Monday, July 31, 2017

It's No Cinch, but Your Lawn Might Have Chinch...Bugs

Typical Chinch bug damage
This July has seen record rainfall (10"+ so far) in Chicago's northern suburbs. With animals pairing up and heading for the ark you may not have been paying attention to your lawn. I should have been, wasn't, and now part of my lawn is breakfast, lunch and dinner for hairy Chinch bugs (henceforth known as CB). See typical damage. Yep, my lawn, my photos.

Tony's lawn
It' been a long time since my college turf classes so I needed review, and a Q & A chat with Chalet's Soil & Turf manager Tony Kacinas. I guess CB snookered me as I know them to be happiest when it's hot and dry. Evidently when it got dry the first two weeks in June they got busy reproducing. Why is this important? The nymphs and adults feed on grass blades by sucking out fluids AND injecting a toxin that affects the vascular system causing the grass to yellow and die. This shouldn't be confused with grub damage which appears later in the summer.

So, garden readers, take a moment and really assess your lawn. CB symptoms could be confused with drought stress or fungal diseases. Is your lawn thick, green and lush right now? No dying areas? Probably safe. If your turf is dying in ever-increasing, straw-colored patches in sunny, hot areas and doesn't respond to additional moisture, perhaps you should check for CB. Look first at areas adjacent to reflective surfaces like driveways and patios where the soil heats up and dries out first. CB also loves lawns with heavy thatch buildup.

How to check for CB is a fair question. Get a large coffee can (Keurig users look for other alternatives) and cut the top and bottom out. Go to the edge of areas where dead meets green, and punch the end of the can an 1" or more into the ground. Fill with water, refilling if it soaks in. Stir the clippings and thatch at the bottom of the "pool" to bring them to the surface. Watch this soup for 10 minutes or so before counting. A commonly agreed-upon threshold suggesting control is 25+ per square foot (that includes nymphs and adults, as they will be found feeding at the same time).

Life stages of the enemy (courtesy of Ohio State)

When deciding whether to use a control or not, understand this turf is very probably dead, and dead will spread. Whereas, with grubs if the 12-or- more-per-square foot threshold hasn't been met the turf will try to stage a comeback. When choosing a control make sure CB is on the label as certain active ingredients may not kill them.

It's natural to wonder what prompts CB to dine on some lawns and pass on others. Lawns with thick thatch are particularly CB-irresistible. Understand, please, thatch isn't grass clippings. Thatch is the compressed, spongy layer of undecomposed stems, crowns and surface roots just above the soil surface. Doesn't that sound like a swell place to spend the winter? CB thinks so. The late spring-laid eggs incubate for 20-30 days, or as little as a week based on temperatures above 80 degrees F. That means two generations per year, even this far north. Great...

Lawn thatch

Don't try to cut corners and reseed into "thatchy", dead turf. You won't get a good, deep-rooted result. If the areas to be reseeded are large you may want to consider using a slit-seeder. They are wondrous machines that slice through heavy thatch and drop the seed directly in contact with the soil. Slit-seeders are heavy, and are like trying to push an elephant around. I speak from experience. Consider hiring turf professionals to do it. It's so-o-o-o-o worth it.    
Slit seeder



Monday, July 10, 2017

July Garden To-Dos

July heat and humidity have descended upon our gardens. Hopefully, it goes without saying that you're applying water as needed, especially to all new plants. Mulch should be caressing the root systems of trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials, veggies and roses to keep: soil moisture from evaporating, weeds at bay and soil temps from soaring. Nine other tasks to consider to keep your landscape "garden-walk ready":

  1. Keep deadheading annuals to stimulate re-bloom. It makes a huge difference. Keep after containers and hanging baskets that are getting overgrown. If some plant is becoming a thug and steamrolling neighbors cut it back artfully into submission. Vines and petunias that are getting "stringy" should be scheduled for a cut. Cut, then new color - yep, plants too.                    
    Pruning a Hanging Basket

  2. Perennials that have long season re-bloom potential (remember some perennials bloom only once a year) will also enjoy deadheading. However, in some cases deadheading can be more extreme and actually involve removing not only spent flowers, but as much as 1/3 to 1/2 of the stems. This more severe pruning, let's call it "refreshing", might be exercised on past prime: beebalm, balloon flower, catmint, perennial geranium, phlox, salvia and veronica to name a few.
  3. Staking or caging is best accomplished early. Get cages on for plants to grow up and into without having to be wrestled (and broken) into submission. Stakes, too, are best placed early with plants guided to their support as they grow. Tomatoes, dahlias, delphinium, mallow and lilies are all candidates.
    Staking a Perennial (Lily)
  4. If you want evergreen density (and your plants are receiving at least a half-day of sun), pruning can help. Late spring/early summer is a great time to trim junipers, arborvitae, yews and boxwood. In a perfect world you would remove 50% of this year's new growth, although most people remove more...
  5. Annuals and roses are still growing and flowering. Keep fertilizing whether your preferred product is water soluble or granular. In particular, plants in containers are often watered daily, flushing nutrients out of drainage holes. Replacing nutrients will keep plants at peak performance. Plants in lots of shade should be fertilized proportionately less than their counterparts in sun.
  6. Tomatoes, America's favorite veggie, needs even moisture and ample calcium to avoid blossom end rot (BER). BER is when the fruit bottoms get leathery brown. Also avoid wetting foliage when you water as this can contribute to blight and other fungal pestilence. Whenever possible water early in the morning going into ascending temps that will dry the foliage before nightfall. Wet foliage = blackspot on roses, too.
    Tomato with Blossom End Rot
  7. If you mow your own lawn, get the deck up to 3" cutting height.You'll have fewer weeds and the grass will be less drought-stressed (whether you irrigate or not).
  8. Scout your garden for: Japanese beetle, aphids, apple scab, euonymus scale, blackspot and powdery mildew. Be forewarned that fungicides are preventative, not curative, and are therefore generally best applied before symptoms show. We recommend all control products (insecticides, fungicides and herbicides) NOT be applied when air temperatures are above 80 degrees F. Leaves in sun are warmer than air temps and chemical scorch is a real possibility above 80 degrees.
    Japanese Beetle
  9. Know the enemy and what feeds its appetite. While amusing tales of cunning skunk, possum and raccoon raids abound, they 're far fewer than the mayhem wrought by deer and rabbits. Be prepared with your best repellent and apply before the damage is done. From personal experience, deer particularly love the taste of ready-to-open buds of  'Annabelle' Hydrangea, lilies, roses and daylilies. They also love (at least in my garden) hosta, dogwood family members and swiss chard. Yum!

If all of these summer tasks are already under control or consideration maybe you are ready to host a garden walk. Bravo!