Identifying Lawn Problems

Many residents contact their local Extension office for help identifying lawn problems.

For example, if you notice patches on your grass in November, you may think it is chinch bugs or mole crickets.

If you’re up for an experiment, there is an easy way to find them. It’s called a soap flush.

If you don’t find insects, it may be fungus, such as large patch, or another cause.

Chinch bugs are very tiny. Mole crickets are large. Both are easily seen with your eyes.

Here is a short video (1:59) from the UF/IFAS Entomology and Nematology department about how to do an inexpensive and quick soap flush. Link to YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sx_o4EMXsCo

If you do the soap flush over several small areas of your yard, you should see insects, or other bugs and even earthworms, scurrying around at the base of the grass blades where they touch the soil.

Do the soap flush in areas where there’s a little bit of damage and a little bit of green because the bugs may no longer be in areas with significant damage.

It’s important to figure out the cause because if it’s fungus, and the grass is treated for insects, the problem won’t be corrected because the control doesn’t match the cause.

This technique is also a way to double-check information provided by others.

If you don’t find insects, fungus may be the issue. A few things you can do:

  • Make sure the grass isn’t being overwatered (which can contribute to disease). Water early in the morning, close to dew point to prevent water from staying on leaves too long.
  • Calibrate the irrigation system to deliver only ½” – ¾” water per irrigation event and skip a week in winter because plants need less water.
  • See this link for a quick way to calibrate an irrigation system: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/irrigation/calibrating-your-irrigation-system.html
  • We’re learning that potassium (the last number on a fertilizer bag) is important for healthy turfgrass. Look for fertilizer that contains slow-release nitrogen and potassium.
  • You should also look for fertilizer that has a 1:1 or 2:1 ration of nitrogen (first number) to potassium (last number) because this is more balanced and will stress grass less.
  • Pro landscape supply stores and fertilizer dealers may have more specific fertilizer blends.
  • This publication, Table 5, gives a fertilizer schedule: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/lh/lh01400.pdf. Check the Central Florida section.
  • Most homeowners pick basic or moderate maintenance levels. October would be the last fertilizer application for the year.

If you need assistance with identifying lawn problems, contact your local county Extension office.

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Posted: December 31, 2020


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