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Treat Fire Ants in Early Fall

The shifting fall weather means fire ant mounds are showing up around these parts.   They wreak havoc on your lawn, and make it next to impossible to feel safe and enjoy your outdoor space with friends and family.  I have had great success with the Ortho two step approach to kill the fire ants I see and control the ones I don’t see.

Fire Ant mound in our neighborhood pops up after heavy rain. Notice our red Georgia clay soil.

This one/two punch does the trick for me against fire ants.

Step 1: I use Ortho Orthene Fire Ant Killer for mound treatment.

Step 2: I spread Ortho Max Fire Ant Killer Broadcast Granules across my entire yard.

Ants in Our Pantry

I have a new favorite way to control ants that found an open package of cereal in our pantry.  The new Ortho Home Defense Liquid Ant Bait traps did an amazing job.

First, those of you who read my blog postings regularly know that a couple times of year I put a Ortho Home Defense treatment around the outside of my home foundation to keep the Georgia insects in our wooded area out of our home.  I get good results from this approach.  What is amazing about ants is they can find the tiniest unprotected opening to get inside.  For example, I have found that it is important to spray around the outdoor water spigot that comes out of the house wall.

In this case the ants found my pantry via the roof of our house.  They found the roof of our house via a nearby tree.  Rather than spraying my entire pantry, I like the idea of using ant bait traps that allow the ants to take the treatment back to the nest to help eliminate the queen and the colony.  So, I tried the new Ortho Home Defense Liquid Ant Bait.  Wow, within hours of putting out several traps, they were covered with ants.  The next day there were absolutely no ants to be found in the pantry.  (I wish I had thought to take pictures of the traps when they were covered in ants.)

This is good stuff! And, I like the built in safety of the traps and the active ingredient used in the liquid bait.

Answers to Your Lime Questions

Why spread lime on a lawn?

Answer: Lime helps to raise the soil pH level in acidic soils. Soil pH is a measure of how acidic or alkaline your soil is. A pH of 7 is neutral, acidic soil registers below 7, and alkaline soil above 7. Your lawn can tolerate a fairly wide pH range of 5.5 to 7.5, with 6.5 being the ideal pH for growing grass. When your pH is in the ideal range other nutrients in your soil and in the lawn food you spread are more available to your grass plants. When the pH is outside of this ideal range, some of the nutrients get locked up by the soil and your grass can suffer.

Fall is a good time to apply lime to your lawn if your soil is acidic.

What areas of the country usually need lime to raise soil pH?

Answer: Many lawns in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, and Northwest are growing in native soil that is naturally acidic. The reason I say that all lawns in these areas are not necessarily growing on acidic soil is because soil chemistry can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. Also, over the years lime may have been spread on a particular lawn on a regular basis raising the soil pH out of the acidic range. For example, when I first tested my Georgia clay soil I found that it was acidic and needed lime. After several years of putting down lime, a soil test showed my soil no longer needed lime. I plan on testing my soil every 2 or 3 years. Although not as common, you can find acidic soil in other parts of the U.S.

How do you figure out the pH of your soil?

Answer: A soil test kit that you buy in your local garden center can be used to measure your soil pH. Most states offer more complete soil testing through their Extension Service. Check for soil testing labs in your state by doing an internet search with your state’s name and the words “soil testing labs”. Other info on these tests provides values for available phosphorus, potassium, micronutrients and organic matter. As a former County Extension Agent, who looked at hundreds of soil test results for home lawns in Virginia, I know that the primary actionable number to look for is soil pH. You can ignore the other measurements if you are feeding your lawn regularly unless one of them shows up as being abnormally low. For example, if you find that phosphorus is low in your soil, you can substitute a Starter Lawn Food for one or more of your feedings during the year to help raise this important nutrient in your soil.

Will I hurt anything if I put down lime on my lawn without going to the trouble of getting a soil test?

Answer: Probably not in areas that are known to have acidic native soils. It is always a good idea to do a soil test first before spreading lime on your lawn. If you live in any area that I mentioned above that has native soils that tend to be acidic, you could spread up to 50 pounds of lime per 1,000 sq. ft. That’s 250 lbs. of lime on a 5,000 sq. ft. lawn. To spread this much lime, you may find you will need to go over your lawn several times with the spreader set at one of the higher settings. You will also find that granulated lime is easier to spread than pulverized or powdered lime.

