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Blackwelder: Green lawns without pesticides

SALISBURY — Bitter cold weather this winter took its toll on fescue in Rowan County. Fescue turned brown and in some instances was killed outright. But with the arrival of warmer weather, fescue lawns are starting to come back and look good in some areas.
Cool season fescue and bluegrass blends require maintenance incorporating both fertilizer and pesticides for insect and weed control in the annual program. Many seek the perfect manicured lawn, but a number of homeowners are abandoning this goal, giving way to organic or limited pesticide use for lawn care.
Reducing pesticide usage is certainly a consideration given the state of our economy. Low maintenance lawns can look good and be green with fewer weeds and less diseases by understanding cultural practices. Below are a few tips that may reduce disease, insect and weed problems without chemicals.
• Make sure your soil fertility is correct. Have soil tested every two years to ensure maximum growth. Guessing on fertility is a major problem. Correct fertility at the right stage of growth will reduce brown patch.
• Raise mower height. Research has proven that the closer lawns are mowed, the higher incidence of weeds such as dandelion and annual bluegrass. Tall grass shades weed seeds, reducing sunlight needed for germination. Those who mow closely to reduce growth generally have mostly weeds.
• Mow often and leave the grass clippings. Grass clippings add organic matter to the soil, supplying nutrients. Turf specialists reveal that leaving grass clippings can reduce fertilization needs 25 percent.
• Mow late in the afternoon when the grass is dry. Mowing grass laden with dew or wet from a rain has a higher incidence of brown patch and other foliar diseases.
• Keep the lawnmower blade sharp. Dull mower blades make turf grass jagged and unsightly. Jagged turf also is a prime candidate for the spread of foliar fungus diseases.
• Irrigate lawns in the early morning. Deep but infrequent watering encourages roots to penetrate deeper into the soil. Watering in the evening encourages pathogenic fungus disease such as brown patch.
• Milky spore is a talc product laden with bacteria that controls grubs in the soil. This is a live product that works best only when there is a large grub infestation. The bacteria remain active and spread through infected grubs.
• There are various types of organic fertilizers on the market. If you plan to use manures, be sure they are well composted. Non-composted manure is a haven for many weeds and will increase weed populations. Alfalfa meal, cotton seed meal and blood meal are all sources of nitrogen (the primary element needed for green plant growth). Bone meal supplies phosphorus necessary for root expansion. Rock phosphate is a mined material that also supplying the major nutrient for maximum growth.
Darrell Blackwelder is the County Extension Director with horticulture responsibilities with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Learn more about Cooperative Extension events and activities on Facebook or website at www.rowanextension.com.

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