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.
February 10, 2017
by Joellen Lampman Comments Off on Lawn IPM – the February Edition
I love any excuse to come to New York — when it’s not February. — K. A. Applegate
Ahh, February. The Monday of months. Yet even with a foot of snow on the ground over most of New York, you can take steps now for a healthy lawn.
The Feb. 9 U.S. Drought Monitor shows 35% of the Northeast in a drought.
First, be grateful for the snow — and add more to your wish list. The Northeast Regional Climate Center notes that much of New York is still in a drought. We’ll check next week to see how the February 9 snowstorm affects the readings, but The New York City reservoir system was at 77.6% of capacity on February 8 compared to normal capacity of 87.8%. We still have a ways to go to make up the deficit.
Lawn Care features expertise from Cornell University Turfgrass research team. Vidoes, photo galleries, interactive images and concise directions make it quick and easy to understand how to cultivate a healthy lawn that is an attractive environmental asset.
Turfgrass Species and Variety Guidelines for NYS – If you want to get deeper into the science of seed selection, then this is the resource for you. Different types of turfgrass are adapted to different soil, light, and traffic conditions. Choosing the right type will help you maintain the best lawn with the least amount of inputs such as irrigation, fertilizer, and pesticides.
Cornell University turfgrass expert Dr. Frank Rossi narrates this short how-to video on sharpening your mower blade.
Third, the single most important lawn care practice you can undertake for a healthy lawn is proper mowing — and now is a great time to sharpen those blades. Why bother? Dull blades:
shred rather than cut grass
stress your lawn, making it …
more susceptible to insects, diseases, and drought
Fourth, the ongoing drought left many poorly or non-irrigated lawns a little thin. Overseeding helps fill in the bare spots. You don’t even need to wait until spring. Dormant overseeding over the next few weeks can help you get a head start on the season. Use the resources above to choose a drought-tolerant turfgrass type, so watch the forecast and try to get out ahead of the next snowstorm.
“It’s so dry the trees are bribing the dogs.” ― Charles Martin, Chasing Fireflies
While drought stress might not seem like an IPM issue, it can definitely impact how your grass will respond to pests, both current and future. As Pat Vittum, Turf Entomologist at UMass, tells her students, “Turf can take one or two stresses, but not three or four.” How can you reduce stress during these dry times?
Yes, it is dry out there.
Hold off on fertilizers…
at least until the weather flips to cooler temperatures and you can water it in, either by timing it before predicted rain or through irrigation. Fall fertilization will help to increase turf density by helping the turf produce more tillers, rhizones, and stolons and encourage shoot growth, but only if it can reach the root zone. Look to apply one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 ft2, plus other nutrients recommended by a soil test.
Now is not the time to park on the grass, host a neighborhood pickup flag football game, or allow the kids to set up a bike ramp.
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, 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.
Wait to mow
Unless you have irrigation, your lawn is likely not growing. No growth, no need to mow. If storms drop some needed moisture and the grass takes off, wait until a cooler time of the day to mow. Do not, however, wait too long. If you end up leaving clumps of clippings, they can block out the sun and seal in the moisture, leaving the turf susceptible to humidity loving diseases. Once it is growing, mowing should be conducted often, twice a week or more. Mowing increases shoot density by increasing tillering (stems that develop from the crown of the parent plant). The more tillers, the fuller your lawn, leaving less room for weeds.
“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.
It’s November, too late for fertilizing your lawn. In fact, a new law bans application of lawn fertilizers on turf after Dec. 1. It’s also too late to seed—though recently seeded areas may still benefit from warm temperatures. You can mulch leaves on your lawn now, without hurting the grass. One study even shows that mulched leaves reduce weed populations in turf.
Large crabgrass, Digitaria sanguinalis
It’s also a good time to survey your lawn for crabgrass. A hard frost will have killed these annual plants, leaving “crabgrass skeletons”. Remember to target these crabgrass areas for grass seeding and TLC in the spring.
September 20, 2018
by Debra E. Marvin Comments Off on Boxwood Blight is Breaking the Bank
Boxwood blight, Cylindrocladium buxicola, was first identified in 2011 when submitted samples were examined at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. This marked the first confirmed cases outside of the UK and New Zealand. Since then, it’s been found on many cultivars of boxwood, Buxus spp., up and down the east coast.
Boxwood Blight, Photo credit Oregon Department of Agriculture
Now, it’s not only showing up in many downstate counties and Long Island, but completely decimating formal gardens and landscape nurseries. With various landscape and cutting uses, Boxwood is a million dollar plus industry, including its use as a major component in holiday wreaths and decorations.
Boxwood Blight, photo credit Margery Daughtery
While boxwood blight might not be a concern in your yard, you’d notice its loss in many landscapes. This is a major concern of landscapers, horticulturalists and growers.
Boxwood blight shows up as dark brown spots on leaves. These lesions enlarge with dark borders until they merge with others. By then an entire leaf—and many nearby—may be covered. These browned out or straw-colored dead leaves drop in record time. “That’s why they call it a blight.”
Stem infection also occurs and shows up as long black lesions. This FUNGAL DISEASE forms sporadochia (fruiting structures), visible with a hand lens. In layman’s terms, sporadochia produce sticky spores—nasty seeds of destruction if you’re a fungal disease! Spores happily spread by wind, rain, splashing water, or by hitchhiking on you, your lawnmower and rake, your dog, even your favorite garden birds.