When is the best time to put lime on a lawn?

Answer: Lime can be applied anytime the soil is not frozen. Fall is a great time to spread lime since the upcoming alternating freezing and thawing of your soil can help to transport lime from the soil surface down to lower parts of the soil.  And by the way, don’t forget to give your lawn at least a couple of feedings this fall.  Your last feeding of the year can be Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard.

Fire Ant Mounds Pop Up After Heavy Rain

All the flooding pictures break my heart. Rita and I had to deal with a small (and I emphasize small) flood years ago and all the problems seemed big to us at the time, however nothing like folks are experiencing now. I am sure fire ants are not the most important thing, however a video from a South Carolina TV station shows how fire ants survive a flood.  (Video recorded by WSAV photojournalist Chris Murray shows what appears to be a floating island of fire ants on top of the water in Dorchester County, South Carolina.)

As rainwater dries and floodwaters recede, many residents will find displaced fire ant colonies popping up in backyards and even inside their homes.

Fire ant colonies build large nests in the ground, which can lead to visible mounds reaching one to two feet in height above ground. Fire ants typically are found in lawns and gardens, but occasionally, they can migrate into a home, driven by heavy rain or drought.

How to Treat Fire Ants

Step One – Treat the Mound:

Treat visible mounds with a granular product or a dust, such as Ortho® Orthene® Fire Ant Killer. This product is designed to kill the queen and entire colony, so use it wherever you see mounds..

Step Two – Protect the Ground:

Not all fire ant mounds are easily seen. Many remain hidden down in the grass. Fire ants also forage the yard for food and new nesting sites. Using a broadcast product like Ortho® MAX® Fire Ant Killer Broadcast Granules will protect your lawn by killing foraging fire ants and controlling new fire ant mounds from forming for up to six months.

Grass Growing Tips for Shady Lawns

“How do I get better grass in the shade?” is one of the leading questions I have been asked over the years. Think about it: The lawn you established when your landscape trees were young was likely better adapted to sunny areas, and now this grass has declined as your trees have grown. Here are my tips to improve your shady lawn:

This Fescue lawn in Atlanta receives about 4 hours of filtered sunlight a day. (click photo to enlarge)

Grow the right grass: For cool-season grasses, here is the ranking for most shade tolerant to least shade tolerant: Fine fescue, Tall fescue, Kentucky Bluegrass (some varieties more tolerant than others and are as shade-tolerant as fescues), and finally Perennial ryegrass is least shade tolerant. For warm-season grasses, here is the ranking for most shade tolerant to least shade tolerant: St. Augustinegrass, Zoysia, Bahiagrass, Buffalograss, Centipedegrass, with Bermudagrass is least tolerant.   So grass seed blends like Scotts Turf Builder Dense Shade Mix will give you a better shot at growing grass in the shade in the north; Scotts Turf Builder Dense Shade Mix For Tall Fescue Lawns in the mid-south; and St. Augustinegrass in the deep south (which is grown from sod or sprigs rather than seed).

Fertilizing: It is important to feed shady lawns in fall just before and after tree leaves drop, and early spring before tree leaves develop. When you fertilize while your grass receives sunlight because the tree leaves are not blocking the sun, you maximize photosynthesis, which builds carbohydrate reserves in the grass roots to help when sunlight is limited during shady times.

Watering: This is tricky. Lawns can get by with less water in shade, however some trees are very aggressive at stealing soil moisture from your grass. This means you need to water when the grass is dry, but hold off if the soil is moist. Look for signs of dry grass (such as a change in color from bright green to the dark-colored green with long-lasting foot prints caused by the grass not springing back to the upright position after being walked on). If your grass and soil stays wet for a long time after watering, reduce the amount. If the grass quickly shows the drying out symptoms, then increase. Remember infrequent deep watering (no more than twice a week) is better than daily shallow watering.

Mowing: Mow at one of the taller settings so that your cool-season grasses are around 3 inches after you cut and your warm-season grasses are around 2 inches after you mow(exception is St. Augustinegrass which should be cut at the higher 3 inch setting).

