Lawn Diseases: Caring for Warm Season Grasses Like Centipede Grass

Lawn disease solutions for warm season grasses

I recently attended the South Carolina Landscape and Turfgrass Association annual conference and tradeshow in Columbia, SC for the second year now. Since I’ve lived most of my life in northern Illinois, I always welcome the chance to learn more about warm-season grasses, and this show provides some appreciated insight.

Warm Season Lawn Disease: Centipede Decline

One of the presentations I attended was about warm-season grass disease. Centipede grass is grown in many home lawns throughout the South and requires less fertilizer than many other warm-season grasses—it’s also prone to two diseases: Large Patch and Centipede Decline. The speaker, Dr. Bruce Martin from Clemson University, explained that Centipede Decline is considered a man-made disease, often brought on by homeowners who seem to follow the “if a little is good, a lot is better” school of thought on centipede grass care. Too much water, improper mowing and too much fertilizer will often lead to this lawn disease. It is more of a condition brought on by too much outside stimulus.

When speaking with our franchise owners in the southern states, they’ve told us that several homeowners have contacted them for help after they have tried and failed at caring for their own Centipede grass lawn. At that point, it is an uphill battle to get the lawn back into shape. Fortunately, our owners have the experience and knowledge to help improve these warm season grass lawns.

Warm Season Lawn Disease: Large Patch

Large Patch disease (formerly known as Brown Patch) occurs in the cooler weather of fall through early spring on warm-season grasses. It can infect Centipede, St. Augustine, Bermuda and Zoysia grasses. (Brown Patch, in contrast, occurs during the heat and humidity of summer and is often found on Tall Fescue lawns.) Large patch appears mostly in circular patches that are yellow to tan in color. They start off small—2 to 3 feet in diameter—but can quickly expand to 10 feet or more in diameter. The patches can grow together to form even larger patches, which is where it gets the name “Large Patch.”

To determine if Large Patch is happening on a lawn, you have to look for spots or lesions on the grass plants. It may be necessary to peel back the dead, older leaves to see the lesions. Disease-control materials are available to treat this lawn disease, but the treatments need to start in the fall when soil temperatures fall to about 70 degrees.

Not only were there sessions on warm-season grasses, but there were also sessions on tree care, such as caring for palm trees. South Carolina is known as the Palmetto State, named for the Sabal Palm that grows along the coast. The botanical name for the Sabal Palm is Sabal Palmetto, which is where it got its name. It is more commonly called the Cabbage Palm and can grow as high as 80 feet. One of the interesting things I learned about these trees is that the wood is soft and spongy, not dense like a regular deciduous tree. These trees were used to construct a fort during the Revolutionary War—the British became frustrated when their cannonballs would not penetrate the walls, but just bounced off… but I digress.

Spring-Green: Staying Up to Date on Lawn Care Research

Even though I have been working in lawn care for over 37 years, I always find that I can learn new information and enjoy attending these regional conferences. In addition to validating what I already know, I always learn new techniques and recommendations. There is a good deal of research on turfgrass being done at universities across the United States, and staying up to date on the latest information is a value to our franchise owners—especially in regards to the customers that they service.

Want to learn more about warm season grasses or other problems affecting your yard? Ask your local Spring-Green professional to come out for a free estimate!

How to Properly Remove Christmas Lights on Trees

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Properly removing the Christmas lights from trees and shrubs when the holiday season is over is important for your plants’ health. If you’re not being careful, it’s possible to damage those plants. I have seen too many people pull on the strings of lights while standing on the ground instead of using a ladder or reversing the process that was followed when the lights were hung.

Unless you are careful, the tender branches can easily snap, as they are frozen stiff. On most deciduous plants, the buds for next year’s leaves and flowers are already on the branches. If strings of lights are carelessly pulled off the plants, the buds may be torn off or become damaged. New buds will eventually regrow in the spring, but this will take some time.

Remember: Last Up, First Off

When removing your Christmas lights you decorated your trees with, follow a “last up, first off” rule and take your time to protect your landscape plants. Keep these tips in mind and your outdoor trees and shrubs will be beautiful during and after the holiday season.

Since we’re in the Christmas spirit, give yourself the holiday gift you deserve—lawn care services from Spring-Green.

Get to know the Spring-Green owner in your neighborhood, and get started right this spring. In addition to popular services like lawn fertilization and weed control, we recently added irrigation maintenance in certain areas—imagine what you could do with the gift of more free time.

Identifying & Treating Evergreen Diseases

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I often receive pictures from franchisees or from the general public of an evergreen tree that appears to be dying. Although evergreen diseases generally cause a certain pattern when they affect a tree, it sometimes is difficult to provide an exact diagnosis without seeing the tree in person.

For example, in the picture to the right, it appears that this Blue Spruce is suffering from a disease, but then again it could be caused by an insect as well. In this case, the franchisee included a close-up picture of the damage, which is helpful. Looking at the damage in both pictures, the cause could be from one of two tree diseases, Rhizosphaera Needle Cast or Stigmina.

I recommended that the franchisee perform a simple test to see if either of the two diseases is present. I told him to cut off a small branch near the damaged area, place it in a plastic bag along with a moist paper towel. I then instructed him to seal the bag and wait 24 hours before checking on the contents. After 24 hours, he needs to look at the underside of the needles for the appearance of pinpoint-sized fruiting bodies. A hand lens will be helpful in seeing if the fruiting bodies have appeared and are in rows of two.

The other choice he has is to send a branch off to a plant diagnostic clinic, located at many state universities. Since I am located in Illinois, I use the U of I Plant Diagnostic Plant Clinic. There is usually a small fee associated with the test, but you can feel assured that the results are accurate.

It is possible that the damage that is displayed in the picture is the result of past drought stress, improper planting, poor tree care or other cultural reasons. That is why it is important to get an accurate diagnosis of the problem.
If the damage is caused by an insect, or in the case of Spruce trees, an insect relative, a Red Spider Mite, treating the problem with a fungicide instead of a miticide will not solve the problem. It is also possible that the tree could have both problems going on at the same time. The key to effective disease and pest control is proper identification. You have to know what you are dealing with first to know how to treat it correctly.

Cedar-Quince Rust

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Many ornamental fruit trees are showing signs of Cedar-Quince Rust this year due to the very wet conditions that we have experienced. Cedar-Quince Rust, Cedar-Apple Rust and Cedar-Hawthorn Rust are three very similar tree diseases that require two hosts to complete their life cycle. Along with the trees mentioned, the presence of a cedar tree is also required as the disease goes back and forth between the two plants.

In the case of Cedar-Quince Rust on crabapples, hawthorns and quince or a few other ornamental fruit trees, the signs of the disease are the orange to pink aecia or tubes that cover the fruit and can develop on the branches of the tree. If the aecia develop on branches, they can form a canker that can lead to branch tip dieback. The spores from the aecia will spread to nearby cedars and junipers, where they will form perennial, elongated swellings on twigs and branches. The following year, these swellings will produce orange, gelatinous telia, which then produce spores that will re-infect the ornamental fruit trees. These swellings, or cankers, can continue to produce spores for 4 to 6 years.

This is a cosmetic disease that doesn’t usually damage a tree unless the aecia begin to develop on the branches and cause tip die-back. It is difficult to plan a tree care regimen to prevent this disease. Determining when to spray a fungicide requires knowing where the location of the cedar or juniper that is spreading the disease. Since the spores can travel up to two miles, the likelihood of knowing when to apply a preventive spray is very difficult. The time to spray is when the junipers or cedars have formed the gelatinous horns. The fruit will wither and fall off, which it will do anyway, so treating for Cedar-Quince Rust is usually not necessary.

My Evergreen Tree is All Brown, What Should I Do?

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I am always a little sad when I have to tell someone that their tree is going to die or that it is already dead.  There are certain tree and shrub diseases  and some species of insects that have done or will do so much damage to a tree that there is no hope for its survival, regardless of the heroic efforts put forth to save it.

When I get a picture of an evergreen tree that has turned brown, there is usually little hope of it surviving. When a deciduous tree loses its leaves, there is often still hope for its recovery.  Deciduous trees have the ability to regenerate new leaves, often within the same growing season.  An evergreen tree, on the other hand, does not have that same  ability.  Once the needles or fronds turn brown, they stay brown.  Depending on the cause of the browning, an evergreen may be able to generate new growth from the tips, but sometimes the tree ends up looking like a tree made up of bottle brushes.

Many arborvitae trees succumbed to the drought of 2012.  Once that species of evergreen begins to turn brown, there is not much you can do to save it.

We had numerous reports of arborvitaes dying throughout the drought areas in 2012.  Unfortunately, there is no amount of tree care  that can bring those trees back. The only thing that can be done with those trees is to cut them down.
It can be discouraging to the homeowner to replace the dead trees with new ones.  Many times, two or three die in the middle of a row of 15 or 20 plants that have all grown to be about 8 feet tall and the biggest ones you can find as a replacement are only 4 feet high.  They will eventually grow up to match the height of the other plants, but it can take many years to do so.

What Causes Oak Galls?

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I recently received some pictures of some weird looking growths in an Oak tree.  They looked like a growth called a gall, which looks like a tumor growing on a branch or leaf.  They are usually the result of the feeding or egg laying of certain insects that cause the plant’s cells to multiply at a dizzying rate.  Immature stages of the insect or the larva feed on the inside of the gall and often use the gall as protection from predators.

The gall in this tree is a Horned Oak Gall.  They grow to the size of a golf ball and have an interesting life cycle.  The adults emerge from the gall in early summer and lay eggs on the leaves of the tree.  The resulting larvae cause oblong blister-like galls to develop on the leaves.

About three months later, new adults emerge from those galls, they mate and the females lay eggs in the twigs of the tree.  Small marble sized galls appear and grow together to form the larger gall.  The cycle continues on and on, from leaf to twig, and this can lead to deformity of the tree if populations become too large.

Treatment is possible, but it requires specialized equipment that will inject insect control materials into the tree.  This requires a tree care  professional  who is trained to properly inject these materials to do the job correctly.  Sometimes, if the tree is not too large, the twigs or branches that have galls on them can be pruned out as soon as the galls appear during normal tree maintenance  to reduce the ongoing life cycle.

Why are There Still Leaves on my Tree?

I recently received a question from a person asking why their ash tree still has leaves on it at this late date. The person stated that some leaves were turning brown during the summer and that they figured it was due to the drought that much of the Midwest experienced this year.

There are some trees that keep leaves that turn a fall color for a long time. Some of them remain on the tree all the way until spring. Ironwood, certain oaks and beeches are a few of the trees that keep their leaves on for a longer time than most other deciduous trees. Sometimes this is just the quality of the tree and sometimes it can be the result of some other stress factors.

In the case of the tree in question, the first clue is that it is an ash tree and the leaves started turning brown in the summer. There is a good possibility that the tree has been inhabited by Emerald Ash Borer and the dying leaves are the result of the feeding habits of the insect. Emerald Ash Borer is a destructive insect that has killed several million trees throughout Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and many other states. The larval stage of the Emerald Ash Borer feeds on the soft tissue of the cambium layer, cutting off the supply of nutrients and water to the tree often resulting in the death of the entire tree. In this picture, you can see the result of the feeding by the larvae. You can also see how the bark easily peels away, leaving behind a complex pattern of feeding tunnels.

If you suspect your ash tree has Emerald Ash Borer, you need to have it inspected by a professional tree company or arborist. Some of the clues that the tree may be inhabited would be leaves that do not fall off in the fall, branches that are dying and the presence of “flagging”, or a large congregation of branches growing out of the trunk or major branch located at the base of a dead or dying branch.

There are treatments available that will help combat this destructive insect. Success depends on the extent of the damage.  In some cases, the only solution is to remove the tree.

Contact your local Spring-Green office and ask for someone to come out and inspect your ash tree to provide you with the best approach to saving it.

Tree Burls – Why Are There Heads Growing Out Of My Tree?

Outside my dining room window is what I call the world’s largest silver maple. I know it is not, but it is really big and has a 48 inch diameter. The other day, I was looking at it through the dining room window and noticed this weird growth developing on the side of the tree. I never noticed it before, and it seems to have grown in the last couple of months. The more I looked it, the more I noticed what looked like heads protruding out of the side of the tree and it is a little bit creepy.

These growths are known as burls. Burls are odd shaped bumps, lumps or bulges that develop on the trunks of many trees. Sometimes they look like just a big bulge, but some take on human facial characteristics like noses or even faces.

There hasn’t been a lot of research on what causes burls to develop. It could be the tree’s response to an insect or disease invasion, but no specific organism has been identified as the culprit. Some burls develop from an overgrowth of bud tissue that keeps multiplying without developing shoots. Other burls develop without any specific reason.

Burls will grow in size as they age. They don’t directly affect the tree, but they do seem to reduce the tree’s vigor. Unfortunately, this can make the tree more susceptible to insect and disease infestation and, in turn, reduce the tree’s life span.

The wood found within a burl can form into interesting swirl patterns and are highly prized by wood workers. That does not mean that burls should be cut off the tree. That will just open it up for attacks by diseases and insects and could cause more tree damage . It is best to leave them alone and monitor the tree for any possible signs of fatigue. In the case of my tree, that burl will have to grow really large to cause me any concern. I just hope no more faces start to show through.

Watering Trees and Shrubs

Spring was very wet for much of the Midwest, but now we have entered into a hot, dry spell, which is not that unusual for summer.  All that rain this past spring allowed trees and shrubs to grow well and produce lots of leaves.  Now that the rain has stopped and the heat has increased, many plants are dropping leaves.  This could be the result of the recent hot and dry weather.

If the leaves on your plants are drooping, it usually means that they are in need of water.  The best way to water a larger tree or shrub is a slow, steady trickle from a garden hose directed at the base of the plants.  Leave it at the base of the plant for 15 to 20 minutes and check the soil to see if it is getting wet more than an inch or so.  The goal is to keep the soil wet down to 8 to 12 inches.  Move the hose and water different areas under the tree to get the entire area watered.  Most sprinklers are designed to water large areas, so they usually don’t work well to water established trees or shrubs.

If, after watering, your plant is still drooping, that could be a sign of a bigger problem, such as a disease or insect infestation.  This may require you to contact a tree care service to have them come out and check your plants.  There are numerous other possibilities that could cause a plant to lose its vitality.  It is better to have someone who can identify these problems and provide the best recommendation to help your plants grow.