Fall armyworms fatten up on Georgia lawns

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Fall armyworms are abundant in Georgia this year, and are causing significant damage in some cases.  Pictured above is an outbreak of armyworms feeding on a Bermuda lawn, consuming the fleshy green blades.

Armyworms favor Bermuda and fescue, but will feed on other lawn types as well.  Damage to established, self perpetuating grasses like Bermuda is usually cosmetic, and turf eventually recovers.  However, new lawns and fescue lawns can be permanently damaged.

Appearing late summer, armyworms typically persist for 3-4 weeks before they pupate in the ground, later to emerge as moths.  The larvae stage (caterpillar stage) is the damaging stage, and can be difficult to detect by untrained eye.

I’ve witnessed a swarm of ants wipe out a population, and attacks by wasps as well.  There are other natural predators too.  However, treatment is often required in order to minimize damage.  Keep in mind that other species, including birds, feed on the juicy armyworms, and therefore may be impacted by treatment.  If treatment is decided upon, use low label rate of selected control product as doing so may reduce impact on other species, and is typically sufficient in controlling armyworms.

If your lawn has already been consumed by armyworms, don’t fret too much, as lawns typically recover within 3-4 weeks.


Voles in lawns

If you’ve ever encountered what appeared to be “miniature trails” within your lawn, you may have stumbled upon the territory of a vole.
Voles are small native mammals, weighing 1-2.5 ounces, which feed on grasses, small trees, and shrubs. Though they typically make their home in the wild, they sometimes establish within lawns and ornamental landscapes.
The picture below is that of a zoysia lawn that I was recently on, and it shows paths that were created by “meadow voles”. The damage to the lawn is insignificant, as damaged areas will regenerate.

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Vole trails are typically not as clear as those pictured, which is why I couldn’t resist taking the photo.
On occasion, the damage that voles can impart on shrubs when feeding can be significant. However, their numbers are typically kept in check by predators, keeping damage levels low.

Lime, lawns, and the danger of assumptions!


Assumptions regarding the application of “lime”, a product used to lower soil acidity, often serve as the precursor to disease and other forms of lawn decline.  For it is a common practice of many lawn managers to apply lime annually, just assuming that it is helpful.  Unfortunately, this practice often yields a soil that is too alkaline to maintain healthy turf, and predisposes it to disease.

What’s best from an agronomical standpoint is to analyze the soil pH (measure of acidity), allowing for an informed decision to be made.

What does lime do?

As mentioned above, lime is a material that is applied to lawns for the purpose of reducing soil acidity.  Doing so is sometimes necessary for if soil acidity is too strong, nutrition and health problems follow.  However, a slightly acid condition is favorable to lawn types in Georgia, and if an application of lime causes acidity to become too weak, problems will follow.

An old paradigm

Like many raised in Georgia, I grew up to believe that one can’t apply too much lime to a lawn, for I’d often heard that.  An exception to the “rule” was if you had a centipede lawn, on which one was to never apply lime.  I was convinced of the above to the point that when I later attended college, I silently questioned my college instructors who taught of the need to analyze soil pH prior to making liming decisions.  Surely, I thought, such analyses would only reveal what we all “already know”.

Apparently, many others grew up in an environment that held some similarities as mine, as the belief that respective lime application is always good, is a common one.  The concept is so entrenched, that suggesting that it isn’t true will lead to a loss of credibility, when discussing it with some folks.   This is most common with men about my age or older.  I’ve found women to be less stubborn on the matter.


Years ago while conversing with a competitor that I have much respect for, I learned that his company had adopted a policy of not applying lime unless a soil acidity test was first approved, and the test revealed that the soil was too acidic.  Reason being, most of their tests revealed that lime wouldn’t be beneficial.

Liking the sound of my competitor’s method, I began to do the same.  Sure enough, a low percentage of the tests revealed a need for lime.  In fact, some tests revealed that a lime application would have a negative effect on the lawn.

Brian’s theory and some well established facts

In most portions of Georgia, the native soil is acidic.  This is factual and is common knowledge amongst those of us that have interest in such things.  I believe it to also be the reason for those long standing beliefs that are held mainly by my brethren.

The native “topsoil” is enriched by the nutrient cycling process that occurs as fallen leaves and other plant matter decompose, and in the process, acidification takes place.  However, if that rich topsoil is removed, as it likely has been if the corresponding home or building was constructed sometime during the past 30 years, the environment changes significantly.  Instead of the rich topsoil that tends to maintain acidic conditions, lawns and other landscaping are planted to what was previously “subsoil”, usually solid clay.  Absent of organic matter, the subsoil doesn’t experience the same acidification process.

Secondly, when rain is deficient, the leaching of base nutrients calcium, magnesium and potassium is reduced.  Reduced leaching of these nutrients lowers a soils tendency to acidify.  So during drought years, soil is less likely to increase in acidity.

There are other contributing factors as well.

What are the odds that lime application could cause harm to your lawn?

Over application of lime and the creation of alkaline conditions results in a lawn being unable to obtain adequate nitrogen, phosphorus, iron and other nutrients that are needed by the plants.  This condition leads to a lower lawn quality.

Where Bermuda lawns are concerned, over application of lime contributes to the probability of “Spring Dead Spot” disease, which has become very common.  Spring Dead Spot is very costly and difficult to rid of.

Spring Dead Spot discovered during a 2012 lawn inspection Spring Dead Spot discovered on Bermuda lawn in 2012

So as was mentioned in the beginning, assumptions regarding lime can be dangerous!

How do I have soil acidity tested?

If you have a lawn care company, hopefully they are suggesting this to you.  If not, they still should be able to perform the test at your request.

You can also collect a sample and submit it to the UGA Cooperative Extension Service for testing.  A small fee is charged for this service.  They can advise regarding procedure.

Soil acidity may be tested any time during the year, and in my opinion, once every three years will suffice in most situations.

It’s true, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

By using quality products derived from current technology, and by making timely and properly made applications, one can achieve a healthy and good looking lawn while minimizing the need for “chemicals” to do so.  The key is indeed to do things right and on time!!

Good cultural practices, including proper mowing and aeration, are essential as well.

The pictures below show a virtually weed free lawn treated (on time) by SongBird, and an untreated lawn.

The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, applies here.