Too much shade for grass: If you decide to plant one the shade grass seed blends or to shift to one of the more shade-tolerant grasses listed above, just remember that you still need at least 3 or 4 hours of filtered-sunlight a day to grow grass. You can help by trimming low hanging tree branches. You may need to consider an alternative to grass for your “too shady” lawn area such as pachysandra or vinca. Your local nursery can help you choose the best shade-loving groundcover for your area. A second alternative is to mulch areas under trees where grass will not grow bringing the mulch line out to where grass gets enough sunlight.

Pachysandra is a good shade ground cover next to this building where there is very little sunlight. (click photo to enlarge)

Mondo Grass (also known as Monkey Grass) is a nice ground cover in shady areas where winters are not too severe (best grown in zones 6 thru 11). Click photo to enlarge

Kill Lawn Weeds Now While They Are Easy to Wipe Out

Why is fall a good time to kill weeds?  Two reasons:  The weeds that germinate in early fall; like chickweed, henbit, dandelions that grow from the seeds we saw blowing around in spring and others are small and easy to control this time of year.  And second, the perennial weeds that have big root systems like ground ivy, thistle, mature dandelions and others are directing lots of growth down to their roots so they can prepare for winter which means they really suck the weed killer down into their roots so they’re completely destroyed.

Fall is a great time of year to kill Ground Ivy (also known as Creeping Charlie). Click photo to enlarge.

These weeds, if left unchecked, will thrive in your lawn because the wetter, cooler fall weather is the ideal time for them to grow.  The good news is you can terminate them the same time you feed your lawn this fall with Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard Fall Weed & Feed, or if you only have a few, you can spot spray them with Ortho Weed-B-Gon MAX plus Crabgrass Killer  OR Roundup For Lawns after you have fed your lawn with Turf Builder WinterGuard Fall Lawn Food (the lawn food without the weed control in it).

Plus, getting them now, before they spread, will dramatically reduce the number of weeds in your lawn next spring.  Put down Turf Builder WinterGuard Fall Weed & Feed on moist foliage on a day when rain is not expected and do not water the day you put it down.  Spreading first thing in the morning when your grass is covered in dew works very well.  All you need is the mid-day temperatures to get between 50 and 85 degrees.  After the granules have been on your lawn for 24 hours it is ok to water your lawn.

If you have St. Augustinegrass, use Scotts Bonus S Weed & Feed to control your weeds.  Give your lawn a good watering after spreading this product.

One last bit of advice:  If you put down grass seed this fall, you should not put down weed controls in those areas you seeded until after your new grass has been mowed 4 times.

Fall: A Great Time to Plant Grass Seed

Warm soils, cool nights and heavy morning dew helps to make fall a great time to plant grass seed blends that contain Kentucky Bluegrass, Fescue and/or Perennial Ryegrass.  So how do you choose what to plant?  You are standing in front of the grass seed shelf and looking confused. There is a big difference in price. If there ever was truth to the statement “you get what you pay for” it is certainly true when buying grass seed. Cheap seed often is contaminated with seeds from the tough to control grassy weeds because they are growing in the field alongside the good grass plants when the farmer harvests the grass seed. The grass seed farmer has to decide whether to go to the extra expense of getting rid of these weeds or to sell his seed for less because of the weed seed contamination. Scotts pays the grass seed farmer top dollar to get weed-free seed. The better grass seed varieties also cost more because those in the know, like professional turf managers, are willing to pay more to get better varieties because they will have fewer problems. Cheap seed is going to cost you more in the long run: difficult to control weeds and grass varieties that struggle to produce a top rate lawn.

The best grass varieties will have less weed, disease and insect problems.  (click photo to enlarge)

Scotts best grass seed blends are sold in the Turf Builder Grass Seed Line.  You simply select the mix that matches your conditions: sun, shade, mix of sun and shade, high traffic, heat-tolerance, etc. If you have just a few bare spots, there is a Scotts EZ Seed Blend that will fill the bill.

And one more thing… spread some Scotts Turf Builder Starter Lawn Food to help your new grass seed germinate and develop into a thick green lawn.