Mainscape insights: maintaining our lawns from drought to monsoon

Our Novela Board receives regular updates from our lawn care contractor Mainscape, and we pass along advisories we feel you’ll find helpful.

Since the semi-tropical climate of Southwest Florida is the key reason many Palmira residents have come to live here, we felt you’d be interested in the challenges of the last 8 months in maintaining our lush vegetation, when we have gone from drought to monsoon in record time.

We are LINKING the whole Mainscape publication. If you have difficulty opening the link, we are copying key articles below in text. But the photos in the link are very helpful to the landscaping novice.

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Agronomy Newsletter Summer 2017 (3)

Drought to Monsoon!

A record-breaking 8-month drought and higher- than-normal temperatures from October to June wicked moisture from soils at a rapid rate and had many shrubs and turf thirsty and shriveling. Spring showers transitioning into summer afternoon rains are always a welcome relief after a dry spell. This season, however Mother Nature rebelled against the harsh drought and in the blink of an eye showers turned into monsoon-like deluges often starting before noon and lasting throughout the afternoon.

The landscape’s response to the sharp contrast in weather conditions was worthy of note, and met with determination by the Mainscape team. Parched soils drank the water in, and plants went from droopy to perky then sprung into growth as stagnant nutrients imprisoned by the drought were released and devoured by plant roots.

The first and most obvious effect on shrubs has been a continuous flush of new growth. Certain species such as downy or wax jasmine, ligustrum, and gold mound duranta sprout new shoots very quickly after trimming even during a normal rainy season. With the additional rain these plants can put on a foot or more of lush new growth in between regular pruning cycles.

Weed seeds in the soil also took their fill of liquid and suddenly burst into germination. All the seeds don’t pop at once, so as existing weeds are removed from landscape beds, new ones are constantly emerging . This is always a challenge when there is moisture and warmth, however it was especially challenging to keep up with in June as rains started before lunch on many days.

Soil-born fungal pathogens also found opportunity in the sudden opposite extremes in weather. These moisture- loving organisms were suddenly living in a prime environment when the rains came and quickly began to flourish and multiply finding sparse roots an easy target for food. Consequently , some areas previously affected by the drought worsened without warning as they fell victim to diseases such as Take-All Root Rot.

Our maintenance, irrigation and agronomy teams are ramped up and have been working diligently to meet all of the above challenges and we are seeing positive results. Y our patience is greatly appreciated as we continue working through the active growing season.

Sod Webworm Season is Here

Sod webworms are cream to greenish-brown lawn caterpillars that feed on the leaves of all turfgrasses and are most active in late summer and fall in Florida. Thesecrittersarethelarvaeofsmallbrownmothsthatdonotfeed on grass or cause damage, but may be seen flying up out of grass when disturbed or hanging out under trees or in shrubs during the day to escape the heat. The presence of moths doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a sod webworm outbreak in that same area.

When first hatched the tiny worms scrape the surface of grass blades causing small transparent ‘windows’, which are hard to detect. As they grow they take bites out of leaves causing notching along the edges, then clip grass blades off completely creating the appearance that the infested area was mowed much shorter than surrounding turf. The worms are elusive, hiding in silken tunnels they create in the thatch during the day, but the small green pellets they leave at the soil surface give them away.

Large sod webworms can move through entire lawns in a matter of days. Since they feed only on grass blades established turf typically recovers quickly. Fresh cut sod is most vulnerable since new roots are built from the products of leaf photosynthesis. Fortunately, our treatment regimen stops these ravagers in their tracks. The Mainscape team is on the look out for sod webworms during routine visits.

Root Rot in St Augustine Turf

The warm, rainy summer season is the perfect time of year for growing lush, green lawns. Some plant pathogenic fungi that occur naturally in the soil also thrive in these conditions and sometimes cause disease. Take-All Root Rot (TARR) is the biggest antagonist to St. Augustine turf during the rainy summermonths. Thecausalfungus,Geaummanomyces graminis var. graminis can damage roots preventing them from efficiently obtaining water or nutrients from the soil.

Symptoms often begin with irregular yellowing of grass blades, which usually subsides with application of nutrients if turf is otherwise in good health. In severe cases roots become black and mushy, and stolons die leaving dark- colored patchy areas in the lawn. This usually occurs in turf that has been weakened by drought stress or other factors. It is common to see TARR in areas with poor irrigation coverage or excess soil moisture, for example where water accumulates between homes that don’t have gutters, in the outflow of down spouts, where turf is overwatered and low- lying or poorly drained areas. Dwarf varieties of St. Augustine are also more susceptible to TARR.

 

The agronomy team has been treating active disease during routine visits, however the key to successful TARR management is prevention. Healthy St. Augustine turf growing in optimal conditions may never show symptoms even if the pathogen inhabits roots, and typically recover completely with treatment if symptoms do occur. If any predisposing conditions that weaken turf are not corrected, TARR is difficult to treat and may result in turf loss. The number one most important aspect of maintaining healthy turf that can withstand TARR is proper irrigation. Watering restrictions during the dry season and limitations on how long irrigation can run make uniform distribution of irrigation water over the landscape crucial to plant health and survival. Where irrigation design is less than optimal enhancements to improve efficiency should be carefully considered to protect the landscape investment.

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