Why this sudden outbreak? Anyone who suffered through this swampy summer can guess. According to Cornell Alum and New York State Climatologist, Mark Wysocki, “This is more typical for the Gulf Coast states.” Syracuse, for example, sweated through 531 hours when the dew point, a standard measure of humidity, was at least 70 degrees. That’s more than double the number of sticky hours of the next closest year, 2005.
THIS CHART SHOWS # OF HOURS OF DEWPOINT >= 70 at Ithaca Tompkins Airport by year 1996-2018
With relatively new pests, IPM and conventional treatment options aren’t time-tested. Other factors such as soil health, over or under-watering and winter injury increase susceptibility, but this year’s humidity has come at a high cost to boxwood.
For more on boxwood blight, here are two great resources:
Ticked off about ticks? You are not alone. And knowing the what, where, why, etc. is critical to knowing how to deal with them. So here it is, the first in a series: the low-down on that pest we love to hate.
May you, dear reader, stay tick-free and healthy.
1. What, exactly, is a tick?
Ticks are related to mites and spiders—but not to insects. (Now don’t go worrying about spiders—in the Northeast, virtually all are common victims of common misunderstandings.) Ticks have four life stages: egg, larvae, nymph and adult. All stages (well, not the eggs) feed on blood for energy to grow and later to reproduce. Larval ticks have six legs; nymphs and adults have eight.
Those things that look like antenna? Not—they’re highly adapted legs that process vital information. And that snout in the middle? Blood-sucking mouthparts. (Photo CDC)
Right now, three species are a health concern here in New York: the blacklegged tick, the lone star tick, and the American dog tick.
2. What do ticks look like?
Regardless the species, unfed ticks look like flattened teardrops with eight legs. And depending on their species, life stage and sex (male versus female), they have different color patterns on their bodies. But after they’ve eaten, their abdomens (the females’ especially) can expand so much that it’s really hard to know which is which. You can get positive IDs here.
Just keep in mind that learning a tick’s identity doesn’t mean you know if it’s carrying a disease.
I wrote a sentence on my finger, period and all. And yep, the larvae are that small. (Courtesy Cal Dept Public Health)
As for size? Again, that depends on the species, its life stage, and whether it has fed (and for how long). For blacklegged and lone star ticks, larvae are the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Nymphs? Think poppy seeds. Adults? Sesame seeds. When fully fed, adult females can be as large as a raisin.
American dog ticks, though, are a tad larger than the other two.
3. Are ticks a new problem? Why have we been hearing so much more about them lately?
Turns out ticks are nothing new. In fact, evidence suggests that ticks were carrying Lyme disease pathogens 15 to 20 million years ago (Lyme Disease’s Possible Bacterial Predecessor Found in Ancient Tick). What is new? We’re seeing far more ticks throughout the Northeast and much of North America than during any time in recorded history. And of course the more ticks in the neighborhood, the greater our risk of disease.
Why are ticks on the move? For one, (sub)urban sprawl leaves small patches of wooded areas—great habitat for mice and deer but far less welcoming to their traditional enemies—hawks or foxes, cougars or wolves. (More later on the role of mice and deer in tick-borne diseases.) In addition, a warming climate makes northern areas more hospitable for ticks.
Ah, yes. A place to call home—and nary a wolf in sight. (Photo provided.)
4. Where do ticks live? How do they find me? And where did the deer ticks go?
Blacklegged ticks are usually found in woodlots, forest edges, and groundcovers such as pachysandra or periwinkle—places where leaf litter, shrubs, and tree cover provide the moist environment they need. And how do they find us? Just as we sometimes go on quests, so too do they. Only they’re not seeking adventure or the Holy Grail, but simply a host. A host that provides the food (think blood) they need to thrive, or at least survive.
About deer ticks? Years ago, researchers thought they’d found a new species and gave it the common name “deer tick.” Turned out it was the same old blacklegged tick that’s been here since time immemorial.
No matter that these ticks lack eyes—questing ticks stand on the edge of a twig or leaf, their first pair of legs extended. Evolution endowed them with cleverly designed legs: they’ve got sensors to detect temperature, the carbon dioxide those hosts exhale, and odors or sounds specific to those hosts. When a host brushes past, they grab on tight.
The nymphs typically quest below a person’s knee-height. Because adult ticks feed on larger animals, they might quest higher up to find a host—as high as your waist-height or mine.
The lone star tick is on a roll, with its own suite of diseases and syndromes — some still mysterious. (Photo CDC)
The lone star tick thrives in a wide range of habitats, from shady forests to sunny lawns or roadsides. Unlike the blacklegged tick, the lone star tick hustles toward its prey, even across pavement or dry sand. Other distinguishing features? Well … it’s lots more aggressive. Imagine a tick that travels three times as fast as the blacklegged tick, has excellent vision, and hatches in stinging swarms that can put fire ants to shame.
Last but not least—the American dog tick. Forget the woods: this tick thrives in warm, dry places—roadsides, grassy fields, scrubland and lawns. Larvae and nymphs mostly feed on small mammals, while adults climb grass, brush, or twigs to find medium-sized animals—people included. And sometimes American dog ticks could be even more aggressive. TickEncounter has reported seeing American dog ticks follow a regular source of carbon dioxide that attracted them for upward a few hundred yards to the house. And in one memorable case ticks were crawling up the outside walls toward window screens and doors. Now if that doesn’t give you the willies….
No matter which tick you might collide with—this is one party you don’t want to host.
Stay tuned for another informative post on the biology behind that pest we love to hate.
(Adapted from nysipm.cornell.edu/whats-bugging-you/ticks/tick-faqs#answers)