New York State IPM Program

June 24, 2020
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Pollinator Friendly… Lawns?

Pollinator Friendly… Lawns?

“The dandelions and buttercups gild all the lawn: the drowsy bee stumbles among the clover tops, and summer sweetens all to me.” –  James Russell Lowell
bumblebee on white clover

Dandelions, clover, and many other lawn weeds can help sustain pollinators.

It’s Pollinator Week, a week dedicated to halting and reversing the decline in pollinator populations and recognizing the valuable service they provide.

There are plenty of resources out there to create pollinator gardens and meadows. NYSIPM biocontrol specialist Amara Dunn has been documented an ongoing project trying to create habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects to help support agricultural systems in her blog, Biocontrol Bytes. Head over and check out her efforts.

But what about places that can’t allow tall vegetation because of space, inability to weed areas, or aesthetics? Lindsey Christiansen, CCE Albany and I decided to explore the recommendation to create pollinator friendly lawns.

Many recommendations prompt us to allow spontaneous lawn flowers (weeds have attained a PR manager) to flourish. A Massachusetts study found 63 plant species in untreated lawns. In a parallel study looking at mowing and pollinators, they found that lazy lawn mowing led to more spontaneous lawn flowers leading to more pollinators.

But Lindsey and I were wondering if there was a more formal way to create a pollinator friendly lawn. We searched out and found a number of seed mixes and a project was born.

“The best laid plans of mice and men…” – Robert Burns

While fall is a great time to put down seed, we solidified our plans in October, leaving us with little time. We decided to spend the remainder of autumn prepping the plots and wait until winter to put the seed down through dormant overseeding. We laid out three rows of 100 sq.ft. plots. The first row was scalped by running the CCE lawn tractor over it at its lowest height of cut. The second row was stripped using a sod cutter, and the third row was aerified multiple times using a core aerifier to break up the soil and create open soil.

Three rows of five plots are shown against a satellite view of CCE Albany. The first row was scalped, the second was cut with a sod cutter, and the third was aerified.

The demonstration project was established in an unused part of the CCE Albany property which allows for road visibility.

Two rows were prepped using a sod cutter and aerifier rented from a local hardware store.

Removing sod cut with a sod cutter is much easier when you have good turf. The weedy lawn proved a challenge to remove.

 

Synchronized seeding

And then it was time to wait. Ideally, we would have a stretch of bare ground in March with a few inches of snow in the forecast. So we waited. And waited some more. But it was a winter that wasn’t and as the forecast showed above average temperatures into the future, we decided to scatter the seed on March 6 with hopes that winter would provide a last gasp.

This table lists the seed mixes used in the study and what species are listed. MN Native Landscape Bee Lawn Mix includes Sheep Fescue, Hard Fescue, Chewings Fescue, Creeping Red Fescue Dutch White Clover, Creeping Thyme, Self-Heal; PT 705 Xeriscape Lawn Alternative includes Banfield Perennial Ryegrass, Eureka II Hard Fescue, Quatro Tetraploid Sheep Fescue White Yarrow, Dutch White Clover, Strawberry Clover, Sweet Alyssum; PT 755 Fleur de Lawn includes Banfield Perennial Ryegrass, Eureka II Hard Fescue, Quatro Tetraploid Sheep Fescue White Yarrow, White Clover, Baby Blue Eyes, Sweet Alyssum, Strawberry Clover, English Daisy; American Meadows Alternative Lawn Wildflower Seed Mix includes Sheep Fescue Roman Chamomile, English Daisy, Yellow Daisy, Creeping Daisy, Dwarf California Poppy, Sweet Alyssum, Five Spot, Baby Blue Eyes, Soapwort, Creeping Thyme, Strawberry Clover, Johnny Jump-Up; and Agway Conservation Green includes Perennial ryegrasses, Red Fescue, Kentucky Bluegrass White Clover

Five seed mixes were chosen for the demonstration project. For dormant overseeding, it is recommended that you double the rate, but we were sometimes restricted by the amount of seed we could purchase within our budget.

Snow cover on the dormant overseeded plots.

