Summer Turf Care – By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening”

Our summer months are just around the corner and there are few things I would like to share with you to help you maintain your turf grass during the summer. Because of new ordinances which have been passed in many communities, there are new restrictions on fertilizer use during the summer. There have also been changes in the insecticides we need to use during the summer to kill chinch bugs due to their ability to build up resistance. Since many of you like to take care of your own lawns during the year rather than hiring a professional pest control applicator, you will need to know about these changes. This article will help keep you informed on the new ordinances and give you the tools to make the right decision in selecting fertilizers and pesticides for your lawn. The way we used to take care of a lawn no longer works today.  

Those of you living in Sarasota or Pinellas Countieshave probably already heard about the restrictions on fertilizer use during the summer months. These restrictions came into place because nutrients such as Nitrogen and Phosphorus have been making their way into our water sources. When too much of these nutrients build up in the water the result can be red tide and algae blooms which reduce oxygen levels in water thereby killing fish. In order to reduce these nutrients the county instituted black out periods during the rainy season to reduce the runoff of these nutrients. The new ordinance restricts the application and sale of these two nutrients during the months of June 1st through September 30th.  What does this mean for you?

When you look at a bag of fertilizer the first two numbers on the bag represent Nitrogen and Phosphorous. For example in a bag of 16 -4 -8 fertilizer, the 16 represents Nitrogen and the 4 represents the Phosphorus. These are the nutrients which will not be available during the black out periods. You will still be able to purchase Manganese, Magnesium, Iron, Copper, Zink and other elements during this period but not Nitrogen or Phosphorus. Further, even if you have a professional service company treating your lawn they will not be able to apply these nutrients during the blackout period. Fortunately, you can still purchase these products now and apply them now. Normally, granular fertilizers are applied to turf grass and ornamental plants during the spring and fall when turf grass is actively growing however, the makeup of these fertilizers should change in each of these two applications.    

Spring applications of fertilizer should be made in March or April and the fertilizer analysis should be at least a 16-4-8 or a 16-0-10. Look for fertilizers which include secondary plant nutrients such as Manganese and Magnesium along with the primary elements listed above. Because the roots of your plants are actively growing in the spring you need more nitrogen to aid in root development. During the summer months we get a lot of rain which aids in the development of a healthy root system. Rainfall contains nitrogen which supplements the grass during the blackout period.

Fall applications of fertilizers should be made in October or November. This application does not require as much nitrogen as in the spring because the growth season is winding and the down however; the roots need more potassium during this time. Potassium helps the grass fight off disease and helps to winterize the lawn. Look for a fertilizer analysis of 8-2-10 or 10 -2- 12. Whenever you purchase fertilizer be sure to buy a 50% slow release fertilizer. These types of fertilizers typically cost more but last longer than traditional fertilizers. They also release their nutrients over a longer period of time.  

 
Chinch Bugs are the next big problem you had better start preparing for. Chinch bugs are small insects about one sixteenth to one eighth of an inch in size and they feed on St. Augustinegrasses. These tiny insects can kill a large St. Augustine lawn in a matter of weeks if left unchecked. Chinch Bugs feed at the base of the leaf where the blade attaches to the stolon or runner. Because they are so small in size, chinch bugs can easily go unnoticed for a long period of time. Damage from chinch bugs usually occurs in the hottest parts of the lawn first and the damage looks as if the lawn just needs water. Unfortunately, as these insects feed they inject a toxin into the leaf blade which increases the flow of juice into the chinch bug but also kills the grass.

Those of you familiar with chinch bugs know they must be aggressively treated with insecticides in order to control them. In the past homeowners and pest control companies were able to use a product called Dursban which was very effective in their control. Unfortunately, Dursban was removed from the market about seven years ago. Once Dursban was lost for turf grass use most homeowners and pest control companies changed their pesticide to the next cheapest product on the market which fit their budget. This product was called Bifenthrin or Talstar. Used as a granular or liquid spray Bifenthrin was also effective for about two years then “it” happened!
  
Because chinch bugs were so prolific (multiplied very quickly) they were able to develop a resistance to bifenthrin. Homeowners and pest control companies that used bifenthrin at less than full rates to help their bottom lines helped to increase this resistance. Soon it became clear bifenthrin was no longer a viable option for chinch bug control. Many homeowners lost their lawns completely. Many pest control companies which did not change their product line lost lawns also. The large chemical companies took notice and developed other products which were designed specifically to control chinch bugs.

Allectus, Arena, and Aloft SC are the new guys on the block for the control of chinch bugs in residential lawns. These new products are generally available to pest control companies but homeowners can still purchase them. Beware, the cost is three to four times more expensive than the older products. Homeowners wishing to purchase these products can find them at local do-it yourself pest control suppliers, ABC Pest Control, and some nursery supply companies like Big Earth Landscape Supply. As I said they are very expensive and are usually available in small quantities. Don’t confuse small quantities with small prices. These new materials require very small amounts of active ingredients to kill chinch bugs but are still very expensive. Even if you like doing your own lawn care yourself, when you see the new prices of these products you may want to hire that professional to do your service. 

I would hope that if you are still considering taking care of you own lawn that at least you will seek out the products I have mentioned here because there are no other control measures that will work once the chinch bugs find your lawn. If you currently have a pest control company treating your lawn call and ask them what they use to combat chinch bug control. Do not be surprised if you get a notice from your pest control company saying they must do additional treatments at additional charges to combat these pests. These companies are just trying to beef up their bottom line and still give you that low initial price.

I hope some of the information I am giving you here is helpful. After twenty nine years in the pest control business I have found that explaining things to people helps them understand how and why things work. Remember, there are always other choices to grass…..we call those ground covers or rocks! Good Luck and Thank you for your support and until next time, remember without plants we wouldn’t be here!

 

2 thoughts on “Summer Turf Care – By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening”

  1. Isa   says:

    Great blog, I enjoy reading it often.

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