Dealing with lawn problems
Lawn problems fall into one of four categories:
- weeds or other plants competing with the grass for resources
- insects feeding on the grass
- plant diseases
- small animals digging up your grass to feed on insects or plants
Any of these can be found in your lawn to a small degree. They only become a problem if conditions change to favour their increase.
Learn to manage pest problems by following integrated pest management (IPM) principles. IPM emphasizes prevention, and finding the most effective, environmentally friendly, and cost-effective way to manage a pest problem.
Healthy lawns are less likely to have weed problems. Thick grass smothers weeds and prevents their seeds from germinating.
Before using herbicides, try improving the general condition of your lawn by aerating, overseeding, and occasionally weeding by hand. Tolerating some weeds (like clover) is a no-cost, no-effort alternative to weed control.
Weeds could be a bigger problem in a newly seeded lawn that is not yet well established. Good planning and preparing the soil properly will reduce weed problems and promote quick growth of the lawn. See Starting a lawn for more information.
Identify pest problems correctly
- Inspect your lawn often to detect pests and other problems early.
- Plant damage may not be caused by pests. Plants can be injured by poor growing conditions, poor maintenance practices, or environmental problems (like road salt or dog urine).
- You need to identify the pest to look up information that will help you decide how to control the pest and to prevent further problems. See Pest control tips for information about specific insect pests.
- Beneficial insects may be mistaken for pests. For example, ants are sometimes considered pests because they make visible mounds (ant hills) on lawns. But they do not attack the grass.
- In a healthy lawn, beneficial insects can keep pest insects in check. For more information on beneficial insects, see Understanding your lawn's lifecycle.
- If you are having trouble, your local garden centre may be able to help you in identifying a pest, and there are many good sources of information on the Internet or in reference books.
Decide if action is needed
- A few weeds or insects in a healthy lawn may not be a cause for concern.
- Watch to see if the pest problem gets worse, and get more information before deciding whether action is needed.
Pest problems that keep coming back are often a sign that your lawn care practices need to change.
- Examine your lawn care program and your lawn's condition to see if anything needs to be done differently.
- Improving your lawn care practices gives long-lasting results and reduces pest problems. See How to have a healthy lawn for more information.
Be aware of the types of conditions pests prefer so you can better prevent them:
- Chinch bugs prefer dry lawns with too much thatch.
- Adult beetles and chafers, the source of white grub infestations, prefer laying their eggs in short grass.
- Sod webworms prefer sunny south-facing slopes where it is hot and dry.
Lawn diseases can be hard to identify. They are often confused with other problems, like poor growing conditions, damage from fertilizer burn, dog urine, or road salt.
Some of the diseases that may occasionally affect your lawn include:
- powdery mildew
- necrotic ring spot
- dollar spot
- leaf spot
Good mowing and watering practices help to prevent lawn diseases. So does using a balanced fertilizer with enough potassium and not too much nitrogen. Removing thatch and increasing air flow near the surface are also common practices for controlling turfgrass diseases.
If you're not sure about what action to take for a specific problem, call your local lawn care company for help.
Avoid problems with animal pests by getting rid of potential food sources around your yard.
Moles and voles (field mice)
Small animals like moles and voles sometimes tunnel in your lawn in search of food. Tunnelling by moles exposes root systems. Then voles and other rodents move in and eat the roots. For more information on how to control these animals, see Moles and voles.
Racoons and skunks
Raccoons and skunks generally dig up your lawn looking for white grubs and other insects. Once you've managed the insect pests, raccoons and skunks should no longer bother your lawn.
Fairy rings are circular or semicircular patches of dead grass with an inner green ring. They usually appear in lawns 5 to 15 years old and can be caused by a number of different fungi. The fungus feeds on the thatch, and the ring grows outward. The fungus is not toxic to the grass, but it prevents water from penetrating into the grass root area, causing the grass to die and allowing weeds to take root and infest that area.
Fairy rings are hard to control. To slow their spread, poke holes in the grass surface just outside the dead ring using a garden fork, soak with soapy water and water frequently to increase moisture. To get rid of the rings completely, cut out the dead patch. Re-seed or re-sod the dead areas.
Keeping problems away
The best way to deal with lawn problems is to prevent them from happening in the first place. If you maintain your lawn and keep it healthy, it will be less vulnerable to pest damage.
Pesticides include herbicides for weeds, insecticides for insects, and fungicides for diseases. Their labels provide important instructions and describe the conditions for applying them. These instructions must be followed. Most lawn pesticides do not prevent pest problems. They only control pests once they are present.
For more information, see Using pesticides on your lawn.
If you use a pesticide on your lawn, read the label to make sure you are choosing the right product for the right pest or weed. Follow all label directions and warnings carefully. Always look for a Pest Control Products (PCP) number on the label so you know the product has been approved by Health Canada. See Use pesticides safely for more information on using pesticides safely.
Lawn care companies
If you cannot or do not want to deal with lawn problems yourself, you can always hire a lawn care professional. See Choosing a lawn care company for more information.
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