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.
One of the first springtime insects that homeowners observe are ground bees. These insects create ant-hill like mounds in areas of bare soil with a ¼” opening in the center (about the thickness of a pencil). On warm, sunny days there may be dozens to hundreds of bees flying low to the ground among the mounds. Despite a general and perhaps debilitating fear of bees – the truth is that this species is relatively harmless and may not require any management. Here’s why:
Ephemeral: ground-nesting bees are pollinators of early blooming flowers. Because their lifecycle is tied to the cycle of these plants, ground bees are only active for a short period of time in early spring.
Two female ground bees hunker down in their burrows in response to movement.
Solitary: fear of bees arises from the idea that disturbing a nest will provoke an entire colony of stinging insects. However, as it true of carpenter bees, cicada killer wasps, and mud dauber wasps, ground bees are solitary with only a single female bee per mound.
Shy Gals: female bees make nests for the purpose of reproduction. After gathering nectar and pollen as food for their offspring, females will mate and lay eggs in the nest. While in the nest, females appear shy, and will retreat into the burrow if they see an approaching object.
Males Hover, but Can’t Sting: All those bees you see flying low to the ground en masse – are males! And male bees do not possess a stinger. Their low, hovering flight is part of their effort to pair up with a female. Indeed, male ground bees are quite docile.
Male ground bees cannot sting and are quite docile.
If you wish to discourage ground bees from living in your yard, an effective, safe and long-term solution is over-seeding with grass. By creating a dense lawn, bees will not be able to dig in the soil and will nest elsewhere.
“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.
Is it mole? A vole? These small mammals are often confused with each other, probably because they’re both associated with tunnels. But they’re really quite different and, depending on the circumstance, could be a pest — or not. Since the first step in IPM is to identify your problem, let’s shed light on these two critters.
We cheated here to give you a good look at a couple of voles. Microtus agrestis is related to the two vole species found in NY, but is found in Europe. Photo Credit: Tomi Tapio K
Since voles are seen above-ground much more often than the elusive mole, let’s take a look at them first. You might see them darting through lawns during the day (or your cat might bring them home). They’re active day and night year-round where the ground cover is thick. These small rodents are herbivores, eating almost exclusively plants.
At a quick glance you might confuse them with mice, but their stocky bodies are more compact and they look like they are missing half their tail. Also, unlike mice, they are adapted for digging; different species have different tunneling behavior, which can help with identification.
Voles often have several litters per year. Their populations can fluctuate a good deal — meaning that sometimes they’re quite abundant while other times it would take a naturalist’s sharp eye to know they’re even around.
That lovely tracery exposed as the snow melts — vole tunnels! Photo credit: Woodsen.
Meadow Voles(Microtus pennsylvanicus) are the most abundant vole species found throughout New York and are common in grassy areas including lawns. They are dark brown with a grayish belly and can be 5 inches long.
How do you know if you have meadow voles? Besides actually seeing them (or receiving one in a display of cat love), signs include:
runways through the turf, most visible after snow melt
girdled woody plants
chewed-off herbaceous vegetation
ground burrow openings
After the snow melts, vole damage becomes obvious. Photo Credit: USDA Forest Service – North Central Research Station Archive, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org
Pine Voles(Microtus pinetorum) probably live throughout New York except for parts of the North Country, although actual distribution is uncertain. Their preferred habitat is forests with thick ground cover; they like orchards too. They are auburn colored and can be four inches long.
Pine voles are harder to detect as they don’t use surface runways. Their extensive underground tunnel systems lead them to their favorite food source, the roots of woody plants.
Once you’ve seen a mole, you’ll have a hard time confusing it with any other animal. Their broad feet, adapted strictly for digging, give them away. Everything about this animal is a clue that it lives underground. Moles have no external ears that can get caught as they move through their tunnels. Their dark, shiny fur has no grain, allowing them to move forwards and backwards with equal ease. And their eyes? You’d practically have to catch a mole to get close enough to see them — they’re that small.
Moles damage is pretty distinct. It involves quite a bit of soil and no entry holes. Photo credit: Kim F
What are they looking for — feeling for — down there? As insectivores, they’re searching mostly for earthworms. But they’re also happy to eat insect larvae, including grubs, and other underground invertebrates. They don’t eat vegetation, although they will line their nests with grass.
Largely solitary, moles are active year-round, day and night. They create grass-lined nests in burrows 1 ½ to 2 feet below the surface often under something solid such as tree roots, sidewalks, and buildings. Litters of 4 or 5 pups are born in the spring. Maturing quickly, the young are independent at about one month old.
What are indications that you have moles? You will find low ridges or mounds of dirt with no entry holes.
An eastern mole’s rare glimpse of daylight. Photo credit: Kenneth Catania
It is up for debate whether Eastern Moles (Scalopus aquaticus) are found in New York, although it’s possible they’re in the lower Hudson River Valley, the metro New York area, and Long Island. We do know they prefer moist sandy loam soils. They can be up to 6 ½ inches long with a naked tail.