Winter finally threw us a bone on March 24th. The theory behind dormant overseeding is the weight of the snow pushes the seed close to the soil and as it melts into the soil, it draws the seed down with it through capillary action. The snow also protects the seed from predation. We can only guess how much seed to we lost to birds over those weeks.

And then it was time to wait again. And we were waiting in our homes due to the shutdown. So it was exciting to visit the site in early June and find baby blue eyes, dwarf California poppy, and sweet alyssum in bloom. The plot we were most worried about due to the small rate of application had the most visual pop.

flowering baby blue eyes and California poppy in the sod cut plot

The sod cut plot seeded with Alternative Lawn Wildflower Seed Mix was the most dramatic despite having the lightest rate of application.

green bee on baby blue eye blossom

And there were pollinators!

Lindsey Christiansen is pinning a clear plastic sheet down over existing lawn.

Solarization is an IPM technique using the sun to create high temperatures to kill existing vegetation.

We also started a fourth row, this time using solarization to prep the site. Plastic sheeting heats up the soil, killing existing plants and the seedlings of any weed seeds that germinate over the summer. We will keep the sheeting in place until it’s time to seed in the fall.

The recent hot, dry weather has not helped with establishment and there’s not currently much going on in the plots. So we are back to waiting and seeing.

And crossing our fingers that the forecast holds and we get rain by the weekend.

picture showing from left to right - plastic sheeting, aerated row, sod cut, and scalped row row

At the end of June, after a week of heat and humidity but no rain, there is not much flowering except for birdsfoot trefoil. For the record, birdsfoot trefoil was not in any of our seed mixes.

Many thanks to Cornell Cooperative Extension Albany County for use of the site, Lindsey Christiansen for her partnership and strong back (and for checking my math), and Matt Warnken for scalping, hauling, sod cutting, photographing, and basically making himself indispensable.

 

 

 

 

March 9, 2020
by Debra E. Marvin
Comments Off on Announcing Updates to the Northeastern IPM Best Management Practices for Schools Website

Announcing Updates to the Northeastern IPM Best Management Practices for Schools Website

northeastipm.org/schools//

photo shows a screen shot of the front page of the school best management practices website

Our New Look!

northeastipm.org/schools//

Back in 2013, the Northeast School IPM Working Group (NESIWG) received a Partnership Grant from the Northeastern IPM Center to develop a Best Management Practices (BMP) website.

logo of the northeastern I P M center

Reducing pest and pesticide exposure is important for children, just as it is for district staff and visitors. But schools are especially challenging to manage because they include such varied and heavily used settings such as classrooms, cafeterias, laboratories, auditoriums, theaters, playing fields, playgrounds and gardens.

photo shows signs of damaged turf on a lacrosse field due to over use

The burden of use on an athletic field. (NYSIPM photo)

With the help of many contributors, the NESIWG both created and collected resources for school IPM. We wanted to help administrators, school boards, parents, teaching and support staff, athletic directors, groundskeepers, kitchen staff and custodians how a designated pest management plan can reduce both pests and the need for pesticides. The website was a success.

By 2018, NESIWG members saw the need to update old links and fill out gaps in the content. Eager to keep the website a useful and comprehensive resource, the working group applied for and received a NEIPM Communications grant. Again using focus groups, the following changes were made:

  • a reorganization of the pest species list,
  • additional information on relevant pesticide use regulations in all Northeastern states,
  • grouping resources by stakeholder roles,
  • the addition of two new pages: Breakfast in the Classroom and Playgrounds

Additionally, the recent grant included an update of the working group’s homepage, a new ranking of regional school IPM priorities, a current membership list and an index of school IPM contacts in the Northeast.

graphic shows front of new brochure announcing the changes in the school best management practices website

Front (Outside) of Brochure

Now, with changes soon to be complete, the NESIWG welcomes your visits and assistance in sharing this helpful site. After all, finding and using the website is key!

Back of new brochure advertising the changes to the Best management practices for schools website

Back (Inside) of Brochure

Visit the page!

PLEASE CONSIDER DOWNLOADING OUR BROCHURE, printing a few and sharing them.  OR SHARE THIS LINK.

