Watering Bans Making Turf Establishment Tough in Some Locations

Now is the time to be seeding a lawn, but in some communities water restrictions and bans are preventing homeowners and lawn care professionals from renovating/reseeding damaged lawns following this summer’s drought. August 15 to September 15 is considered to be the optimum time to seed cool-season lawns in Indiana. This optimum window is slightly longer in southern Indiana until about September 30. The reasons why this window is optimum for establishment is because 1) soil and air temperatures are warm which promotes faster seed germination, 2) few weeds germinate at the end of the summer  and 3) this seeding date allows for maximum plant development and root growth prior to the next summer’s hot, dry conditions. All of these factors should improve long term turf survival. Aside from improving the appearance of the lawn, seeding lawns now will help turf reestablish thin and bare areas to reduce potential soil erosion, especially in newly established/constructed areas.

While turf can be established in the spring from seed, spring seeded lawns often perform poorly in the summer because 1) weeds like crabgrass also germinate in the spring and compete with turf seedlings, and 2) turf planted in the spring is shallow rooted at the start of summer and requires additional summer watering to keep spring seeded areas from succumbing to summer heat and drought. Thus, fall is the best time to seed a lawn and establish a lawn to reduce future watering needs and reduce erosion.

While water restrictions in Noblesville were lifted recently a water ban still exists in the city of Bloomington and the City of Indianapolis including Marion County and its surrounding communities.

The City of Bloomington and the City of Indianapolis water bans prohibit installing sod in damaged areas and new construction. While the optimum planting window for sod is slightly longer than the seeding window, early fall is still the best time to install sod. This helps promote long-term survival and fall rooting which in turn will reduce watering needs the following summer.

The City of Bloomington and the City of Indianapolis water ban does allow for watering new sod and newly seeded grasses, but only if these areas were installed prior to the watering bans going into effect. We would encourage the City of Bloomington and the City of Indianapolis to consider allowing exemptions this fall for planting seed or sod in turf areas damaged by this summer’s drought. This will help long-term turf survival, reduce soil erosion, and reduce 2013 watering needs.

The Bloomington water ban does excempt some businesses included golf courses (only greens, tees, and fairways) and nurseries. Both bans also allow watering of athletic fields to help keep these areas safe for athletes by reducing soil surface hardness and maintaining actively growing turf. The City of Indianapolis watering restrictions do restrict athletic field watering to Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays sometime between the hours of 9 pm and 6 am for athletic fields with sports in season.

Drs. Aaron Patton and Cale Bigelow, Purdue Turfgrass Scientists


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New Lawn Recovery Guide

The Purdue Turf Program has put out a new publication to help homeowners and professional answer some of the questions asked about drought stress.

Lawns and the Summer 2012 Drought/Heat Crisis: Now What? | PDF

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Read the Label! A Hard Lesson Learned

I was recently forwarded a video from one of our Extension educators in Vanderburgh County, Larry Caplan, that I thought I would share with you. The video chronicles the “misadventures” of a homeowner who simply wanted to control the weeds in his lawn. It should be a reminder to all of us to read the full label before applying a pesticide.

Always follow label directions when using herbicides, and obey all federal, state, and local pesticide laws and regulations. Labels provide specific safety suggestions and requirements for handling products. Labels also provide valuable insight on how to use the products safely (for you, the turf, and the environment) for maximum effectiveness.

The following are general guidelines to reduce the risks from herbicides.
  1. Apply a product only to the turfgrass species listed on the label.
  2. Clean spray tanks thoroughly when changing from one herbicide to another. Many herbicides contain instructions on how to properly clean and rinse the sprayer following an application.
  3. Calibrate sprayers correctly and often.
  4. Use the recommended herbicide application rates provided on the label. The label may also specify a specific rate for specific weed species. Rates listed on the manufacturer label are based on research at multiple locations across multiple years. Applying too much herbicide is costly and could result in turf damage or lack of control due to spray runoff. Applying too little herbicide can result in poor weed control and unsatisfied customers.
  5. Apply herbicides as specified on the label (timing, site, interval between applications, interval before and after seeding, and so on).
  6. Wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) specified on the label.
  7. Use caution when spraying around ornamental plants and sensitive crops to avoid injury. Follow wind restrictions on the label.
  8. Apply herbicides when temperatures are in the range provided on the labels.
  9. Do not apply herbicides when children or students are in the application area. This is known as the “School Rule.” More information about the School Rule is available on the OISC website, www.isco.purdue.edu.
  10. Check the label for instructions and options on how to remove pesticide residues from containers prior to their disposal.
  11. Store pesticides in their original containers and keep unused pesticides in a safe, secure location. Keep storage areas on trucks or within buildings locked, and keep pesticide containers away from children.
Aaron Patton, Turfgrass Extension Specialist

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Cicada killers are Wimps

Spread the word – Cicada killers are wimps! Unfortunately, because of their size and the fact that they often live in lawns and landscapes close to where people live, cicada killers evoke a great deal of anxiety.  These wasps are huge and look very much like oversized yellow jackets but they have some very important differences. First, cicada killers are not social wasps that build colonies and protect their queens.  Because they have no colony or queen to protect, they are not aggressive and have no reason to sting people.

Cicada killers are one of the largest wasps that burrow into the ground in this area.  At first glance, they are a very large, ominous looking wasp resembling a hornet or yellow jacket and evoke a good deal of fear. However, most of the wasps encountered are males, patrolling the nesting area. They may fly about, dive bomb, or even hover in front of, but they cannot sting people. They do not possess a stinger.
Females do not defend their burrows, and will sting only if handled. Female cicada killers dig burrows in well drained, light textured soil, typically in an area with full sunlight. The 1½ inch diameter opening leads into an oblique tunnel that runs for 12-18 inches and reaches a depth of 6-10 inches. The female completes and stocks up to four cells, each containing from one to three paralyzed cicadas on which eggs are laid. When eggs hatch the larvae bore into and feed on the cicada. Secondary tunnels are often built off the primary tunnel; thus each female may rear up to 16 larvae in a burrow.

Cicada killer wasps are beneficial and do not pose danger in most cases.  When possible they should be left alone. 

The larvae pass the winter in their burrows and emerge the next July as adults. Between late July and mid August, these new adults emerge, mate and the female digs new soil burrows, stocks them with cicadas, and the cycle is repeated. Adults usually die by mid September.
On occasion a large nesting aggregation can result in many holes and unsightly mounds of soil in a small area of a yard or garden. Control of cicada killers is safely and most effectively done by placing a small amount of 5% carbaryl (Sevin) dust down into the soil tunnel. For a large nesting aggregation, the area can be sprayed. In both cases, the tunnel entrances should be left open.
In most cases, Cicada killer wasps are beneficial and do not pose danger.  When possible they should be left alone.  Education is the single best strategy to help people deal with cicada killers.  Teach people that they may look dangerous but in reality – they are wimps.

Timothy Gibb, Department of Entomology, Purdue University
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