Prevent lawn freeloaders this fall

October 10, 2012 

Nothing else that requires feeding is allowed in our house. I do not mind feeding the people, but the animals do not produce anything nor take care of themselves -- they just eat. We have reached capacity at our house for things that only eat. We have two “free” dogs and cats that must be paid for daily in terms of food, medicine and other needs.

I tried to remember how these freeloaders got into our house. Our children must have slipped them in when I was not thinking clearly. (Which is most of the time.) I remember promises made and tearful stories about the fate of the animals if we did not take them in. I had no idea ‘free pets’ cost so much. Oh well, such is the price for loving affection.

Some freeloaders want to move into local lawns. They want to live in our lawns and feed -- only taking and not giving back. However, these creatures are not cute and cuddly.

Diseases attack our lawns in the fall and winter. The lawns we grow in Middle Georgia are warm season lawns -- they begin growth in the spring, grow during the summer and then slow growth in the fall and go dormant in the winter.

The bad news is that the fall transition stresses warm season lawns, making it easy for diseases to attack our lawns in fall and early winter. Since lawns are going dormant, we often do not see the damage lawn diseases create until it is too late to do much. We may not notice the disease problem until the lawn does not green up in the spring or the lawn greens up and then dies back. Also, if lawns are damaged in the cooler seasons, the lawn will not generally recover well until the lawn begins growth in earnest -- probably next May or June.

The good news is that fall is a great time to prevent lawn diseases. If you control lawn diseases at just one time of the year, pick the fall. Control practices applied now can help prevent diseases from fall through early spring.

We mainly see two lawn diseases in the fall. I give a brief description here, but see this publication for details:

Take All is a fungus that attacks roots of all turf grasses but especially St. Augustine and centipede. Affected roots will be rotted and brown or black. The grass dies in irregular or roundish patterns. In the spring, the lawn often does not green up in areas or greens up and dies back. Because this is a cool season disease, the lawn usually recovers in the summer only to die again the next year.

Large patch (or brown patch) kills round areas in the lawn. These spots are 1 to 10 or more feet in diameter. The base of the leaf (the sheath) is attacked and appears rotted or brown. The leaves of affected plants then die. If the fungus is currently active, the spot may have a different colored border. The center may recover and give the spot a doughnut shape.

Prevent disease with these practices. Do not fertilize with nitrogen-containing fertilizer earlier than late April or after Sept. 15. Let the lawn dry well before watering. Your sprinkler system may be best turned to manual at this time. Do not water more often than once a week at this time of year, but apply three-quarters of an inch of water each time. Mow at the recommended height for your lawn type. Reduce stresses to the lawn: herbicides, wet or dry soils, poor fertility, shade, tree competition, etc.

Applying a preventative fungicide in September and again about 30 days later in October is a good idea for susceptible lawns. Fungicides that work for both of these diseases include azoxystrobin, propiconazole and triadimefon. Apply the fungicide in at least 2.5 gallons of water per 1,000 feet. Read the active ingredients on the label to make sure you buy the correct product, and follow all label directions. These fungicides can be difficult for a home owner to find or apply properly. A lawn care company may be able to help you apply these fungicides.

Willie Chance works with the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture.

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