Lawn IPM

Lawn Weeds

Knowing what weeds you're dealing with will help you manage them. 

Insect Pests

Knowing about lawn insect pests will help you make good pest management decisions. 

Mowing, Fertilizing, and Watering

Learn to feed, water, and mow your lawn like a pro. You can do a lot for your lawn’s beauty by fertilizing, watering, and mowing the right way. 

Common Lawn problems

Dog spot

Dog spot, or spots where dogs pee—especially in hot dry weather—tend to burn out and kill grasses. In cooler, wet weather dog urine may cause a burst of top growth. Either way, the lawn can become ugly and patchy. Consider creating a low visibility area for dogs to pee or watering the area soon after to dilute the urine. Walk your dog along a road or to the park. Keep in mind healthy grass will tolerate some urine.

Early Weeds

Spring ephemeral weeds leave bare patches. Weeds like lesser celandine grow early and disappear by May, crowding turfgrasses and then leaving room for other weeds when they are gone;

Salt

Road and sidewalk salt can cause burnout in lawn edges and serious injury to landscape plants. While there isn't much you can do about road salt applied by your city or town, there are things you can do to lessen your chance of causing injury.

Compacted soil

Soil can become compressed into a hard impenetrable mass that dries quickly, feels like cement and does not grow grass. Aeration fixes compacted soils and helps you work in amendments that improve soil.

Grubs

White grub damage is not as intense a problem on home lawns as it is for athletic fields and golf course fairways. But grubs, which feed on the roots of lawn grasses, can cause dieback and areas of brown or dead grasses. Many wild animals, including opossums, skunks and crows, look for grubs to eat and may tear up parts of a lawn to get them. Pro Tip: You can combat lawn grubs using nature's own weapons (nematodes)! 

Turfgrass Diseases

Turfgrass diseases are most common on high-maintenance grass, like a golf course. High-maintenance golf grasses are often cut very short, suffer high foot traffic and build up disease organisms that routinely affect them. Lawn grasses are usually mowed higher, less stressed and don’t often have disease issues that require control. Some common turfgrass diseases are described on the Turfgrass Disease page and the Cornell Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic.

Dormancy or Drought

Drought – When hot, dry summer weather arrives, it is natural for grasses to dry up. Letting your lawn go dormant is a sustainable practice. Lawns can go dormant for six weeks without dying, but it’s not for everyone. If you plan to keep it green all summer, water 1” a week, including rainfall. Raise the height of your mower blades and sharpen them after 10 hours of use to get a clean cut on the blades of grass and reduce water loss.

Acidity or Alkalinity of Soil

The soil pH is off – The pH of any substance is the level of acidity or alkalinity of that substance. Most plants grow well in soil that is between 6.5 to 7.5 pH, which is very close to neutral (7.0). Extremes in soil acidity or alkalinity create poor growth and other problems, but some plants like more acidic soil, including pines, rhododendrons and blueberries. 

Too Shady

Consider whether the area of poor growth is too shady for typical lawn grass. If the area receives less than 6 hours of direct sunlight you can still have a beautiful lawn with the right grass seed. Sun & Shade grass seed mixes will provide shade-tolerant varieties. Fine fescues (Red, Chewings, Hard fescues) are among the most shade-tolerant grasses available. Tall fescue is also shade and drought tolerant. Consider ways to trim and thin shade-causing trees and shrubs to allow more light to penetrate. 

Too Wet

Low spots, clay soil layers or overly compacted areas may collect water, which will kill grass. Vehicles can create ruts that collect water. Broken sprinkler heads may also result in saturated soil. See Clemson University's guide "Aerating Lawns" to help fix drainage problems and improve lawn growing conditions.

Need to Add Grass Seed (Overseeding)

Bare soil and clumps of grasses show poor growing conditions and a lack of seeding. Need to overseed and not sure how to do it? Let Cornell's turfgrass experts teach you how to Choose the Right Grass Seed.

Zoysia Grass

You’ve got Zoysia! – Zoysia grass is the one warm-season (Southern) grass type that will grow on Long Island. It is vigorous, dense, stiff, chokes out all weeds and stays green for about half the year (it’s brown the other six months!). Learn about growing zoysia grass.

 

 

Insect Pests of the Lawn

Reducing your reliance on pesticides helps protect surface waters (LI Sound, Great South and Peconic Bays, the ocean and local streams and ponds) and underground aquifers, which serve as our everyday drinking water.

