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.
May 16, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Keep Off the Grass? IPM for Anyone With a Lawnmower
Now that spring has arrived and you’ve dusted off the lawn mower …
PUBLISHED ON MAY 3RD, 2017, CANTON, N.Y. | Courtesy Paul Hetzler, CCE St. Lawrence County
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.
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.
August 26, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on World-class Golf Comes Home. Thank You, IPM
The Barclays PGA Tournament kicks off the FedEx Cup playoff in professional golf. This year it’s right here, right now — at Bethpage State Park on Long Island in downstate New York. The IPM (integrated pest management) piece of this story? Here’s where we tested, developed, and showcased preventive, threshold-based IPM protocols that can steeply reduce year-in, year-out pesticide use on any golf course, anywhere — all while protecting habitat for pollinators and many other creatures. In fact, we’ve scored environmental impact quotients up to 96 percent lower than conventional practices.
Happening as we speak — at Bethpage State Park, also home to IPM research that informs thoughtful, preventive tactics for golf-course care.
The IPM tactics we honed on Bethpage’s Green Course over 12 years are also used on its Black Course — among the most challenging courses you could find anywhere. Think of it. Putting greens buzz-cut to within an inch of their life. Talk about stress! (Technically, that’s an 1/8th inch of their life.) Fairways mowed to about ½ inch. Roughs to an inch or so — and even that’s a height we don’t recommend trying at home.
Which is why we can’t stress how important long-term, real-world research is. Whether it’s searing heat and no rain or relentless rain and chilly weather — or any combination thereof — well, you just don’t get truly useful results until you’ve tested your work in widely differing seasons and situations. And in dealing with pests on golf courses, it’s all about the season. It gets even more impressive when you consider that Bethpage (along with the other 24 public-park golf courses across New York) is open to all comers, facing heavy traffic and tight budgets.
92-plus: that’s an impressive number of pollinators to find in mid-April 2015 after a long, difficult winter.
We’ve always known how important beneficial insects and other organisms are to ecosystem health. In fact, many of our IPMprotocols are built around using beneficials and biocontrols to keep pests at bay. Equally as important: protecting nontarget organisms — frogs, for example — from exposure to pesticides. Which is why we were happy to find this fine fella hanging out at Bethpage in a marshy verge during an Earth Day trek around Bethpage. And a 2015 survey of pollinators in naturalized areas at Bethpage revealed at least 92 species of bees, wasps, and other pollinators as well as a diversity of plants that attract them.
Good stuff. Thank you, Integrated Pest Management.
A green frog? Bullfrog? From this angle, hard to tell.
August 2, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Climate, Weather, Data: Crops and Landscapes
With all the talk about climate change you might wonder how it will affect food production, pests, and even landscapes—and what you can do about it. From the Valentine’s Day massacre winter freeze to plant life gasping for water, changing weather patterns have affected our crops all over the Northeast. Learn how gathering information on weather and climate can help growers, gardeners and landscapers plan for changes. Find details on The Climate and Weather Conference webpage.
Remember the adage “knee high by the 4th of July”? This year it was ankle high. And dry.
Climate, Weather, Data: Protecting Our Crops and Landscapes. It’s all happening August 15, 2016 at the Albany County Cornell Cooperative Extension Office, 24 Martin Rd., Voorheesville, NY, 12186.
We’re honored that Richard Ball, the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, will kick off the conference. Speakers from New York and across the Northeast will discuss the current state of knowledge on climate change and changes in weather patterns. We’ll also learn how collecting climate and weather data can help us predict and manage pests. Open discussion sessions are included so you can ask your own questions. Join us.
The New York State IPM Program seeks four new staff to amplify our IPM outreach and research for farms and communities around New York. Here are the positions (three of them new) we seek to fill:
Biocontrol Specialist (Extension Associate)
Alternative Weed Management Specialist (Extension Associate)
Coordinator for the Network for Environment and Weather Applications (Extension Associate)
Coordinator for Livestock and Field Crops IPM (Senior Extension Associate)
Our mission: to develop sustainable ways to manage disease, insect, weed, and wildlife pests; and to help people use methods that minimize environmental, health, and economic risks. Our agricultural and community programs have overlapping issues and settings. Agricultural IPM programming includes fruits, vegetables, ornamentals, and livestock and field crops. Community IPM promotes insect, weed, plant disease and wildlife management in schools, homes, and workplaces as well as on lawns, playfields, golf courses, parks and landscapes; it also includes invasive species and public health pests. NYSIPM is a national leader in developing and promoting IPM practices.
Hands-on workshops held on neighborhood farms are a tried and true way to get IPM practices to stick.
We foster a collegial and cooperative environment where teamwork is emphasized and appreciated. We also collaborate with Cornell University faculty, staff, and Cornell Cooperative Extension educators, as well as with specialists from other states and universities. These positions will be housed either in Geneva (NYSAES) or Ithaca (Cornell campus).
Education and Experience
All applicants must have an MS (required) or PhD (preferred) degree in entomology, plant pathology, horticulture or other suitable field. A minimum of two years professional experience in extension education and research or demonstration in required for extension associates and eight years for the senior extension associate. We will consider experience as a graduate student.
Additional Information AND HOW TO APPLY
For more information and application instructions, click here. Applications will be accepted until 8/31/2016 or until a suitable candidate is found.
June 9, 2016
by Joellen Lampman Comments Off on For Wasps, Prevention Is Key — and the Time Is Now
Most of the wasps we’re too familiar with (and afraid of) are sociable with their own kind, building large nests in trees or underground. The problem is when they build nests under your eaves, picnic tables, or even (if you’re a farmer) under the seat of that baler you’re about to rev up as part of your pre-harvest maintenance check.
At a distance these wasps make great neighbors. As predators of flies, caterpillars and other soft-bodied insects, they help keep their numbers in balance. And that balance, that ounce of prevention, is a core tenet of IPM. But wasps are trigger-happy, so to speak — grab that picnic table to move it out of the sun and you’ll wish you looked underneath it first.
We could talk about any wasp you want, but today we’re focusing on bald-faced hornets. Just know that you can also apply IPM’s preventive tactics — we’ll get to that later — to your standard-issue yellow jackets, paper wasps, mud daubers and honey bees.
Big nests for big bruisers: this carton nest is too close to home.
Bald-faced hornets house their colonies in large, enclosed carton nests. Like most wasps (and bees) these mostly mild-mannered critters turn nasty when their nest is threatened. They don’t know you had no intention of harm. But when bald-faced hornets live too close, yes, they represent a public health concern.
Bald-faced hornet, up close and personal. Courtesy Gary Alpert, Harvard U.
Did You Know…?
What’s in a name?: White-faced hornets can be easily identified by the large patch of white on their faces.
Family relations: This hornet is the largest yellow jacket species in North America.
By the numbers: A nest can contain hundreds of hornets, and most will attack to protect their queen.
Danger! White-faced hornets have unbarbed stingers, so they sting repeatedly. (Author’s note: Take it from me — disturb a nest and yes, you might get stung way more than you’d like.)
Beneficial insect: White-faced hornets are important predators of flies, caterpillars and other soft-bodied insects.
Only one way out of a carton home, but space enough for a battalion of angry moths to exit. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Since technically it’s still spring and a chilly May slowed them down, you still have time. Inspect (in IPM lingo, “scout”) the aforementioned eaves, picnic tables, and outdoor equipment as well as the undersides of the railing on your porch or deck; that sort of thing. You’re looking for small carton nests that look like these, only way smaller. For other stinging wasps, keep and eye out for what looks like clots of mud (nifty inside, should you get a chance to dissect one) and the clusters of open cells, rather like honeycombs, that comprise a paper-wasp nest. Basically, you want to find a nest under construction, as it were — one with just a few workers ferrying back and forth to care for their queen.
Did You Know…?
Last year’s empties: See a scary-big nest? Most likely it’s from last year — and wasps don’t reuse them. On the other hand, a subtle scent left behind tells other wasps that this could be a good place to build a nest of their own. So get rid of empties.
Moving quietly on a warm-enough day, stake out a claim nearby and watch the nest for 15 minutes or so. See any wasps? You’ve got an active one. No wasps? Best to scrape the old nest off so they won’t worry you later.
How to get rid of them? At dusk or dawn (dawn is better — it’s usually cooler) get out there with a tall pole, a SuperSoaker, or a hose with a good nozzle on it (you want a focused, powerful stream of water) and knock them down one at a time. Then stomp on them. Need a light? Don’t shine it right on the nest; better yet, cover your light with red cellophane. (Wasps don’t register red.)
Looking ahead — for larger nests later in summer, ask yourself if the nest is close enough to where you live, work or play to pose a significant threat. If it’s at a distance, best to leave it be.
More prevention (core IPM!): cover outdoor garbage receptacles and pick up dropped fruit under fruit-bearing trees. Integrated pest management can help to determine if a bald-face hornet nest is a danger and what to do if it should be removed.
For more information from the New York State IPM Program on other stinging insects, click here.
June 16, 2015
by Joellen Lampman Comments Off on Lawn IPM – Preparing for Summer
“Sopping, and with no sign of stopping, either- then a breather. Warm again, storm again- what is the norm, again? It’s fine, it’s not, it’s suddenly hot: Boom, crash, lightning flash!” – ― Old Farmer’s Almanac
Early June and the grass is still dormant.
What a spring it has been. After a spring drought, the grass is now recovering (or finally coming out of dormancy!) as parts of New York have received inches of rain over the past two weeks. Wet soils, higher temperatures, and humidity can lead to turf damage and pest pressure. What can you do to help prepare for summer stress?
What a difference a couple of weeks, and rain, makes.
Hold off on fertilizers
Spring fertilization promotes top growth at the expense of root growth. Grass needs deep roots as a buffer against summer heat, drought, insect damage, and diseases. Unless you are maintaining high quality, high traffic turf, such as on golf putting surfaces, wait until the fall to fertilize.
Set your mower to its highest setting. The longer the leaf blades, the deeper the roots, providing a buffer against drought, diseases, and insect damage.
Make sure those blades are sharp.
If you haven’t yet sharpened your blades this season, don’t wait any longer. Dull blades shred rather than cut, allowing more moisture loss and increase turf stress. You can find information on blade sharpening here. Resharpen the blades after every 10 to 12 hours of use. As an added incentive, dull blades can increase fuel costs 20%, so sharpen those blades and save money!
Timing is important
Warm, rainy days can lead to significant growth, leading to mowing anxiety. Mowing when soils are saturated, however, and can lead to rutting and compaction. Try to wait until the soil has had a chance to dry.
On the flip side, if you wait too long, you can end up leaving clumps of grass clippings, which can block out the sun and seal in the moisture, leaving the turf susceptible to humidity-loving diseases. Under these conditions, collect clippings and compost them, if possible.
“…winter, will be forced to relent, once again, to the new beginnings of soft greens, longer light, and the sweet air of spring.” – Madeleine M. Kunin
This turf along the edge of a walkway could use some help recovering after months of shoveled snow was piled on top of it.
As spring progresses and temperatures continue to rise, lawns are recovering from the long winter. As the grass grows and the dry tips are mowed off, areas that need help will become more obvious. What can you do to help prevent weeds from taking over bare patches or thin areas? It’s time to break out the seed!
Mary Thurn from Cornell University guides us through the process of patching small weak or bare spots.
“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.” ― William Shakespeare
It’s Spring (with a capital S) and the urge to get outside and work in the yard is mounting. When it comes to your lawn, what should you be thinking about and doing as April progresses?
Ahhh, spring. Waiting for the grass to grow.
Getting ready to mow
Depending on where you are, it might be awhile yet before it is time to gas up the mower. In the meantime, avoid the rush and get your mower tuned up and the blades sharpened. Set the mower blades to their highest setting. If you do nothing else this year, keep your blades sharp throughout the season, mow high, and leave the clippings in place.
Not sure how to remove the blade from your walk-behind or tractor? Want to sharpen your blades yourself but don’t know how? Here are some videos to help you out:
Do not fertilize if the lawn is looking good or you fertilized in the fall. The grass can get all the nutrients it needs from the soil and grass clippings.
Research has shown that fertilizing is best done in the fall when it supports root growth. Spring fertilization promotes top growth. There are two issues with this. First, promoting top growth at the expense of root growth leads to grass that is less resistant to drought and pests. Second, while you may currently find it hard to believe, you will get tired of mowing.
Fall is also the best time for seeding, but if you have bare patches or thin areas, fill these areas with a mixture of perennial rye grass seed.
Are you in charge of maintaining athletic fields? If you’re looking for a two or three week head start on getting your fields ready for spring — consider a proven IPM practice: dormant overseeding. (Farmers, this can work for cool-season grains and forage crops. And homeowners — here’s a trick from the pros that you just might be able to use.)
Yes, right now those artic blasts might still be leaving us chilled. But winter weather has its advantages: snowmelt and freeze-thaw cycles help both push and pull seeds into the ground, maximizing seed-to-soil contact.
Frost heaving is more extreme on bare soil. Note that the effect of frost heaving is reduced on the area covered by grass. Photo Credit: Michal Maňas
Meanwhile, spring is just around the corner — meaning it’s time to be on the lookout for weather conditions that allow you to apply grass seed. So secure your seed and calibrate your spreaders.
What conditions are you looking for? Choose a time when:
there’s no snow cover
nighttime temperatures are predicted to dip below freezing and …
days begin to warm.
Ideally the forecast will also call for snow — snow that will push the seed into the ground while also protecting the seed from marauding birds. When that snow melts and is absorbed into the soil, it also helps pull your seed down through the crowns of existing plants, further increasing seed-to-soil contact.
Freeze-thaw cycles can affect soil dramatically, opening crevices and ridges that seed can slip into and will later collapse, maximizing seed-to-soil contact. Photo Credit: Joellen Lampman
Choose which seed to apply by your expectations for each field. Will your athletes be on the field in early spring? Then apply the quickly germinating perennial rye at a rate of 6 lbs./1000 ft2. If you have fields that won’t be used until June or July, apply Kentucky bluegrass at a rate of 3 to 4 lbs./1000 ft2. There will be some loss due to seed mortality, so these rates are 50% above conventional rates.
Your IPM benefits? Dormant seeding allows you to avoid cultivating the turf when the soil is too soft and wet to work. It saves fuel and equipment costs, too. And getting this turf management practice out of the way early means you’re better set up for the busy field season. Best of all, the seeds you apply in winter can germinate two to three week earlier than those applied during a conventional spring seeding — and your grass will be better able to face the onslaught of spring weeds and athletic cleats.