March 28, 2019
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Happy National Weed Appreciation Day!

Happy National Weed Appreciation Day!

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly. – Dr.  Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ahhh, the weed. Despised by many, almost to the point of violence. Once, while waiting for my older child to get out of preschool, I sat in the lawn and blew dandelion heads to the delight of my infant. I’ve never forgotten the sudden manifestation of a red-faced man screaming at me about terrorizing the neighborhood. (I like to think my son was unaffected.)

The first step in IPM is determining if you have a problem. All those years ago, a large, angry man was a problem, but I contend to this day that the dandelions were not. An unknown author penned that weeds are people’s idea, not nature’s. And many through the years have found inspiration from weeds. While researching this post, I had the option of strictly sticking to quotes about weeds (don’t worry, I didn’t), but I will add a few. There are quotes about their survivability:

You can’t help but admire a plant that has adapted to lawn mowers.

  • A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows. – Doug Larson
  • A fresh and vigorous weed, always renewed and renewing, it will cut its wondrous way through rubbish and rubble. – William Jay Smith

Quotes about weeding:

  • Plant and your spouse plants with you; weed and you weed alone. – Jean-Jacques Rousseau

And many waxed poetic about their hidden value:

  • What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • When life is not coming up roses, Look to the weeds and find the beauty hidden within them. – F. Young

But beyond their value as a philosophical aid, can weeds be beneficial?

In fact, what weeds you find can tell you something about the soil. Is it wet or dry? Lean or fertile? Compacted? Acidic, alkaline, or neutral? Check out the short overview from the University of Vermont, What Weeds Can Tell You. Then act accordingly.

Often, weeds we find troublesome are plants we once valued. Dandelions, garlic mustard, plantain, and burdock are examples of plants brought over and cultivated by settlers to North America for food and medicine. And there are efforts to regain that value. One doesn’t need to spend too much time on the internet to find many resources on edible weeds. Take a look at this short video, Edible Weeds | From the Ground Up, developed by the University of Wyoming Extension (which includes some precautions you should take if you want to try eating your problems away). The Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education recently funded a project looking at bringing edible weeds from the farm to the market.

These trichogramma wasp parasitized European corn borer eggs aren’t going to hatch.

There is research looking at the ecosystem services provided by weeds in agricultural settings. In their project, Integrating Insect, Resistance, and Floral Resource Management in Weed Control Decision-Making, Cornell researchers make the argument that while weeds can compete with crops, they can also benefit the entire system. They use milkweed along a field of corn as a case study. There are aphids that feed on the milkweed and produce honeydew, which benefits beneficial insects such as wasps that lay their eggs in the eggs of insect pests such as European corn borer. And that’s before they discuss the benefit to monarch butterflies.

Early flowering weeds, such as this purple deadnettle, provide an early spring food source for pollinators.

And speaking of butterflies… and bees… and other pollinators, in the write-up of a study looking at the capacity of untreated home lawns to provide pollination opportunities, they reclassified weeds as “spontaneous lawn flowers”. So much friendlier! By the way, they found 63 plant species in those lawns. In a parallel study looking at mowing and pollinators, they found that lazy lawn mowing led to more spontaneous lawn flowers leading to more pollinators. So now I have also given you an excuse to mow less. You’re welcome.

So embrace your spontaneous flowers!

If, after today, you still want to manage those plants, you can always find a plethora of resources for different settings within our New York State Integrated Pest Management website.

November 20, 2018
by Debra E. Marvin
Comments Off on New Posters Available from Don’t Get Ticked New York

New Posters Available from Don’t Get Ticked New York

Many of us have snow or slush on the ground. While this changes tick activity, it doesn’t mean tick and tick-borne disease risk is over.  We’re pleased to provide our newest Tick infographic posters for Farmers, Hunters and Children.  Members of the community IPM team continue to gather all the latest information on tick activity and tick-borne diseases regardless of the season. All thirteen posters are listed below, with direct links to printable PDFs.

Today, we’ll highlight our recommendations for HUNTERS!

This poster, featuring a hunter, shows how to check yourself for ticks, and safely remove a tick.

Part of that effort involves creating resources to help educate New Yorkers, as well as giving talks around the state and taking part in online webinars.

Don’t Get Ticked New York offers thirteen infographic posters.  Along the right side of our webpage https://nysipm.cornell.edu/whats-bugging-you/ticks/, look for TICK INFOGRAPHIC POSTERS which will link you to ECommons and the pdfs for all of our posters. Where? See below!

Here’s the full list as of November 2018, with direct links to the pdfs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 24, 2018
by Debra E. Marvin
Comments Off on Mushrooms Popping up in Your Lawn?

Mushrooms Popping up in Your Lawn?

Today’s post is from Brian Eshenaur, Senior Extension Associate for Ornamental Crops Integrated Pest Management Program, working out of Monroe County.

As fall approaches with its chilly air and increased soil moisture, fungi often respond by producing mushrooms.  Think of mushroom structures as the “flower” of the fungi. The gills under the umbrella cap produce tiny spores.  Like seeds, they disperse on the breeze or foot traffic and may grow under suitable conditions.

The mushrooms we see indicate an extensive network of fungal hyphae below ground.  They are not feeding on the lawn, rather it’s dead organic matter on which they decay and digest, and most often start on dead roots or stumps.

What should a homeowner do?

First, realize that they are not harming the lawn and will fade back into the ground in a matter of days. Enjoy the temporary display!  However, if curious young children or pets will be around the mushrooms, it’s best to step on them to reduce their visibility and any temptation to take a nibble. Most mushrooms are harmless but, until you’re an expert at recognizing the poisonous ones, err on the side of caution.

Brian Eshenaur is a Sr. Extension Associate for Ornamental Crops Integrated Pest Management Program, 2449 St. Paul Blvd., Rochester, NY 14620

 

 

 

Brian works with producers of greenhouse and nursery crops as well as Christmas tree growers. He conducts applied research and delivers educational programs in these areas with the goal of improving pest management and the adoption of IPM techniques. For more about his work, visit our website.

April 6, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on The Craziest of Worms

The Craziest of Worms

They sound kind of cute, right? “Crazy worms” that could actually amuse you? Gyrating in a box of soil, say, sort of like disco dancers? (I’m showing my age here.)

Oh. And trust me; I’m not going off topic here: for many kinds of fish, fishing season started a few days ago. A date that synced, purely by chance, with April Fools Day. (We’ll leave Easter Sunday out of the equation.)

What’s the connection? The economic impact of fresh-water fishing for New York is about $2.26 billion. Watch them in action and crazy worms (aka jumping worms) would seem the ideal bait worm. But don’t even think about it. Illegally sold as bait in some places, this thing has already spread way too far. To have equipped yourself for April First with these critters would have been foolery, pure and simple.

Yet surely—aren’t earthworms good for composting; for your garden and lawn? Won’t they help aerate the soil? Feed the soil?

Alas, these worms make our everyday night crawlers (a mixed blessing in many ecologist’s books) look wondrously benign. Because unlike some other worms that help build soil, crazy worms destroy it, devouring everything that makes soil. Nor do they snub the roots of (for instance) your veggies, your posies, and yes, your lawn—these roots are solid fare for crazy worms. (Farmers aren’t happy campers either.)

And get a load of the crazy worms’ craziest attribute: their remarkable birthing abilities. Most of your standard-issue night crawlers are hermaphrodites—they possess both males and female organs—but at least they must date another of the same kind if they’re going to make babies. Crazy worms? All are female. No need for dates or mates. And their reproduction rate far exceeds that of other worms.

What about our cold winters? They encase their eggs in cocoons. And while crazy worms don’t survive severe northern winters, their cocoons do. All it takes is one to begin an infestation. And if that doesn’t give you pause….

BTW, our forests are as threatened as our fields. Where infestations are high, these worms strip all organic matter from the forest floor, exposing tree roots. Gone is the soil layer that seedlings and wildflowers rely on. When soil is stripped of organics it becomes clumpy, granular, and prone to compaction and erosion. Bad news all around.

Oh—and they’re accomplished hitch-hikers. You might find them in, say, that potted plant you bought from your local big box store. You could also find them in bagged mulch and compost. You might even find their cocoons—small and dark, resembling a clump of soil, on the soles of your boots.

Found some? Your next step: call your county’s Cooperative Extension office or regional NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. They need to know. For heaven’s sake, don’t give seedlings or plants from infested soil to your neighbor down the street or a plant exchange in your town. And if you’re an angler? Take the high road. Don’t buy crazy worms from out-of-state suppliers.

Resources: As you look through these resources, note the crazy worm’s other name: jumping worms.

Cornell Master Naturalist Program Invasive Species Series: Jumping Worms

Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Horticulture Program: Crazy Worms in Maine

Iowa State University Horticulture & Home Pest News: Asian Jumping Worms

University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum Research Update: Jumping Worms and Sleeping Cocoons

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Magazine: Jumping Worms

March 16, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Pests, Pesticides and Proposals: Funding IPM Community Projects

Pests, Pesticides and Proposals: Funding IPM Community Projects

Pests and pesticides—both can pose problems to our health, our environment, and our economy. At the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program (NYS IPM), we help New Yorkers address those problems safely and thoughtfully. How? Through innovative biological, cultural, technological, and educational practices. IPM, in a word.

Community IPM takes place in settings as varied as school buildings and grounds; residential and office buildings; gardens, parks and landscapes; and golf courses and right-of-ways. Now we invite grant proposals from qualified New Yorkers who want to develop, evaluate, or demonstrate feasible IPM methods. Budgets must not exceed $8,500. Our deadline: April 6, 2018. Funds must be spent by February 28, 2019.

The German cockroach needs no introduction. If it can get on your fork, it can get in your food. Credit Clemson University, USDA.

All projects must accomplish one or more of the following:

  • develop, advance, test or refine new IPM strategies;
  • demonstrate a link between IPM practices and reduced risk to human health or pesticide residues;
  • measure the positive change or potential impact of IPM practices or adoption, or survey current IPM knowledge;
  • develop Community IPM resources, such as brochures, websites, fact sheets, manuals, and apps for smartphones and tablets;
  • develop IPM educational programs, such as workshops or curriculum;
  • educate others about IPM through outreach and demonstrations.

Audiences could include school administrators, teachers and students; landscape and structural pest management professionals; vector control specialists; municipal employees; nuisance wildlife control operators; golf course personnel; arborists; right-of-way managers; day care operators—just about anyone, in fact. We encourage projects that reach new audiences or develop new partnerships.

Two years. Yup. Ticks know how to make good use of their time.

Our Community IPM priorities include: develop or demonstrate solid strategies for dealing with rodents or cockroaches; develop, confirm or promote methods to lessen the impact of ticks; research, demonstrate or create outreach projects that promote pollinator health and conservation; and research and demonstrate alternatives to imidacloprid on lawns and athletic fields.

Yes, there are plenty more. But for 2018, these four are our greatest needs.

Got Questions? We encourage you to discuss your ideas with NYS IPM community staff, including:

  • coordinator: Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, Long Island, 631-539-8680, jlg23@cornell.edu (Do you work outside Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension? Get in touch with Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann.)
  • educator: Lynn Braband, Rochester, 585-753-2562, lab45@cornell.edu
  • educator: Amara Dunn, Geneva, 315-787-2206, arc55@cornell.edu
  • educator: Matthew Frye, Westchester, 914-285-4633, mjf267@cornell.edu
  • educator: Joellen Lampman, Albany, 518-441-1303, jkz6@cornell.edu

NYS IPM Ornamentals IPM Staff

  • coordinator: Elizabeth Lamb, Ithaca, 607-254-8800, eml38@cornell.edu
  • educator: Brian Eshenaur, Rochester, 585-753-2561, bce1@cornell.edu

And consider: the most common critiques of past proposals have been that the budget lacked in clarity, explanation or justification—and those seeking grants didn’t discuss projects ahead of time with IPM staff.

