Lawn advise

crosswindNovember 28, 2007

Hi Gang

I have been a lurker for quite a while and have gained lots of info from many of you. I could use some advise on my lawn. A little background first. I'm in Houston TX. I have St Augustine grass. My lawn was being treated by a local company. Last year we had a solid month of rain. From research here I belive the high doses of chemical fertilizer along with the wet grass caused me to get a fungus. I sent samples to a lab and learned it was "Take All Patch". I got it under control (for now) using a fungacide they told me to use. The damage killed several areas of the lawn. It has started to recover with grass beginning to fill in but the weeds got there first. I would say 80 percent of my lawn was untouched so no consideration to starting a new lawn. One of the type weeds I have is called " Green Kyllinga". I wanted to try and get them under control and used "Sedgehammer" on them. It is working but I'll know more when the lawn starts to grow more in the spring/summer. I learned here that correct mowing,watering and soil improvement using organics will be the long term cure. I have gone organic now. Just put down some Microlife organic fertilizer. Plan to use a combination of soybean,corn meal and other organics I learned about here. Now my questions. I want to use a preemergent. Is it to late here for the cool season weeds to put something down now? Some of you seem to not have much luck with the corn gluten meal. Since I do have lots of weeds in the disease stricken areas do you recommend a hybrid approach for now using a chemical preemergent and then switch to corn glutten meal after things are somewhat under control? The timing of using the preemergents is a bit confusing to me since I have no idea when the forsythia bloom here. Sorry for the long post. Thanks for any help!

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Couple more questions. We know I have Take All Patch. It's dormant but it's waiting to rear it's ugly head. Should I continue to at least spot treat the areas with a fungacide maybe twice a season to help prevent the fungus from becomming active in the future. I have learned on this forum that the best defense is a good offense meaning a healthy soil structure is the best long term approach. I'm just trying to find the balance of keeping down the weeds and the fungus while trying to promote an organic approach to improving the soil structure. I know this has been debated on this forum numerous times but it's still not clear to me the best direction to take. It seems one disadvantage to St Augustine grass while trying to renovate a thinned out weed infested lawn that has been hit with a fungus is the inabilty to overseed to help crowd out the weeds. The Green Kyllinga can not be hand pulled because of the underground stems. It would be futile to attempt. I know the fungicides have robbed my soil of needed microbes as well. I have considered a compost topdressing but my lawn is around 6000 square feet and the bulk supply around here is course and I don't trust the source to not have lots of weed seeds and other pathogens in the compost. I have read where you can invite more problems when using compost if the quality is not up to par. Any thought or ideas to help steer me in the right direction to a healthy mostly weed free lawn is much appreciated. Thanks in advance.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2007 at 1:12PM
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With an organic approach you are going to have some weeds in your lawn, that is a fact. The real question is, can you live or learn to live in peace with them?

Corn Gluten (supposedly) works as a pre-emergent only. It will only help to feed the existing weeds you currently have.

Proper management practices that encourage a dense, thriving turf are the best method of weed control. Healthy turf shades the soil so sunlight can't reach weed seeds ready to germinate. A thick turf also minimizes the physical space available for weeds to become established.

You might consider foliar feeding with liquid seaweed and fish emulsion in the areas effected by TARR. The nutrients will be absorbed through the leafs instead of the roots. Since the roots are injured (probably black) they will not be able to absorb all the nutrients needed from the soil.

Also mow often at the highest setting on your mower. Water deeply and infrequently in the early morning hours.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2007 at 3:17PM
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Thanks for responding. I have adopted the mowing and watering procedures you mentioned a few months ago. I understand about the dense turfgrass being the best thing for crowding out the weeds. Just struggling with how to best make that happen. To be honest I was not hoping for a 3 year turnaround hense my temptation for a hybrid approach. I was at the nursery the other day buying some Microlife fertilizer and something for a preemergent. I stared at the corn glutten meal and the chemical preemergent for a while trying to decide. The corn gluten meal lost but I have not been able to get myself to apply the chemical preemergent. Wanted some input from you pros here. Any comments on the chemical preemergent and the timing of the application? Thanks

    Bookmark   November 28, 2007 at 4:14PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

There are several people who adopt a combination of organic and synthetic methods for their lawn. And they usually do this because they want a weed free lawn.

You may want to ask your question again on the "lawn care forum". There are several people over there that use a combined synthetic/organic approach. You'll probably get alot more replies.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2007 at 6:26PM
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Fungicides/Insecticides and organic lawn care can't coexists. These chemicals will kill the foodweb that you are trying so hard to develop with organics. Healthy active soils will naturaly prevent and mitigate most fungus and disease, so you should work on the cause not the symptom.

If you are concerned with fungus I would feed with corn meal @ 20 lbs/1000 ft^2 and spray with milk at 3-6 oz/gallon/1000 ft^2. I also like soybean and alfalfa for N2 feedings.

I have used a herbicide to spot treat clover and have followed these applications with the addition of compost to replenish the soil.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2007 at 11:09PM
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deerslayer(Z5 NE IL KBG)

Organic "amendments" such as compost or Milorganite (also used as an organic fertilizer) are often a component of a synthetic lawn care approach. It is common practice for golf courses.

A pure synthetic approach depletes the soil of OM. Organic amendments replace it.


    Bookmark   November 29, 2007 at 2:02PM
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The timing of the pre-m application depends on the instructions on the bag. I'm afraid we don't know which one you purchased, and I would like to be sure it is a product that is both effective at controlling Kyllinga germination and is also labeled for use on your particular type of St. Augustine. For example, it is very difficult to find herbicides for the Floratam variety, then that is compounded by finding one that is effective on kyllinga. Provided what you purchased is effective and harmless to the grass, apply pre-m in spring before soil temps reach 60. (I'm not totally sure Florida soils get much below that.) The pre-m's label will tell you how long it is effective, so be sure to apply more at the proper time. It might be 6 weeks, 8 weeks, 3 months, whatever the bag says. Kyllinga continues to germinate from spring through summer, so don't give it a break.

Understand that pre-m is only useful in controlling germination, meaning it will prevent seeds from maturing. But, that only takes care of the seeds. Kyllinga also grows by the rhizomes and continuously forms new plants, so a post-m is also necessary and should be applied about every 2 weeks. Again, you will need a product that is both effective at killing the existing weed plants while not harming the grass. Be sure the herbicide is labeled for your variety of St. Augustinegrass.

When it comes to fertilizing, apply according to St. Autustine's fertilizing schedule. You can use any organic type such as Milorganite, the grains, or a foliar spray as Skoot mentioned, which was a good point. When spring arrives, do your spring cleanup before the pre-m, such as raking the grass so as not to disturb the upper layer of soil once the pre-m goes down. Also, apply 1/4 inch compost in late spring before the second pre-m application. Honestly, compost tea would likely be best since you're battling both fungus and a very prolific weed. At the same time, it really isn't a great idea to apply fungicide on an organic schedule. Some might argue that compost tea will effectively battle the disease. It's up to you if you want to try that. I think the main thing to remember at this point is synthetic nitrogen is assumed to be directly associated with TARR, so your organic fertilizer is the best idea.

You will need to sprig or plug to replace the grass for the most part but with all the herbicides, you won't be able to do that. I would normally suggest planting resistant varieties, but I'm not sure one exists.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2007 at 12:52AM
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If you live in the Katy area of Houston your kyllinga itâs probably a flatsedge. Green kyllinga (kyllinga brevifolia) resembles smallflower umbrella sedge (cyperus difformis). Umbrella sedge is a rice field weed that grows alongside the rice crop. The entire Katy area used to be a rice field, and its residential communities are full of dormant difformis seed.

Kyllinga is an invasive ornamental. It responds to halosulfuron (Sedge Hammer). In contrast, umbrella sedge is a crop weed with a history of exposure to agricultural herbicide. It exhibits a wide range of immunity, including an immunity to halosulfuron. I treat umbrella flatsedges with sulfentazone based herbicides (like Bonideâs Sedge Ender).

I apply in the early Spring, when the sun is less abundant and the sedge is actively re-growing root stock. This mitigates risks to my Saint Augustine and encourages the uptake of herbicide into the weedâs root zone. Houston water is quite hard, so I add a surfactant. I use an inexpensive spreader-sticker product from Bonide, but Iâve heard Palmolive works fine. Wait several days before mowing or watering to give the herbicideâs time to absorb.

The most effective âgreenâ alternative would be to till the land repeatedly, waiting for the sedge to grow, just to smother the young plants with so additional tilling. Over time, the rootstocks and seeds exhaust themselves of carbohydrates, leaving a rich, sterile soil. Unfortunately, my home owners association frowns on this approach. So Iâm stuck taking a chemical approach.

Yet . . . my own lawn is far from perfect.


1. Long yellow-grey runners of Saint Augustine, that cannot penetrate certain areas in the lawn, away from sprinkler heads.
2. A few lush areas of thick green lawn, by the sprinkler heads.
3. Indicator weeds: Flatsedge, wild garlic, and powderpuff mimosa.
4. Three visible patches of grey slime mold with more mold in the beds.
5. Predictable reemergence of chinch bug damage, near the hot concrete.

Iâm getting mixed signals. The grass looks healthier at low points: against the back of the house, against the A/C slab, in between the homes, and at the side walk in the front yard. This indicates water and/or fertilizer is collecting and providing the sod a much needed boost. Everywhere else, the lawn looks overwatered: yellowing and graying of solons, invasive marsh weeds and compacted soil. The live oak looks nitrogen deficient and has shown signs of chlorosis.

