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Lawn & Landscape Problems

Every lawn and landscape has its share of problems that appear from time to time. If you don’t see the problems, it’s because you’re not sure what to look for. Likewise, if you see a problem and don't identify the actual cause, you could be making things worse if your treatment doesn't address the cause.

Landscape gardening isn’t difficult and doesn’t need to be expensive, unless you start treating for every little thing that pops up. Then lawn and landscape problems can become very expensive.

It’s a matter of understanding what’s going on on your property and what’s really happening when things don’t look right.

With a little knowledge, a sense of timing and a few helpful hints, even beginners can achieve results that will have the neighbors seeking their advice.

Basically, lawn and landscape problems fall into 3 categories:

Soil Problems:
(too much water, soil compaction, excess thatch build-up, nutritional imbalances)

Insect Problems

Lawn & Landscape Diseases

When you see something that doesn't appear to be right there's some questions you might want to consider in trying to diagnose the cause.

First question: Has anybody done anything different in the last month?
For example, you’ve got a large dead spot in the exact same place you spilled gasoline filling the mower 2 weeks ago. The cause and effect is obvious. You won’t go out and buy grub control because you thought grubs had killed your lawn there. You wouldn’t suddenly start watering the area because you thought it was from lack of water. The spilled gasoline killed the lawn.

Weather extremes?

  • Did you have any extreme weather conditions over the last 6 - 12 months?

  • Did you have an extremely cold winter that may have killed some plants?

  • Did you have an extremely mild winter with a few sudden cold spells?

  • Most plants in the cooler climates go into a natural dormancy period, but when temperatures are mild, the plants may think spring is here and time to start growing, yet it's still mid winter. If the plants start the re-awakening process with sap starting to flow, and then the temperatures suddenly drop well below freezing, damage can occur. Freezing temperatures cause liquids to expand and if the plant's sap has started to move up through the roots and into branches, and then freezes, cell ruptures occur which will kill off the plant.

  • Extreme weather conditions in previous years can weaken plants, especially trees and shrubs, and they may not show any signs of stress until the following year or two.

Insect infestations

You'll also want to look for insect infestations. For ornamentals with woody stems, this will mean tiny holes bored into the stems. These can be extremely difficult to see at first glance. But careful inspection around the primary trunk of the plant will reveal them.

Usually leaf eating insects will cause unsightly damage, but they rarely result in the death of the plant. Most plant death resulting from insects are those that actually get inside the plant. A good example of this is the current infestation of the Emerald Ash Borer that is occurring in the upper midwest.

Grubs and chinchbugs are common lawn pests found in many parts of the country and can cause extensive lawn damage if left untreated.

Lawn and Landscape Diseases

Diseases can also create problems. This is usually a much longer term problem. You may have noticed that the plant in the last year or two hasn't been performing as expected. It may have dropped leaves throughout the previous summer. While this may not have been the ultimate cause of the plants demise, it could have weakened sufficiently so the plant wasn't able to survive other problems that normally would not have killed the plant. It may be the combination of problems: insect infestations, untreated diseases, and warm / cold winter that ultimately doomed the plant.

Look for the most obvious cause.

If there is no obvious cause, then look at the scope of the problem area.

Is there just one dead spot, or are there many dead spots? Do they seem to be where your new puppy frequents? Are the spots just in the backyard, or are they in front and back equally?

These are likely signs of insect damage. Do some excavating to see if you can find any grubs. As grubs begin to mature their appetite grows and they chew at the roots, so do sod webworms. If you find these insects, then treat accordingly. In this instance, when grub damage is apparent, it's too late to treat for them at this time. But it's not too late to prevent the same thing happening next year. Read more about grub control to determine when is the best time to treat for them.

If the lawn isn’t obviously dead brown, are there other visible changes: yellowing, orangish-red tinge, spots on the leaf blades? These are all signs of a fungal attack.

If weeds are taking over, this is a sign there's a soil problem. Have nutrients been applied to the lawn on a regular basis? Is the soil compacted? Is there a too thick layer of thatch? Is the soil dried out from lack of water?

Mistreating a problem can cause more serious problems. For example, your lawn suddenly has a large dead spot and you immediately think insect damage. A quick trip the local big box home and garden store and you're back with a powerful insecticide to get rid of the little buggers before they kill off your entire lawn.

As you're spraying this stuff all over the entire lawn, killing every living thing in the topsoil, your wife comes home and says:

"I was going to tell you that I had that plastic table cloth spread out in the yard last Thursday to wash it off and I left it there to dry. I think the sun may have gotten it too hot! What do you think?"

We actually encountered this very same situation a few years ago.

The homeowner thinks, ok, so I made a mistake and I killed a few bugs in the grass. Well, the problem is that the soil is really a living thing made up of bugs, microbes, and other bacteria. It is precisely these critters that converts the natural nutrients in the soil, into a solution that can be used by plants. Without the microbes, the entire life cycle has a break in the chain. And without supplemental water-soluble fertilizers being regularly applied, the plants in this lawn will begin a slow decline.

Many problems can be traced back to poor soil conditions. These conditions could be caused by a number of things such as too much traffic, not enough organic matter in the soil to support the microbes, or maybe too much standing water because of poor drainage.

Soil compaction often results from any of the above conditions.

Many insects are beneficial to the turf in that they aid in the decomposition of organic matter, improve soil structure and soil aeration and some are predators of other, morn harmful organisms. Nonetheless, many insects present problems for the homeowner.

Detecting the presence of an insect is the first step in good insect control. When you find the insect, examine it closely to identify it to species.

Feeding by insects and mites can reduce the aesthetic beauty of landscape trees and woody ornamentals. In some cases, plants can be severely weaken or killed, damage by other pests can cause aesthetic injury. When damaging pests are present, the application of appropriate control measures can help to reduce damage while having little impact on beneficial species and posing minimum risk to humans and pets.

Read more about insect pest control

Plant disease is any pathological condition caused by other organisms, such as bacteria, fungi, or viruses.

Fungal diseases are the most common while bacterial diseases are relatively rare. Symptoms vary considerably in appearance and severity, but the growth or health of the plant is almost always affected and in severe attacks, the plant may die.

The best treatment is prevention. Avoid circumstances that are more likely to allow diseases to infect lawns. Proper watering, mowing regularly and at the correct height (don't mow too short). In some instances, disease is spread by mowers that have recently cut infected lawns. If you hire an outside maintenance service, discuss with them precautions they take to avoid disease spread.

Read more about lawn and landscape diseases