August 16, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Of pollinators and postage stamps — forever

Of pollinators and postage stamps — forever

Protect Pollinators. With these new Forever stamps, released on August 2nd, It’s all about the bees and the butterflies. Here, the monarch butterfly and western honey bee symbolize the thousands (yes, thousands) of native bees, hover and flower flies, beetles, wasps, butterflies, and moths at work throughout the Northeast, and across the continent on behalf of — well, there’s us, of course.

Two iconic pollinators. Four iconic wildflowers. Thank you, USPS.

In the U.S. roughly one-third of all food crops depend on pollinators.  And of course, we do love our flowers.

But it’s not just about us. It’s about biodiversity. Consider habitat fragmentation. Example? One house at a time, a forested tract grows houses. Then five at a time; then 10. Then maybe more and wider roads, more and bigger buildings.

Fewer and fewer flowers — and their pollinators.

And habitat loss is a biggie. It makes for less forage, fewer nesting sites. For losses in abundance and diversity. For reduced genetic diversity — and increased risk of extinction. Here in New York, among bees alone two pollinators are endangered and eight more are rare.

Going, going, gone? Image courtesy Emma Mullen.

And monarch butterflies? Starting in late summer, monarchs focus on fattening up to prepare for their epic, multi-generational migration to their overwintering site in Mexico, and it’s nectar they need. But a lawn won’t fatten them — or help other pollinators make it through the cold of a northern winter. Perhaps it’s time to consider making of your lawn an ornament of sorts, beautifully framed with flowers and meadows.

Among core values of IPM: building biodiversity. Why? Biodiversity is at the heart of healthy ecosystems. And healthy ecosystems keep us healthy too. So we thank you, USPS, for reminding us of to the beauty and importance of pollinators. All pollinators, and the biodiversity that supports them.

June 7, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Invasives are pests! Learn more at our July IPM conference.

Invasives are pests! Learn more at our July IPM conference.

We tend to default to bugs — to insects — when we think about pests. But plant diseases and weeds are pests too. And all threaten our fields and farms, our forests and streams, our homes and workplaces.

Pests provide no end of challenges — especially pests that come from afar. Among IPM’s strengths? Researching and crafting powerful ways to cope with them.

Coming up soon, our “Invasive Species in New York: Where We Are and What We Can Do” conference, held just north of Albany at Siena College. The date? July 13, 2017. Join us!

May 16, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Keep Off the Grass? IPM for Anyone With a Lawnmower

Keep Off the Grass? IPM for Anyone With a Lawnmower

Now that spring has arrived and you’ve dusted off the lawn mower …

As a kid of about five, I became suspicious of lawns. In a rare moment of TV viewing, I had seen a public-service ad wherein a bundle of green leafy stuff thudded into an eerily vacant playground while a baritone voice boomed out something like “Grass. We think it’s bad for kids. Stay away from it.” My mom insisted this was “bad grass” which did not grow in our yard. However, she declined to elaborate, which fueled my mistrust. So I kept off the lawn a while.

These days, “bread” is no longer money, “mint” is just a flavor, and the pernicious leafy stuff mostly goes by other names. There is only one grass, and it is almost time to cut it again. Jargon may change, but things like paying taxes and mowing lawns don’t seem to.

To help you, or so they say, a bewildering array of lawn-care products have sprouted at big-box stores and garden centers. It’s easy to spend a lot of dough — I mean money — on fertilizers, weed killers, and seed. But it’s hard to make sense of which products are right for you.

Before you shop, a couple of thoughts to help sort things out.

  • Grass is not for everyone. Or everywhere. If an area does not get 4 or more hours of full sun daily from March through September, trying to grow grass there is a waste of time.
  • Steep slopes and high-traffic zones probably need something other than grass, too.

Keep mower blades sharp — it can help reduce disease, plus it looks nicer and saves on mower gas. (Flickr Creative Commons Brian Boucheron)

Comparison spells trouble. Well not literally, but it’s mighty unfair. Fashion models have airbrush artists and makeup consultants. Golf courses have full-time turf experts and a massive budget. With good information and a little work, we and our lawns can both look good, but let’s not compare with deep-pocketed pros.