It seems to me that the ground is almost impermeable. Water and fertilizer pool in the low areas, while the higher grades (in Houston an 8 inch slope constitutes a grade) dry out, harden and are washed clean of nutrients. My response has been to fertilize frequently and water frequently, but this is unsustainable due to fungal concerns.

My builder did a sloppy job grading the surface. He did not bring in any viable topsoil, and the grass was installed with very little of its own. It seems to be a highly susceptible cultivar. I saved my lawn, with a biphenthrin spray, while others succumbed to chinch bugs very first year. How their lawns are looking far better than mine. The fertilized with an atrazine based "weed and feed" so they never developed the flatsedge concerns. Now Iâm wishing I had let it all die then, before the HOA became more aggressive, and I'm considering using atrazine next year despite the ground water concerns.

I want to go organic but this is untenable given my current soil and lawn problems. So, I began spraying the soil with milk and beer and J&J shampoo. No phenomenal changes in the soil or the fungal outlook.

Iâm considering installing a more hardy cultivar, in sparse plugs, with the anticipation of it out competing the existing sod.

I would like to core aerate and top-dress with slightly sandy compost.

Any advice on this operation, specifically in Houston area clay?

Should I get Media soil activator in the interim, or use a foliar spray?

Who can I call to test my soil needs and prescribe my best path forward, preferably someone who wonât sell a service?

Any tips on automatic sprinkler settings and no-nos?

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 4:55PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Calico, the way these forums work is if you have a new question, and you have several, you start a new thread.

Due to the nature of your new questions, it would really be helpful if you can post pictures of the grass doing well near the concrete and around the sprinkler heads. Those sound like conflicting symptoms. Also take a picture very close up (3 inches from the grass) of the yellow gray runners and grass.

Other factors to consider for comment before you write back are these: shade from trees and buildings, watering frequency and duration, fertilizer apps in the past year, and mowing height.

Please don't core aerate, topdress or use Medina Soil Activator before you write back here. Those would be no-no tips. Just don't do anything but mow and water.

Best soil test in the country is Logan Labs in Ohio. Their $20 test is much better than most university $100 tests. Worst soil test in the country is probably Texas A&M. Those folks have had issues for decades.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2013 at 1:40PM
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Dave, I have never seen a university that charged $100.00 for a basic soil test, pH, P, K, Ca., Mg., most are less then $20.00. While some people have had issues with some of the recommendations from the TAMU people, mostly because they are based on synthetic, not organic, practices, I have yet to see a soil test from TAMU that was bad.
Crosswind, you need to get a good idea about your soil and a soil test, for pH, P, K, Ca., and Mg., and also about your soil with these simple soil tests,
1) Soil test for organic matter. From that soil sample put enough of the rest to make a 4 inch level in a clear 1 quart jar, with a tight fitting lid. Fill that jar with water and replace the lid, tightly. Shake the jar vigorously and then let it stand for 24 hours. Your soil will settle out according to soil particle size and weight. For example, a good loam will have about 1-3/4 inch (about 45%) of sand on the bottom. about 1 inch (about 25%) of silt next, about 1 inch (25%) of clay above that, and about 1/4 inch (about 5%) of organic matter on the top.

2) Drainage. Dig a hole 1 foot square and 1 foot deep and fill that with water. After that water drains away refill the hole with more water and time how long it takes that to drain away. Anything less than 2 hours and your soil drainsâ too quickly and needs more organic matter to slow that drainage down. Anything over 6 hours and the soil drains too slowly and needs lots of organic matter to speed it up.

3) Tilth. Take a handful of your slightly damp soil and squeeze it tightly. When the pressure is released the soil should hold together in that clump, but when poked with a finger that clump should fall apart.

4) Smell. What does your soil smell like? A pleasant, rich earthy odor? Putrid, offensive, repugnant odor? The more organic matter in your soil the more active the soil bacteria will be and the nicer your soil will smell.

5) Life. How many earthworms per shovel full were there? 5 or more indicates a pretty healthy soil. Fewer than 5, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, indicates a soil that is not healthy.
These can help direct what you need to do.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 7:08AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

What my statement was supposed to explain that the basic Logan Labs test for $20 gives you as much or more information as several TAMU tests which total much more than $20. At TAMU you have to order several tests to get as much info as you get from the basic Logan Labs test. The tests and prices seem to be changing too fast to keep up.

Back a few years ago (2005??) TAMU issued a semi-public announcement (and clearly not an apology) that their soil testing process had been flawed for decades. The main concern and result was long term pollution of Texas farmland with too much fertilizer.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 7:15PM
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