correct, extremely tasty! However, if you are going to be dining off of your lawn do buy a book on edible mushrooms as the consequences of getting it wrong can be serious.

Fairy-and-Fairy-RingToadstools will populate your lawn if it contains organic material. This is usually a sign of a healthy soil though not always a welcome sight on a fine lawn. Those that are edible will be munched by insects and slugs and some are collected and eaten by squirrels. Otherwise they appear to be left alone by everything including pets and therefore pose no danger.

On occasions a crop of toadstools will grow due to an excessive thatch layer, so when you do see clusters of small mushrooms it is worth inspecting the lawn for thatch. Yet other times you will see them forming a ring known as a ‘fairy ring’ which indicates quite a serious soil condition.

Finally, what do you do with them if you’ve got them?

The first and best thing to do is to remove them to reduce the spores getting into the soil. This will reduce future crops slightly. For the larger ones or if there aren’t too many just go and pick them. If this is going to be too much work either brush them or mow them. Finally, if you like the look of them just leave them and enjoy.

Rusts & Mildew

These are also common lawn diseases and once again often go unnoticed.

Rusts


Lawn rust will generally attack in moderate temperatures most usually in late summer or early autumn particularly on already stressed turf. This stress often comes from drought.

The disease is generally noticed as a yellowing of the grass leaves and on closer inspection you will see an orange powdery speckling on the leaf surface which easily comes off on to your fingers. These are the fungal spores ready for transfer to fresh grass leaves. As with red thread once the conditions improve there is no lasting damage to your lawn.

Remedy

  • Maintain a good supply of nitrogen in the turf to promote growth. This enables the disease to be mowed out.
  • Try not to use pesticides or weed and feed products during outbreak
  • DO water the lawn to relieve stress – see Watering the Lawn
  • Remove clippings after mowing

Mildew


Mildew or powdery mildew is common in shady and or dry areas of lawn particularly on longish grass. It is seen as a powdery white covering and from a distance may look as if someone has lightly white washed the lawn!

I wouldn’t get too alarmed by this disease and manage it as follows if it occurs.

Remedy

  • Be careful with fertiliser applications – apply low amounts on shaded grass
  • Try to reduce shade
  • Improve air circulation by thinning bushes
  • Remove clippings after mowing

Images courtesy of the STRI

Red Thread & Pink Patch

Associated with humid conditions usually from May onwards

Of all grass diseases red thread lawn fungus is the most common. In fact I would pretty much bet that your lawn has it every year and you more than likely have never noticed.


The disease or fungus causes the grass leaf (not the grass plant) to die often giving the lawn a blotchy appearance. Whilst the disease is active the blotches will have a pink colouration and on closer inspection you will see 2mm long pink threads or needles.

Red thread attacks from May onwards favouring humid and mild weather. Early and late summer temperatures with a dewy grass are ideal though the drying effect of summer on your lawn can disguise the disease leading most people to assume wrongly that the lawn is just suffering from drought.

Very wet summers also present ideal conditions. In these years the red thread fungus has been very obvious as the pinky or orangy blotches have formed in otherwise healthy green lawns.

Red thread is often accompanied by another disease or fungus known as pink patch. This appears at the same time but presents itself as tiny pin head size blobs a bit like candy floss.

Finally, some lawns will be affected more than others. The following conditions may increase severity of attack:

  • Old or compacted lawns
  • Young lawns that have not had chance to build up resistance
  • Lawns that become stressed due to drought, heat or water logging
  • Lawns that have little air movement and hold the dew well into the day
  • Lawns that are watered – light frequent watering in the evening in warm weather will guarantee an attack!
  • Late spring scarifying thereby weakening the grass and making it more susceptible to an early summer disease

Remedy

Though fungicides are available you are going to need to be on the ball as treatment prior to attack is the best way to control this disease. Treat too early and the fungicide runs out of steam and too late defeats the object. This means the skills of a green keeper are required which makes treatment a problem!

Add to that, you will need to treat several times in a year and as treatment prevents the grass building up its own resistance to the disease you will get locked into an an annual cycle of treatments. Personally I wouldn’t bother and just do your best with lawn care practices to reduce its impact. Once conditions improve the lawn will recover with no lasting damage.

The most important control measure, used by green keepers world wide, is to maintain a good supply of nitrogen in the turf to promote growth. This enables the disease to be mowed out. A fertiliser containing some potassium as well is often preferable. Any of the Lawnsmith Spring & Summer Fertilisers or Autumn Fertiliser will provide the correct nutrients. In addition:

  • Remove clippings after mowing
  • If you water, water deeply and infrequently and only if conditions start to dry
  • Do NOT water in the evenings
  • Anything you can do to improve drying will help e.g. reduce shade, improve air flow, squeegee the moisture off the lawn by brushing or dragging a garden hose across it etc
  • Once the disease has ceased aerate and possibly scarify the lawn to improve drying and remove thatch that harbours fungal spores

Moles

Not very common in towns or housing estates but as soon as you get close to the country then a mole can be a lawns worst enemy.

Mole-320If moles are a threat in your neighbourhood controlling the amount of mole food in your lawn – namely worms may go a long way to preventing one coming into your garden in the first place.

Unfortunately the mole is only guilty of doing what he/she does best; digging in search of food. They are notoriously tricky to kill and seem to take little notice of pulsating, beeping and buzzing deterrents. I’ve seen ‘mole smokes’ and biofume canisters that supposedly make the moles run inhospitable but apart from making the mole dig a new run (in the lawn once again!) I can’t see much benefit. Scissor traps are cheap but hard to set and have them work reliably and whilst your trying all of these your lawn is being dug up.

Therefore, if you do need to exterminate the intruder I recommend using a professional service. The results will be quicker and perhaps more humane than what you may be able to deliver with traps. You should also be aware that moles are very territorial and keeping one mole might stop others!

Mole Hill Repair Tip:

Once you are rid of the mole repair the lawn. The mole hill soil has come from below ground and flattening it above ground just makes a bump and a mess. Get the hose pipe and gently flush the soil back down the hole from whence it came. Next tread or roll the tunnels that lie just below the surface of the lawn to help the grass re-root. By the time you’ve finished you’ll hardly notice any damage at all – perfect!

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