Dr. Frank Rossi, a leading Cornell Turfgrass Science researcher, puts it this way:

“Chances are you can grow a pretty good lawn without using insecticides, fungicides, or herbicides. You may even be able to do it using little or no chemical fertilizer… Will your lawn look like a putting green? No… But if you arm yourself with an understanding of what grasses need to thrive, and commit to a long-term plan to meet those needs, you can grow a perfectly acceptable lawn…”

Get the dirt on your soil. If your grass looks bedraggled, fertilizer may not be the answer; in fact, early-season nitrogen can weaken grass and make lawns worse in the long run.

At the very least, get a soil pH test—a pH more acidic (lower) than 6.0, or more alkaline (higher) than 7.0 will hinder plants’ ability to absorb nutrients. The majority of samples I get at the office have pH values too high for healthy lawns, sometimes 100 or even 1,000 times too alkaline due to annual lime treatments. Lime is only good if it’s needed.

If it’s been over three years since the soil was tested, you might want to invest in a lab analysis. For under twenty bucks you can get nutrient levels with specific recommendations, plus pH and salt content. This last item may seem odd, but fertilizers, herbicides, wood ash and deicing agents are all sources of salt — which can damage soil structure, harm microbes, and aggravate water stress.

Only fertilize based on soil test results, and only use nitrogen in the fall.

Nature abhors a vacuum, which is why I keep mine hidden away indoors — no sense offending nature if you can avoid it. This hatred of emptiness means that if you don’t re-seed bare or weak spots in the lawn, Nature will fill it with whatever is handy — probably weeds.

Edging along the sidewalk or driveway may produce the look you want, but it also produces a lot of bare earth, so if you have a weed issue, especially crabgrass, breaking this habit will give you an edge on weed control.

Another type of vacuum is a close-cropped lawn. Not only does close mowing cause weak, stunted grass roots (and thus plants), it allows the sun full access to the soil. This gives weeds a tremendous advantage.

Have trouble with ground ivy? Put away the vacuum. Stop shaving the earth and start mowing the grass.

The most important thing you can give your lawn is more of its hair. Studies show that changing to a grass height of 3.5 inches leads to a vast improvement in lawn health. Leaving grass longer will greatly reduce weed pressure, lawn diseases, and fertilizer requirements. Perhaps the most dramatic change with longer grass is a lasting drop in weed population.

If you need to use herbicides to reduce weeds, follow the label instructions closely. Some broadleaf (selective) herbicides contain chemicals that could stress or injure trees. Pre-emergent herbicides inhibit weed germination, and are used for crabgrass control. Apply pre-emergent products around the time forsythia flowers are starting to drop.

Another tip is not to mow more than a third of the grass at a time. For example, to maintain a 3.5-inch turf height, mow before the grass gets over five inches high. Try to keep the blades sharp — it can help reduce disease, plus it looks nicer and saves on mower gas. And it almost goes without saying that grass clippings belong to the lawn, not the landfill. Leave the clippings—that’s your fertilizer.

White grubs — we have five species in northern NY — can become a problem if there are more than ten per square foot of lawn. Several nontoxic and low-toxicity treatments have come on the market in the past few years, but timing varies for all of them. Milky spore treatment is safe, but is not effective up north due to cool soils. You can also use beneficial nematodes to kill grubs. 

There are many solid lawn-care resources out there, but always check the source, which should be from .edu or .gov sites. Cornell Senior Extension Associate Lori Brewer has assembled the work of many experts, including Dr. Rossi, into a comprehensive 47-page book entitled “Lawn Care,” which is free at http://hort.cornell.edu/turf/lawn-care.pdf

I think it will contribute to a better world if we teach our kids to stay grounded and let the grass get high.

See more at Morning Ag Clips.

These nematodes Hetzler mentions — beneficial organisms — are key to good IPM. In fact, good IPM embraces every concept Hetzler stands by. With IPM, prevention is always the best cure. And remember: even herbicides are a type of pesticide, because weeds are pests too. If you’ve ever spent a whole day weeding a not-that-big garden, you know that sometimes weeds are the most difficult contenders we face. — ed. MW.

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