The number of insect species that will feed on or damage home lawn grasses is limited. Some feed on the roots of grasses, some on the leaf blades, and others just happen to use areas of the lawn for nesting, causing no significant damage to plants. If you understand the signs and consequences of insect damage to your lawn, you will save time and money that you might have spent on insecticide treatments.

White grubs (beetle larvae) – Many scarab beetles start life as c-shaped white larvae, called grubs, that live and feed in the soil root zone. Some pest species feed on and damage the roots of lawn grasses. They prefer moist soil, such as low spots in a lawn. In high enough numbers, white grubs can damage roots and kill lawn grasses. A key sign of white grub feeding is brown damaged areas that can be peeled up, as if they were mats of sod. If you suspect grubs, use a shovel to cut a square foot of turf and lift it to check for grubs in the top 2 inches of soil. Healthy turf can tolerate 5-10 grubs per square foot. Setting the mower at its highest mowing height can improve grass health and white grub tolerance.

For a deeper dive into white grub ecology and management see “What’s Bugging You: White Grubs” and “Grubs in Your Lawn? A Guide for Lawn Care Professionals and Homeowners”.

Chinch bugs are true bugs, related to stink bugs and aphids, but small as adults (4mm or 1/16”) and tiny as nymphs. They feed on  plant juices with a needle-like mouth causing grass blades to yellow and then turn brown. More active in sunny, dry areas, chinch bugs are not as problematic in wet cool weather. Raise your mowing height and avoid applying fertilizer in early summer to reduce chinch bug numbers and damage. Overseed your lawn with endophyte-enhanced grasses, which are toxic to chinch bugs, keeping their numbers in check.

For a closer look at chinch bug ecology and management see Penn State Extension’s page “Chinch Bugs in Home Lawns”.

Sod webworms are the caterpillar (larval) stage of a few species of “lawn moths”, or "crambid snout moths", a group of skinny, pale brown moths less than an inch long. You might see moths flying in a zig zag motion over the lawn at dusk. Sod webworm larvae chew off grass stems just above the base of the plant, causing dead patches, which can be disguised by drought stress or dog spots.  If you are concerned about sod webworms, check to see if they are present by using a soapy water flush described by North Carolina State University.

Ants can be beneficial or occasionally problematic for lawns. Generally, ants are beneficial insects that create extensive tunnel nests in the soil, bringing oxygen and water to the root zone. They also feed on other arthropods, including pest insects of lawn grasses. However, some ants can damage lawns by burying grasses with excavated soil or actively nurturing aphids that live underground and feed on plant roots. For the most part, this type of damage is rare and there is usually no need to control ants in a Long Island home lawn.

Ground nesting bees emerge in the early spring from soil tunnels created the year before. They inhabit dry sandy areas where plants are thin and soil is visible. While they might appear in large numbers, flying over the lawn surface, these bees are beneficial early pollinators and not harmful to the soil, lawn or people. The best method to limit their activity in any location is to restrict access to soil, using mulch or plants. Improve soil conditions and seed your lawn to grow more dense turf that is less attractive for ground bee nesting.

Cicada killer wasps, among the largest wasps in the Northeast, prefer sandy dry soils for digging tunnels and galleries where eggs are laid. These mostly harmless insects capture, sting and drag cicadas back to their tunnels as food for developing larvae. While females are busy digging tunnels and harvesting cicadas, stingless male wasps are busy guarding the nest openings of females and this hovering behavior is not a threatening gesture. Learn more about cicada killer management at our “What’s Bugging You: Cicada killer wasps” page.

Weevils are a common type of beetle with a long snout. Two types, the annual bluegrass weevil (ABW) and the bluegrass billbug (BGB) are pests of lawns and other turfgrasses. ABW tends to damage high maintenance turf, like that on golf courses. Low maintenance lawns can be damaged by BGB. Females of both species chew holes into grass stems and insert eggs. Developing larvae feed inside the stems of grasses killing the plants. In home lawns BGB is most damaging on Kentucky bluegrass. In areas with persistent dieback of grass from weevils, reseed the lawn with tall fescue (sun), fine fescue (shade) or perennial rye. Using cultivars with endophytes, symbiotic fungi that are toxic to chewing insects, can greatly reduce weevil damage. 

For more guidance on bluegrass billbugs, see: Billbugs in Home Lawns, by Penn State Extension

For more guidance on annual bluegrass weevils, see: Turfgrass: Annual bluegrass weevil

Other turfgrass pests: