We southerners take our college football seriously. We’re convinced that the Southeast Conference is the best conference in the United States.
Sadly, we often don’t take the same pride in fertilizing and providing pest control services to customers’ lawns. Like too many lawn care companies in other regions of the United States, we, too, have irresponsible operators. Some company owners are so focused on production that they expect their technicians do 40 lawns a day. And too often with the same tank, so every customer gets the same product or mixture of products. Obviously, not every property will have the same weed, insect or disease problems.
No shotgun approach
Treat customers’ lawns based on their unique challenges. The turfgrass might be under attack by mole crickets, grubs or chinch bugs, yet your techs may not have the correct products to treat them selectively. Or they may be forced to take a shotgun approach in managing any and all of these differing pest problems.
(Of course, we can gamble and hope that customers don’t call and complain, requiring us to send techs back to their properties for remedial service.)
Start by using a high-quality, slow-release granular fertilizer, a product that provides 90 to 120-day residual control to keep properties greener longer. This will allow your techs to perform other property services on their scheduled property visits. The more services they provide, the happier the customers, the more that you can bill, right?
Using inexpensive, water-soluble products every visit is false economy. Yes, high-quality fertilizers are more expensive, but given their longer greening, they should be less costly. Regardless of product, don’t over-apply. Timing is important, in fact vitally important in areas that ban seasonal or restrict urban fertilizer use.
Pest control is vital
Another important part of your service is controlling turf-damaging insects. Regardless of the insect pest and the strategy you employ, follow label directions of any and all products you use.
Fire ants can be a problem if your customers have kids, pets, livestock or allergies. You have many options to control fire ants. They include mound drenches, baits and granular products. Product cost, ease of application and effectiveness will determine which product or strategy you use.
Broadcast bait products can be applied to individual mounds. Sprinkle the recommended amount of bait around the base of the mound up to 3 feet away. As with broadcast bait applications, the use of baits for individual mound treatments may take one to several weeks to eliminate colonies.
The drenching technique needs to contact a majority of the ants. Apply the drench to an undisturbed mound on cool, sunny mornings. Under these conditions, the ants, including the queen(s) and brood, are concentrated just under the top surface of the mound, where it’s warm. Ants are deep within the mound during periods of hot, dry weather and less of the drench will reach them. Applications are typically made by wetting the top of a mound, then soaking a 12-inch swath around its base and pouring the remaining drench on top of the mound from a height of at least 3 feet to obtain penetration. Colonies may be eliminated within a few hours to several days after treatment.
As with the drenches, granules are effective only if the insecticide penetrates the mound and contacts a majority of the ants and the queen(s). Evenly scatter the granules over the surface and around a mound, without disturbing the mound. Sprinkle 1 to 2 gallons of water over the granules, gently, to avoid disturbing the colony and washing the granules off. It may be several days before the entire colony is killed.
Not all the same
Mole crickets, another turfgrass pest, have a varied diet. There are several varieties of mole crickets. The southern mole cricket feeds mainly on other insects, and the tawny and short-winged mole crickets feed on plants. The tawny mole cricket often injures Bahiagrass and bermudagrass, and the short-winged mole cricket often attacks St. Augustinegrass and bermudagrass. Mole crickets feed at night on aboveground foliage or stem tissue and belowground on roots and tubers.
Like fire ants, turfgrass pros have several options in managing mole crickets. They can use a biological product, such as Nematic D or one of several liquid and granular insecticides.
Like almost all insect control strategies, it’s better to wipe them out before they get large and tough. Apply liquid and granular insecticides from April to June to suppress newly hatched mole cricket nymphs. Irrigating before an insecticide application may drive mole crickets closer to the soil surface, and helps the pesticide to penetrate into the soil.
Bait formulations are useful against larger nymphs in late summer. Since mole crickets feed at night, apply baits in the early evening. Again, follow label directions carefully. Some will specify that baits should not be applied with irrigation or rain.
Chinch bugs are tough
The southern chinch bug is a difficult-to-control pest of St. Augustinegrass. It can also feed on bermudagrass, Bahiagrass, centipedegrass and zoysiagrass, but damage isn’t usually severe.
Southern chinch bug activity occurs from March through November. Damage may occur in open, sunny areas near sidewalks and driveways, but also in the middle of lawns.
Cultural practices may influence the susceptibility of St. Augustinegrass to chinch bug damage. This includes mowing too low or creating thatch by forcing too-rapid turfgrass growth and over-watering.
In treating for chinch bugs, consider rotating insecticides with different modes of action or chemical classes to reduce the chance of resistance.
Turf-damaging white grubs
When white grubs feed on grass roots, the grass gradually thins, yellows and dies. This makes the grass feel soft and spongy. Scattered, irregular, brown patches of grass appear. The root injury reduces turf’s ability to take up water and nutrients and withstand drought stress. Heavily infested grass pulls up easily and typically has little or no root system.
Also, white grubs attract moles, raccoons, armadillos and birds, which can make an already damaged area look worse. Large numbers of dark-colored, parasitic wasps with yellowish to white stripes on their abdomens that hover over the lawn on sunny days in the summer or fall may also be a sign of infestation.
Sample the area to confirm that a white grub problem really exists before treating. Get a shovel and sift through the top 3 inches of soil, roots and thatch. Look for creamy-white, C-shaped beetle larvae with tan to rusty-brown heads and six legs. Mature grubs vary in length from .25 to 2 inches, depending on species and age. Eggs need moist soil to hatch and grubs to survive. Frequent irrigation during adult flights may attract egg-laying females, especially if surrounding areas are dry. But, proper irrigation and fertility may help plants tolerate or outgrow moderate infestations. This latter strategy is risky, though, because animals may dig up the turf damaging the turf even more.
Curative treatments like trichlorfon are applied after grubs have been feeding and damaging the turf. Curative products have short residuals, so a second application may be needed. Most grubs die in the soil, but Green June beetle and flower beetle grubs come to surface to die several days after an application. On the surface they rot and leave a mess.
Preventive treatments give turfgrass managers more flexibility in application timing than curative treatments. Preventive control requires the use of long residual insecticides. These products give good control of newly hatched grubs. The best application period is during the month or so before egg hatch until the time when very young grubs are present. Preventive control requires the use of long residual insecticides. Professional combination products such as Allectus or Aloft have a pyrethroid and a neonicotinoid insecticide premixed together, which could be used to try to reduce both adult and larval populations.
The key to running and growing a successful lawn care business is to continually learn about the latest products and strategies for keeping turfgrass healthy and pest free. This goes for lawn technicians as well as owners.
Contact your extension office for classes or supplier or your college for specific info in your state. There’s an incredible variety of great educational and training resources available. This includes pictures and descriptions to help you become a true pest control pro.
It’s not enough to know what you should do; you have to do it, too. Make sure that you and your team have the diagnostic and application skills, and the correct products on your trucks when you need to tackle turf insect pests.
As proud southerners you wouldn’t expect any less of our great SBC football teams as they prepare for next season’s success, right?