Hairy-tailed Moles(Parascalops breweri) are found statewide. They can be up to 5 ½ inches long and have a short, hairy tail.
The star-nosed mole is very aptly named. Those appendages contain over 25,000 sensory receptors designed to help it feel its way around. Photo credit: US NPS
Star-nosed Moles(Condylura cristata) are found throughout much of New York, often occurring in low, wet ground especially near water. They can be up to 5 inches long, and their most striking characteristic is the fingerlike, fleshy projections surrounding their noses. More than their noses separate them from other mole species. They are more sociable than other moles. They tend to have larger litters. And Star-nosed moles swim! Who knew that those large feet are also good for paddling?
All mole and vole species in New York are legally classified as “unprotected”. For more information on both these mammals, including IPM strategies should voles chew the bark off your ornamental shrubs or moles turn parts of your lawn upside down, visit Cornell’s Wildlife Damage Management Program website.
Adapted from Moles and Voles of New York State by Lynn Braband, NYS Community IPM Program at Cornell University
August 27, 2014
by Joellen Lampman Comments Off on Punching Out Grubs
Cutting grass roots to the quick — that’s a grub’s stock in trade. But pesticides cost money and time — let alone potential health hazards, whether to ecosystems or us. Cutting grubs to the quick? Now, there’s an idea.
Aerators can often be rented at local hardware stores.
Groundskeepers and savvy homeowners use aerators with their sharp tines to break up hard, compacted soil, letting life-giving oxygen and water deeper into the earth. But those tines have another function, though not by design. They’re like tiny spears, meaning that a grub in the wrong place at the wrong time is a goner. (Aerators can be rented.. In the NY Capital region, I am able to rent an aerator at my local garden store for $40 for four hours and $80 a day. To find one in your area, try Googling: aerator rental “your town”).
Big grubs make the best targets. And the research … well, just read on.
Research at the State University of New York at Delhi has shown that yes, turfgrass aerators can lower grub populations, sometimes as much as 90 percent — depending, of course, on conditions that vary from site to site and year to year. Building on that, NYS IPM-funded research at SUNY Delhi looked at which cultivator designs do best against grubs.
Results? All aerators can cut grub populations — though the old standard hollow-core aerators did best in these trials. And it’s an inexpensive tactic if you have the equipment. With this information in hand, you can plan your aerate with grub management in mind. Ideally you’d time a tactic like this for when grubs are big enough to easily impale, yet not so big they’ve already dug deep to survive the winter.
So should you get punchy? Our video shows you how to assess your lawn and scout for grubs. If you find 10 grubs per square foot, now is the time! Grubs are pretty big and still close to the surface in late August so aerating might be just the ticket.
Thin weak turf leaves bare areas susceptible to erosion and weed invasion.
Let me count the ways. First, a little perspective – this is the front lawn of a school that was just renovated. There was little money to invest in the lawn and even less to help the struggling lawn.
Problem #1: Compaction
This area was the staging area for the equipment and material storage during school renovations, so we know right off the bat that this area is compacted.
The Fix: Aeration
To relieve compaction, a core aerator can be used to punch holes in the turf, pulling out soil cores. The holes left behind provide space for air and water movement and root growth within the soil. If the school does not own an aerator, a small one can usually be rented at a local hardware store for a nominal fee. In the NY Capital region, I am able to rent an aerator for $40 for four hours and $80 a day.
Problem #2: Excess Straw
Straw laid down to protect seeds and seedlings can eventually be detrimental to turf health.
We can still see a significant amount of straw that was put down to protect the seeds and seedlings. At this stage, however, the straw is actively competing against the turf. Soil bacteria need nitrogen to decompose the straw – nitrogen that is also needed by the grass.
The Fix: Feed Right
Typically you would wait until the fall to get the most out of your fertilizer, but in this case, the Cornell Turf Team recommends an inexpensive, quick-release nitrogen fertilizer, such as urea, to increase nitrogen levels in the soil and make it available to the struggling grass. A soil test will determine whether other nutrients are also needed.
Problem #3: Less Than Ideal Growing Conditions
On top of compacted soil, this area has no irrigation. In the Northeast you can have a lawn without irrigation, but you want to make sure to give the grass every other advantage.
The Fix: Mow Right
We recommended raising the mowing height – to allow for more and deeper root growth. Also, be sure that mower blades are sharp. Dull blades shred, not cut, leaf blades, creating more stress.
(Likely) Problem #4: The Wrong Seed
We can’t be sure, but it is a likely that the area was seeded with an inexpensive contractor mix. Choosing the right grass for the site is one of the most important steps you can take to solve a number of problems.
Bare areas within weak turfgrass stands are susceptible to erosion and are practically an invitation for weeds to fill the void. The Child Safe Playing Fields Act prevents the application of an herbicide to either prevent or control weeds on school grounds, so providing a good growing environment to maintain healthy grass is imperative. The above fixes, and more, can be found in detail in Lawn Care: The Easiest Steps to an Attractive Environmental Asset.